Psalm 78:1-8[ref]NIV New International Version Translations[/ref]
1 O my people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. 2 I will open my mouth in parables, I will utter hidden things, things from of old—3 what we have heard and known, what our fathers have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their children; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. 5 He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he commanded our forefathers to teach their children, 6 so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. 7 Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands. 8 They would not be like their forefathers—a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to him.
Psalm 78, as you notice from the heading, is written by Asaph. Asaph was a Levite in the court of King David who was both a music leader and a teacher – he belonged to the family of the Levites whose job it was to teach. This is a very long Psalm which records the history of Israel from Egypt all the way to David. The Psalm highlights two things in all this history; 1) the repeated disobedience and ingratitude of the Israelites, and 2) the recurring and unfailing mercy of God to the disobedient nation.
Start with Verse 5 and notice two things from this verse:
We First, we see that God has revealed himself – “He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel.” We start here because this is the foundation; this is absolutely basic to any instruction of our children; God Has spoken. Any education that ignores God’s revelation is, not only a waste of education and effort, but is no education at all. Everything must be brought back to God. God has revealed himself, and everything in heaven and earth is related to the revelation of that Creator.
Now, we ask from the text, what has God spoken? In verse 5a, God has spoken by “establishing a testimony and appointing a law.” Briefly, what is this? “Testimony” and “Law” take us back to Exodus 31:18 where we read that Jehovah “gave unto Moses two tables of testimony, two tables of stone, written with the finger of God.” What was written on these tables was the “ten commandments.” Psalm 78 takes us back to Mt. Sinai and the Covenant made with Israel there. God promised to be the God of His people, to be their Friend, and God told them that they would be His special and peculiar people. As His peculiar people, they were given the law of God, representing their part in His covenant with them. Should they break the law, they would be violating the covenant (as verse 10 also states concerning Ephraim’s disobedience).
In verse 5, God not only establishes this testimony, not only gives its content to Israel, but also, in the second place, He gives command to them to teach it to their children. This is a command! God demands it of covenant parents. They must teach their children. There are several reasons for this.
- First, simply this; not every generation in Israel is going to learn about God’s grace and power by being delivered from Egypt themselves. And, not every generation in Israel is going to receive the law first-hand from the mountain out of the mouth of God. So, children must be instructed.
- Second, the children do not belong to us. They are covenant children. They belong to God and His covenant. They, with us, are in a line of continued generations which all belong to God. That is why the Psalmist says in verse 4, “their children.” His children, he says, are not his own, but the children of his fathers, that is, the children of the covenant people of God who have gone before him. Not our children, but they belong to God, and we are stewards of them.
- Third, the children need to be taught because of their own sinful hearts. In verse 8 he says, “And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation.” And the implication is, that unless they are taught, they will be that way. That is who they are by nature.
The second section of the psalm we look at is verses 1-4: Here we have “The Believer’s Willingness” in the example of Asaph. Asaph obeys the command of God in verse 5 and makes known the will and works of God to the next generation. This is not an easy command for parents to follow. What Asaph does here gives good practical instruction to us with regard to teaching our children. This is a difficult work, and Asaph shows us the way here, gives some divine guidelines, and in some ways simplifies this task for us.
First, notice that Asaph sets aside a definite time for this instruction and calls the children to pay attention during that time. In verses 1-2 he demand>. I saw Satan fall quickly or rapidly–as quick as lightning. The phrase “from heaven” is to be referred to the lightning, and does not mean that he saw Satan fall from heaven, but that he fell as quickly as lightning from heaven or from the clouds. The whole expression then may mean, “I saw at your command devils immediately depart, as quick as the flash of lightning. I gave you this power– I saw it put forth–and I give also now, in addition to this, the power to tread on serpents,.”
Verse 19. To trample on snakes and scorpions. Preservation from danger. If you tread on a poisonous reptile that would otherwise injure you, I will keep you from danger. If you go among bitter and malignant enemies that would seek your life, I will preserve you.
Scorpions. The scorpion is an animal with eight feet, eight eyes, and a long jointed tail, ending in a pointed weapon or sting. It is found in tropical climates, and seldom exceeds 4 inches in length. Its sting is extremely poisonous, and it is sometimes fatal to life. It is in Scripture the emblem of malicious and crafty men.
The enemy. Satan. The meaning of this verse is that Jesus would preserve them from the power of Satan and all his emissaries–from all wicked and crafty men; and this shows that he had divine power. He that can control Satan and his hosts–that can be present to guard from all their machinations, see all their plans, and destroy all their designs, must be clothed with no less than almighty power.
Verse 20. Do not rejoice. Though it was an honor to work miracles, though it is an honor to be endowed with talents, and influence, and learning, yet it is a subject of chief joy that we are numbered among the people of God, and have a title to everlasting life.
Names are written in heaven. The names of citizens of a city or state were accustomed to be written in a book or register, from which they were blotted out when they became unworthy, or forfeited the favor of their country. (Psalms 69:28;; Exodus 32:32;; Deuteronomy 9:14;; Revelation 3:5). That their names were written in heaven means that they were citizens of heaven; that they were friends of God and approved by him, and would be permitted to dwell with him. This was of far more value than all earthly honor, power, or wealth, and in these men should rejoice more than in eminent endowments of influence, learning, talents, or possessions.
Items for Discussion
- Is Jesus telling us to turn our backs on those who do not welcome us when we come to teach?
- Are the religions that send out their flock to proselytize more or less correct in their interpretations of these verses?
- What are the risks when we share our faith and go out to teach others about our God and Christ?
- Are there any risks associated with our own families?
- What teaching techniques have been the most productive for you?
- Can we be productive Christians without passing our faith on to the next generation?
- What would the risks be if our children did not grow up to be “teachers” of the faith but just faithful followers?
- What is the most difficult problem that adults face in teaching children about God?