Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16 – Remember and Learn

My friends, I beg you
    to listen as I teach.
I will give instruction
    and explain the mystery
    of what happened long ago.
These are things we learned
    from our ancestors,
    and we will tell them
    to the next generation.
We won’t keep secret
    the glorious deeds
    and the mighty miracles
    of the Lord….

God made a path in the sea
    and piled up the water
    as he led them across.
He guided them during the day
    with a cloud,
    and each night he led them
    with a flaming fire.
God made water flow
from rocks
he split open
    in the desert,
    and his people drank freely,
    as though from a lake.
He made streams gush out
    like rivers from rocks. (CEV)

This is a psalm designed to recall historical events for the theological education of ourselves and the next generation. Through passing on eventful stories from the past to future generations, God’s people continue to remember and realize robust divine action in the world. In recalling stories of care and deliverance, God’s commandments are kept. Putting trust in a powerful and benevolent deity brings assurance and encouragement.

Using the psalter as a means of recollecting past events is a sage way of edifying God’s people and living into the command of the Law, according to Moses:

These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the Lord your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, promised you.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

When the Lord your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Deuteronomy 6:1-12, NIV)

Since psalms are meant to be recited repeatedly throughout one’s spiritual life, doing so inoculates the worshiper from faithless rebellion and counteracts temptations toward trusting in idols. It is a preservative, giving life, purpose, and wholeness. Regular spiritual consumption of the psalms provides a pattern of instruction which molds and maintains the soul so that, when hard situations arise, the supports are there to hold up under the adversity.

The life that is truly life, and life for those who come after us, comes through intentional remembrance and learning. Today’s psalm is a fitting invitation to set our hope in God, remember God’s wonderful works, and keep God’s commands.

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