Psalm 78 is a history lesson. It recaps memorable events during Israel’s forty-year walk through the wilderness. The verses rock backwards and forwards between God’s blessings, provision, and protection and Israel’s failure to trust Him in each crisis. In Egypt, God did miracles. As Israel fled, He divided the sea for them. He led them with a cloud by day and a fire by night. He split rocks to provide rivers in the desert. Yet Israel doubted God. Here’s the example given:
Then they spoke against God;
They said, “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness?
Behold, He struck the rock so that waters gushed out,
And streams were overflowing;
Can He give bread also?
Will He provide meat for His people?” (Ps. 78:19-20)
Understandably, God was angered by the question:
The Lord heard and was full of wrath;
And a fire was kindled against Jacob
And anger also mounted against Israel,
Because they did not believe in God
And did not trust in His salvation. (Ps. 78:21-22)
However, God continued to bless His people with the bread of angels and meat (manna and quail).
In spite of all this they still sinned
And did not believe in His wonderful works. (Ps. 78:32)
Let’s consider their lack of belief. I used to think it was an oversight to speak of believing in God and believing in His works in the same terms; surely it is an irreverent comparison. Yet the comparison contains a lesson about belief: it is not restricted to inner, intellectual confidence, admirable though that is. Rather, belief is unashamedly practical. In fact, the psalmist’s lesson hinges on issues of raw survival—as mundane as bread and meat. Would an Egyptian army mow down the multitude? Would the hordes die of hunger or the throng perish from thirst? Repeatedly, God proved that He cared about such things and was capable of acting. God’s track record invited the nation to place unswerving confidence in Him, so they could be an example to others.
Unfortunately, Israel failed to recognize God’s reliability and did not trust Him. They were:
A stubborn and rebellious generation,
A generation that did not prepare its heart
And whose spirit was not faithful to God. (Ps. 78:8)
Israel settled for weak faith (in Hebrew, the words “faith” and “belief” are closely related) although God continued to take care of her.
When we face seemingly insurmountable obstacles blocking God’s destiny for us, we should remember the lesson of history: God is in the business of doing miracles; trust Him to work another one. As we walk through life expecting God to act in every challenge, we will develop faith—the currency of God’s kingdom.