- An enlightening psalm1 of Asaph.2
Tell children stories about God
- 1 Dear friends, I need you to listen now.
I have something you need to hear.
- 2 I’ll teach you with stories from old times
And with riddles nicely aged.
- 3 We’ve heard them and reheard them before,
Passed down to us from our parents.
- 4 Our children will hear them from us.
We’ll sing God’s praises to our children,
And marvel his power for generations to come.
- 5 God made an agreement with Jacob.
He organized Israel with law.
Then he gave our ancestors a job:
You must teach all of this to your children.
- 6 Do it so our children will know,
And children in days to come,
Who’ll teach their children, as well.
- 7 Do this so our children will trust God,
So they’ll never forget what he has done.
- 8 And do it so they’ll follow his teaching,
And not follow their ancestors, who didn’t.
That was a stubborn bunch of people,
Rebels with no time for God,
Who failed their devotion to him.
When Israel ran away from God
- 9 Warriors from Ephraim were archers.
Their preferred weapon, the bow.
But when it came time to fight the battle,
They packed up their gear and went home.3
- 10 Our ancestors had a contract with God
But they broke it and ran away.
They turned their back on God’s teachings
And ran the opposite way.
- 11 They ignored all his mighty miracles.
Though they’d seen them with their own eyes,
But decided to simply forget them.
- 12 God did miracles for their ancestors
In Egypt in the fields of Zoan.4
- 13 He split the sea so they could escape.
They walked through the path in safety
While the water stood tall and still,
Like the wall of a massive dam.5
- 14 He led them in daytime with a cloud.
He led them at night with a fire.
- 15 He split some rocks in the badlands
To quench the thirst of his people,
With enough water to fill a lake.6
- 16 Water sprang from the rock,
Bursting out like a fountain,
Rolling down like rivers and streams.
Ordering food from God
- 17 But the people kept sinning and sinning
In a constant rebellion against God.
- 18 The people then tested God’s limits,
Treating him like a common cook,
Ordering food that was not on the menu.7
- 19 They dissed him by saying, “Come on,
Can God fix a meal in the badlands?
- 20 Sure, he tapped a rock to get water,
And streams kept flowing out nicely.
But can he bake bread and serve meat,
When his people are ready to eat?”
God gets hot, and the fire flies
- 21 When the LORD heard that, he got hot.
A fire started rolling toward Jacob.8
Anger fanned the flames toward Israel.
- 22 They didn’t believe God was God.
They didn’t believe he would save them.
- 23 Yet still, God opened the sky.
He opened the barn doors of heaven.
- 24 Manna fell down like rain.
So, the people ate it all up.
- 25 There they were, a bunch of mere humans,
Eating bread that had been baked for the angels.
God sent them this food. And plenty of it.
- 26 God called the east wind,9 pushing westward
And the south wind, pushing northward, too.
- 27 He drove birds through the sky by the flock
And then pushed them down to the ground
in huge numbers like the sand on a beach.
- 28 He landed them right in the camp
On the ground outside all the tents.
- 29 So, the people ate their fill.
God gave them all that they wanted.
- 30 And yet while they were still chewing
With food, still not swallowed, in their mouths,
- 31 They stirred up God’s anger again.10
So, he picked out the strongest among them
And dropped them dead where they chewed.
- 32 But, most of the people kept sinning.
They had no faith in God’s power.
- 33 So he ended their worthless lives
With a swift and terrible death.
- 34 When some of them died, others prayed,
They came back and obeyed to the letter.
- 35 They remembered that they could trust him
As their only rock-solid support,
The God Most High who had saved them.
- 36 But they flattered him
out one side of the mouth
and lied to his face out the other.
- 37 When it came to God,
Their hearts failed.
And they took their agreement11 for granted.
Their hearts weren’t in that, either.
- 38 But God is compassionate and forgiving.
So, he didn’t kill them for this.
He kept a lid on his anger,
And did not let it boil over.
- 39 He remembered they were flesh and bone,
A moment’s breath here and then they are gone,
A puff of wind that’s just passing through.
Revolt in the badlands
- 40 They revolted against him in the badlands.
They disappointed him again in the desert.
- 41 They pushed God again and again.
They were a pain to Israel’s Holy One.
- 42 They forgot who they were dealing with,
Forgot God had saved them from enemies,
- 43 Forgot the miracles done in Egypt,
Wonders worked in the fields of Zoan.
- 44 He turned Egypt’s rivers blood red.
No one could drink that bad water.
- 45 He sent swarming flies to bite them.
He sent frogs to clog up the land.
- 46 He fed their crops to the grasshoppers.
Their hard work went to locusts, as well.
- 47 He pummeled their vines to pieces.
He destroyed their fig harvest, too,
When frost descended on sycamore trees.
- 48 He dropped hail on their herds of cattle,
And flashed lightning through the sky above livestock.
- 49 He scorched the people with his anger,
With fury, with pain, and with rage,
As a strike force of messengers from God.
- 50 He cleared the ground for his anger’s attack.
He didn’t protect people from death,
But gave them as a gift to the plague.
- 51 He took the lives of Egyptians,
The first child born in each family,
The greatest hope of each household,
All descended from Noah’s son, Ham.12
- 52 He led his people like sheep.
He guided them through the badlands,
As a shepherd in charge of his flock.
- 53 He kept them safe,
With no reason to fear,
For the sea had swallowed their enemies.
- 54 He led them into his holy land,
To these hills he took them all
With the force of his endless strength.
- 55 He drove out the people who live there
And divided the land among Israel’s tribes.
The people pitched their tents, and lived their lives.
- 56 Yet they continued to test God’s patience.
They rebelled against God the Most High.
For again, they broke the law.
