Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
The Warning-Mirror of History from Moses to David
In the last verse of Psalm 77 Israel appears as a flock which is led by Moses and Aaron; in the last verse of Psalm 78 as a flock which is led by David, of a pure heart, with judicious hands. Both Psalms also meet in thoughts and expressions, just as the לאסף of both leads one to expect. Psalm 78 is called Maskı̂l, a meditation. The word would also be appropriate here in the signification "a didactic poem." For the history of Israel is recapitulated here from the leading forth out of Egypt through the time of the Judges down to David, and that with the practical application for the present age that they should cleave faithfully to Jahve, more faithfully than the rebellious generation of the fathers. After the manner of the Psalms of Asaph the Ephraimites are made specially prominent out of the whole body of the people, their disobedience as well as the rejection of Shiloh and the election of David, by which it was for ever at an end with the supremacy of Ephraim and also of his brother-tribe of Benjamin.
The old Asaphic origin of the Psalm has been contested: - (1) Because Psalm 78:9 may be referred to the apostasy of Ephraim and of the other tribes, that is to say, to the division of the kingdom. But this reference is capriciously imagined to be read in Psalm 78:9. (2) Because the Psalm betrays a malice, indeed a national hatred against Ephraim, such as is only explicable after the apostasy of the ten tribes. But the alienation and jealousy between Ephraim and Judah is older than the rupture of the kingdom. The northern tribes, in consequence of their position, which was more exposed to contact with the heathen world, had already assumed a different character from that of Judah living in patriarchal seclusion. They could boast of a more excited, more martial history, one richer in exploit; in the time of the Judges especially, there is scarcely any mention of Judah. Hence Judah was little thought of by them, especially by powerful Ephraim, which regarded itself as the foremost tribe of all the tribes. From the beginning of Saul's persecution of David, however, when the stricter principle of the south came first of all into decisive conflict for the mastery with the more lax principle of the Ephraimites, until the rebellion of Jeroboam against Solomon, there runs through the history of Israel a series of acts which reveal a deep reft between Judah and the other tribes, more especially Benjamin and Ephraim. Though, therefore, it were true that a tone hostile to Ephraim is expressed in the Psalm, this would not be any evidence against its old Asaphic origin, since the psalmist rests upon facts, and, without basing the preference of Judah upon merit, he everywhere contemplates the sin of Ephraim, without any Judaean boasting, in a connection with the sin of the whole nation, which involves all in the responsibility. Nor is Psalm 78:69 against Asaph the contemporary of David; for Asaph may certainly have seen the building of the Temple of Solomon as it towered upwards to the skies, and Caspari in his Essay on the Holy One of Israel (Luther. Zeitschrift, 1844, 3) has shown that even the divine name קדושׁ ישׂראל does not militate against him. We have seen in connection with Psalm 76:1-12 how deeply imbued Isaiah's language is with that of the Psalms of Asaph. It cannot surprise us of Asaph is Isaiah's predecessor in the use of the name "the Holy One of Isreal." The fact, however, that the writer of the Psalm takes the words and colours of his narration from all five books of the Pentateuch, with the exception of Leviticus, is not opposed to our view of the origin of the Pentateuch, but favourable to it. The author of the Book of Job, with whom in Psalm 78:64 he verbally coincides, is regarded by us as younger; and the points of contact with other Psalms inscribed "by David," "by the sons of Korah," and "by Asaph," do not admit of being employed for ascertaining his time, since the poet is by no means an unindependent imitator.
The manner of representation which characterizes the Psalm becomes epical in its extension, but is at the same time concise after the sententious style. The separate historical statements have a gnome-like finish, and a gem-like elegance. The whole falls into two principal parts, vv. 1-37, vv. 38-72; the second part passes over from the God-tempting unthankfulness of the Israel of the desert to that of the Israel of Canaan. Every three strophes form one group.
Maschil of Asaph. Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.The poet begins very similarly to the poet of Psalm 49. He comes forward among the people as a preacher, and demands for his tra a willing, attentive hearing. תּורה is the word for every human doctrine or instruction, especially for the prophetic discourse which sets forth and propagates the substance of the divine teaching. Asaph is a prophet, hence Psalm 78:2 is quoted in Matthew 13:34. as ῥηθὲν διὰ τοῦ προφήτου.
(Note: The reading διὰ Ἠσαΐ́ου τοῦ προφήτου is, although erroneous, nevertheless ancient; since even the Clementine Homilies introduce this passage as the language of Isaiah.)
