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Devotional: Psalm 78

Devotional Psalm 78

This Psalm is a Maskil, which is a Psalm of instruction.  Some Psalms were prayers, others had liturgical applications.  Psalm 78 refers to the importance of instruction by instructing.

In our world, students are taught by rote memorization.  The better you memorize and can regurgitate facts, the better you will do in school.  This model begins in preschool and continues all the way through college.  By contrast, this method is not used past the 6th grade in Great Britain.

In ancient Israel, the Torah, or first five books of Moses, was the foundation for all of life in this world.

The Psalmist states that this is important stuff; that we should listen.  He tells us what he is going to teach starting in verse 2:

2I will open my mouth in a parable;

I will utter dark sayings from of old

Nothing is so intriguing as the unveiling of a mystery.  When I was a kid, we all watched while Geraldo Rivera opened a vault owned by Al Capone on live t.v.  There was nothing inside, but it was great television because of the anticipation from revealing a mystery.

Contrast the revelation of mystery to verse 3:

3things that we have heard and known,

that our fathers have told us.

Doesn’t it seem strange that the speaker in verse 2 is telling us he is going to reveal a mystery, and in verse 3 that we have heard and known it, and it is common knowledge?  Yet, this is the work of Philip as he speaks to the Ethiopian eunuch.  He reveals that Jesus is the Christ through Isaiah’s book.

We, too are called as future ministers of the Gospel to reveal the Christ hidden in the pages of the Old Testament.  We are called to teach as Christ did after his resurrection when he walked with the disciples on the road to Emmaus.  “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself”.

Luther once said that Christ can be found on every page of Scripture.  That may be stretching it a little, but it is the Holy Spirit’s work to reveal Christ in the Old Testament.  Additionally, we have the New Testament, much of which is a commentary on the Old.  It helps us to see Christ as the New Adam.  Christ as Melchizedek.  Christ as a new Moses, leading us out of captivity.

And this is how the Old Testament is used as parable: The account of Moses leading Israel out of Egypt is not merely historical record.  It is a parable of how we have been rescued from the slavery of sin into the promised land through the waters of Baptism by Jesus.

My brothers and sister, we have been called to do this for God’s people.  To find Jesus, by the guidance of the Holy Spirit, in the Old Testament.

And, likewise, we can find the Torah in the New Testament.  Consider Hebrews.  The meaning of this book is greatly deepened by understanding the roles of a prophet, a priest and a king in the Old Testament.

There is an ongoing dialogue between these two testaments.  The thread that runs through both is Jesus Christ.

Begin with Moses.  Begin by reading the accounts of creation, promise to Abraham, exodus and David’s reign.  Read Hebrews simultaneously.  Draw comparisons.  See the contrasts.  Discover what Luther discovered, that there is more gospel in the Old Testament than in the New.  If and when you do, your sermons will fill the listeners with faith and rescue them from rote learning.

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Who am I?

11But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”  13Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”

Can you remember your first job?  Fast food restaurant, athletic club, or maybe a supermarket.  The first day, they started to train you, and can you remember how that went?

It’s not unusual to feel inadequate for a job.  Feelings of inadequacy are normal when you are doing something new.  You might also feel overwhelmed and lost which cause you to question why you decided to take this job.

Moses stumbles across the burning bush in the midst of his job.  He’s gotten herding sheep down to a science.  He’s good at it.  He feels confident yet is ever-aware of the dangers he might face.  He is up to the challenge.

But a burning bush that isn’t consumed is completely strange.  He doesn’t know what to make of it, so he approaches more closely.

Then God starts to speak.  He tells Moses what he needs to do.  He tells Moses to step out of his comfort zone boldly.  Moses then asks the question, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”  Do you hear the fear in his voice?  The trepidation?  The worry?  The feeling of inadequacy?

God doesn’t address him with modern psychology.  Instead, God says to him, “I will be with you”.

The very thing God is telling Moses to do is a great and mighty work.  It is an impossible work.  It is a fool’s task, and Moses doesn’t want to look like a fool.  He is afraid of the risk and returning to a powerful nation to demand something when he is powerless.

He might believe he will be thrown in jail for such a request.

It’s possible that Moses had a speech impediment.  We know he had an anger problem.  Like anyone else in this world, he had limitations and “issues”.

But God doesn’t refer to any of these.  Instead, He declares who He is and that He will be with Moses.  All of the success of this enterprise is based on God’s working.

And, wherever He sends, He goes.  He does not abandon His children.  Whatever He asks us to do, His promise is sure that He will be with us.  He says to Moses, “when you have brought the people out of Egypt”, not, “if you bring my people out of Egypt”.  God’s confidence is sure, because His promise is based on His Word.

And this Word is Christ, who is the saving God.  He will lead us to the promised land of heaven.  Why? Because we are without limitations and issues?  No, but because this promise was secured at the cross.  All of our excuses and fears are extinguished by this single phrase, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”.

In the end, Moses didn’t need to worry about who he was, because God made his name great.  He made his name eternal.

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