Idolatry and Restoration

Then the Lord awoke as from sleep, like a strong man shouting because of wine. And he put his adversaries to rout; he put them to everlasting shame” (vv. 65–66).

- Psalm 78:40–66

Given the sins of God’s people and the often sorry state of the church, we sometimes believe that the covenant community of today is uniquely unfaithful to the Word of the Lord. Yet although we do not want to minimize the problems that the church actually faces today, we do not want to exaggerate them either. There have been periods of history in which God’s people have been less faithful than they are today. Remembering this will give us a more realistic view of our own era and help us to be grateful for the Lord’s work in the present.

We continue our study of Psalm 78 today, finding in it an example of an earlier generation of God’s people whose unfaithfulness helps put our own generation in proper perspective. The psalm’s author, Asaph, continues his recounting of the unfaithfulness of the wilderness generation of Israel that has occupied most of his attention in verses 1–39. Today’s passage stresses the radical failure of those Israelites by noting the various plagues that the Lord sent on Egypt in the process of liberating His people from slavery (vv. 40–51; see Ex. 7:1–12:32). Even after all these signs, God’s people continued to reject His wise governance and His sovereign love, for as we know, no one in that generation made it to the land of Canaan except Caleb and Joshua (Num. 14:35–38; Deut. 1:34–38). From this we can learn at least two lessons. First, we should not think that a stupendous display of God’s power will necessarily make it easier to be faithful to Him. Second, we should understand that past movements of God will not benefit us if we do not continue in faith. Past spiritual experiences are not the measure of whether we are in the right with our Creator; rather, faith in the present is the sign of salvation.

Not only did God do mighty deeds before rescuing His people from Egypt, but He also took Israel into the land of Canaan with a great show of His outstretched arm in the days of Joshua (Ps. 78:51–55). Yet even this was met with ingratitude. Not only did the first generation to leave Egypt fail, but even the successive generations that took up residence in the Promised Land could not keep covenant with the Lord. In an overview of the period described in Judges and 1 Samuel, Asaph reminds us of the Israelites’ continuing idolatry and trouble once they settled in Canaan (vv. 56–64). But the last verses of today’s passage contain a word of hope. Like a mighty warrior, the Lord roused and rescued His people through various judges, foreshadowing the mighty deliverance He would bring through the ideal king of Israel (vv. 65–66; Judg. 2:16–18; 1 Sam. 7:3–17; 2 Sam. 7:1).

Coram Deo

Though much of the focus of today’s passage is on the failure of the Israelites due to idolatry, we can find greatly encouraging the concluding note of hope in which God arises to rescue His people. Even when the covenant community descends to the depths of depravity, we know that He will finally keep His promises to save His people. This should not make us complacent in sin, but it should help us rely on the Lord, who alone can fix all that is wrong with His people.

Passages for Further Study

Exodus 2:23–25
Psalm 68:1–3
1 John 5:21
1 Peter 4:3

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