He here recounts to the people their history מנּי־קדם, from that Egyptaeo-Sinaitic age of yore to which Israel's national independence and specific position in relation to the rest of the world goes back. It is not, however, with the external aspect of the history that he has to do, but with its internal teachings. משׁל is an allegory or parable, παραβολή, more particularly the apophthegm as the characteristic species of poetry belonging to the Chokma, and then in general a discourse of an elevated style, full of figures, thoughtful, pithy, and rounded. חידה is that which is entangled, knotted, involved, perlexe dictum. The poet, however, does not mean to say that he will literally discourse gnomic sentences and propound riddles, but that he will set forth the history of the fathers after the manner of a parable and riddle, so that it may become as a parable, i.e., a didactic history, and its events as marks of interrogation and nota-bene's to the present age. The lxx renders thus: ἀνοίξω ἐν παραβολαῖς τὸ στόμα μου, φθέγξομαι προβλήματα ἀπ ̓ ἀρχῆς. Instead of this the Gospel by Matthew has: ἀνοίξω ἐν παραβολαῖς τὸ στόμα μου, ἐρεύξομαι κεκρυμμένα ἀπὸ καταβολῆς (κόσμου), and recognises in this language of the Psalm a prophecy of Christ; because it is moulded so appropriately for the mouth of Him who is the Fulfiller not only of the Law and of Prophecy, but also of the vocation of the prophet. It is the object-clause to נכחד, and not a relative clause belonging to the "riddles out of the age of yore," that follows in Psalm 78:3 with אשׁר, for that which has been heard only becomes riddles by the appropriation and turn the poet gives to it. Psalm 78:3 begins a new period (cf. Psalm 69:27; Jeremiah 14:1, and frequently): What we have heard, and in consequence thereof known, and what our fathers have told us (word for word, like Psalm 44:1; Judges 6:13), that will we not hide from their children (cf. Job 15:18). The accentuation is perfectly correct. The Rebı̂a by מבניהם has a greater distinctive force than the Rebı̂a by אחרון (לדור); it is therefore to be rendered: telling to the later generation (which is just what is intended by the offspring of the fathers) the glorious deeds of Jahve, etc. The fut. consec. ויּקם joins on to אשׁר עשׂה. Glorious deeds, proofs of power, miracles hath He wrought, and in connection therewith set up an admonition in Jacob, and laid down an order in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, viz., to propagate by tradition the remembrance of those mighty deeds (Exodus 13:8, Exodus 13:14; Deuteronomy 4:9, and other passages). להודיעם has the same object as והודעתּם in Deuteronomy 4:9; Joshua 4:22. The matter in question is not the giving of the Law in general, as the purpose of which, the keeping of the laws, ought then to have been mentioned before anything else, but a precept, the purpose of which was the further proclamation of the magnalia Dei, and indirectly the promotion of trust in god and fidelity to the Law; cf. Psalm 81:5., where the special precept concerning the celebration of the Feast of the Passover is described as a עדוּת laid down in Joseph. The following generation, the children, which shall be born in the course of the ages, were to know concerning His deeds, and also themselves to rise up (יקוּמוּ, not: come into being, like the יבאוּ of the older model-passage Psalm 22:32) and to tell them further to their children, in order that these might place their confidence in god (שׂים כּסל, like שׁית מחסה in Psalm 73:28), and might not forget the mighty deeds of God (Psalm 118:17), and might keep His commandments, being warned by the disobedience of the fathers. The generation of the latter is called סורר וּמרה, just as the degenerate son that is to be stoned is called in Deuteronomy 21:18. הכין לבּו, to direct one's heart, i.e., to give it the right direction or tendency, to put it into the right state, is to be understood after Psalm 78:37, 2 Chronicles 20:33, Sir. 2:17.
I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:
Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.
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:
That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:
That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:
And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.
