jump to navigation

“If We Learn Anything from History…” A sermon from Psalm 78 May 31, 2009

Posted by roberttalley in Falling Away, History, OT Preaching, Psalms, Religion, Sermons.
1 comment so far

It seems to be a cliché. It has been repeated so often. “If we learn anything from history, it is that we learn nothing from history.” The purpose of this psalm, however, is that every generation should learn from the history of God’s people in the wilderness. The beginning of the psalm tells us generally that we need to learn that God made a covenant with His people and confirmed it through many miraculous works. Yet the very people who saw those works rebelled out of fear against God. What then can we really learn from that generation? One of the lessons that we can learn is that rebellion against God’s covenant demands will not hinder His mercy.
Seeing the works of God does not prevent rebellion (verses 12-20). Now it should. That is the whole purpose of this psalm. The remembrance of the works of God should prevent rebellion and bring people to repentance. So often, however, it does not. This is something that our Lord Jesus the Christ taught on quite often. The religious leaders of His day saw the mighty works that Jesus did yet rebelled against His Messiahship. That is actually what lay at the heart of the unforgivable sin, the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. They saw the works of God yet rebelled against the works of God. Even the common people who followed Him and saw the works that He did were no better. Jesus said about the people of the towns where he performed most of his recorded miracles that if those miracles had been done in Sodom and Gomorrah, those towns would have repented.
Awareness of the works of God often precedes a fuller revelation of God (verses 12-16). Notice that many of the works of God preceded the covenant, the giving of the Ten Commandments, the official establishment of Israel as God’s chosen nation. These verses relate five different miracles or sets of miracles that God performed for them beforehand: (1) He sent the ten plagues upon Egypt (compare verse 12 with verses 43-51 or Exodus 7-12), (2) He parted the Red Sea (compare verse 13 with Exodus 14), (3) He led them by a cloud during the daytime and by a fire during the night (compare verse 14 with Exodus 13:21-22), and (4) He supplied them rivers of water out of the rocks in the desert (compare verses 15-16 with Exodus 17:1-7), which by the way was the second time in the matter of weeks that God has miraculously supplied this new nation with water.
“But…” They saw all of these miracles and yet continued to complain the whole way. They complained against Moses while in Egypt (Exodus 5), they complained against him when it looked like they had been led by the cloud and fire into a dead end at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:10-12), and they complained both times before God miraculously provided water (Exodus 15:24 and 17:2-4, 7).
Rebellion against God sometimes escalates after reception of a fuller revelation, in this case, after they had received the covenant (compare verses 17-20 with the incident in Numbers 11, the incident in Exodus 16 is a separate incident). Asaph says that this rebellion against God was greater than what had happened earlier. They had during the period of a year seen many mighty miracles. They had complained much but now they went beyond complaining. They tempted God. They had tempted God before but this time they were making demands of God according to their own fancy. Look at Numbers 11:4-6, “Now the mixed multitude who were among them yielded to intense craving; so the children of Israel also wept again and said: ‘Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up; there is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes!’” Asaph adds in verses 19-20 an interpretation to their words. This is the testing of unbelief. They saw with their eyes but when God did not meet with their expectations, they began to complain and rebel and turn against God.
How many of us have complained in unbelief? It is possible to complain in belief. It is possible to question, even to doubt, but in that doubt continue to have confidence in God and His word. This is not what happened here. These people have begun the process of rejecting God. He has made them His people but they have decided that God is not good, that God does not know what is best for His people. If God cannot provide them what they want then they will complain about His provision for their needs.
This is often where we see the reality of faith or the heart of unbelief revealed. When God does not meet our expectations, do we continue to trust Him? Job said, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” That is the difference between faith and unbelief. Where will you stand when the tough times come.
Rebellion while seeing God’s works results in judgment (verses 21-33).
God’s anger results in judgment (compare verses 21 with Numbers 11:1-3) but that did not stop the complaining (Numbers 11:10). Why? Because they did not believe (compare verse 22 with Jude 1:5).
