We will be reflecting on Psalm 78 Telling Our Children God’s Story. Psalm 78 begins by calling us to listen to the stories our ancestors have told us so that we can tell them to our children. The writer then moves into telling the story of God’s faithfulness in his relationship with his people, how he provides for them, protects them, and how the people fail to be faithful to God. The psalmist ends with how God punishes his people, but in order to draw them back to him, he provides them with a faithful king.
Telling Our Children God’s Story
Theme: telling the stories of God help our children trust in Jesus
Baptisms are so special, a beautiful sign and seal of God’s grace, a symbol of belonging and acceptance. Baptism is a reminder of what Jesus accomplishes on the cross, a going down into death and rising up into new life, a sign that Alaric is part of our church family and that Jesus has gone to the cross for him even before he can choose Jesus. Adam and Heather chose Psalm 78 as their passage for today because it emphasizes the importance of telling the stories of God, the stories of faith to our children, a reminder to parents to lead their children into a relationship with Jesus, teaching them trust and faith in Jesus as they hear and learn the story of salvation.
Psalm 78 is written by Asaph, considered a prophet by the Jews. In this psalm, Asaph tells us to tell the stories of God and the history of God’s people with God so that they may be faithful to the Lord. Asaph does a deep dive into Israel’s history, remembering the stories of God’s power and deliverance of his people, the slide of Israel time after time into unfaithfulness to God, and then God’s faithfulness, mercy, justice, and forgiveness, all leading to the gift of a faithful king in David, servant to the Lord, pointing to the hope of God’s people, a hope fully realized in the coming of Jesus.
Listening to the stories of faith reminds us of who we are and why we can trust in God. The stories also remind us of who we are not supposed to be, stubborn and rebellious, instead we are called to be loyal to God who is always loyal and faithful to us, an echo back to our series on the Judges of Israel. Dr. Cullen Story talks about how remembrance in terms of Psalm 78 means geographical and historical anchors such as Egypt, the fields of Zoan, the sea, the desert, Shiloh, and Jerusalem. Remembrance means persons as well, Jacob, Judah, Joseph, and David.
Asaph tells the stories of the Exodus when God freed his people from slavery to the Egyptians, even dividing the waters of the Red Sea so Israel could escape from their slave masters on dry ground, and then drowning the Egyptians by allowing the waters to return to their place once Israel was safe. In verse 42, Asaph laments that Israel doesn’t remember the Lord’s power and the amazing signs he did in leading them to freedom. He lists the 10 plagues in Egypt that God sent to show Egypt and Israel who the true God is, the most powerful God. In the 10 plagues, God defeats 10 of the main gods the Egyptians follow, culminating in the plague of death, showing that even Pharaoh is weak and unable to protect his people from Israel’s God. There’s no God like Israel’s God!
Asaph tells the stories of the wilderness, the stories of how God provided for his people. They asked for water, he gave them water. They asked for food and he gave them manna, bread from heaven. They asked for meat, he provided them with quail. For 40 years God provided for his people and still they whined and complained, even wishing at times that they had left slavery in Egypt because there they could eat melons. Asaph writes, “They ate till they were gorged—he had given them what they craved.” Not all of the stories of our relationships with God are happy stories because our hearts are full of sin and so, like Israel, we often end up chasing God’s blessings and loving them more than God, looking to what we don’t have rather than what we do. Is it any wonder then that in the stories of God and his people that there are times that God acted out of anger, allowing them to experience the consequences of their ungratefulness, at times even death? And still, “in spite of all this, they kept on sinning; in spite of his wonders, they did not believe. So he ended their days in futility and their years in terror.”
God is a God of justice, sin and rebellion have consequences, but we discover in the stories of God and his people that God is also a merciful God, a God of grace. Verses 34–39, “Whenever God slew them, they would seek him; they eagerly turned to him again. They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer. But then they would flatter him with their mouths, lying to him with their tongues; their hearts were not loyal to him, they were not faithful to his covenant. Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return.” God remembers their weaknesses, and ours, and this stirs God’s mercy and forgiveness. This is part of the hallmark of the Christian faith; God remains faithful to his covenants with his people even though we fail the covenants over and over again. As Paul reminds us of this great hope in Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Psalm 78 reminds us of a covenant of forgiveness and new beginnings; a covenant that calls God's people to faith and obedience.
Israel makes it into the Promised Land. You would think that with everything God has done for his people that they would be the most faithful people ever, but history tells us differently, instead they keep testing God, testing his patience and faithfulness to them. We’ve just finished journeying through the judges in Israel where we saw how the people love other gods, how they were disloyal and faithless towards God time after time, and how they were as unreliable in leading the nations to a greater knowledge of God, leaving it up to God to raise up judges to lead them out of slavery to the nations and their gods over and over again.
Asaph doesn’t hide the hard stories of his people, showing how they keep walking away from God, but showing just how merciful and loving God is to his people. Because God loves his people, he doesn’t ignore their sin and punishes them in order to draw them back to himself, and to lead them into becoming the people he’s calling them to be. God turns his back on Israel at times, but he does not abandon them, instead withdrawing his blessings from them when they chase after other gods. Like a parent who loves their child but hates something they’ve done, they punish their child so their child is reminded of the person their parents expect them to be.
The psalms are Hebrew poetry, using metaphors, similes, and hyperbole, meaning that the psalmist often uses extreme language and images to describe what they’re writing about. Here Asaph uses hyperbole to show us the hurt and pain our faithlessness causes God, “When God heard them, he was furious; he rejected Israel completely. He abandoned the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent he had set up among humans. He sent the ark of his might into captivity, his splendor into the hands of the enemy. He gave his people over to the sword; he was furious with his inheritance. Fire consumed their young men, and their young women had no wedding songs; their priests were put to the sword, and their widows could not weep.” In his faithfulness, God does not break his covenant with Israel, he does not abandon them, but he does allow them to experience the consequences of their sin and the power of his anger and disappointment with them.
God doesn’t stay angry forever, Asaph describes God as waking up as from a sleep, beating back the enemies, choosing the tribe of Judah, building his sanctuary like the heights, and choosing David his servant to be the shepherd of God’s people. This is where knowing the stories of God helps. We know Judah is one of the sons of Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, and God chooses Judah as the line through which the promised Messiah is going to come, even though he’s not the oldest son. God raises up a shepherd David to lead his people as their king, pointing us to the Good Shepherd Jesus who comes and saves us from our sin.
We get a glimpse here of what the doctrine of election looks like, the doctrine where we confess that God chooses his children, not based on how good or special they are, but because he chooses. This is a doctrine of comfort and hope because it’s all about pure grace. We don’t know who God has chosen, so we offer the good news of Jesus to everyone, inviting them all to follow Jesus with us, generously sowing the seeds of the good news wherever the Spirit leads us, especially in our children. These seeds are planted through telling the stories of who God is and his faithfulness to his people, what Jesus has done, and how Jesus offers us his Spirit to guide us and remind us of who he is, shaping our life stories into stories of redemption, renewal, and hope.