The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.Psalm 78:9, which comes in now in the midst of this description, is awkward and unintelligible. The supposition that "the sons of Ephraim" is an appellation for the whole of Israel is refuted by Psalm 78:67. The rejection of Ephraim and the election of Judah is the point into which the historical retrospect runs out; how then can "the sons of Ephraim" denote Israel as a whole? And yet what is here said of the Ephraimites also holds good of the Israelites in general, as Psalm 78:57 shows. The fact, however, that the Ephraimites are made specially conspicuous out of the "generation" of all Israel, is intelligible from the special interest which the Psalms of Asaph take in the tribes of Joseph, and here particularly from the purpose of practically preparing the way for the rejection of Shiloh and Ephraim related further on. In Psalm 78:10 and Psalm 78:11 the Ephraimites are also still spoken of; and it is not until Psalm 78:12, with the words "in sight of their fathers," that we come back again to the nation at large. The Ephraimites are called נושׁקי רומי־קשׁת in the sense of נושׁקי קשׁת רומי קשׁת; the two participial construct forms do not stand in subordination but in co-ordination, as in Jeremiah 46:9; Deuteronomy 33:19; 2 Samuel 20:19, just as in other instances also two substantives, of which one is the explanation of the other, are combined by means of the construct, Job 20:17, cf. 2 Kings 17:13 Ker. It is therefore: those who prepare the bow, i.e., those arming themselves therewith (נשׁק as in 1 Chronicles 12:2; 2 Chronicles 17:17), those who cast the vow, i.e., those shooting arrows from the bow (Jeremiah 4:29), cf. Bttcher, 728. What is predicated of them, viz., "they turned round" (הפך as in Judges 20:39, Judges 20:41), stands in contrast with this their ability to bear arms and to defend themselves, as a disappointed expectation. Is what is meant thereby, that the powerful warlike tribe of Ephraim grew weary in the work of the conquest of Canaan (Judges 1), and did not render the services which might have been expected from it? Since the historical retrospect does not enter into details until Psalm 78:12 onwards, this especial historical reference would come too early here; the statement consequently must be understood more generally and, according to Psalm 78:57, figuratively: Ephraim proved itself unstable and faint-hearted in defending and in conducting the cause of God, it gave it up, it abandoned it. They did not act as the covenant of God required of them, they refused to walk (ללכת, cf. ללכת, Ecclesiastes 1:7) within the limit and track of His Tra, and forgot the deeds of God of which they had been eye-witnesses under Moses and under Joshua, their comrades of the same family.
They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law;
And forgat his works, and his wonders that he had shewed them.
Marvellous things did he in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.It is now related how wonderfully God led the fathers of these Ephraimites, who behaved themselves so badly as the leading tribe of Israel, in the desert; how they again and again ever indulged sinful murmuring, and still He continued to give proofs of His power and of His loving-kindness. The (according to Numbers 13:22) very ancient Zoan (Tanis), ancient Egyptian Zane, Coptic G'ane, on the east bank of the Tanitic arm of the Nile, so called therefrom - according to the researches to which the Turin Papyrus No. 112 has led, identical with Avaris (vid., on Isaiah 19:11)
(Note: The identity of Avaris and Tanis is in the meanwhile again become doubtful. Tanis was the Hyksos city, but Pelusium equals Avaris the Hyksos fortress; vid., Petermann's Mittheilungen, 1866, S. 296-298.)
- was the seat of the Hyksos dynasties that ruled in the eastern Delta, where after their overthrow Rameses II, the Pharaoh of the bondage, in order to propitiate the enraged mass of the Semitic population of Lower Egypt, embraced the worship of Baal instituted by King Apophis. The colossal sitting figure of Rameses II in the pillared court of the Royal Museum in Berlin, says Brugsch (Aus dem Orient ii. 45), is the figure which Rameses himself dedicated to the temple of Baal in Tanis and set up before its entrance. This mighty colossus is a contemporary of Moses, who certainly once looked upon this monument, when, as Psalm 78 says, he "wrought wonders in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan." The psalmist, moreover, keeps very close to the Tra in his reproduction of the history of the Exodus, and in fact so close that he must have had it before him in the entirety of its several parts, the Deuteronomic, Elohimistic, and Jehovistic. Concerning the rule by which it is appointed ‛ā'sa phéle, vid., on Psalm 52:5. The primary passage to Psalm 78:13 (cf. נוזלים Psalm 78:16) is Exodus 15:8. נד is a pile, i.e., a piled up heap or mass, as in Psalm 33:7. And Psalm 78:14 is the abbreviation of Exodus 13:21. In Psalm 78:15. the writer condenses into one the two instances of the giving of water from the rock, in the first year of the Exodus (Exodus 17) and in the fortieth year (Numbers 20). The Piel יבקּע and the plural צרים correspond to this compression. רבּה is not an adjective (after the analogy of תּהום רבּה), but an adverb as in Psalm 62:3; for the giving to drink needs a qualificative, but תהמות does not need any enhancement. ויּוצא has ı̂ instead of ē as in Psalm 105:43.
