Summary: Despite experiencing the most dramatic miracles recorded, the Hebrews fell back into their ways of living as though God had done nothing for them. We are going to explore how such a relapse could occur.
Psalm 78:32 Despite His Wonders
12/30/12 D. Marion Clark
Have you ever made a comment like this? “If that I had happened to me, I would never forget.” We can say that negatively, but I mean positively. “I will never forget what you have done for me.” “I will never forget this special moment.” “I will never forget the debt of gratitude I owe.” And yet we do forget. Time and circumstances come together in such a way that despite the magnitude of the experience, and despite our promise at the time, we forget the impact and forget the vow.
That is what happened to the ancient Hebrews. Despite experiencing the most dramatic miracles recorded, they fell back into their ways of living as though God had done nothing for them. We are going to explore how such a relapse could occur.
In spite of all this, they still sinned;
despite his wonders, they did not believe.
This verse sums up the response of the Hebrews to God’s wondrous works he performed for them. Let’s recall what these works were as listed by the psalmist. I’ll put them in chronological order:
There were the plagues in Egypt: turning the rivers to blood; sending swarms of frogs and of flies that devoured; causing a heavy hail to fall with flashing fire that killed cattle; sending swarms of locust that destroyed crops; and most terrible of all, the slaying of the first-born.
There was the miraculous crossing of the Dead Sea by dividing the waters, the same waters which rushed back over their enemies. Once out of Egypt and in the wilderness, God led his people by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire by night. He provided water from rocks. He daily provided manna and sent birds like the sand of the seas. Once in the Promised Land, they won victories over greater nations and armies.
God also performed mighty works of discipline. Indeed, in verse 31 we read of God slaying the rebellious. But, as the psalmist concludes, “despite God’s wonders, they did not believe.”
What did they not believe? Did they not believe there is a God? No, atheists were in rare supply in those days, especially among the Hebrew people. Did they not believe in Yahweh, the God of Israel? This may be closer to the truth. Their unbelief would not so much be that the God of Israel does not exist but that he is not very effective. As verse 22 explains: “They did not believe in God and did not trust his saving power.”
Such unbelief may be hard to believe, which is the perspective of the psalmist. He bemoans that they would not/could not remember God’s works. Why did God’s wonders not earn their trust? Why were they not remembered? What more must God do? Let’s look for reasons in the psalm.
1. They did not tell the next generation and others of the deeds done for them (4-8).
The first clue comes at the beginning of the psalm. The expressed purpose of the Asaph is to do what the first generation failed to do, which is to teach the next generation “the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done” (4). This affects how the children grow up, of course, but it also has a debilitating effect on the parents as well. When we fail to recite the deeds of the Lord done for us, we fail to reinforce the lessons for the persons who need them most, namely ourselves. Every teacher knows that the best way to learn and to remember what you have learned is to teach others.
2. They sinned – they did not keep God’s covenant (10).
The second clue for their memory lapse comes in verse 10.
They did not keep God’s covenant,
but refused to walk according to his law.
Simply put – they sinned. They had promised to keep the laws of God’s covenant, and they broke their promise. There are two ways to go when one has sinned. The first, and what God desires, is to turn to God by confession and repentance. That is what saved David from his sins. When confronted, he made a clean confession and ardently repented. The other route is to hide from God. The best example is that of Adam and Eve, who literally hid themselves from God. Then, when they were confronted they tried to hide their full guilt. Adam blamed Eve; Eve blamed the serpent.
The first way reinforces one’s relationship with God because it reinforces how wonderful God is in his mercy and in his wondrous works. The offender is reminded of how God has forgiven and saved before. The second way weakens the relationship because the offender does not want to come to terms with his guilt. He doesn’t want to remember that he made promises he broke. He is ashamed to remember the good that God has done for him – a remembrance which makes him think of how much ashamed God must be of him. And so the wonders of God and his deeds become lost in the haze of sin.