It is important that we understand the problem, not only so that we can understand the consequences but also the solution. The writer of Hebrews 3:12-13 warns us to look among ourselves as a church and warn one another of unbelief. There may be those among us who are in danger of seeing the works of God through the teaching and the testimony of this and falling away. If they do, it will be because they have a heart of unbelief but we are not helpless. We need to warn them daily. It does not matter if they think we are a pain. It is of no consequence if they hate to see us coming. Their eternal destiny is at stake. Do you understand that this is one of the reasons the church exists? We are not to take it lightly when people seem to be drifting away. Code red goes into affect when we find a heart of unbelief among us. We call, we teach, we plead, we visit, daily. Why do you think that the verse about “…not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together…” is in the book of Hebrews? We have a responsibility toward each other that involves more than keeping programs going. We have a responsibility to encourage one another to stay in the faith for we never know when there might be someone among us who has a heart of unbelief.
Still, God’s merciful provision did not stop (verses 23-25). He continued to supply but unbelief refuses to be satisfied with God’s blessing but rather refuses to trust that God knows best and starts complaining.
God’s concessions to humankind’s cravings can result in further judgment (verses 26-29). God once again gave them meat. He had done this before at the time that He had first given them manna almost a year before (Exodus 16:13) but this time God outdid Himself. Numbers 11:31 says that so many quail were driven in by the winds from the seas to the south and the east that as far as you could walk in one day in every direction there were quail a cubit deep, that is three feet deep on the ground. God said, “I am going to give you so much quail that after a month you will be sick of it” (Numbers 11:19-20). The least that one gathered of the quail was somewhere between sixty and seventy bushels (Numbers 11:32).
The worst, however, was not the overabundance (Psalm 78:30-31). Those who had craved meat, they cooked it and took a bite and before they finished chewing, before they could swallow, God began to strike them down dead with a plague. Asaph characterizes those who God struck down as those who craved meat and those who were the stoutest and strongest in Israel. God struck at the heart of the rebellion.
In spite of this, people with a knowledge of God continue to rebel (Psalm 78:32-33). We have come full circle from verses 9-11. Why did the Exodus generation die in the wilderness? Unbelief. The sin of lusting after the food of Egypt was serious but it was actually just a symptom, a symptom of unbelief.
Young person, the world is so enticing to you. You may be just waiting for the time when you can get away from mom and dad and away from the church and embrace the cucumbers of this world. If there is no pull against that lust, which we all experience, which every believer fights against, if there is nothing in you that says, “No, I am going to obey God.” Then let me speak very openly with you, you have a heart of unbelief and you need to be saved through faith in Christ before God says it is too late.
Your rebellion is not too much for the mercy of God to overcome (Psalm 78:34-39).
Even when people appear to turn to God, they may still have a heart of unbelief (Psalm 78:34-37). Notice that even when these people turned back to God, they were still plagued with a heart of unbelief. That generation continued for forty years in their unfaithfulness. Even when they changed their mind and decided to obey God’s original command, God said, “No, do not go! It is too late;” but they went anyway. They would say, “God, we are going to obey you now;” but they never did. They lied to God and perhaps even to their own selves.
God’s mercy abounds despite the weakness and sinfulness of humankind (Psalm 78:38-39).
Ephesian 2:4 says, “But God, who is rich in mercy…” Now what does it mean when it says that God was merciful to these people and forgave their sin. It is here that we understand that Asaph is speaking of the nation of Israel. Once, God said to Moses, I am going to destroy this people and start over with you. But He did not. Why? Because of the covenant He had made with this people.
Is that not the way it is with us. We promise God that we will do better but we often do not. But God is rich in mercy and because of His covenant, His new covenant through Jesus Christ, there is remission of sins, there is forgiveness.

The Second Annual Reformation Symposium (Contest) October 18, 2007

Posted by roberttalley in blogging, History, Reformation, Religion.
add a comment

Last year Tim Challies received some great writings. This year promises to be just as good. If you want to participate, look here.

A Bit of German History that I didn’t know… September 26, 2007

Posted by roberttalley in Germany, History, Maps.
add a comment

Have you ever heard of the Free State of Bottleneck? It was in existence for four years. Read all about it here.