The fact that the subject is continued in Psalm 78:17 with ויּוסיפוּ without mention having been made of any sinning on the part of the generation of the desert, is explicable from the consideration that the remembrance of that murmuring is closely connected with the giving of water from the rock to which the names Massah u-Merı̂bah and Merı̂bath-Kadesh (cf. Numbers 20:13 with Numbers 27:14; Deuteronomy 32:51) point back: they went on (עוד) winning against Him, in spite of the miracles they experienced. למרות is syncopated from להמרות as in Isaiah 3:8. The poet in Psalm 78:18 condenses the account of the manifestations of discontent which preceded the giving of the quails and manna (Exodus 16), and the second giving of quails (Numbers 11), as he has done the two cases of the giving of water from the rock in Psalm 78:15. They tempted God by unbelievingly and defiantly demanding (לשׁאל, postulando, Ew. 280, d) instead of trustfully hoping and praying. בּלבבם points to the evil fountain of the heart, and לנפשׁם describes their longing as a sensual eagerness, a lusting after it. Instead of allowing the miracles hitherto wrought to work faith in them, they made the miracles themselves the starting-point of fresh doubts. The poet here clothes what we read in Exodus 16:3; Numbers 11:4., Psalm 21:5, in a poetic dress. In לעמּו the unbelief reaches it climax, it sounds like self-irony. On the co-ordinating construction "therefore Jahve heard it and was wroth," cf. Isaiah 5:4; Isaiah 12:1; Isaiah 50:2; Romans 6:17. The allusion is to the wrath-burning at Taberah (Tab'eera), Numbers 11:1-3, which preceded the giving of the quails in the second year of the Exodus. For it is obvious that Psalm 78:21 and Numbers 11:1 coincide, ויתעבר ואשׁ here being suggested by the ותבער־בם אשׁ eht yb d of that passage, and אף עלה being the opposite of ותשׁקע האשׁ in Psalm 78:2. A conflagration broke out at that time in the camp, at the same time, however, with the breaking out of God's anger. The nexus between the anger and the fire is here an outward one, whereas in Numbers 11:1 it is an internal one. The ground upon which the wrathful decree is based, which is only hinted at there, is here more minutely given in Psalm 78:22 : they believed not in Elohim (vid., Numbers 14:11), i.e., did not rest with believing confidence in Him, and trusted not in His salvation, viz., that which they had experienced in the redemption out of Egypt (Exodus 14:13; Exodus 15:2), and which was thereby guaranteed for time to come. Now, however, when Taberah is here followed first by the giving of the manna, Psalm 78:23-25, then by the giving of the quails, Psalm 78:26-29, the course of the events is deranged, since the giving of the manna had preceded that burning, and it was only the giving of the quails that followed it. This putting together of the two givings out of order was rendered necessary by the preceding condensation (in Psalm 78:18-20) of the clamorous desire for a more abundant supply of food before each of these events. Notwithstanding Israel's unbelief, He still remained faithful: He caused manna to rain down out of the opened gates of heaven (cf. "the windows of heaven," Genesis 7:11; 2 Kings 7:2; Malachi 3:10), that is to say, in richest abundance. The manna is called corn (as in Psalm 105:40, after Exodus 16:4, it is called bread) of heaven, because it descended in the form of grains of corn, and supplied the place of bread-corn during the forty years. לחם אבּירים the lxx correctly renders ἄρτον ἀγγέλων (אבּירים equals גּבּרי כח, Psalm 103:20). The manna is called "bread of angels" (Wisd. 16:20) as being bread from heaven (Psalm 78:24, Psalm 105:40), the dwelling-place of angels, as being mann es-semâ, heaven's gift, its Arabic name, - a name which also belongs to the vegetable manna which flows out of the Tamarix mannifera in consequence of the puncture of the Coccus manniparus, and is even at the present day invaluable to the inhabitants of the desert of Sinai. אישׁ is the antithesis to אבירים; for if it signified "every one," אכלוּ would have been said (Hitzig). צידהּ as in Exodus 12:39; לשׂבע as in Exodus 16:3, cf. Psalm 78:8.
He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through; and he made the waters to stand as an heap.
In the daytime also he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire.
He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths.
He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.
And they sinned yet more against him by provoking the most High in the wilderness.
And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust.
Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?
Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can he give bread also? can he provide flesh for his people?
Therefore the LORD heard this, and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel;
Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation:
Though he had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven,
And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven.
Man did eat angels' food: he sent them meat to the full.
