Psalm 78: the bigger picture
May 19, 2007 § 1 Comment
Psalm 78 is one of the longer psalms of the Bible. I waver when I consider its nature. It could be either pompous or poetic. Today, I tend to think it’s a bit on the pompous side. It recounts the history of Israel, and concentrates on the escape from Egypt and the trek to the promised land, emphasizing the fickleness of the Jewish nation when it came to faith in God.
The last part of the psalm, from verse 56 onward, recounts the history of the nation until David’s reign, and again lays the blame squarely on the shoulders of the unfaithful men of Israel — where it should be, in my opinion. It tells of how God allowed the Ark of the Covenant to be taken away to a heathen nation, and of captivity, persecution, and finally, the return of the Ark to Judah and the mountain of Zion, through the hands of David.
The ending is a bit confusing. I think the last verse (72) refers to David’s reign in Israel, not his days as a shepherd — and if that’s the case, then the description is inaccurate. It reads: “He pastured them with unblemished heart, with a sensitive hand he led them.” But we all know his heart wasn’t unblemished. There were some things he did which angered God greatly. I don’t need to go into details, we all know David’s story, and if we don’t remember it, this is a good time to review it.
This last verse is also why I tend to think the psalm is too pompous for its own good. It glosses over important matters like David’s straying, and makes me wonder what other things it generalizes or paints in a different light for the sake of making a point.
I believe this is one example of the human element at play. While God’s message is clear, it needs to be delivered through people, and we, unfortunately, always color it through our own perspective. What’s even more shameful is that some of us dare add or subtract from that message. When I discover instances like this one in the Bible, that can be discerned to be inaccurate through a more careful reading, it makes me wonder what else the writer got wrong. It’s disconcerting, and can weaken peoples’ faith. That’s why it’s important to know the entire Bible, from cover to cover. It’s that sort of knowledge that can give us the big picture we need. It allows us to place things in perspective, identify where writers deviate from the truth, and still keep our faith, because we can fill in those gaps through the light that we have come to possess.