October 19, 2017: Verse of the day

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Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;

incline your ears to the words of my mouth!

    I will open my mouth in a parable;

I will utter dark sayings from of old,

    things that we have heard and known,

that our fathers have told us.

    We will not hide them from their children,

but tell to the coming generation

the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might,

and the wonders that he has done. [1]


Call to Wisdom (78:1–4)

Commentary

1–4 The purpose of the introduction is to arouse attention in the manner used by the sages and prophets of Israel. The importance of the “teaching” (tôrâ, GK 9368, i.e., “instruction,” v. 1) lies in the insights gleaned from Israel’s history. Hence the first word of the psalmist in the MT is “hear” (lit., “give ear”; cf. 49:1; Pr 7:24; Isa 28:23, synonymous with “listen,” lit., “stretch your ear”). “The words of my mouth” (cf. 19:14; 54:2; Dt 32:1) are words of wisdom expressed in “parables” (māšāl, GK 5442, “proverbial form of teaching,” v. 2; cf. Pr 1:6; “proverbs” in NIV) and in “riddles” (NIV, “hidden things”; cf. Pr 1:6, “riddles of the wise”; 49:4). The “riddles” were not “hidden things” in any esoteric form of teaching, for the psalmist claims, “We have heard and known” the parables and riddles (v. 3); rather, the wisdom communicated from the fathers to each new generation pertains to the “praiseworthy deeds” and the demonstration of “his power, and the wonders” (v. 4; see Reflections, p. 603, The Mighty Acts of Yahweh).

The history of redemption is revelatory. The Lord’s mighty acts reveal his love, mercy, and patience with his people. They also conceal, as humans cannot comprehend that God continues to be merciful and patient toward a “rebellious people” (cf. v. 8). In this sense we understand that Jesus’ use of parables was a form of “hiding” the revelation of God from all who were hardened in their hearts (cf. Mt 13:35). But the revelation of God stirs the true believers, as Calvin, 3:228, wrote: “If in this psalm there shines forth such a majesty as may justly stir up and inflame the readers with a desire to learn, we gather from it with what earnest attention it becomes us to receive the gospel, in which Christ opens and displays to us the treasures of his celestial wisdom.”

The goal of the teacher of wisdom is to open Israel’s history from God’s perspective. The act of “telling [mesapperîm, plural participle] the next generation” (v. 4) is a continuation of the tradition “heard and known” from the fathers (v. 3; cf. 44:1). The contents of the tradition of redemptive history are transmitted without further explication, so that each generation may draw lessons from the “parables” and “riddles” of God’s interaction with the previous generations. The acts of God draw attention to God’s deeds and not primarily to human beings’ rebellious spirit. They reveal his “power” (ʿezûz, i.e., strength in battle; cf. 145:6; Isa 42:25, “anger”), his “glorious” acts worthy of the praise of Israel (NIV, “praiseworthy deeds”; cf. 65:1), and the “wonders” (cf. 105:5; see Reflections, p. 84, The Ways of Wisdom and Folly).[2]


The Psalmist’s Invitation to Learn from History (78:1–4)

The psalmist calls for the attention of his people (and of all of us) because he is going to speak in a parable, that is, there is going to be a deeper meaning beneath the surface of what he recounts. As he rehearses various chapters from the history of his nation, there will be hidden lessons which he calls “dark sayings of old.” Just as our parents passed down to us a record of the past, so we are obligated to pass on to the next generation an account of the Lord’s dealings with His people in grace and government.[3]


78:4 We will not hide them from their children Israel failed to follow God throughout its history. The psalmist seems to be saying that he will not hide the past from God’s people but instead use it for teaching.

the praises of Yahweh The focus of Israel’s faith is not their goodness, but God’s help to them over the course of their history.

wonders The Hebrew word used here, niphla’oth, is usually associated with the events of the exodus from Egypt (see Exod 7:3).[4]


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 78:1–4). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, pp. 591–592). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 666). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ps 78:4). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

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