Psalm 78 is a psalm that is out to teach a lesson. This psalm, which is broken up in the readings for the morning and the evening Daily Office, is a recounting of Israel’s history and the psalmist wants to use the history lesson contained therein to teach the people a lesson. The history recounted is not just a verbatim recounting of the relationship between Israel and God, but rather it is the retelling of the story of with an arc and a particular take-away intended. The lesson is that to disobeying the Lord and Israel’s faithlessness has been costly.
It’s possible that this psalm had been taken up, generation after generation and reshaped throughout its use; its category isn’t clear but the intent certainly is. There is a two-tiered retelling of the story of God’s people. The readings set for this morning are the first tier (v. 1-39) and the evening is the second tier (v.40-72). The first part tells of the wilderness events and the second telling gets more specific on the Egypt and Jerusalem details of God’s acts, Israel’s rebellion, God’s response, and then God’s grace.
The take away from this poetical history lesson isn’t just that Israel has been unfaithful, but that, even in the face of their constant disobedience, God has remained faithful and that God chooses to love God’s people. The message and intent of this psalm may not have originally been for us, but it is still relevant. In Psalm 78, we get to see that God’s grace and love is always with the people, and we also get the comfort of acknowledging that we are not the first peoples to turn our back to God. God has always and will always be present and love God’s people, and for this we give great thanks.