Over the next several days, I’d like to post some reflections on a Psalm that I read this week. I’ve read through all of the Psalms several times, but each time it seems one or two of them will stick out and speak to me in a way they never have before. So it was this week with Psalm 78.
First, a little background. Psalm 78 is a historical psalm, meaning that it recounts actual historical events. For some other examples of historical Psalms, check out Psalms 105 and 106. Psalm 78 was composed by Asaph, whom David appointed as chief musician; the leader of the Levites that had been assigned “to invoke, to thank, and to praise the LORD, the God of Israel” on behalf of all of the Israelites (1 Chronicles 15:16-21; 16:4-7). The first eight verses of this psalm serve as an introduction and purpose statement, so we’ll jump right in.
Tell the Coming Generation
A Maskil of Asaph
1 Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;
incline your ears to the words of my mouth!
2 I will open my mouth in a parable;
I will utter dark sayings from of old,
3 things that we have heard and known,
that our fathers have told us.
4 We will not hide them from their children,
but tell to the coming generation
the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,
and the wonders that he has done.
5 He established a testimony in Jacob
and appointed a law in Israel,
which he commanded our fathers
to teach to their children,
6 that the next generation might know them,
the children yet unborn,
and arise and tell them to their children,
7 so that they should set their hope in God
and not forget the works of God,
but keep his commandments;
8 and that they should not be like their fathers,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast,
whose spirit was not faithful to God.
Remembering in Every Generation
“I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us.”
One of the greatest themes in the Old Testament is that of remembrance. The word “remember” is used 184 times in the OT alone! The people of God are continually exhorted to remember what God has done for them, and what He has promised to do for them in the future. God ALWAYS remembers the promises He has made, and is faithful to keep His covenants (Deuteronomy 7:9).
Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, prophesied that Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Israel, given because God had remembered His promise (Luke 1:67-75). Jesus himself claimed to be the fulfillment of God’s promises written in the Law and Prophets (Matthew 5:17-18), that the Old Testament teachings should be taught and applied (Matthew 5:19), and that all these things were written about Himself (Luke 24:27). In fact, the apostle Matthew quoted Psalm 78 in reference to how Jesus taught (Matthew 13:35).
In the New Testament, Jesus and the apostles extended this theme of remembrance to the works and words of Jesus (John 15:20; Acts 20:35). The teachings of the early church that are recorded in Scripture are full of constant reminders of the work that Christ accomplished on the Cross (Galatians 3:13-14; 2 Corinthians 5:21, etc). Today, the message of the gospel is still all about remembering what Christ has done for undeserving sinners (Romans 5:8).
Responsibility to the Next Generation
“We will… tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.”
After delivering Israel from bondage and giving them the Law, each generation was charged with teaching the next so that every generation would be able to remember what God had commanded and done for His people (Deuteronomy 6:6-7; Psalm 145:4; Joel 1:3). Those who were obedient to the Lord did pass His Word on to their children (Deuteronomy 32:7; Proverbs 4:1-6).
In the New Testament, fathers are also told to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Ephesians 6:4). Furthermore, older Christians are to instruct younger Christians in sound doctrine and righteous living (Titus 2:1-8). It is absolutely vital that we are teaching younger generations not only “Bible stories,” but sound theology. Our kids (and youth, and adults…) need to know that these are not simply stories, but True events that really happened, which are all part of the overarching redemptive story of God’s love for His people.
Learning From Previous Generations
“… that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation…”
One of the best ways that we learn is through mistakes — both our own, and those of others. Part of the lesson to be passed on to future generations has always been the failure of God’s people to uphold their end of their covenant with the Lord, though He is a God of faithfulness (Deuteronomy 32:4-5). Even when Israel broke their covenant with God, He promised a new, better covenant was coming, which would set things right and provide atonement for sin (Jeremiah 31:31-34). He would do this because He is holy, and must fulfill His promises, even though Israel had been disobedient. When He did this, His people would remember their unfaithfulness and be ashamed of their wicked ways (Ezekiel 36:22-32).
In both testaments, those who preach God’s Word speak of consequences for sin; not just for the sinner, but for future generations as well (Exodus 34:7). There is a pattern throughout Israel’s history of people forgetting God’s word, and the following generations would be disobedient. We still see this today, as children who grow up outside of Christian homes are far less likely to become Christians. How sad it is when children of Christians also fail to hear the Word!
But there is always hope. God makes a way where there is no way! We don’t have to repeat the mistakes of previous generations. In the first sermon after the arrival of the Holy Spirit, Peter exhorted the hearers to save themselves from their crooked generation… which made for quite the alter call (Acts 2:40-41)!
Jesus Christ is the guarantor and mediator of the promised new & better covenant (Hebrews 7:22; 8:6), which is made available through His blood (Luke 22:20), and of which we, as Christians, are made ministers by God’s power (2 Corinthians 3:5-6). May we be diligent in instructing the coming generation of this great covenant, owning up to our own failures even as we remind them of God’s everlasting faithfulness!
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” ~ Ephesians 3:20-21