He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by his power he brought in the south wind.Passing over to the giving of the quails, the poet is thinking chiefly of the first occasion mentioned in Exodus 16, which directly preceded the giving of the manna. But the description follows the second: יסּע (He caused to depart, set out) after Numbers 11:31. "East" and "south" belong together: it was a south-east wind from the Aelanitic Gulf. "To rain down" is a figurative expression for a plentiful giving of dispensing from above. "Its camp, its tents," are those of Israel, Numbers 11:31, cf. Exodus 16:13. The תּעוה, occurring twice, Psalm 78:29-30 (of the object of strong desire, as in Psalm 21:3), points to Kibroth-hattaavah, the scene of this carnal lusting; הביא is the transitive of the בּוא in Proverbs 13:12. In Psalm 78:30-31 even in the construction the poet closely follows Numbers 11:33 (cf. also זרוּ with לזרא, aversion, loathing, Numbers 11:20). The Waw unites what takes place simultaneously; a construction which presents the advantage of being able to give special prominence to the subject. The wrath of God consisted in the breaking out of a sickness which was the result of immoderate indulgence, and to which even the best-nourished and most youthfully vigorous fell a prey. When the poet goes on in Psalm 78:32 to say that in spite of these visitations (בּכל־זאת) they went on sinning, he has chiefly before his mind the outbreak of "fat" rebelliousness after the return of the spies, cf. Psalm 78:32 with Numbers 14:11. And Psalm 78:33 refers to the judgment of death in the wilderness threatened at that time to all who had come out of Egypt from twenty years old and upward (Numbers 14:28-34). Their life devoted to death vanished from that time onwards בּהבל, in breath-like instability, and בּבּהלה, in undurable precipitancy; the mode of expression in Psalm 31:11; Job 36:1 suggests to the poet an expressive play of words. When now a special judgment suddenly and violently thinned the generation that otherwise was dying off, as in Numbers 21:6., then they inquired after Him, they again sought His favour, those who were still preserved in the midst of this dying again remembered the God who had proved Himself to be a "Rock" (Deuteronomy 32:15, Deuteronomy 32:18, Deuteronomy 32:37) and to be a "Redeemer" (Genesis 48:16) to them. And what next? Psalm 78:36-37
(Note: According to the reckoning of the Masora this Psalm 78:36 is the middle verse of the 2527 verses of the Psalter (Buxtorf, Tiberias, 1620, p. 133).)
tell us what effect they gave to this disposition to return to God. They appeased Him with their mouth, is meant to say: they sought to win Him over to themselves by fair speeches, inasmuch as they thus anthropopathically conceived of God, and with their tongue they played the hypocrite to Him; their heart, however, was not sincere towards Him (עם like את in Psalm 78:8), i.e., not directed straight towards Him, and they proved themselves not stedfast (πιστοί, or properly βέβαιοι) in their covenant-relationship to Him.
He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea:
And he let it fall in the midst of their camp, round about their habitations.
So they did eat, and were well filled: for he gave them their own desire;
They were not estranged from their lust. But while their meat was yet in their mouths,
The wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen men of Israel.
For all this they sinned still, and believed not for his wondrous works.
Therefore their days did he consume in vanity, and their years in trouble.
When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and inquired early after God.
And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer.
Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues.
For their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant.
But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath.The second part of the Psalm now begins. God, notwithstanding, in His compassion restrains His anger; but Israel's God-tempting conduct was continued, even after the journey through the desert, in Canaan, and the miracles of judgment amidst which the deliverance out of Egypt had been effected were forgotten. With והוּא in Psalm 78:38
(Note: According to B. Kiddushin 30a, this Psalm 78:38 is the middle one of the 5896 פסוקין, στίχοι, of the Psalter. According to B. Maccoth 22b, Psalm 78:38, and previously Deuteronomy 28:58-59; Deuteronomy 29:8 , were recited when the forty strokes of the lash save one, which according to 2 Corinthians 11:24 Paul received five times, were being counted out to the culprit.)
begins an adversative clause, which is of universal import as far as ישׁהית, and then becomes historical. Psalm 78:38 expands what lies in רחוּם: He expiates iniquity and, by letting mercy instead of right take its course, arrests the destruction of the sinner. With והרבּה (Ges. ֗֗142, 2) this universal truth is supported out of the history of Israel. As this history shows, He has many a time called back His anger, i.e., checked it in its course, and not stirred up all His blowing anger (cf. Isaiah 42:13), i.e., His anger in all its fulness and intensity. We see that Psalm 78:38 refers to His conduct towards Israel, then Psalm 78:39 follows with the ground of the determination, and that in the form of an inference drawn from such conduct towards Israel. He moderated His anger against Israel, and consequently took human frailty and perishableness into consideration. The fact that man is flesh (which not merely affirms his physical fragility, but also his moral weakness, Genesis 6:3, cf. Genesis 8:21), and that, after a short life, he falls a prey to death, determines God to be long-suffering and kind; it was in fact sensuous desire and loathing by which Israel was beguiled time after time. The exclamation "how oft!" Psalm 78:40, calls attention to the praiseworthiness of this undeserved forbearance.
