When the Lord heard them, he was furious;
his fire broke out against Jacob,
and his wrath rose against Israel,
for they did not believe in God
or trust in his deliverance.
Yet he gave a command to the skies above
and opened the doors of the heavens;
he rained down manna for the people to eat,
he gave them the grain of heaven.
Human beings ate the bread of angels;
he sent them all the food they could eat.
He let loose the east wind from the heavens
and by his power made the south wind blow.
He rained meat down on them like dust,
birds like sand on the seashore.
He made them come down inside their camp,
all around their tents.
They ate till they were gorged –
he had given them what they craved.
But before they turned from what they craved,
even while the food was still in their mouths,
God’s anger rose against them;
he put to death the sturdiest among them,
cutting down the young men of Israel.
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.
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.
How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness
and grieved him in the wasteland!
Again and again they put God to the test;
they vexed the Holy One of Israel.
They did not remember his power –
the day he redeemed them from the oppressor,
the day he displayed his signs in Egypt,
his wonders in the region of Zoan.
He turned their river into blood;
they could not drink from their streams.
He sent swarms of flies that devoured them,
and frogs that devastated them.
He gave their crops to the grasshopper,
their produce to the locust.
He destroyed their vines with hail
and their sycamore-figs with sleet.
He gave over their cattle to the hail,
their livestock to bolts of lightning.
He unleashed against them his hot anger,
his wrath, indignation and hostility –
a band of destroying angels.
He prepared a path for his anger;
he did not spare them from death
but gave them over to the plague.
He struck down all the firstborn of Egypt,
the firstfruits of manhood in the tents of Ham.
But he brought his people out like a flock;
he led them like sheep through the wilderness.
He guided them safely, so they were unafraid;
but the sea engulfed their enemies.
And so he brought them to the border of his holy land,
to the hill country his right hand had taken.
He drove out nations before them
and allotted their lands to them as an inheritance;
he settled the tribes of Israel in their homes.
But they put God to the test
and rebelled against the Most High;
they did not keep his statutes.
Like their ancestors they were disloyal and faithless,
as unreliable as a faulty bow.
They angered him with their high places;
they aroused his jealousy with their idols.
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 splendour 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.
Then the Lord awoke as from sleep,(Ps. 78:21-72 NIV)
as a warrior wakes from the stupor of wine.
He beat back his enemies;
he put them to everlasting shame.
Then he rejected the tents of Joseph,
he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim;
but he chose the tribe of Judah,
Mount Zion, which he loved.
He built his sanctuary like the heights,
like the earth that he established for ever.
He chose David his servant
and took him from the sheepfolds;
from tending the sheep he brought him
to be the shepherd of his people Jacob,
of Israel his inheritance.
And David shepherded them with integrity of heart;
with skilful hands he led them.
The Psalmist provides a litany of sins that the people of God had committed. Despite the evidence of God’s goodness, they refused to believe. Can we be guilty of such sins? Consider listening to a sermon or reading a passage of God’s word that gives us reason to be encouraged. To not be encouraged is a refusal to apply the word to your life. If we read a rebuke and refuse to repent, then despite what God has said we carry on living the way we did before the Lord rebuked us through His word. Evangelicals in the UK have developed a wrong view of worship. They make a distinction between worship and teaching. They say that the first part of the service is the worship part and the sermon is the teaching. There are some that say they will go to one church for the worship and another for the teaching. From the Call to worship to benediction it is all worship. We don’t listen to the sermon to get information or education though we should certainly get that, we listen to worship. We worship when we respond in obedience to what God is saying through His word or saying through His minister.
In this Psalm the Psalmist tells how the people refused to worship. There was ample evidence of the goodness of God, but they turned their hearts away from God. The people who had witnessed God prepare a path through the Red Sea doubted if God could provide food for them in the wilderness. God sent them bread and meat, but God was angry with them, they did not believe or trust in God. The doors of heaven were opened, and God rained down bread for the people, the grain of heaven, the bread of angels. God sent birds for the people to eat. They consumed more than they needed and gorged on the gifts that God had sent. Taking but not thanking, eating, and appreciating the food but not appreciating the giver. The Lord punished the people by causing them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. As God took the lives of the sturdiest and the young men, the people kept on sinning. When God punished them, they would briefly turn to God and seek the Lord. They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High had redeemed them, but they approached God only with their lips while their hearts were far from God. They didn’t mean what they prayed, they had no heart felt praise and they sought to flatter God with their lying lips. They were not loyal or faithful to God and His covenant. They sought God for the benefits that that would bring. Though the Lord knew what was in their hearts He was merciful to them and didn’t utterly destroy them.
God was consistently good to His people even though they rebelled. When they were in Egypt God cared for them and continued to care and provide in the wilderness. God had guided His people, He was the shepherd leading the flock out of Egypt. He led then them through the desert and guided them safely. He brought them into the Promised Land and drove out the nations that were in the land. He settled the tribes and give them the land as their inheritance. But they rebelled against the Lord and did not keep God’s word. The people once settled in the land rebelled like the previous generation. They set up idols in high places.
Because of their rebellion God removed His glorious presence from them. The Lord destroyed Shiloh and allowed the ark of the covenant to be taken captive. Young men and priests were killed in battle, leaving behind unmarried girls and widows. Those who were left behind were too greatly afflicted to weep for the dead.
While the Philistines prevailed over Israel, it seemed as if the Lord was asleep. The Lord awoke and drove back the enemy and gave a place of honour to the tribe of Judah, rejecting the supremacy of the tribe of Ephraim. The tribe of Judah was further favoured by choosing Jerusalem as the place for the temple. God chose David, taking him from tending the sheep to tend God’s flock. God is putting in place the tribe of Judah, establishing Jerusalem. The stage is being set for the coming of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Lord God let us never forget the saving work of Christ upon the cross. You have done great things for us, how could we set up false gods, when only You have the words of salvation. How could we place our confidence in anything but our God? Lord as we see Your hand at work preparing the stage for the coming of Jesus Your Son into the world, we thank You that in this age You are bringing in the Kingdom of God. Lord let that hope sustain us in these days. Help us to keep our trust in You and to remain faithful to Your word. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.