IN my ongoing study on “pain,” I decided to use the lexicons at Crosswalk.com to help me in better understanding the term and its place in scripture. After sorting through several different Hebrew words used in the Old Testament for the experience, I landed on one I want to highlight. The Hebrew word is bc[, pronounced “aw-tsab',” is the one that really caught my attention, especially as it appears in Psalm 78.
1. to hurt, pain, grieve, displease, vex, wrest
a. (Qal) to hurt, pain
b. (Niphal) to be in pain, be pained, be grieved
c. (Piel) to vex, torture
d. (Hiphil) to cause pain
e. (Hithpael) to feel grieved, be vexed
2. to shape, fashion, make, form, stretch into shape, (TWOT) worship
a. (Piel) to shape, form
b. (Hiphil) to form, copy, fashion
I was so captivated by the verse that this particular word showed up in that I took a deeper look at the entire Psalm, which is one of the longer ones in this Book. I wanted to share my feelings at 2:00am of what I was thinking as I read this chapter…
1 A psalm of Asaph. O my people, listen to my teaching. Open your ears to what I am saying, 2 for I will speak to you in a parable. I will teach you hidden lessons from our past -- 3 stories we have heard and know, stories our ancestors handed down to us. 4 We will not hide these truths from our children but will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the LORD. We will tell of his power and the mighty miracles he did. 5 For he issued his decree to Jacob; he gave his law to Israel. He commanded our ancestors to teach them to their children, 6 so the next generation might know them -- even the children not yet born -- that they in turn might teach their children.
Immediately I know I need to really pay attention to the heart of what this writer is trying to convey to his listeners/readers. He’s attempting to give the people a “hidden” message, to tell them “hidden” lessons from the past. He says his audience has heard these stories before, that these tales have been passed down, I know this shouldn’t be anything new to the hearers of this message, but apparently Asaph feels like they need a reminder. He has decided it is their duty to pass these truths onto the next generation. It is a commission of the Lord for the ancestors to inform the young of the marvelous deeds and works of God. It is then each specific age group’s duty to pass along the same wisdom and knowledge so that the stories that expose the glory of the LORD will never be forgotten. Looking back over my short life, I have often felt cheated as an adolescent, teen, and even young adult. Cheated by the elders in my various “communities” who don’t see their history and experience with the Lord as something to be shared and instilled in the younger generation. I have been disappointed by the generations ahead of me for not knowing how to bond or make an impact with the young people of their time and therefore building a wall of criticism, fear, and angst that continues to separate age groups. The Kingdom of God is not intended to be of “one age” or “one style” or “one experience.” The Kingdom was meant to be ever-continuing, so that when one era of worshippers passes on, another arises. The lack of real, genuine, authentic Christian adults in my (and I’m sure many of your) young life highly attributed to different situations I found myself in as a teen and young adult (am I still a young adult at 25?).
7 So each generation can set its hope anew on God, remembering his glorious miracles and obeying his commands. 8 Then they will not be like their ancestors -- stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful, refusing to give their hearts to God.
The goal of passing faith onto the next generation is so that they in turn can also find their own faith, to set their hope anew on God. So that they can hold onto the victories that were won for the generation preceding them and realize that same LORD was before them as well. Then there is the admonishment to NOT be like their ancestors who were “stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful” who “refus[ed] to give their hearts to God.” We know the ancestors that Asaph is referring to would be those coming first after Abraham, most likely the lineage of Abraham until his family became a people enslaved by the Egyptians. We know these people were of the first to be called by His Name, the first to be His chosen people. Yet they were a bunch of complaining, greedy, doubtful, idolatrous people who frequently suffered from amnesia concerning the works of the LORD. The goal of instructing the next generation is to avoid these kind of heart issues with them. I wonder how much better we’ve gotten since our spiritual ancestors of the wilderness?
9 The warriors of Ephraim, though fully armed, turned their backs and fled when the day of battle came.
I had to comment on this verse alone. Wow. These men are called “warriors.” These men were known to be “fully armed.” [New American Standard Version reads: 9 The sons of Ephraim were archers equipped with bows, Yet they turned back in the day of battle.] Yet they ran away. They turned their backs, perhaps on their brothers who stayed to fight when the battle—the thing they had been trained for—came upon them. After researching the name “Ephraim,” I found two interesting websites. The first here, and the second here. Either way, there is a people clearly trained and seemingly prepared to handle combat that runs away when faced with the reality of their purpose.
