Scripture Reading: Psalm 78:1-42
Psalters: 250 (1, 2, 5), 60 (1, 3, 5), 89 (1-5), 213 (1-3)
Psalm 78, as you notice from the heading, is written by Asaph. Asaph was a Levite in the court of King David who was both a music leader and a teacher – he belonged to the family of the Levites whose job it was to teach.
This is a very long Psalm which records the history of Israel from Egypt all the way to David. The Psalm highlights two things in all this history; 1) the repeated disobedience and ingratitude of the Israelites, and 2) the recurring and unfailing mercy of God to the disobedient nation.
Asaph calls this Psalm a parable (verse 2, “I will open my mouth in a parable”). Of course, this does not fit the idea of a parable that we usually have, namely, Jesus’ parables. But, in essence it is the same. This is clear from the fact that verse 2 is quoted in reference to Jesus in Matthew 13:34-35. The similarity is this. In this Psalm we have a story taken from the realm of man, the earth, filled with events that teach or illustrate important spiritual truths to us.
When you read the Psalm, you get that sense. This is not simply a recounting of historical events, but there are real lessons here. The Psalm is, in one sense, almost depressing. The stubbornness and rebellion of Israel teaches us what is in our own hearts. But, at the same time, the Psalm inspires hope in the hearts of sinners by showing them how longsuffering our God is to sinners. So the history becomes a parable – we learn from it.
This is how history ought to be taught, be it biblical history, church history, or world history. The study of history is not just a relating of facts, nor ought it be a justification of men and their deeds. But, there are lessons to be learned from history, so that we do not fall into the same sins of those gone before. Psalm 78 illustrates what is expressed in 1 Corinthians 10:11, “All these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.”
As we read the Psalm, you would have noticed that the over-riding concern of the Psalmist is that the children know the history and be taught it. The reason for this is so that they not fall into sin and apostasy. The Psalmist says, in effect, that he himself has not fallen into the sins of Israel because (verse 3) his fathers had taught him. And now, he expresses a concern that his children (whom he considers to be not his children, but “their” children, that is the children of his parents) be taught, so that they can teach their children who are not yet born (verse 6), who will teach the generations to come. So, he goes back generations, and forward generations. He is concerned for this instruction so that the children remain faithful.
How do we avoid apostasy and falling away in the church; apostasy and departure of ourselves, of our children and grandchildren? This is a major concern for parents in the church.
The answer is, TEACH!. Teach as we have been taught.
There is a lot of ignorance and departure in the church world today. Many in the churches clamor for entertainment in their worship services. Others push agendas of tolerance for those living in sinful life-styles. Why? They want entertainment, not only because they are not getting any real meat from the pulpits in these churches, but also because they don’t know any better because they have never been taught the second commandment. They want to tolerate sinful behaviors, not just so their churches can be bigger and friendlier, but because they are ignorant and don’t know what God’s law really requires. This is SAD. But, it shows us the importance of teaching our children.
This sermon is on Psalm 78:1-8 and we will divide these verses into three parts under the theme,
INSTRUCTING OUR SONS
1. God’s Command (in verse 5)
2. Asaph’s Example (in verses 1-4)
3. The Purpose with regard to our Children (in verses 6-8)
1. First, GOD’S COMMAND, in verse 5
For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children:
We notice two things from this verse.
First, we see that God has revealed himself – “He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel.”
We start here because this is the foundation, this is absolutely basic to any instruction of our children; God Has spoken.
If God had not spoken, if he had not revealed himself, then we would be left in darkness and confusion, and would have nothing to teach our children. The fact that He has spoken and revealed Himself gives content to any instruction of our children.
Any education that ignores God’s revelation is, not only a waste of education and effort, but is no education at all. Everything must be brought back to God. Today we see so much of the opposite in education. Not only does it ignore God’s revelation, but it seeks to sever any connection to God in the minds of the students by trying to disprove God, or by setting up theories that deny God – such as the theory of evolution. And, it is for this reason that we have our Christian schools and can be so thankful for them.
