Psalm 78 Bible Commentary

John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes

(Read all of Psalm 78)

Verse 1

[1] Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

My law — The doctrine which I am about to deliver.

Verse 2

[2] I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:

Parable — Weighty sentences.

Dark sayings — Not that the words are hard to be understood, but the things, God's transcendent goodness, their unparallel'd ingratitude; and their stupid ignorance and insensibleness, under such excellent teachings of God's word and works, are prodigious and hard to be believed.

Of old — Of things done in ancient times.

Verse 5

[5] For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children:

Established — This is justly put in first place, as the chief of all his mercies.

A testimony — His law, called a testimony, because it is a witness between God and men, declaring the duties which God expects from man, and the blessings which man may expect from God.

Verse 9

[9] The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.

Ephraim — That Ephraim is here put for all Israel seems evident from the following verses, wherein the sins, upon which this overthrow is charged, are manifestly the sins of all the children of Israel, and they who are here called Ephraim are called Jacob and Israel, verse 21, and this passage may refer to that dreadful overthrow related, 1 Samuel 4:10,11, which is particularly named, because as the ark, so the flight was in that tribe. And the psalmist having related this amazing providence, falls into a large discourse of the causes of it, namely, the manifold sins of that and the former generations, which having prosecuted from hence to verse 60, he there returns to this history, and relates the sad consequence of that disaster, the captivity of the ark, and God's forsaking of Shiloh and Ephraim, and removing thence to the tribe of Judah and mount Zion. Bows - These are put for all arms.

Verse 12

[12] Marvellous things did he in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.

Field — In the territory.

Zoan — An ancient and eminent city of Egypt.

Verse 15

[15] He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths.

Wilderness — In Rephidim, and again in Kadesh.

Verse 16

[16] He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.

Streams — Which miraculously followed them in all their travels, even to the borders of Canaan.

Verse 17

[17] And they sinned yet more against him by provoking the most High in the wilderness.

Wilderness — Where they had such singular obligations to obedience. This was a great aggravation of their sins.

Verse 18

[18] And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust.

Tempted — Desired a proof of God's power.

Lust — Not for their necessary subsistence, but out of an inordinate and luxurious appetite.

Verse 22

[22] Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation:

Trusted not — That he both could, and would save them from the famine which they feared.

Verse 23

[23] Though he had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven,

Heaven — Which he compares to a store-house, whereof God shuts or opens the doors, as he sees fit.

Verse 25

[25] Man did eat angels' food: he sent them meat to the full.

Angels food — Manna, so called, because it was made by the ministry of angels.

Verse 26

[26] He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by his power he brought in the south wind.

South wind — First an eastern, and afterwards a southern wind.

Verse 27

[27] He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea:

Fowl — But God took away from them the use of their wings, and made them to fall into the hands of the Israelites.

Verse 31

[31] The wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen men of Israel.

Mightiest — The most healthy and strong, who probably were most desirous of this food, and fed most eagerly upon it.

Verse 33

[33] Therefore their days did he consume in vanity, and their years in trouble.

Vanity — In tedious and fruitless marches hither and thither.

Trouble — In manifold diseases, dangers, and perplexities.

Verse 34

[34] When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and enquired early after God.

Returned — From their idols.

Enquired — Speedily sought to God for ease and safety.

Verse 35

[35] And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer.

Redeemer — That God alone had preserved them in all their former exigencies, and that he only could help them.

Verse 36

[36] Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues.

Lied — They made but false protestations of their sincere resolutions of future obedience.

Verse 42

[42] They remembered not his hand, nor the day when he delivered them from the enemy.

Hand — The glorious works of his hand.

Enemy — That remarkable day, in which God delivered them from their greatest enemy, Pharaoh.

Verse 45

[45] He sent divers sorts of flies among them, which devoured them; and frogs, which destroyed them.

Flies — These flies were doubtless extraordinary in their nature, and hurtful qualities. And the like is to be thought concerning the frogs.

Verse 46

[46] He gave also their increase unto the caterpiller, and their labour unto the locust.

Labour — The herbs which were come up by their care and labour.

Verse 47

[47] He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycomore trees with frost.

Sycamore-trees — Under these and the vines, all other trees are comprehended. This hail and frost destroyed the fruit of the trees, and sometimes the trees themselves.

Verse 49

[49] He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them.

Evil angels — Whom God employed in producing these plagues.

Verse 51

[51] And smote all the firstborn in Egypt; the chief of their strength in the tabernacles of Ham:

Ham — Of the Egyptians, the posterity of Ham, the cursed children of a cursed parent.

Verse 54

[54] And he brought them to the border of his sanctuary, even to this mountain, which his right hand had purchased.

Holy place — The land of Canaan, separated by God from all other lands.

Mountain — The mountainous country of Canaan; the word mountain is often used in scripture for a mountainous country.

Verse 57

[57] But turned back, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers: they were turned aside like a deceitful bow.

Deceitful bow — Which either breaks when it is drawn, or shoots awry, and frustrates the archer's expectation.

Verse 59

[59] When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel:

Heard — Perceived or understood, it is spoken of God after the manner of men.

Verse 60

[60] So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men;

Shiloh — Which was placed in Shiloh.

Among men — Whereby he insinuates both God's wonderful condescension, and their stupendous folly in despising so glorious a privilege.

Verse 61

[61] And delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemy's hand.

His strength — The ark, called God's strength, 1 Chronicles 16:11, because it was the sign and pledge of his strength put forth on his people's behalf.

Glory — So the ark is called, as being the monument and seat of God's glorious presence.

Enemies — The Philistines.

Verse 64

[64] Their priests fell by the sword; and their widows made no lamentation.

Priests — Hophni and Phinehas.

No lamentation — No funeral solemnities; either because they were prevented by their own death, as the wife of Phinehas was, or disturbed by the invasion of the enemy.

Verse 66

[66] And he smote his enemies in the hinder parts: he put them to a perpetual reproach.

Smote — Them with the piles.

Reproach — He caused them to perpetuate their own reproach by sending back the ark of God with their golden emrods, the lasting monuments of their shame.

Verse 67

[67] Moreover he refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim:

Refused — He would not have his ark to abide any longer in the tabernacle of Shiloh, which was in the tribe of Joseph or Ephraim.

Verse 68

[68] But chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved.

Chose — For the seat of the ark and of God's worship.

Verse 69

[69] And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which he hath established for ever.

Sanctuary — The temple of Solomon.

Palaces — Magnificent and gloriously.

Established — Not now to be moved from place to place, as the tabernacle was, but as a fixed place for the ark's perpetual residence.