Do me a favor and please read Psalm 78.
Reading and watching history has always been something I’ve enjoyed. I love hearing stories about events and peoples that shaped nations, countries and places. I love hearing stories about what really happened in history because it not only shares with us our past but it helps us frame our present. Knowing where people have come from, knowing the past of the country I live in, helps me understand the people, the tensions, and the very feelings of where we are today. Psalm 78 is doing what TV and books did for me back in the day when there was no History Channel or written historical books for Israel and the people of God.
The historical ways of things, back in the day, was to orally share one’s history. To bring forth the past so that you not only knew of YOUR history but so you would also be challenged and encouraged in your current place. And from a Hebrew standpoint this was all framed around who God is, what he did, and the people’s consistent response to life’s situations (both good and bad) and Psalm 78 is known as a “Historical Psalm” for a reason…because it does just that. But this psalm isn’t a history lesson given because people like history…this is a historical psalm that is meant to remind, challenge, and instruct the very people of God who not only had no history books but also needed constant reminders to be faithful to God.
This psalm is broken up into only 2 sections – and they’re not weighed very evenly. Verses 1-8 are more “introduction” in nature in that they simply tell the reader what they’re about to read and hear. Picture the psalmist (Asaph) saying, “What I’m about to tell you comes from old and has been passed down from generation to generation; stories given to me and stories I expect you to give as well…but these aren’t simply stories. What you are about to read are stories with instructions because the path our forefathers took is a path that we too could take. The mistakes they made are the very ones I see us making as well. So let’s learn from our past so we can be shaped in our present and future.” And then the next verses (9-72) are all the instructions of a historical past from Moses to David. An instruction that speaks of the events of sins and God’s response to not only the sin of his people but of his unfailing love as well.
For me, as I read this, while it’s easy to focus on the sins of the people (because let’s be honest…they were consistent in that naughtiness) that’s not really the focus. And while that IS part of the reasoning for this psalm never should that BE our focus. The Bible isn’t a book about the sins of the people – it’s a historical account of the persistent love of God. Yes, lessons need to be learned from our naughty past – but that isn’t what it’s about.
It’s really easy to read psalms like this, as well as the rest of the Bible, and get caught up in what they were doing and fail to see what you are doing. It’s really easy to read history and walk away without taking something in, learning a lesson, and seeing how it’s still applicable still to this day. Lessons need to be learned because we are really good at repeating the sins of the past – but it’s also a whole lot easier saying that, “I am NOT like them because I would never do _________!” and yet they would never do ______________ which is what I do day in and day out. But with all of Scripture there is always a constant theme of grace and hope that should never been ignored. So while yes biblical history must be seen and learned from – what must be taken in even more is God’s ever-present love.
For all the persistent sin of the people God’s persistent love was more. For all the anger we see of God due to the consistent turning away of his own people – God’s love was still more. No matter what they did – God would not leave, abandon, forsake, or ignore their pleas. Simply put, there was going to be nothing that these people did that would drive his love away. He most definitely punished…but love always had the last word. For however far our sin goes and travels, however deep of destruction our sin creates…God’s love is still greater. As I write this an old hymn (old to me at least) that I have always loved comes floating into my soul…so I think I’ll close with the words to the first verse and the refrain/chorus (you can find the lyrics here though):
The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.
Oh, love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
The saints’ and angels’ song.