In the 78th Psalm, we come to one of the many instances in which the history of Israel, the ups and downs of their relationship with God, is recounted. The purpose of these places is to teach that we must remember the failures of the past and to warn those who have not yet learned the lessons we have learned how to avoid the holes we have fallen into.
In dealing with the Corinthian church, Paul encouraged them to pay attention to Old Testament scriptures. They are not passé and of no benefit. Rather, he says in the 10th chapter that the experiences of Old Testament Israel were for our example. In Acts chapter 7, Stephen used the historical record to point out how the Jews of his time were no different from their forefathers. They claimed to be the righteous children of Abraham, but Stephen skillfully discovered to them they were certainly more like the children of Abraham than they cared to admit. At every turn, their forefathers continually rejected the grace of God and these more modern Jews were no different. They proved it when they crucified God’s own Son (Acts 7:51-52).
Psalm 78 can be rightly called a reminder of Deuteronomy 6:6-7: “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” The power and might of God in taking Israel to the Promised Land were to be an incentive to follow faithfully. Whenever Israel failed, it was a direct result of disobedience, of stubbornness, and refusal to remember what happened each time they disobeyed.
I believe we find the same incentive in the New Testament in words that are written to Christians. Hebrews 12 speaks of chastisement which we strictly want to avoid, but who among us has not gone back to the same sins time and time again? Who learns the lesson well that the same sins always yield the same results? It seems we have great difficulty learning our lessons as if the holes we fall into are not hard enough at the bottom to make us want to keep from stepping into them again.
While there is no excuse for this, we do have to chalk it up to human nature. We surrender to the flesh rather than continually crucifying it with its affections and lusts (Gal. 5:24). If you wonder how Israel kept doing what they did after seeing the power of God to deliver them, just remember we fare no better. Many times the authors of scripture tell this story about Israel and many times we are challenged to be strong in the faith. Shouldn’t one chapter in one book of the New Testament be enough to keep us straight? Apparently not because encouragement to forsake the flesh and follow Christ is an often repeated theme.
God wants us to keep up the fight. We are not to surrender because the way is hard. Every temptation has a means of escape just as Paul described in 1 Corinthians 10. God knows we will fail—He understands us better than we do ourselves. For this reason, He offers forgiveness rather than condemnation. As the Psalmist wrote in verses 38 and 39, God knows us: “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. For he remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.”
Thank God His compassion is deeper than our holes. When we repeat the past, His forgiveness is there. When we come in confession and repentance, He never fails to forgive. In our flesh, we may be doomed to repeat the past, but the blessing of our salvation is in Christ. He took the blame for us for which we will be eternally grateful.
Pastor V. Mark Smith