- 57 These twisted people started acting
Like their crooked ancestors had done,
They were worthless as an old warped bow
That couldn’t shoot straight anymore.
- 58 They stoked God’s anger once again
Building pagan shrines on the hilltops,
Stirring God’s jealousy with carved idols.
When God left Israel
- 59 When God heard them speaking pagan rituals
He turned from Israel and left.
- 60 God abandoned the worship center at Shiloh,13
The sacred tent he had pitched among his people.
- 61 God gave up his strength
when the enemy captured Shiloh.
His glory reflected in this place
was now a prisoner of war.
- 62 God gave his people as gifts to the sword.
He was that angry with his own people.
- 63 His young men died in fire.
His young women never got married.
- 64 Swords took the lives of his priests.
And their widows weren’t able to cry.
- 65 Then the Lord God got up,
Like a soldier climbing out of bed
After sleeping off too much wine.
- 66 He attacked his enemies
And sent them running
In a humiliation that would never die.
- 67 God rejected the tribal families of Joseph.14
Ephraim’s tribe included as well.
- 68 God chose the tribe of Judah,
and the hill he loved, Mount Zion.15
- 69 And there God built his Temple
Like he built the sky and the earth.
He built it to last forever.
- 70 He chose a leader named David,
Recruiting him from the sheep pens.
- 71 God called a mere shepherd
Whose lambs still nursed from their mothers.
God made him shepherd of Jacob’s descendants,
God’s people, the nation of Israel.
- 72 David led them with great integrity,
He ruled them with wisdom and skill.
“An enlightening psalm” is a guess. The original Hebrew word is maskil (mass-KEEL). Scholars say they aren’t sure what it means. They say they don’t even know if the word refers to the lyrics or the music. Maskil sounds a bit like another Hebrew word, askilkha, which means “let me enlighten you.” Some scholars associate maskil with a root word, sakal, which generates a lot of words with various meanings such as: thoughtful, instructive, wise, and proper. One theory is that the word relates to both lyrics and music. It could, for example, describe the lyrics as “thoughtful” and the music as a harmony fit for that theme.
The subtitle wasn’t part of the original psalm. And the possible byline “of Asaph,” isn’t necessarily a byline. The vague phrase could mean the song was written by Asaph, about Asaph, or was inspired by Asaph. Asaph led a musical family in the tribe of Levi, one of the 12 tribes that made up the original nation of Israel. Levite families worked as priests and worship leaders and worship assistants for the Jewish nation. Asaph was a leader of worship music during the time of King David (1 Chronicles 16:5). His family carried on the musical tradition, showing up five centuries later, when a Jewish man named Nehemiah, in the 500s BC, helped rebuild Jerusalem after Babylonian invaders from what is now Iraq leveled Jerusalem in 586 BC.
There’s nothing in history about this, so far. Some Bible experts speculate that it could be a parable-like metaphor, which the writer used as a springboard for what comes in the next few verses. If so, the songwriter may have uninvited himself from the next Ephraimite harvest festival dance and fig cake exchange.
Zoan was an Egyptian city in the lush fields of the Nile River Delta, where the Hebrews settled when Jacob moved his family there to escape a long, regional drought.
The Hebrew word describing the water can mean piling up like a tidal wave. It can also mean a mound, hill, wall, or dam. An early Jewish translation into Greek, before the time of Christ, (the Septuagint) called it a leather bag used as wine skin. Hard to imagine that. But at least it’s the idea of something that will hold water. Perhaps easier to imagine is a tsunami in this earthquake-prone rift valley. As the growing wave pulls water from the shore, fleeing Hebrew refugees might have rushed through the shallows before the giant wave rolled back in to crush the Egyptian chariot corps chasing them. It’s all speculation.
There are aquifers throughout the region were Moses and the Exodus Hebrews traveled between Egypt and what are now Israel and Palestinian Territories. In the Sinai Peninsula, there are eight major aquifers containing underground water, at most recent report.
See verses 29-30.
Nothing personal. It doesn’t mean God was upset with the ancestor of the 12 tribes of Israel. “Jacob” was one of many names, like “Israel,” for the Hebrew people who were ancestors of today’s Jews.
The east wind blows toward the west, and the south wind toward the north. This may have blown off course migrating quail. They leave their winter home in Africa in the springtime, and they fly north to Europe for the summer.
Literally, “God got angry.” It’s a presumption that they provoked him. An educated guess, but a fair bet many would say.
The songwriter was probably talking about the agreement God made with ancestors of the Jewish people, through Abraham. Many rules of the agreement were spelled out through the laws the Bible says God gave the Jewish nation through Moses. When Jewish people talk about the covenant, they are often talking about laws preserved in the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The covenant, or contract, between God and the Jewish people was a two-way street. The Jews obey God’s rules, and God protects them and blesses their work with prosperity. Benefits for obedience and the consequences for breaking the contract were detailed by Moses in a speech shortly before he died (Deuteronomy 27—28).
Egyptians reportedly descended from Ham (Genesis 10:6).
The Israelite ancestors of the people later known as Jews, pitched the tent worship center known as the Tabernacle in Shiloh. Bible writers never report what happened to it. Many scholars say the Philistines probably destroyed it after overrunning the Israelite army and capturing the Ark of the Covenant, a gold-covered chest that held the Ten Commandments. Soldiers had brought to the battlefront this chest, Israel’s most sacred object, to pump up the courage of the army. It worked only temporarily (1 Samuel 4).
Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, each had tribes named after them. This reference to them may be a reference to what became the northern Jewish nation of Israel, where both tribes were located.
The temple Solomon would eventually build would be located in the lands of the tribe of Judah, on Mount Zion, more commonly known as the ridgetop city of Jerusalem. This was the capital of the Jewish nation when they were unified, and later the capital of the nation of Judah after the Jewish nation split in two.