Rev. Toh Nee Lim | On 08, Dec 2015
Scripture Reading; Psalms 78:1-5; 9-11; 67-69
‘Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old: Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us. 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. 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: The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle. They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law; And forgat his works, and his wonders that he had shewed them. Moreover he refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim: But chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved. And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which he hath established for ever.’
Psalms 78 introduces a divine shift by God that affects the political, geographical, religious and social landscape. People, place and ascendancy are among the chilling changes. This Psalm appears to have been occasioned by the removal of the sanctuary from Shiloh in the tribe of Ephraim to Zion in the tribe of Judah, and the coincident transfer of pre-eminence in Israel from the former (the tribe of Ephraim) to the latter tribe (the tribe of Judah), as clearly evidenced by David’s settlement as the head of the Church and nation. David has taken on the pre-eminence. Jerusalem has become the capital of the Nation and the temple is among the tribe of Judah. The tribe of Judah became the head of the Nation and the centre of worship. It was for this cause that Psalms 78 was written. Being a true teacher, the psalmist showed the spiritual condition of the people affected. His present intention is to comment on events in the history of Israel (concerning the tribe of Joseph, Ephraim and Judah) so that people of future generations may take heed. God gave his law to his people to guide them. The record of God’s faithfulness has always be an encouragement, the record of Israel’s failures a warning. God will continue to be faithful to Ephraim but the blessings has shifted. What can we learn from this portion of scripture?
1. God speaks
Sometimes we wonder whether God really cares about us, speaks to us individually or is God silent. God does speaks. God says ‘I will open my mouth in a parable. I will utter dark sayings of old.’ In a parable, there is going to be a deeper meaning beneath the surface of what He says. YHWH is not trying to hide truth from us but asserts that the key to understanding comes from His speakers and His prophets. You have to be spiritually attuned to digest His saying to you as an individual. Jesus also spoke in parable and the crowds did not understand. Even His disciple couldn’t understand. But when they came personally to Him to ask Jesus to explain, they can decipher the sayings. The only way is to ask, ‘God, what is the meaning of this? God is the true, ultimate revealer. Of course the truth that He spoke usually is not immediately self-evident but had to be revealed. The summation of this point is that God does speak to you as an individual.
God’s purpose in speaking to you as an individual is fourfold:
That His people would set their hope in Him.
That they would not forget His glorious works.
That they would be obedient.
That they would learn from the past and not repeat the rebellions of their forefathers.
But the ultimate focus of your life is God Himself, not you. My ultimate history is YHWH. My life history is YHWH. Christ is the author and finisher of my life. What is happening to me is in the knowledge of YHWH. YHWH is not trying to hide some truth from me. I need to see YHWH’s purpose and will in my life.
Our human reaction when things go out of hand is ‘Where is God in all this?’ Why is God silent? God does not speak to me anymore. Well, we are wrong. We just had a dedication of the MPH in Libertad, Antique. 750 people viewed the photos in our church Facebook. Pastor Ruth commented, ‘So awesome! Glory to God and may this place be a place where seeds are sown and lives are transformed.’ Another lady, whom we know from LSBC said, ‘What a beautifully blessed place! May God bless and use the servants and the building unto His glory.’ But then we must know what happened a year ago. One year ago, when we first met Pastor Roger and Rosemarie, tears flowed to the point of sobbing. There was inner pains in their hearts. They lost everything – their employment, their land, their sanctuary, almost everything. Of course the first reaction is Does God speak? Why is God silent? The good part is this couple did not lose faith in God. They wouldn’t want to come back to Iloilo City, a failure. But, ridiculous as it may sound, this is the pre-determined plan of God. The ultimate focus of their life history is YHWH himself. Today one year has passed. They have an MPH, where they can use it as a child care centre on weekdays and the ministry of the Word on weekend. Actually this morning as I am speaking, there are having their first worship service in the MPH. No more meeting in a tent. I was asked to dedicate the MPH and this is the verse that I have from God for the church in Libertad. It is Psalms 118:23-24. It says, ‘This is from the LORD and is His doing; it is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day which the LORD has brought about; we will rejoice and be glad in it.’ So, God did speak. I want to show you how God restored everything in the lives of Pastor Roger and Rosemarie. 20 years ago, I purchased a 2000 sq. meters land for them at the cost of 115,000 pesos or S$5000.00 with the exchange rate at that time. Then they lost the piece of land and the sanctuary on that land. 20 years has passed. And we just recently bought a piece of land that is 2200 sq. meters at the cost of 150,000 pesos and again in Singapore Dollars it is S$5,000.00. God’s hand is involved in this whole affair. Of course this couple, has to continually be faithful and serve God where God has placed them.