God has revealed himself, and everything in heaven and earth is related to the revelation of that Creator.
Now, we ask from the text, what has God spoken?
In verse 5a, God has spoken by “establishing a testimony and appointing a law.” Briefly, what is this? “Testimony” and “Law” take us back to Exodus 31:18 where we read that Jehovah “gave unto Moses two tables of testimony, two tables of stone, written with the finger of God.” What was written on these tables was the “ten commandments.”
Psalm 78 takes us back to Mt. Sinai and the Covenant made with Israel there. God promised to be the God of His people, to be their Friend, and God told them that they would be His special and peculiar people. As His peculiar people, they were given the law of God, representing their part in His covenant with them. Should they break the law, they would be violating the covenant (as verse 10 also states concerning Ephraim’s disobedience).
This, of course, does not mean that the covenant with them was conditional, but that now as His covenant people, an obligation was placed on them.
In that connection, we have to notice something else about this “law and testimony.” The ten commandments do not start with commandments, but they start like this, “I am the Lord thy God which brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” They begin with a testimony of God’s grace and power, of what He has done for His people. He saved them with a mighty and outstretched arm before He gave them the law.
And so, when Asaph, in Psalm 78:5, refers to the testimony of God, he means not only that God has told us what to do, but that God testifies to us of what He has done, and what our response should be.
In verse 5, God not only establishes this testimony, not only gives its content to Israel, but also, in the second place, He gives command to them to teach it to their children. This is a command! God demands it of covenant parents. They must teach their children. There are several reasons for this.
1) First, simply this; Not every generation in Israel is going to learn about God’s grace and power by being delivered from Egypt themselves. And, not every generation in Israel is going to receive the law first-hand from the mountain out of the mouth of God. So, children must be instructed.
2) Second, the children do not belong to us. They are covenant children. They belong to God and His covenant. They, with us, are in a line of continued generations which all belong to God. That is why the Psalmist says in verse 4, “their children.” His children, he says, are not his own, but the children of his fathers, that is, the children of the covenant people of God who have gone before him. Not our children, but they belong to God, and we are stewards of them.
3) Third, the children need to be taught because of their own sinful hearts. In verse 8 he says, “And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation.” And the implication is, that unless they are taught, they will be that way. That is who they are by nature. If we know ourselves as parents, then we know that this is who our children are. Why is it that we fail so often in this very area of our life, in the teaching of our children? Exactly because of our sinful natures, so easily distracted from this great task by the entertainment, pleasures, and riches of this world – great dangers that stand in the way of our teaching our children. We fail, and our children are just like us, so they need to be taught.
In baptism, God places this command on you parents. TEACH your children God’s testimony, His grace and His law. Do that because those children are God’s children. Do that remembering that they are sinful, conceived and born in sin, they don’t naturally know these things.
2. ASAPH’S EXAMPLE
The second section of the psalm we look at is verses 1-4,
1. Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
2. I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:
3. Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.
4. We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the LORD, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.
Here we have “The Believer’s Willingness” in the example of Asaph. Asaph obeys the command of God in verse 5 and makes known the will and works of God to the next generation.
This is not an easy command for parents to follow. Often they feel so inadequate. They don’t know what to teach their children – (What do I read for devotions at the table?). They don’t know how to go about it – (How do I lead devotions?). Often the will is not there to do it after a day of work with the housework and children in the home, or on the job. Or, they simply feel that they don’t have the gifts or resources to do this teaching of the children. Or the difficulty can be all the other things that crowd out our time and desires, such as entertainment of the world, be that in the television set or getting out to do something, riches and things, and the desire to get them. All these things make it difficult.
What Asaph does here gives good practical instruction to us with regard to teaching our children. This is a difficult work, and Asaph shows us the way here, gives some divine guidelines, and in some ways simplifies this task for us.
