Summary: It is the concept of covenant that both adds to the guilt of the people and exalts the glory of the Lord.
Psalm 78:10 The Covenant
1/2/11 D. Marion Clark
Psalm 78 lays forth the sins of the Israelites clearly. They were guilty of not remembering the works of the Lord, which are detailed in the psalm – the miraculous works of deliverance from Egypt and provision in the wilderness – miraculous works that they were personal witnesses of. As verse 11 states: They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them.
In their forgetfulness they tested God, ever demanding that he prove himself, as though he had not already proven his power and faithfulness; indeed, as though he was beholden to them, rather they to him. Their testing led to outright rebellion, and they turned to idolatry, to false gods. This is a bad indictment, indeed. It reminds one of the description in Romans 1 that traces the downward path of sinful man from sin to ever lower sin.
And yet, the psalm does not conclude with judgment, but rather with redemption. God raises up the righteous servant David to shepherd his people. A surprise ending? Actually no, when we take into consideration the covenant spoken of in verses 10 and 37. It is the concept of covenant that both adds to the guilt of the people and exalts the glory of the Lord.
Let’s look at this covenant spoken of in the psalm.
They did not keep God’s covenant,
but refused to walk according to his law (10).
Their heart was not steadfast toward him;
they were not faithful to his covenant (37).
What is this covenant spoken of? Turn with me to Exodus 20:1-2 where God gives Moses the Ten Commandments, as well as a fuller instruction of the law. And God spoke all these words, saying, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”
It is after this remark of the deliverance from Egypt that God gives his law. This deliverance is the basis on which God makes a claim on Israel. Back in chapter 19, verses 4-6, he instructs Moses to say the following to Israel:
You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.
And the people understand this and respond accordingly: “All the people answered together and said, ‘All that the LORD has spoken we will do’ ” (v. 8).
It is here at Mount Sinai that Moses mediates a covenant between God and Israel. God has delivered the people from slavery in Egypt so that they can become his holy nation. On the mountain God gives laws for the people to follow and also makes promises to them – to protect and to provide for them. And then he has Moses perform a ratification ceremony. It is described in chapter 24.
Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, "All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do." 4And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. 6And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. 7Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, "All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient." 8 And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, "Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words" (3-8).
What is happening here is that the people of Israel are accepting the terms of the covenant, identifying themselves as belonging to God. Do you understand then the special relationship between God and the people of Israel? God had chosen them from among all the other nations to belong to him. He had delivered them. He had set them apart to be his kingdom of priests, his holy nation. He gives them his law, not only the moral law that would apply to any nation and individual, but special civil and religious laws designed to distinguish them from other nations, and to keep them focused on serving the Lord as their King. In turn, he promises to deliver them into the promised land of Canaan and to provide and bless them in that land. That is the covenant.