Summary: I want to use this story to remind us of the greater redemption that God has wrought for both Jew and Gentile through Jesus Christ whose birth we are celebrating.
Psalm 78:42-55 Wondrous Redeemer
12/25/11 D. Marion Clark
The text read may seem out of place on a day when we celebrate birth and peace. It presents a dramatic account of the great redemption that God’s people celebrated. It is the story that gave them their identity, which marked their destiny as God’s people. There is no greater story for the Jewish people. Tonight, I want to use this story to remind us of the greater redemption that God has wrought for both Jew and Gentile through Jesus Christ whose birth we are celebrating.
This is the seventh time turning to Psalm 78 at this time each year. Those of you who have heard some of the sermons should remember the gist of the psalm. The psalmist Asaph determines that his generation will not be like those of old who forgot the great deeds of God. He shows how, as a result, they rebelled against God and strayed from him. God then chooses David to shepherd the people.
Thus the setting of this vivid account of redemption is set in the context of rebellious forgetfulness.
42 They did not remember his power
or the day when he redeemed them from the foe,
43 when he performed his signs in Egypt
and his marvels in the fields of Zoan.
Over the years we have studied this forgetfulness and rebellion. We want to focus now on the acts of redemption. As we know, the people of Israel were living in bondage in Egypt. They had become Egypt’s slave labor force. God sends Moses to deliver them from their oppression. As he instructs Moses to tell the people: “I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment” (Exodus 6:6).
These acts of judgment turned out to be the ten plagues. Our psalmist refers to six – waters turning to blood; the swarms of flies, of frogs, and of locusts; the devastating hail; and, the most terrible of all – the death of the firstborn. Note how graphic the psalmist renders the effects of these plagues: “they could not drink of their streams”; flies, which devoured them… frogs, which destroyed them; destroying locust. The land’s crops, the fruit-bearing vines and trees, the cattle and flocks were given over, destroyed by the onslaught of plague after plague. If you are wondering about the “frost” in verse 47, that is a poetic description of the hail covering the land. I’ve seen such a sight following a hailstorm in South Dakota.
The depiction of destruction reaches its pinnacle in verses 49-51:
49 He let loose on them his burning anger,
wrath, indignation, and distress,
a company of destroying angels.
50 He made a path for his anger;
he did not spare them from death,
but gave their lives over to the plague.
51 He struck down every firstborn in Egypt,
the firstfruits of their strength in the tents of Ham.
Do you feel the wrath? Does your mind take you from image to destructive image so that you can imagine the terror and the oppression that led Pharaoh’s servants to have the nerve to say to him, “Do you not yet understand that Egypt is ruined?” (Exodus 10:7).
And then for his own people, the Lord acts as shepherd, protecting and leading them to safety.
52 Then he led out his people like sheep
and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.
53 He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid,
but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
54 And he brought them to his holy land,
to the mountain which his right hand had won.
55 He drove out nations before them;
he apportioned them for a possession
and settled the tribes of Israel in their tents.
The sea overwhelmed their enemies (v 53). The greatest deed of all! Recounted again and again in Israel’s lore. There is much detail to fill in, of course, of all that took place in the forty plus years of deliverance. And the psalm includes more of the story – of the great deeds by which God provided, protected, and even brought judgment against his own people in the wilderness. And all to the end of redemption. Yes, even the judgment was for the purpose of turning the hearts of his people to himself for their salvation.
And the covenant people of God recognized the significance and the greatness of these deeds. Whenever they were oppressed and appealed to God, they would remind him of this mighty redemption he wrought for them. When the psalmists praise God for his wondrous works, it is these works of deliverance from bondage that they extol. What a wondrous Redeemer is their God to deliver them out of bondage and to settle them in the Promised Land!