Psalm 78 and Why We Must Tell Our Stories of Redemption

ELIZABETH TURNAGE|CONTRIBUTOR

The time I got hit by a car while jogging.

The time I was not awarded the scholarship to college that everyone thought was a shoe-in.

The time I transferred colleges and met my husband in a biology lab I should not have had to take.

These are the one-line titles of just a few of my redemption stories. If you read my blog or hang out around me long enough, you might just hear the whole story. How about you? When is the last time you told a story of how God rescued and redeemed you in a particular moment or season of your life?

Asaph, the author of Psalm 78, convincingly argues that God’s people must know and share their stories of redemption. In the seventy-two verses of the Psalm, he demonstrates how far astray God’s people can go when they forget his mighty miracles and wonderful deeds. Right in the middle of the Psalm, Asaph reminds us of the surest hope of a forgetful people—our God never forgets to be merciful. Let’s look at how it breaks down:

Part 1. A Call to Remember and Tell (Psalm 78:1-8)

Asaph implores the Israelites to remember and tell of God’s redemptive work. When they recite his “glorious deeds” and “the wonders that he has done” (Psalm 78:4b, ESV), the next generation will “set their hope in God…[and] keep his commandments” (Psalm 78:7, ESV). When the Israelites remember their stories of redemption, they won’t follow in the fleeing footsteps of their “stubborn, rebellious,” ancestors (Psalm 78:8, ESV).

Part II. Forgetting His Works and Wonders (Psalm 78:9-16)

When we forget God’s works, we can become like the cowardly Ephraimites, who, in the day of battle, despite being led by their own mighty warrior, the Lord himself, turn and run in the opposite direction. How could they? Simply put, “They forgot his works and the wonders he had shown them” (Psalm 78:11, ESV). In case we too have forgotten the wonders of the Lord, Asaph recites just a few: the nick-of-time Red Sea rescue, the water gushing from split rocks, the odd wilderness guides: cloud by day, fire by night….(Psalm 78:15).

Part III. Sin, Disbelief, and God’s Wrath (Psalm 78:17-31)

Despite the many miracles the Lord performs for the Israelites, they persevere in their sin, rebelling against God, and “demanding the food they craved” (Psalm 78:18, ESV). Finally, as the cycle of God’s provision and Israel’s rebellion continues, we are told, “the anger of God rose against them, and he killed their strongest men” (Psalm 78:31, ESV).

Part IV. Repentance, False Repentance, and God’s Mercy (Psalm 78:32-39)

Remarkably, almost unbelievably, the Israelites persist in their sin, even after experiencing the anger of God. Finally, the story turns, ever so slightly. The Israelites “repented and sought God earnestly” (Psalm 78:34, ESV). Sadly, even this repentance appears to be false and fleeting: “But they flattered him with their mouths; they lied to him with their tongues” (Psalm 78:36, ESV). And here, right in the worst of the wrath and the killing and the apparent doom for God’s people, comes the turn of the story: “Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath” (Psalm 78:38, ESV).

Part V. More Forgetting and Remembering (Psalm 78:40-64)

With this assertion of God’s mercy, you might expect the Israelites’ hearts to change. Unfortunately, it does not. Israel’s forgetfulness and unfaithfulness continues: “For they provoked him to anger with their high places; they moved him to jealousy with their idols” (Psalm 78:58, ESV). The story seems to be rushing toward a tragic finale: “When God heard, he was full of wrath, and he utterly rejected Israel” (Psalm 78:59, ESV).

Part VI. The End of This Story: God’s Mercy (Psalm 78:65-72)

Thankfully, the Psalm does not end at verse 64. Asaph still has hope to offer. God rescues his people by sending them a good shepherd, David, who compassionately cared for them, and “guided them with his skillful hand” (Psalm 78:72, ESV). Of course, if we’ve read the whole Bible, we know that David does not end up being such a good shepherd. He himself forgets his own redemption stories (of killing Goliath with a stone, of triumphing in battle, etc.), sleeps with Bathsheba, and has her husband murdered.

The End of Our Story: God’s Mercy

We now know the rest of the story, the part Asaph could not have known. God, in his mercy, sends another good shepherd, a better shepherd, the best shepherd—Jesus. In Jesus, our cycles of sin are finally broken. In Jesus, we are empowered to remember God’s mercy. In Jesus, our rebellion leads to true repentance. In Jesus, we long to tell the story to the next generations of both children and believers so that they might set their hope anew on God.

Afterword:

Do you hear Asaph’s call to tell God’s story of redemption so that others may set their hope anew on God? I hope so. To help you share your stories, I’ve attached a Summer Story Feast Guide. Why not invite some friends and neighbors to share some stories of redemption with you? To download it, click here. Please feel free to contact me through email or on my Facebook page if you have any questions.

About the Author:

Elizabeth Turnage

Elizabeth Turnage is a writer, story coach, and teacher. She founded Living Story to help people learn, live, and love the gospel. She is the author of The Waiting Room: 60 Meditations for Finding Peace & Hope in a Health Crisis and the Living Story Bible Study Series (P & R), Elizabeth offers gospel-centered resources at her blog, www.elizabethturnage.com.

Elizabeth has been married to orthopedic surgeon Kip Turnage for 36 years. They enjoy spending time with their children, Kirby and Amy Anne Turnage, Jackie and Matt Roelofs, Mary Elizabeth and Caleb Blake, and Robert Turnage. When they are not working or visiting their kids, they enjoy doting on their golden doodle, Rosie, the “best-dog-ever”!

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