But with Psalm 78:41 the record of sins begins anew. There is nothing by which any reference of this Psalm 78:41 to the last example of insubordination recorded in the Pentateuch, Numbers 35:1-9 (Hitzig), is indicated. The poet comes back one more to the provocations of God by the Israel of the wilderness in order to expose the impious ingratitude which revealed itself in this conduct. התוה is the causative of תּוה equals Syriac tewā', תּהא, to repent, to be grieved, lxx παρώξυναν. The miracles of the tie of redemption are now brought before the mind in detail, ad exaggerandum crimen tentationis Deu cum summa ingratitudine conjunctum (Venema). The time of redemption is called יום, as in Genesis 2:4 the hexahemeron. שׂים אות (synon. עשׂה, נתן) is used as in Exodus 10:2. We have already met with מנּי־צר in Psalm 44:11. The first of the plagues of Egypt (Exodus 7:14-25), the turning of the waters into blood, forms the beginning in Psalm 78:44. From this the poet takes a leap over to the fourth plague, the ערב (lxx κυνόμυια), a grievous and destructive species of fly (Exodus 8:20-32), and combines with it the frogs, the second plague (Exodus 8:1-15). צפרדּע is the lesser Egyptian frog, Rana Mosaica, which is even now called Arab. ḍfd‛, ḍofda. Next in Psalm 78:46 he comes to the eighth plague, the locusts, חסיל (a more select name of the migratory locusts than ארבּה), Exodus 10:1-20; the third plague, the gnats and midges, כּנּים, is left unmentioned in addition to the fourth, which is of a similar kind. For the chastisement by means of destructive living things is now closed, and in Psalm 78:47 follows the smiting with hail, the seventh plague, Exodus 9:13-35. חנמל (with pausal , not ā, cf. in Ezekiel 8:2 the similarly formed החשׁמלה) in the signification hoar-frost (πάχνη, lxx, Vulgate, Saadia, and Abulwald), or locusts (Targum כּזוּבא equals חגב), or ants (J. D. Michaelis), does not harmonize with the history; also the hoar-frost is called כּפוּר, the ant נּמלה (collective in Arabic neml). Although only conjecturing from the context, we understand it, with Parchon and Kimchi, of hailstones or hail. With thick lumpy pieces of ice He smote down vines and sycamore-trees (Fayum was called in ancient Egyptian "the district of the sycamore"). הרג proceeds from the Biblical conception that the plant has a life of its own. The description of this plague is continued in Psalm 78:48. Two MSS present לדּבר instead of לבּרד; but even supposing that רשׁפים might signify the fever-burnings of the pestilence (vid., on Habakkuk 3:5), the mention of the pestilence follows in Psalm 78:50, and the devastation which, according to Exodus 9:19-22, the hail caused among the cattle of the Egyptians is in its right place here. Moreover it is expressly said in Exodus 9:24 that there was conglomerate fire among the hail; רשׁפים are therefore flaming, blazing lightnings.
For he remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.
How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert!
Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel.
They remembered not his hand, nor the day when he delivered them from the enemy.
How he had wrought his signs in Egypt, and his wonders in the field of Zoan:
And had turned their rivers into blood; and their floods, that they could not drink.
He sent divers sorts of flies among them, which devoured them; and frogs, which destroyed them.
He gave also their increase unto the caterpiller, and their labour unto the locust.
He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycomore trees with frost.
He gave up their cattle also to the hail, and their flocks to hot thunderbolts.
He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them.When these plagues rose to the highest pitch, Israel became free, and removed, being led by its God, into the Land of Promise; but it continued still to behave there just as it had done in the desert. The poet in Psalm 78:49-51 brings the fifth Egyptian plague, the pestilence (Exodus 9:1-7), and the tenth and last, the smiting of the first-born (מכּת בּכרות), Exodus 11:1, together. Psalm 78:49 sounds like Job 20:23 (cf. below Psalm 78:64). מלאכי רעים are not wicked angels, against which view Hengstenberg refers to the scriptural thesis of Jacobus Ode in his work De Angelis, Deum ad puniendos malos homines mittere bonos angelos et ad castigandos pios usurpare malos, but angels that bring misfortune. The mode of construction belongs to the chapter of the genitival subordination of the adjective to the substantive, like אשׁת רע, Proverbs 6:24, cf. 1 Samuel 28:7; Numbers 5:18, Numbers 5:24; 1 Kings 10:15; Jeremiah 24:2, and the Arabic msjdu 'l-jâm‛, the mosque of the assembling one, i.e., the assembling (congregational) mosque, therefore: angels (not of the wicked ones equals wicked angels, which it might signify elsewhere, but) of the evil ones equals evil, misfortune-bringing angels (Ew. ֗287, a). The poet thus paraphrases the המּשׁחית that is collectively conceived in Exodus 12:13, Exodus 12:23; Hebrews 11:28. In Psalm 78:50 the anger is conceived of as a stream of fire, in Psalm 78:50 death as an executioner, and in 50c the pestilence as a foe. ראשׁית אונים (Genesis 49:3; Deuteronomy 21:17) is that which had sprung for the first time from manly vigour (plur. intensivus). Egypt is called חם as in Psalm 105 and Psalm 111:1-10 according to Genesis 10:6, and is also called by themselves in ancient Egyptian Kemi, Coptic Chmi, Kme (vid., Plutarch, De Iside et Osiride, ch. 33). When now these plagues which softened their Pharaoh went forth upon the Egyptians, God procured for His people a free departure, He guided flock-like (כּעדר like בּעדר, Jeremiah 31:24, with Dag. implicitum), i.e., as a shepherd, the flock of His people (the favourite figure of the Psalms of Asaph) through the desert, - He led them safely, removing all terrors out of the way and drowning their enemies in the Red Sea, to His holy territory, to the mountain which (זה) His right hand had acquired, or according to the accents (cf. supra, p. 104): to the mountain there (זה), which, etc. It is not Zion that is meant, but, as in the primary passage Exodus 15:16., in accordance with the parallelism (although this is not imperative) and the usage of the language, which according to Isaiah 11:9; Isaiah 57:13, is incontrovertible, the whole of the Holy Land with its mountains and valleys (cf. Deuteronomy 11:11). בּחבל נחלה is the poetical equivalent to בּנחלה, Numbers 34:2; Numbers 36:2, and frequently. The Beth is Beth essentiae (here in the same syntactical position as in Isaiah 48:10; Ezekiel 20:41, and also Job 22:24 surely): He made them (the heathen, viz., as in Joshua 23:4 their territories) fall to them (viz., as the expression implies, by lot, בגורל) as a line of inheritance, i.e., (as in Psalm 105:11) as a portion measured out as an inheritance. It is only in Psalm 78:56 (and not so early as Psalm 78:41) that the narration passes over to the apostate conduct of the children of the generation of the desert, that is to say, of the Israel of Canaan. Instead of עדוריו from עדוּת, the word here is עדוריו from עדה (a derivative of עוּד, not יעד). Since the apostasy did not gain ground until after the death of Joshua and Eleazar, it is the Israel of the period of the Judges that we are to think of here. קשׁת רמיּה, Psalm 78:57, is not: a bow of slackness, but: a bow of deceit; for the point of comparison, according to Hosea 7:16, is its missing the mark: a bow that discharges its arrow in a wrong direction, that makes no sure shot. The verb רמה signifies not only to allow to hang down slack (cogn. רפה), but also, according to a similar conception to spe dejicere, to disappoint, deny. In the very act of turning towards God, or at least being inclined towards Him by His tokens of power and loving-kindness, they turned (Jeremiah 2:21) like a vow that misses the mark and disappoints both aim and expectation. The expression in Psalm 78:58 is like Deuteronomy 32:16, Deuteronomy 32:21. שׁמע refers to their prayer to the Ba(a4lim (Judges 2:11). The word התעבּר, which occurs three times in this Psalm, is a word belonging to Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 3:26). Psalm 78:59 is purposely worded exactly like Psalm 78:21. The divine purpose of love spurned by the children just as by the fathers, was obliged in this case, as in the former, to pass over into angry provocation.
He made a way to his anger; he spared not their soul from death, but gave their life over to the pestilence;
And smote all the firstborn in Egypt; the chief of their strength in the tabernacles of Ham:
But made his own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.
And he led them on safely, so that they feared not: but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
And he brought them to the border of his sanctuary, even to this mountain, which his right hand had purchased.
He cast out the heathen also before them, and divided them an inheritance by line, and made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents.
Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God, and kept not his testimonies:
But turned back, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers: they were turned aside like a deceitful bow.
For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images.
When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel:
So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men;The rejection of Shiloh and of the people worshipping there, but later on, when the God of Israel is again overwhelmed by compassion, the election of Judah, and of Mount Zion, and of David, the king after His own heart. In the time of the Judges the Tabernacle was set up in Shiloh (Joshua 18:1); there, consequently, was the central sanctuary of the whole people, - in the time of Eli and Samuel, as follows from 1 Samuel 1:1, it had become a fixed temple building. When this building was destroyed is not known; according to Judges 18:30., cf. Jeremiah 7:12-15, it was probably not until the Assyrian period. The rejection of Shiloh, however, preceded the destruction, and practically took place simultaneously with the removal of the central sanctuary to Zion; and was, moreover, even previously decided by the fact that the Ark of the covenant, when given up again by the Philistines, was not brought back to Shiloh, but set down in Kirjath Jearm (1 Samuel 7:2). The attributive clause שׁכּן בּאדם uses שׁכּן as השׁכּין is used in Joshua 18:1. The pointing is correct, for the words to not suffice to signify "where He dwelleth among men" (Hitzig); consequently שׁכּן is the causative of the Kal, Leviticus 16:16; Joshua 22:19. In Psalm 78:61 the Ark of the covenant is called the might and glory of God (ארון עזּו, Psalm 132:8, cf. כבוד, 1 Samuel 4:21.), as being the place of their presence in Israel and the medium of their revelation. Nevertheless, in the battle with the Philistines between Eben-ezer and Aphek, Jahve gave the Ark, which they had fetched out of Shiloh, into the hands of the foe in order to visit on the high-priesthood of the sons of Ithamar the desecration of His ordinances, and there fell in that battle 30,000 footmen, and among them the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests (1 Samuel 4). The fire in Psalm 78:63 is the fire of war, as in Numbers 21:28, and frequently. The incident mentioned in 1 Samuel 6:19 is reasonably (vid., Keil) left out of consideration. By לא הוּלּלוּ (lxx erroneously, οὐκ ἐπένθησαν equals הוללוּ equals הילילוּ) are meant the marriage-songs (cf. Talmudic הלּוּלא, the nuptial tent, and בּית הלוּלים the marriage-house). "Its widows (of the people, in fact, of the slain) weep not" (word for word as in Job 27:15) is meant of the celebration of the customary ceremony of mourning (Genesis 23:2): they survive their husbands (which, with the exception of such a case as that recorded in 1 Samuel 14:19-22, is presupposed), but without being able to show them the last signs of honour, because the terrors of the war (Jeremiah 15:8) prevent them.
