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A Pilgrim Nation(psalms 77, 78, 105, 106)

Psalms (Heb. Tehillim) means "Praises". The four psalms under consideration are a praising of the Lord for His wondrous works, wonders of old, judgements of His mouth and everlasting mercy. These sacred songs reveal the Lord in history, teaching and prophecy. The history of God's dealings with Israel afford hope to the people of God today.

The sanctuary deliberations of the Triune God and the outworking of these counsels for a pilgrim nation in the appointment of a law (Ps. 78:5) are described principally in the book of Exodus. They are expanded in Leviticus and provide insights into the divine perspective on events in Psalms 77 and 78. The books of Numbers and Deuteronomy provide the backcloth to Psalms 105 and 106 which mainly have relevance to "the Land" (vv. 11 and 24 respectively). Many of the incidents occur in all four psalms. A breakdown of the main historical points may be helpful:

Covenant with Abraham - Gen.12 & 22; Ps. 105

Joseph - Gen.37; Ps.105

Israel in Egypt:

Early days - Ex.1; Ps.105

Wonders & signs - Ex.7-12; Ps.77,78,105,106

Red Sea- Ex.13-15; Ps.77,78,106

Waters of Marah - Ex.15; Ps.78

Manna- Ex.16; Ps.78,105,106

Massah and Meribah- Ex.17; Ps.78,105,106

Sinai- Ex.19; Ps.77,78,105

Molten Calf- Ex.32; Ps.106

Korah and company- Num.16 ;Ps. 106

Baal-peor - Num.25; Ps. 106

Israel's experiences are our lessons - "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning" (Rom. 15:4). This nation, a people called and redeemed of God, was unique. Israel had a divine deliverer and guide who always remained "the same" (cf. Mal. 3:6, Heb. 13:8). He was immutable in His purpose for this pilgrim nation, infallible in His word to them and inexhaustible in His resources for them. His works on their behalf are seen in the history of the nation; His ways were only to be detected and appreciated by submission to His will. He is, as seen in these psalms, the God of power and love, patience and hope. Attributes such as these are presented again and again.

Days of old, years of ancient times must be considered and examined (Ps. 77:5). The deeds of the Lord are so different from the works of men; they are wonderful (vv. 11-14), none more so than the redemption of a people by the invincible power of His hand from defeat, disaster and even death. Redemption brings relationship.

Through God's mighty salvation from Egypt and later at the Red Sea they were to become sons and daughters of God. Through obedience to His Word they would be constituted His nation (Ex. 19:5,6). Salvation was to lead to service. "I AM" exercised His initiative and prerogative to have a people to serve Him - I will bring you out (Ex. 6:6); I will take you to Me (Ex. 6:7); I will bring you in (Ex. 6:8). That purpose for a pilgrim people was planned in heaven and executed on earth. They were special and unique, their pilgrim status ordained of God. They were divinely purchased, separated and called together. The God who delivered them received them as "His own"; this experience is comparable to the promises of 2 Corinthians 6:16-18. Leadership was entrusted to a prophet and a priest - Moses and Aaron (Ps. 77:20), thus their care and well-being rested in divinely appointed shepherds (see Acts 20:28). God's favour and mercy never wavered throughout all their changing attitudes and responses to His will.

A brief synopsis of some of Israel's experiences reveal that God's works are not only to be remembered, but transmitted to others (Ps. 78:4,7), the things heard... the same commit... to teach others (2 Tim. 2:2). His praises and strength were to be celebrated in song.

The great covenant sworn to Abraham goes right back to Genesis 12:2. One man called by divine grace is to become one nation, one people. Abraham was a separated man; his spiritual progeny were to be the same. Men of stature come to prominence in Psalm 105, all found in the book of Moses. These are His anointed: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Aaron. These were men of the nation, pilgrims who lived for and among the people of God. Sent by Him, they sojourned and served Him well (vv. 17 and 23). Most remarkable of all is Joseph's experience in the dungeon, "His soul entered into the iron" (v.18 RVM). The nation's elevation came through the sufferings of the saviour Joseph; more than his flesh, his very being knew the bitterest of pain. Such words point on to the Saviour whose suffering was far greater than Joseph's, as borne out by the words of Isaiah 53:12: "He poured out His soul unto death". Joseph's soul entered into suffering, the Lord Jesus' soul was poured out as a result of it.