First, notice that Asaph sets aside a definite time for this instruction and calls the children to pay attention during that time. In verses 1-2 he demands that they stop everything else for this – “My people, give ear, attend to my words.” This is what should happen in our homes when it comes time for the instruction of children – stop and give time and attention to God’s Word. This happens usually in the family devotion time. The children have to pay attention, listen carefully. This has to be done regularly so that they learn to pay attention, so that they understand that there is a time to play, and a time to cease playing in order to hear God’s Word.
Second, notice the content of Asaph’s instruction in verse 4 and in the rest of the Psalm. It is not only the law of God, the demands of God, but it is His praises, strength and wonderful works.
By praises here is meant the things about God Himself that make God worthy of praise (as in Exodus 15:11). The attributes of God such as, God is infinite, God is eternal, God is unchangeable, God is loving, merciful, kind, just, good, true, etc.
By His strength is meant simply this, that there is no God comparable to him. As in the verse in Exodus 15:11.
Asaph teaches the praises and strength of God by showing His wonderful works. This is the focus of the Psalm. He simply teaches and applies the history of Israel, showing them the sinfulness of Israel, the grace of God, and warning them against those sins.
It is here, when it comes to content of instruction, that parents often feel inadequate. What do I teach my children? How do I conduct family devotions? What else do I say besides just the Scripture reading? Asaph gives a good example in the Psalm. Tell them the Bible stories. Read to them from Scripture. And then, talk about God, His attributes, His strength, His demands, His grace. Talk about the sins of the Bible characters, and how we have the same sins. And, warn the children.
The Bible stories illustrate the truths we must know about God. They show His mighty works, His praises, and His strength. They show our sins, and God’s grace over against sin. They warn and admonish against falling into the same sins. They show that the way of joy and peace for the children is to walk in obedience.
Notice one other thing here about content, and that is that God receives the emphasis. Not man, not the law, not what we must do (though these are important), but God and His greatness are emphasized.
Third, notice Asaph’s method. He engages his audience in this Psalm by putting questions in their minds. That comes out from verse 2 where he says, not only that he speaks in a parable, but also in a “dark saying” or a riddle. There is something about the history of Israel that is unanswered in this Psalm. He leaves his audience with two great questions or riddles. They are,
Riddle 1) How could Israel have been so rebellious and stubborn again and again, after God’s goodness and after God’s chastening? Why didn’t they learn to trust and obey God? Verses 40-41 demonstrate this. “How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert! Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel.”
WHY? is the question we are left with. Why were they so stubborn?
Riddle 2) Why is God always so amazingly patient and merciful to such a miserable people? Verse 38 describes this grace. “But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath.”
Asaph engages his audience and presses home two great truths. We are left wondering at the amazing wickedness of man, and the amazing grace of God, and asking, How can these things be? This is penetrating instruction. It pushes the reader and listener to examine his own heart and the sin there, and to marvel at the grace of God.
Fourth, notice that Asaph works here with other parents. He says, not “I,” but “we,” in v. 4 – “We will not hide them from their children.” You see it too from who his audience is. He does not just address the next generation, but addresses the others who with him must instruct. How wonderful to have the communion of saints. How wonderful to have a godly spouse. These are a help and encouragement in our teaching of our children.
We ought to encourage and help one another in this work of teaching our children. That is the purpose of our schools. But, especially as husbands and wives we ought to encourage one another. There are so many other things that clutter our lives and clamor for attention, and this work of instructing our children often gets neglected. How often do you say to your spouse, as Asaph does here, let us not hide from our children the things our parents taught us? Let us be faithful, instruct them, teach them.
Then finally, on verses 1-4, we should notice Asaph’s resolve and willingness. “We will not hide them, but show them . . .” (verse 4).
