2 Samuel 23; Galatians 3; Ezekiel 30; Psalm 78:40-72
THE MAY 25 MEDITATION IN the first volume of this two-volume set focused on Psalm 78:40-72, especially on verses 40-41: “How often they rebelled against him in the desert and grieved him in the wasteland! Again and again they put God to the test; they vexed the Holy One of Israel” (cf. also Ps. 78:56). The repeated failures of the covenant community were cumulatively a defiance of God that put him to the test, until he responded in anger: “He was very angry with his inheritance” (Ps. 78:62). That is a powerful theme in the psalm. But there is another side to this theme that one should think about.
The closing verses of the psalm (Ps. 78:65-72) picture the Lord rousing “as from sleep” (Ps. 78:65), beating back his enemies. What did he do? He did not choose “the tents of Joseph” (though Joseph had been the governor of Egypt). Rather, “he chose the tribe of Judah.” “He chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens” (Ps. 78:70); indeed, he chose “Mount Zion, which he loved. He built his sanctuary like the heights, like the earth that he established forever” (Ps. 78:69). “And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them” (Ps. 78:72).
But you and I are today reading these lines while at the same time reading Ezekiel, and we know that David’s line provided little enduring stability. Within two generations the Davidic dynasty lost the northern ten tribes, and its history from that point to the exile turned out to be as fickle and as repulsively wicked as anything described in this psalm, which scans the period from the Exodus to the beginning of the Davidic dynasty. In other words, this psalm looks back on the debris of failure and the well-deserved wrath of God, but sees the appointment of David and the choice of Zion as spectacular marks of God’s grace and goodness, an encouraging basis for stable faithfulness in the years ahead. But when we look back from the perspective of Ezekiel or Jeremiah, we find a still longer string of failures and still more well-deserved wrath. So is Psalm 78 simply naive?
At each stage of the Bible’s plot-line, in the midst of wrath God intervenes in mercy. The human race was sliding into a miasma of sin, so God chose Abraham. In the debauchery of the twelve sons, God chose Joseph. In the abyss of Israelite slavery, God chose Moses. In desperate cycles of rebellion, God raised up the judges. Each step marked glorious hope. And now God raises up David. But living as we do three millennia later than David, we look back and breathe our profound thanks for how God disclosed himself “in these last days” (Heb. 1:1-4)—in the finality of his Son.