NO ENDURING CITY

Opening Prayer

As I come to study your Word today, Father, open my ears to hear your voice. Give me a teachable spirit receptive and responsive to what you would have me learn.

Read PSALM 78:40–72

40 How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness
    and grieved him in the wasteland!
41 Again and again they put God to the test;
    they vexed the Holy One of Israel.
42 They did not remember his power—
    the day he redeemed them from the oppressor,
43 the day he displayed his signs in Egypt,
    his wonders in the region of Zoan.
44 He turned their river into blood;
    they could not drink from their streams.
45 He sent swarms of flies that devoured them,
    and frogs that devastated them.
46 He gave their crops to the grasshopper,
    their produce to the locust.
47 He destroyed their vines with hail
    and their sycamore-figs with sleet.
48 He gave over their cattle to the hail,
    their livestock to bolts of lightning.
49 He unleashed against them his hot anger,
    his wrath, indignation and hostility—
    a band of destroying angels.
50 He prepared a path for his anger;
    he did not spare them from death
    but gave them over to the plague.
51 He struck down all the firstborn of Egypt,
    the firstfruits of manhood in the tents of Ham.
52 But he brought his people out like a flock;
    he led them like sheep through the wilderness.
53 He guided them safely, so they were unafraid;
    but the sea engulfed their enemies.
54 And so he brought them to the border of his holy land,
    to the hill country his right hand had taken.
55 He drove out nations before them
    and allotted their lands to them as an inheritance;
    he settled the tribes of Israel in their homes.

56 But they put God to the test
    and rebelled against the Most High;
    they did not keep his statutes.
57 Like their ancestors they were disloyal and faithless,
    as unreliable as a faulty bow.
58 They angered him with their high places;
    they aroused his jealousy with their idols.
59 When God heard them, he was furious;
    he rejected Israel completely.
60 He abandoned the tabernacle of Shiloh,
    the tent he had set up among humans.
61 He sent the ark of his might into captivity,
    his splendor into the hands of the enemy.
62 He gave his people over to the sword;
    he was furious with his inheritance.
63 Fire consumed their young men,
    and their young women had no wedding songs;
64 their priests were put to the sword,
    and their widows could not weep.

65 Then the Lord awoke as from sleep,
    as a warrior wakes from the stupor of wine.
66 He beat back his enemies;
    he put them to everlasting shame.
67 Then he rejected the tents of Joseph,
    he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim;
68 but he chose the tribe of Judah,
    Mount Zion, which he loved.
69 He built his sanctuary like the heights,
    like the earth that he established forever.
70 He chose David his servant
    and took him from the sheep pens;
71 from tending the sheep he brought him
    to be the shepherd of his people Jacob,
    of Israel his inheritance.
72 And David shepherded them with integrity of heart;
    with skillful hands he led them.

Read full chapter

New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Meditate

Paul calls us to remember that ‘our citizenship is in heaven.’1 Reflect on what that means in light of your relationships, work, and church community.

Think Further

This psalm challenges us to learn from the past and break the repeating cycle in the history of God’s people. After an instruction setting out its purpose (vv. 1–8), the psalm describes this pattern twice: in verses 9–39 (last Sunday’s reading) and in verses 40–72 (today’s reading). Both iterations of the pattern describe the Exodus. The first focuses on the parting of the sea and the wilderness (vv. 12– 16), the second on the plagues and judgment on Egypt (vv. 42–55). When it comes to rebellion, the first reflects on the wilderness (vv. 17–31), the second addresses their disobedience after settlement in the land (vv. 56–64). The first cycle comes to an end with God staying his hand despite knowing their faith isn’t wholehearted (vv. 32–39).

The second cycle ends on a hopeful note, explaining why the center of political and religious life has moved to the southern kingdom. God’s judgment upon Ephraim (shorthand for the northern kingdom, as its most prominent tribe) has come because of the events of 1 Samuel 4–6 (vv. 60–64). God’s purpose has still gone forward, however, through a capital being built on the heights of Zion (vv. 68, 69) and the anointing of a skillful leader with integrity in David, called to shepherd them as a people (vv. 70–72).

The psalm was written to warn us to cooperate with God’s purpose in the present, by learning from past mistakes. Of course, we know that the settled pattern described in verses 67–72 ends in the Exile, yet even then a root from the tree of Jesse will arise and a king from David’s line will establish a kingdom that will never cease.2 God’s purpose—however often diverted—cannot be defeated and will end in a new Jerusalem.3

Apply

Read Hebrews 13:14. Let’s give thanks that the end of our stories will be a new beginning in ‘the city that is to come.’

Closing prayer

Lord of all, your promises are Yes and Amen; there is nothing for which I cannot trust you. Thank you for your promises of love, of care, of forgiveness, and for my eternal future in you.

Last Updated on January 21, 2024 by kingstar

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