So the first point we can learn is God Speaks. And as for Pastor Roger and Rosemarie, as for all of us, God’s desire is also fourfold:
That His people would set their hope in Him.
That they would not forget His glorious works.
That they would be obedient.
That they would learn from the past and not repeat the rebellions of their forefathers.
But the ultimate focus of their life is God Himself. The ultimate focus of the MPH is YHWH himself. Whatever happened in your life, the main focus is God, not you. And when wonderful things happened to you, the glory goes to God.
2. God established a covenant
For he established a covenant in Jacob, and appointed a teaching in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children; (Psalms 78:2, 5 WMB)
Three words stands out in this verse:
One of our newly born babies in this church is called Jacob. It is a name with meaning and purpose. The name Jacob, symbolizes all humanity. It means ‘the heel’. We are reminded of the first child of Eve which God says, ‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her Offspring; He will bruise and tread your head underfoot, and you will lie in wait and bruise His heel.’ Mankind has continually been bruised (represented by the heel) by Satan. Jacob also means to circumvent (dodge), to supplant, Jacob is insidious and deceitful and unreliable. It is such an accurate description of all of us; humankind. But then Jacob also means ‘May God protect’. This is possible because God has established a covenant with Jacob. God has considered the weakness of the human nature and yet He established a covenant with us.
Now a covenant is a contract or agreement between two parties. Covenant is how God decided to deal with us. It is an agreement between God and us, in which God promised to protect us if we kept His law and are faithful to Him. This morning there are some of you here that God wants to establish a covenant with. If you want God in your life, you have to establish that covenant. Then it becomes an agreement between God and you. God promised to protect you and you agreed to be faithful to him and keep His Word.
Not only has God established a covenant but also appointed a teaching. In other translation, two words are used for ‘teaching’; ‘testimony’ and ‘law’ and they are used synonymously here. They both refer to the Torah, God’s Law given to the people of Israel by Moses. In today’s context, the Bible is our testimony and law. God has appointed the bible to be our teacher. Of course He used His speakers and His prophets. That is why a pastor, must seek out God and received the word of God to deliver to God’s people. We not only must follow the teaching of the bible and obey them, we are to make them known to our children. Pastor Dong was worried about the LSBC team sharing in the second and third service. Well Bridget, an architect, shared her powerful testimony and it was so good that Pastor Lily posted it on our church website. The testimony is a teaching, on how the Word of God becomes alive in our life and how she can teach it to her three children. The New English Translation says, ‘He established a rule in Jacob; he set up a law in Israel. He commanded our ancestors to make his deeds known to their descendants (children), (Psalms 78:5). To teach our children is a recurrent theme in the bible. If believers do not teach their children about God, they are failures as parents. Faith of a child runs through the families or the parents. To teach is to repeat. That is the basic emphasis of this verse. The rabbis use this verse to assert that the Shema (teaching) should be “repeated” morning and evening. We are to talk about God’s will for our lives during the entire scope of daily activities. It is the responsibility of parents to pass on lifestyle faith
3. God chooses Judah over Joseph and Ephraim
Psalms 78:67-68 says ‘Moreover he rejected the tent of Joseph, and didn’t choose the tribe of Ephraim, But chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion which he loved.’
