Today, Saturday July 29
Our Desperate Need for a Shepherd
“Then the Lord awoke as from sleep, Like a mighty man who shouts because of wine. And He beat back His enemies; He put them to a perpetual reproach. Moreover He rejected the tent of Joseph, And did not choose the tribe of Ephraim, But chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion which He loved. And He built His sanctuary like the heights, Like the earth which He has established forever. He also chose David His servant, And took him from the sheepfolds; From following the ewes that had young He brought him, To shepherd Jacob His people, And Israel His inheritance. So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, And guided them by the skillfulness of his hands.”
Today we will finish our chat on Psalm 78. This Psalm is a maschil of Asaph, a Psalm of instruction, covering Israel's history from Egypt to the time of David. In it we see the failure of the people and the faithfulness of God. Asaph writes a history lesson to Judah during the reign of Hezekiah, in an attempt to protect the future generations from committing the sins of their forefathers. (vv. 1-8)
First, in verses 9-11. Asaph reminds the people of the present failure of the Northern Kingdom of ten tribes, which he calls Ephraim, to follow the covenant and law of God. Then in verses 12-39, he recounts the deliverance of Israel from their bondage in Egypt, and their sins of unbelief and rebellion in the forty years in the wilderness. Interestingly, in verses 40-53, Asaph goes back to the time in Egypt where God demonstrated His power with the ten plagues and safely led them through the Red Sea, destroying their enemies at the same time (vv.52-53).
In verses 54-64, Asaph also wants the people to remember how God went before them into Canaan, destroying the nations there to fulfill His promise to give them their inheritance. But again, after all that God did for them, their forefathers “tested and provoked the Most High God and did not keep His testimonies” (v. 56), and God sent an enemy nation to punish them (vv. 61-64).
Asaph closes this long Psalm by encouraging the people to appreciate the present (vv. 65-72). He describes God as if He wakes up and shouts out His present like a drunk man (v. 65). This statement is metaphorical, for the Lord neither gets drunk nor goes to sleep but is used to remind us that the LORD is not asleep when we are overwhelmed by our enemies but is ready and powerful to help us in our time of need.
Asaph gives the example of during the time of Samuel and Saul, with the help of young David, Israel beat back her enemies, but it was when David ascended the throne that the nation achieved its greatest victories and experienced the greatest expansion of its boundaries. This is one reason why God rejected the tribe of Ephraim and chose the tribe of Judah, and why He abandoned the tabernacle at Shiloh in Ephraim and chose Mt. Zion for the site of the temple.
Jacob had prophesied that the king would come from Judah (Gen. 49:10), and King Saul was from Benjamin. When the Lord directed David to capture Mt. Zion and make Jerusalem his capital city, it was an act of His love (47:4; 87:2). If Asaph wrote this psalm after the division of the kingdom, then he was reminding the people of Judah that they were privileged indeed to have Jerusalem, Mt. Zion, and a king from the line of David, from which line the Messiah would come! (See Luke 1:30-33, 66-79; Matt. 2:6.) If they appreciated these privileges, they would not follow the bad example of the Northern Kingdom and sin against the Lord by turning to idols.
Kings were called "shepherds" (Jer. 23:1-6; Ezek. 34) because God's chosen people were the sheep of His pasture (v. 52; Ps. 77:20; 100:3), and no one was better qualified than David to hold that title (2 Sam. 5:1-3). He loved his "sheep" (2 Sam. 24:17) and often risked his life for them on the battlefield. His hands were skillful, whether holding a sword, a harp, a pen, or a scepter, and, unlike his predecessor Saul, his heart was wholly devoted to the Lord. Integrity and skill need each other, for no amount of ability can compensate for a sinful heart, and no amount of devotion to God can overcome lack of ability.
Today, we need to pray for pastors to be men of integrity and skill to lead and care for the current flock of God in our churches. We also need to be encouraged by remembering that our Good and Great Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, is always with us and that He will never forsake us!