These people were known for having bows, for being ready for action, ready to fight. Yet they run away, they act like cowards, like an inept group who can’t handle the actions they’ve been groomed to perform. Looking at my life now, are there actions, duties, missions even that I have been given training to accomplish, but when faced with the reality of completing those tasks—turned away? Is there a purpose you’ve felt at some moment in your life, perhaps even a fleeting one, that when called upon to step into, you looked the other way and just went back “home”?
*Insert long probing meditation*
10 They did not keep God's covenant, and they refused to live by his law. 11 They forgot what he had done -- the wonderful miracles he had shown them, 12 the miracles he did for their ancestors in Egypt, on the plain of Zoan. 13 For he divided the sea before them and led them through! The water stood up like walls beside them! 14 In the daytime he led them by a cloud, and at night by a pillar of fire. 15 He split open the rocks in the wilderness to give them plenty of water, as from a gushing spring. 16 He made streams pour from the rock, making the waters flow down like a river! 17 Yet they kept on with their sin, rebelling against the Most High in the desert.
We see that the Ephraimites, the famed warriors of the their day are remembered as turning back; Matthew Henry believes the psalmist is referring to the situation where the Ark of the Covenant was stolen by the Philistines and Ephraim turned back from recovering it in battle. This coincided with the verses above. These forgetful “warriors” were in sin; they had let an enemy steal the “home” of the Spirit of their God and ours. They did not “live by His law,” and they were afflicted heavily with spiritual amnesia. Verse 11 seems to show us that the root of Christian disobedience is forgetfulness. Either forgetfulness of what the LORD has personally done in each Christian’s life through the work of His Son and Spirit, whether it be a personal healing of body, mind, emotions, etc, or a financial blessing, or the salvation of a dearly loved family member, etc, God has done something for every individual. Either the Believer has forgotten all those miracles or he has forgotten the actual work of Christ at the Cross and all that was paid for the redemption of our souls. Let me be more personal: Anytime I sin in my life, I must’ve forgotten all the wonderful, some even unspeakable things that Christ has done for me personally and I’ve in turn probably also forgotten the marvelous grandeur of an all-powerful God putting on vulnerable flesh so that I may be made whole. This is why we sin. If we could only turn our face toward Christ, keep our eyes upon Jesus, perhaps like the old hymn goes, “things of this world would grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.”
He reminds the people of the works the did for them as they escaped from their Egyptian captors. One would think these acts could never be forgotten, but apparently they were. We know from other passages of scripture that the LORD Himself parted the sea. He caused the people of Israel to walk through, the gave them courage to do this, though the walls of water perhaps overshadowed their heads. He guided His people step-by-step in the wilderness. He appeared as a cloud during the day, which not only gave them something to follow, but probably eased the terrible heat of the desert upon them. He then came to them as a pillar of fire at night, which perhaps gave them heat during the night or at least did not let the night be too frightful for them and scared off any wild beasts. He is always giving heart and help to His people. I feel like shouting out as I’m writing this, “He cares! He cares!” [It’s also passed 3am at this point and I don’t feel any signs of crashing yet, so that may be adding to my excitement.] And instead of opening the windows of heaven and allowing the Hebrews to collect rain for drink, he produces a way for them to receive water in a dry place—from a rock. He did not make them wait to collect water from his rain, but broke open a hard object to reveal a river, a gushing, flowing river to quench their thirst. Out of the depths, He released a stream for His people. Perhaps there are moments in our lives when we are “thirsty” in need of something to refresh us, sustain us…and He allows us to walk a little longer, to wait a little longer. Perhaps the wait is for the opportunity to open a gushing blessing into our lives, to make us know the worth of His mercy.
Verse 17 is perhaps the most disheartening so far, even these specific people, not the ones who are hearing the stories centuries later, but the actual Hebrews in the desert who were saved by the actual visible hand of God, these people yet rebelled in the face of He who had done so much for them.
*To be continued tomorrow…