In spite of all the God has done, Jacob’s (man) constant lack of faith was well demonstrated in the people’s refusal to believe that God could give them victory in life. The bible says that ‘The children of Ephraim, being armed and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle. (Psalms 78:9 WMB). To ‘turn back’ means ‘to run away’. The problem with the tribe of Ephraim is that they refused to walk in the Law of God. They forgot God’s marvellous works and wonders. A bible commentator says they were mindless; did not think of God’s marvellous works and wonders. To be mindless is they don’t think; they are careless. Yes, they also spoke against God. I notice that when trials become unbearable, people not only turned against men but they can turned against God. They said, “Can God prepare a table in the wilderness? (Psalms 78:19 WMB). They insulted God, saying, ‘is God really able to give us food in the wilderness? Personally the best example for food in the wilderness is my experience of the past 5 months, when we couldn’t rent out our HDB flat. I mean when money is needed, for instance, the month of September, for our food, someone will just pass us the fund. And it comes not foreigners, but from the Filipinos (the ravens) in this church. Then just before the month of October comes, and when our September fund was drying up, another raven (Filipinos) will give us the fund. Pastor Lily manages the fund for two of us. I am very bad at handing money. When money passes through my hand and if I keep them, they will just disappear. Knowing my weakness, I prefer to let Pastor Lily handle our family finances. I hear this statement from her frequently when the funds come in. ‘Good, this is for the month of October, we already have the fund for September.’ This fund is for November. Praise God. Ok, let’s set aside this fund for December. I learnt a truth in this 5 months; God prepare a table in the wilderness.’ Psalms 78:25 says ‘Man ate the food of the mighty ones. He sent them more than enough to eat. (Psalms 78:25 NET). The mighty ones refers to Angel. The children of Israel ate Angel’s food. If it is needful for God to send you Angel’s food, He will do it. Wow in heaven we will have food to eat. And the children of Israel has already tasted Angel’s food. But Ephraim does not believe.
God’s sovereignty is seen in His choice of Judah over Joseph and Ephraim. Down through history He chooses one and rejects another; for example Jacob over Esau, David over Saul, Abel over Cain. Here it is Judah over Joseph and Ephraim. Reasons have been given over rejection of Ephraim. But how about Joseph. I mean Joseph was almost impeccable in the bible. As I ponder over it, then God showed me it has to do with the descendant of Joseph. Ephraim is one of the descendant of Joseph. But then why Judah? This is important because it explains God’s choice of some of us over others. Well God did say, ‘Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated.’ Now hate is a very strong word. Now why did God choose Judah? I have a few pointers from Psalms 78.
Why choose Judah?
He chooses David (Judah) as His special leader because David
A. Is described as a shepherd
B. Has a heart of integrity
C. Has skilful hands
Psalms 78:70-72 says, ‘He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds: From following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance. So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands.’
David goes from shepherding sheep to shepherding God’s people. David cared for God’s people according to the integrity of his heart. Do you know that when you really care for people, God knows? The patriarch were all shepherds. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were all Shepherds. Job was a shepherd. What is the life of a shepherd? In the springtime, when there was plenty of pasturage near their village; when the grain was reaped the sheep were allowed to feed on anything that was left. When that was gone they had to leave the area and seek the dried grasses that remained under the hot sun. The Shepherd has to be concern enough to do it. He will lead the sheep to find sources of fresh grass where a water supply is available. When the surface water had disappeared, it was necessary to use well water for the sheep. It was customary to cover the well head with a large heavy stone that required several men to lift, thus protecting water rights. The story of Jacob gives an example of this happening. Genesis 29:10 indicates the incredible strength that Jacob had. Genesis 29:10 says, ‘When Jacob saw Rachel daughter of his uncle Laban, and Laban’s sheep, he went over and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle’s sheep.’ The sheep needed constant protection because in Bible times there were plenty of dangers to the flock from wild animals that come up from the jungle surrounding the Jordan River gorge. Lions, bears were common. Amos tells of a shepherd who actually tried to take sheep from a lion’s mouth. Hyenas and jackals were also common. Not accidently, Jesus said that the Good shepherd had to give his life for the sheep. The shepherd had to fight back against all these wild animals. That is what David meant when he said to Saul that with his bare hands he killed a lion and a bear. It wasn’t so much of killing the lion and bear than it was protecting his sheep. And God saw all these. When the sheep was tired or sick, the shepherd carried it on its shoulder and when it was lost, the shepherd went to search for it. The shepherd carried a staff. It was often used to help control the sheep. It symbolizes disciplines. Micah 7:14 says ‘Shepherd your people with your staff, the flock of your inheritance.’ The rod symbolised the protection of the people. At night the shepherd gathered his sheep to a safe place and keep watch. Living and working with sheep in isolation leads to a close relationship between shepherd and sheep.
