Saturday, January 15, 2011

Day 15 — Psalm 78

The lessons of Israelite history

Psalm of Asaph.

Listen to this Law, my people,
pay attention to what I say;
I am going to speak to you in parable
and expound the mysteries of our past.

What we have heard and known for ourselves,
and what our ancestors have told us,
must not be withheld from their descendants,
but be handed on by us to the next generation;

that is: the titles of Yahweh, His power
and the miracles He has done.
When He issued the decrees for Jacob
and instituted a Law in Israel,

He gave our ancestors strict orders
to teach it to their children;
the next generation was to learn it,
the children still to be born,

and those in their turn were to tell their own children
so that they too would put their confidence in God,
never forgetting God's achievements,
and always keeping His commandments,

and not becoming, like their ancestors,
a stubborn and unruly generation,
a generation with no sincerity of heart,
in spirit unfaithful to God.

The sons of Ephraim, who were bowmen,
turned tail when the time came to fight;
they had not kept God's covenant,
they refused to follow His Law;

they had forgotten His achievements,
the marvels He had shown them:
He had worked wonders for their ancestors
in the plains of Zo‘an, down in Egypt:

dividing the sea, bringing them through,
making the waters stand up like dikes,
leading them with a cloud by day
and with a fiery glow at night,

splitting rocks in the wilderness,
quenching their thirst with unlimited water,
conjuring streams from the rock
and bringing down water in torrents.

They only sinned against Him more than ever,
defying the Most High in the desert,
deliberately challenging God
by demanding their favorite food.

They blasphemed against God,
‘Is it likely,’ they said, ‘that God
could give a banquet in the wilderness?

‘Admittedly, when he struck the rock,
waters gushed, torrents streamed out,
but bread now, can He give us that,
can He provide meat for His people?’

Yahweh was enraged when He heard them,
a fire flared at Jacob,
the wrath attacked Israel
for having no faith in God,
no trust in His power to save.

He gave orders to the skies above,
He opened the doors of heaven,
He rained down manna to feed them,
He gave them the wheat of heaven;
men ate the bread of Immortals,
He sent them more food than they could eat.

He stirred up an east wind in the heavens,
He conjured up a south wind by His power,
He rained down meat on them like dust;
birds as thick as sand on the seashore
He sent tumbling into their camp,
in all directions around their tents.

They all had enough and to spare,
He having provided what they wanted;
but they had hardly satisfied their craving,
the food was still in their mouths,

when the wrath of God attacked them,
slaughtering their strongest men
and laying the flower of Israel low.

Despite all this, they went on sinning,
and put no faith in His marvels;
for which He blasted their days
and their years in a flash.

Whenever He slaughtered them they sought Him,
they came to their senses and sought Him earnestly
remembering that God was their rock,
God the Most High, their Redeemer.

But though they outwardly flattered Him
and used their tongues to lie to Him,
in their hearts they were not true to Him,
they were unfaithful to His covenant.

Compassionately, however,
He forgave their guilt instead of killing them,
repeatedly repressing His anger
instead of rousing His full wrath,
remembering they were creatures of flesh,
a puff of wind that passes and does not return.

How often they defied Him in the wilderness,
how often they outraged Him in the desert,
repeatedly challenging God,
provoking the Holy One of Israel
—entirely oblivious of His hand
and of the time He saved them from the oppressor:

by imposing His signs on Egypt,
by displaying His wonders in the plains of Zo‘an,
by turning their rivers into blood,
by stopping them drinking from their streams,

by sending horseflies to eat them
and frogs to devastate them,
by consigning their crops to the caterpillar
and their hard-won harvest to the locust,

by killing their vines with hail
and their sycamore trees with frost,
by condemning their cattle to plague
and their flocks to feverish pests,

by unleashing His fierce anger, rage,
indignation and hardship on them,
a mission of angels of disaster,
by giving His anger free rein,

by not even exempting them from death,
by condemning them to plague,
by striking down all the first-born in Egypt,
the first fruits of their virility in the tents of Ham,

by driving His people out like sheep,
by leading them through the wilderness like a flock,
by guiding them safe and unafraid
while the sea engulfed their enemies,

by bringing them to His sacred frontier,
the highlands conquered by His own right hand,
by expelling the pagans in front of them
and by marking out a heritage for each,
in which the tribes of Israel could pitch their tents.

Even so,
they went on challenging God the Most High,
rebelliously disregarding His decrees;
as perverse and disloyal as their ancestors,
treacherous as a bow with a warp,
provoking Him with their high places
and rousing His jealousy with their idols.

God was enraged when He heard them,
He rejected Israel out of hand,
He left His home in Shiloh,
that tent where He once lived with men.

He consigned His power to captivity,
His splendor to the enemy's clutches;
He condemned His own people to the sword,
He raged at His heritage,

whose young men were then burned to death—
no brides left to hear the wedding song;
whose priests fell by the sword—
no widows left to raise the dirge.

Then, like a sleeper, like a hero
fighting-mad with wine, the Lord woke up
to strike His enemies on the rump
and put them to everlasting shame.

Rejecting the tent of Joseph,
not choosing the tribe of Ephraim,
instead He chose the tribe of Judah
and His well-loved mountain of Zion,
where He built His sanctuary,
a copy of high heaven,
founding it firm as the earth for ever.

Choosing David as His servant,
He took Him from the sheepfolds,
called him from tending ewes in lamb
to pasture His people Jacob
and Israel His heritage:
who did this with unselfish care
and led them with a sensitive hand.

Next… Day 16 — Psalm 79

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