With Psalm 78:65 the song takes a new turn. After the punitive judgment has sifted and purified Israel, God receives His people to Himself afresh, but in such a manner that He transfers the precedence of Ephraim to the tribe of Judah. He awakes as it were from a long sleep (Psalm 44:24, cf. Psalm 73:20); for He seemed to sleep whilst Israel had become a servant to the heathen; He aroused Himself, like a hero exulting by reason of wine, i.e., like a hero whose courage is heightened by the strengthening and exhilarating influence of wine (Hengstenberg). התרונן is not the Hithpal. of רוּן in the Arabic signification, which is alien to the Hebrew, to conquer, a meaning which we do not need here, and which is also not adapted to the reflexive form (Hitzig, without any precedent, renders thus: who allows himself to be conquered by wine), but Hithpo. of רנן: to shout most heartily, after the analogy of the reflexives התאונן, התנודד, התרועע. The most recent defeat of the enemy which the poet has before his mind is that of the Philistines. The form of expression in Psalm 78:66 is moulded after 1 Samuel 5:6. God smote the Philistines most literally in posteriora (lxx, Vulgate, and Luther). Nevertheless Psalm 78:66 embraces all the victories under Samuel, Saul, and David, from 1 Samuel 5:1-12 and onwards. Now, when they were able to bring the Ark, which had been brought down to the battle against the Philistines, to a settled resting-place again, God no longer chose Shiloh of Ephraim, but Judah and the mountain of Zion, which He had loved (Psalm 47:5), of Benjamitish-Judaean (Joshua 15:63; Judges 1:8, Judges 1:21) - but according to the promise (Deuteronomy 33:12) and according to the distribution of the country (vid., on Psalm 68:28) Benjamitish - Jerusalem.
There God built His Temple כּמו־רמים. Hitzig proposes instead of this to read כּמרומים; but if נעימים, Psalm 16:6, signifies amaena, then רמים may signify excelsa (cf. Isaiah 45:2 הדוּרים, Jeremiah 17:6 חררים) and be poetically equivalent to מרומים: lasting as the heights of heaven, firm as the earth, which He hath founded for ever. Since the eternal duration of heaven and of the earth is quite consistent with a radical change in the manner of its duration, and that not less in the sense of the Old Testament than of the New (vid., e.g., Isaiah 65:17), so the לעולם applies not to the stone building, but rather to the place where Jahve reveals Himself, and to the promise that He will have such a dwelling-place in Israel, and in fact in Judah. Regarded spiritually, i.e., essentially, apart from the accidental mode of appearing, the Temple upon Zion is as eternal as the kingship upon Zion with which the Psalm closes. The election of David gives its impress to the history of salvation even on into eternity. It is genuinely Asaphic that it is so designedly portrayed how the shepherd of the flock of Jesse (Isai) became the shepherd of the flock of Jahve, who was not to pasture old and young in Israel with the same care and tenderness as the ewe-lambs after which he went (עלות as in Genesis 33:13, and רעה ב, cf. 1 Samuel 16:11; 1 Samuel 17:34, like משׁל בּ and the like). The poet is also able already to glory that he has fulfilled this vocation with a pure heart and with an intelligent mastery. And with this he closes.
From the decease of David lyric and prophecy are retrospectively and prospectively turned towards David.
And delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemy's hand.
He gave his people over also unto the sword; and was wroth with his inheritance.
The fire consumed their young men; and their maidens were not given to marriage.
Their priests fell by the sword; and their widows made no lamentation.
Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine.
And he smote his enemies in the hinder parts: he put them to a perpetual reproach.
Moreover he refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim:
But chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved.
And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which he hath established for ever.
He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds:
From following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance.
So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands.