Psalm 78, 8 Nov 20

‘With upright heart God tended them, guided them with skilful hand.’ (72)

This long psalm is one of the dozen said to be by someone, or perhaps a group, called Asaph. Except for Psalm 50, these songs are all gathered together at the beginning of Book III of the Psalter, starting at Psalm 73.

In 72 verses, it covers many of the high points in the Torah. Lessons flow from the plagues and the exodus, subsequent trials and the calling of our ‘sponsor’ David, king and psalm-writer. This lengthy review of the history of the Israelites, typical of the psalms of Asaph, stretches well beyond today’s reading of just the first seven verses. It concludes with the reminder in the final verse, quoted above, of the goodness inherent in divine guidance. (More>)

This short introductory section (1 – 7) is a plea to the people to pass on to future generations their history, their hard experiences and lessons in trust that will be enumerated in the verses that follow.

‘… that the next generation might know them and rise up and tell them to their children.’ (6)

So Psalm 78 is a plea, a promise and a pledge to tell the old, old stories — for those who went before us, for ourselves, and for those who will follow.


At South Woden this week we shall again turn to our hymn book, since a copy may be readily available at home. We shall hear a rendition of Together in Song 41, ‘We will listen’.

Having just explained the division of subject matter intended in the Lectionary reading, a qualifier must now be added; this musical setting, like many others in TiS, does not quite follow the Lectionary verses. We hear the first four verses, then fast forward to 12 to 16 for a taste of the extended history lesson.

Verse 12 has the Israelites still ‘in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan’. Zoan, somewhere in the Nile delta, also appears in verses 43. Apparently it was a locus of divine blessing. Here Moses performed miracles before the Pharaoh, to convince him that the time to be rid of this troublesome yet determined people had come.

Moses strikes the rock, Arthur Boyd

Then later verses mention the cloudy pillar for desert guidance, and water from the wilderness rock — which gives me an excuse to revisit the dramatic Boyd painting shown.

Since they are not included in the sung version this week, here is an extract from the missing verses. On display is an urge that has motivated storytellers and singers in many cultures and eras around the world, like the kindy teacher shown above. Stories are told and enjoyed whatever the nature of the inherited myths, law or spirits:

God … appointed a law in Israel and commanded our ancestors to teach to their children; that the next generation might know them and rise up and tell them to their children, so that they might put their trust in God. (5-7)

Other music choices are discussed in the main page for Psalm 78.

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