He says that if we don’t teach and show all these things to our children, then, not only are we failing to do something, but we are actively hiding these things from our children. We are depriving them of something. To hide something is to take something that someone has a right to from them, and then to deprive them of its benefits and joys. The children do not like it when you take a toy from them and hide it. Now, says Asaph, if I do not teach my children, I am hiding something that is theirs from them, and it will not be for their good. Then he uses the opposite of hide to say what he will do, he will “show” it to the generations following. Not only take it from its hiding place, but show it, point it out to them. Put it in their face.
Asaph is resolved in this. We “will not” hide it. There is an expression of godly resolve. All you parents who have had your children baptized have expressed that resolve. Now, let us do it!
3. THE PURPOSE
Now finally we want to look at the purpose of this instruction with regard to our children. You have that in verses 6-8.
6. That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:
7. That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:
8. And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.
Here we will notice just in broad outlines the three things that God gives as the purpose of teaching our children. These verses tell us that the content of this Psalm is for the children and generations to come. These verses give the goal in teaching our children the testimony and law of God, the biblical history of Israel and God’s dealings with them in grace.
The first goal is in verse 6, that they man “know” them. That they might have a knowledge of God.
This is basic to any covenant relationship with God. Yes, we must love God, yes we must serve God, but we cannot do this except we know Him first. You cannot detour knowing God if you are to consider Him your God. We only love in God what we know about God. And the more we know Him, the more we love Him.
Without a knowledge of God, any love for Him is artificial, is emotional only, and tends to create an image of God, a god that is the kind of God we want. We must know Him as He makes Himself known in the Scriptures.
Instruction in catechism, in Bible history, in doctrine, sitting under the preaching – these are all essential in the growing up of the covenant child so that he comes to know God. Hosea laments, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” We need to know God and His Scriptures.
And, knowing God correctly according to Scripture does not necessarily mean pride. Yes, knowledge can lead to pride, where it becomes a matter of “we are right, you are wrong, ha, ha!” But if you teach God, and know Him, as Asaph does here, you know His great grace and your unworthiness, and such knowledge humbles a man.
And so, the first goal of teaching our children is that they might have a genuine knowledge of God.
The second aim is that the children might come to put their hope in God (verse 7a). True knowledge of God should lead to hoping and trusting in Him. What begins in the head goes to the heart. We teach with the goal not only of head knowledge, but of heart faith, with the goal of our young people loving the truth they learn and putting their trust in God; believing Him.
Here we see that the goal is not just knowing. You can know it all, explain it all, understand what the intricate details of Reformed theology are, the arguments of infra and supra-lapsarianism, the details of the end times, etc. But, unless it enters the heart and unless there is faith and hope in God, the knowledge is of no value. The devils even have that kind of knowledge. No, we must believe it!
And that is the way it must be taught and brought home to our children, too. Why must they know this? Why is this important? Because of their salvation and their souls. The aim is that in their hearts our children might turn to the Lord, and set their hope in Him.
Then thirdly, the goal of teaching our children is their obedience (verses 7b-8). Teaching our children has to do with how they act as well as their knowledge and feelings. If only their heads are full of the knowledge of God and His testimony, and their lives void of it, then they have not learned (perhaps have not been taught).
And so the teaching of our children is important. It touches on every aspect of their being, their mind, their heart and their behavior.
Let me conclude by emphasizing that this is a command, a calling. It comes especially to parents, but also to the whole church. There is a generation arising in our midst. There is a world and a Satan out there attempting to draw them away. How will they be kept? Yes, only by God’s grace. But grace never means carelessness. On our part, they will be kept, only by diligent teaching. God will use that to continue and preserve His covenant.
May God give us the will and the strength, in church and home, to instruct our children.
Rev. Rodney Kleyn (Wife: Elizabeth)
Ordained: Sept. 2002
Pastorates: Trinity, Hudsonville, MI - 2002; Covenant of Grace, Spokane, WA - 2009Website: www.reformedspokane.org/
Address7317 N.Deschutes Dr.
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