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I have been blessed and convicted by many psalms recently, and Psalm 78 is no exception. I read it the other night and was moved to pray, “Father, save me from myself and my own desires!” I hope this passage speaks to you as it did to me – convicting and encouraging. Convicting you to be faithful to God and His covenant with you, and encouraging you with the reminder of His endless mercy that you do not deserve.
Psalm 78 (KJV)
- 9 The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.
- 10 They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law;
- 11 And forgat his works, and his wonders that he had shewed them.
- 12 Marvellous things did he in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.
- 13 He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through; and he made the waters to stand as an heap.
- 14 In the daytime also he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire.
- 15 He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths.
- 16 He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.
It’s easy to write off the children of Israel as a perpetually dense, ungrateful people (which they undoubtedly were) and think that we would never be so dense ourselves. Um, think again. What has God done for you? A whole lot, right? Do you ever doubt? Make poor decisions? How could you do that after everything He’s done for you?? How could you take a foot off the straight and narrow after God has guided you so carefully through so many sticky situations? We are humans. We forget. We are rebellious. This is not an excuse – merely a fact of life. Let’s learn from our mistakes and develop the habit of listening to the voice of God so we can get back on the right path quicker and quicker each time we stray.
- 17 And they sinned yet more against him by provoking the most High in the wilderness.
- 18 And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust.
- 19 Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?
- 20 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?
- 21 Therefore the Lord heard this, and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel;
- 22 Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation:
- 23 Though he had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven,
- 24 And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven.
- 25 Man did eat angels’ food: he sent them meat to the full.
The people wanted meat. They were discontented with angels’ food, so God “sent them meat to the full.” I have to smile at the ironic wording of verse 25. What must God think of us? He sends us bread from heaven – the best we could possibly have – but we want something different. Something earthly and sensual appeals to our fancy more than the heavenly.
- 26 He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by his power he brought in the south wind.
- 27 He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea:
- 28 And he let it fall in the midst of their camp, round about their habitations.
- 29 So they did eat, and were well filled: for he gave them their own desire;
- 30 They were not estranged from their lust. But while their meat was yet in their mouths,
- 31 The wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen men of Israel.
“He gave them their own desire.” (vs. 29) God answered their prayer, right? He sure did. This was the portion of the chapter that crushed my toes. So often in the past I have prayed fervently for things, only to find out later that what I was praying for would’ve made me absolutely miserable. I am so grateful that God has not always given me my desires. Unlike God, I can only see a minute portion of the big picture; I can’t see the far-reaching effects of my ambitions. God, keep me from myself! Help me to always pray with both hands open, fists unclenched, saying above all, “Thy will be done.”
- 32 For all this they sinned still, and believed not for his wondrous works.
- 33 Therefore their days did he consume in vanity, and their years in trouble.
- 34 When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and enquired early after God.
- 35 And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer.
After the answer to prayer turned to disaster, the children of Israel remembered God, but their repentance was not true.
- 36 Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues.
- 37 For their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant.
- 38 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.
- 39 For he remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.
Despite the people’s unfaithfulness, God forgave. He remembered what they were and had mercy.
- 40 How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert!
- 41 Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel.
- 42 They remembered not his hand, nor the day when he delivered them from the enemy.
- 43 How he had wrought his signs in Egypt, and his wonders in the field of Zoan.
- 44 And had turned their rivers into blood; and their floods, that they could not drink.
- 45 He sent divers sorts of flies among them, which devoured them; and frogs, which destroyed them.
- 46 He gave also their increase unto the caterpiller, and their labour unto the locust.
- 47 He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycomore trees with frost.
- 48 He gave up their cattle also to the hail, and their flocks to hot thunderbolts.
- 49 He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them.
- 50 He made a way to his anger; he spared not their soul from death, but gave their life over to the pestilence;
- 51 And smote all the firstborn in Egypt; the chief of their strength in the tabernacles of Ham:
- 52 But made his own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.
- 53 And he led them on safely, so that they feared not: but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
- 54 And he brought them to the border of his sanctuary, even to this mountain, which his right hand had purchased.
- 55 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.
Have you ever “limited the Holy One of Israel”? (vs. 41) Read verses 44-51 and you’ll know that He is not a God to be limited. He is capable of great wrath and judgement. However, He is also a kind Shepherd. He “made his own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.” (vs. 51) “He led them on safely, so that they feared not.” He “overwhelmed their enemies.” (vs. 52) The Lord takes care of His own!
- 56 Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God, and kept not his testimonies:
- 57 But turned back, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers: they were turned aside like a deceitful bow.
- 58 For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images.
- 59 When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel:
- 60 So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men;
- 61 And delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemy’s hand.
- 62 He gave his people over also unto the sword; and was wroth with his inheritance.
- 63 The fire consumed their young men; and their maidens were not given to marriage.
- 64 Their priests fell by the sword; and their widows made no lamentation.
- 65 Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine.
- 66 And he smote his enemies in the hinder parts: he put them to a perpetual reproach.
- 67 Moreover he refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim:
- 68 But chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved.
- 69 And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which he hath established for ever.
- 70 He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds:
- 71 From following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance.
- 72 So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands.
Even though God looked beyond so many mistakes, the children of Israel never learned their lesson and kept thumbing their noses at their holy covenant with Him. God is a holy God, and He cannot stand sin. His bride was cavorting with other lovers. Enough was enough and punishment descended, but in His mercy, God always saved a remnant of His people, always drawing them back to Himself. In verses 71 and 72 we see the beautiful picture of what could have taken place for the whole nation if they would’ve honored God. They missed out on a lot.
We’ll miss out too if we dabble with idols. Even though statues of wood, clay, and gold aren’t that common in mainstream America these days, nice houses, a glamorous social life, and the love of money can take over pretty quickly. An idol is anything that takes the place of God. Perfectly pure, wholesome things can become idols! Work, relationships, and talents can be idols. Once we become blind to the idols in our lives, we’re in danger of slipping down the same path that carried the children of Israel to destruction.
So how do we keep our eyes open to potential idols in our lives? Here are a few ways that came to my mind:
- Stay engrossed in God’s Word. If you have trouble spending time with God, analyze what is crowding your life.
- Invite fellowship and accountability with fellow believers, especially those that are more spiritually mature than you are.
- Fast from things that have the potential to ensnare you. We all have a pretty good idea of our weak points if we’re really honest with ourselves. If Facebook is encroaching on your Bible time, log out for a week and see what happens.
Do you have anything to add to what I said? Can you relate to the children of Israel? In what areas have you experienced God’s mercy in keeping you from your own desires? I’d love to hear about it! Comment below and share.