As you read Psalm 78, test your Bible knowledge. What stories is the psalmist referencing?
Common throughout scripture, this is one of those places where the writer reviews God’s dealings with His people and points out how unfaithful they have been to Him. He begins with the Ephraimites, descendants of Joseph who often impressed themselves with their own importance. Perhaps their mention refers to the tribe of Ephraim. Perhaps it refers to the northern kingdom of Israel (who were also called “Ephraim”). In any case, their failure in battle prompts this poem. The events of the Exodus occupy most of this psalm, matched with Israel’s ingratitude for God’s care. The writer moves to Israel’s early days in Canaan in verse 56 but here, it is more their idolatry that offends God.
God disciplines his people. They return to him, but not wholeheartedly. “How often they rebel” he writes, despite God’s amazing power.
Eventually, their sinfulness leads God to abandon them. God’s presence moves from Shiloh, signified by the capture of the ark, and God rejects most of His people to favor the faithful: Judah.
The psalm was intended as an instructional hymn. These are the stories you teach your children, and the ones they teach their children. The purpose is to raise up people who will respect and obey God. The alternative is to raise up a generation who know not the Lord, and who come to experience his wrath. It doesn’t have to be that way, but it does all depend on teaching and learning.