The great miracle-working power of God fills the pages of Exodus as it does these psalms. From Egypt to Canaan, from the field of Zoan to the Mount Zion His wonders unfold (Ps. 78:12,54,68). Two sentences in Psalm 77 suffice to cover Exodus chapters 7-12. The plagues which were in fact signs are well enumerated in verses 44-51 of Psalm 78. Rivers, fields, vineyards, trees, cattle and the prime of Egypt's youth fell into the path of God's righteous anger. They were not spared. In contrast Israel went out full, from slavery to service, from oppression to God's presence, from the valley of despair to the mountain of His holiness (v.54). Materially prosperous, spiritually strong Israel fled Egypt. If they had remained they could not have enjoyed the sweetness of their pilgrim character. The world detests separated people who are different from its ways and disinterested as to its pursuits. Psalm 105 again bears out the evidence of God's grace in Egypt in the opportunity of repentance before His outbreak of judgement. Egypt thought it could play with God, tamper with spiritual issues and disregard His warnings.

The Red Sea epic is the incident most widely covered, although without mention in Psalm 105. He who commanded the earth into being had no difficulty commanding the sea to rise and remain erect while His called ones passed through. The fascinating account of Israel's deliverance here conveys the truth of baptism - death, burial and resurrection to walk in newness of life (1 Cor. 10:2; Rom. 6:4). Egypt's hosts, the enemies of God's people, were swept away by the Lord's band causing the waters to return. No single component of the enemy force survived. Other nations have endeavoured to effect a holocaust policy - to no avail (e.g. Rev. 20:9). So, the force that destroyed the Egyptians saved the Israelites - the water. Their way of life was changed. They were now free to serve, redeemed from a vain and monotonous way of life (cp. 1 Pet. 1:18). The song of jubilation at the Red Sea is beautifully echoed (Ex. 15:11; Ps. 77:13,14). The day-pillar of cloud and the night-pillar of fire assured this despised and pilgrim people of the Lord's watchfulness and protection.

The Manna (Ex. 16) was the heavenly bread, the' food of angels. It was sent in bountiful supply, typical of the true, living, heavenly and life giving Bread of God, the Lord Jesus, who would later come to an ungrateful nation (John 6:32, 33, 35). Bread in the morning, choice fowl in the evening, fresh food supplied each day with the exception of the sabbath; for forty years this was their staple diet. They were as a nation separate even in their eating habits, yet they quickly became unthankful and critical. God's judgement descended and the place names were called burning and burying (Taberah and Kibroth-Hattaavah Num. 11:1 and 34). When redemption is forgotten, stubbornness, scepticism and provocation follow; faith and love quickly disappear (Heb. 2:3).

Massab and Meribah (Ex. 17 and Num. 20) provide the setting for verses 15 and 16 of Psalm 78. Their haranguing of the servant of the Lord betrayed their short memory and constant dissatisfaction with the Lord. Moses was denied entrance into "the Land" because of his reaction to the people's perpetual disenchantment. They spoke against God (Ps. 78:19), believed not His Word, trusted not His power.

We move on to Sinai (Ps. 77:17, 18 etc.) where the people were to meet God. The Lord is not a distant force, a remote ruler. They were His flock one visible unity; the seed of Abraham - separated; the children of Jacob chosen. Their nationhood was constituted by covenant, command, oath and statute and their obedience was expected (Ex. 19:4, 5). For a people to be formed, governed and functional, there had to be clear law and the teaching of it. They were collectively favoured and individually blessed, remembered by the Lord and visited with His great salvation (Ps. 106:4): a race prospered by God, a nation rejoicing in God, an inheritance chosen by God. Yet they became inconsiderate and disobedient.

Other incidents we summarize briefly:

Exodus 32-The molten calf - false worship and summary judgement - 3,000 slain.

Numbers 14-Despising the gospel of the Land - those brought out of Egypt died in the wilderness over half a million.

Numbers 16-Korah and company - Envy and malice against leadership about 300 perished.

Numbers 25-Whoredom at Baal-Peor - demon worship and sacrificing to the dead and fornication with the Moabites 24,000 fatally smitten.

So, we find sad notes as well as joyful strains throughout these psalms. God's greatness remains unchanged; He is eternal; praise is rightly His. "And let all the people say, Amen".