As I study the tasks and characteristics of the Shepherd, I believe God has reasons why He chose Judah (represented by David) over Joseph and Ephraim. I believe that David really cares for his people in all the honesty of his heart. And God saw it.
God saved his people, this time by using a man from the tribe of Judah to stir them up and lead them triumphantly (65–68). This man, David, established the sanctuary on Mount Zion and placed within it the Ark of the Covenant, the symbol of God’s presence. In this way David showed his determination that God should be the centre of Israel’s national life. Israel’s history had been one of constant failure, but God in his mercy had not forsaken his people. In the symbol of the ark he dwelt among them and through the rule of his chosen king he cared for them. Likewise from the tribe of Judah God used another man, this time Jesus, to stir the world up. Jesus established the church and place His Holy Spirit within the sanctuary, the symbol of YHWH’s presence. Jesus showed that God should be the centre of our life. Our lives have been one of constant failure but God in His mercy through Jesus has not forsaken us; on the contrary, He died and paid for our sins. And He lives again in us and dwelt among us and continually cared for us until now.
This contrasts clearly from Joseph and Ephraim, the generation “that did not set its heart aright, and whose spirit was not faithful to God” (v. 8). Of course the third characteristics is that David has skilful hands. The church must not only choose people with care and a heart of integrity for people but also talented people. I came from a church that believes in good people that has a care for people and a heart of integrity but talent is not so important. It is so wrong. We need all the three characteristics. God looks at all the characteristics as equally important. We not only must have a care for people, a heart of integrity but also has ability.
We just had a time of fellowship with all the Youth Mentor, facilitators and peer leaders. I told them that they need to excel in their educational life as much as their service to God. When they are trained in education, they will become people of ability and skills. Do you know that to be a maid in Singapore you need at least a high school certificate? God wants his children to be people of ability and talent too.
Some of you may say, ‘Well I don’t care if I am chosen or not. Well you are so wrong. If you continue to provoke God to anger and moved him to jealous, He will leave you to your whims and fancies. The scary part is in Psalms 78:33 which says ‘So He caused them to die unsatisfied and filled with terror.’ Let me not die unsatisfied. Let me not die filled with terror. Do you know what is the worst thing that can happen to a child of God? It is to die unsatisfied and filled with terror. I can never forget an incident when I was a very young Christian. I wasn’t at home and when I came back my brothers and sisters approached me for help and I wondered what happened. My mum was asleep and screaming in her sleep. My brothers and sisters thought that she was going to die. In her sleep she was filled with terror and screaming, ‘don’t take me away’. It seems as if she was going to die in terror. It was like the devil was taking her to hell and she was screaming. That was the revelation I received that day concerning my mum. Of course, I thank God that she came to know Jesus and she is freed. Some translation substitutes the word ‘terror’ for ‘troubles’. It means they live their life, neither here nor there, sometimes going forward, sometimes going backward. ‘In trouble’ means in manifold diseases, dangers, perplexities, and horrors of their own mind and consciences.
Do you know what it means to die unsatisfied? It means you ended your days on earth, in loneliness, failure and disappointment.
In Conclusion, we are more like Joseph and Ephraim, than like Judah. In spite of all the proofs of God’s love, their hearts are still unfaithful. Nothing God did pleased us. Despite His miracles, we are compulsive grumblers. So from time to time Jehovah visited us with death and destruction. For a while; they turned to the Lord, repented of their wickedness, and became earnest seekers. They realized what a refuge God had been to us, how He had redeemed us from the terrors of life. But soon again we start living a lie, speaking piously and acting perversely. We are fickle and disobedient. The Lord showed tremendous restraint. Because of His super-abounding compassion, He forgave our chronic backsliding and withheld the disaster we deserved. He remembered that they were mere men, here today and gone tomorrow. God’s patience is not inexhaustible. There comes a time when He allows us to taste the bitterness of our backsliding. If we despise His grace, we will experience His government. If we refuse to serve Him faithfully and loyally, He will find others to do it. We will miss the blessing, and will never find a better master to serve.