Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Grass or Trees? (Psalm 78)

This is Part 2 of the series "Fools Rush In: Learning from the Wisdom Psalms".

Would you read a book about the history of grass? Or what about this, would you like to be known as a one of the most significant figures in the history of grass? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that nobody cares, right?

The really interesting thing is that the Bible says that man is like grass, and all of his glory is like the flower of the field (Isaiah 40:6). That puts things into perspective, doesn’t it? People say that we’re living in historic times. Years from now, world history teachers will be talking about Barack Obama, the pro-abortion movement, the LGBT rights movement, and now, the presidency of Trump – all things that have blossomed in this generation. From a human standpoint, they’re truly historical! And yet, all of this is just the history of grass as far as God is concerned. Whatever influence all these so-called “world movers and shakers” have is insignificant by God’s standard. You see, God isn’t interested in building something that will last for the next hundred years, or even the next thousand years! God is only interested in building what will redound to His glory for endless ages. That’s God’s standard for significance. That’s the time span we should all have in mind when we’re talking about a life that matters.

So even as the world is making a big fuss over Trump’s election, and other such secular happenings, let’s devote ourselves to the very things that the world dismisses as foolish and useless: the things of God, and of Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit. Because when the last day comes, and heaven’s record is opened before the Great Judge, it is God’s work in and through His people that will be shown to be truly important. And that's precisely what Psalm 78 helps us do.

[READ: Psalm 78:1-11 and Psalm 78:67-72]

Psalm 78 has two main purposes. The first is to exhort God’s people to faithfulness (Psa. 78:7-8). The second is to explain why God chose David and his descendants to rule Israel. The reason is that the tribe of Ephraim was unfaithful to the LORD, so He rejected Ephraim and raised up the tribe of Judah instead. And from the tribe of Judah, he chose David.

Ephraim vs. Judah

At the end of the book of Genesis, Joseph brought his two sons to be blessed by Jacob. Although Ephraim was the younger son, he received the greater blessing than his older brother, Manasseh (Gen. 48:20).

In the period of the Judges, the tribe of Ephraim began to asserts its power among the tribes. In Deborah's Song, they're called the "root" of those who fought against God's enemies, the Amalekites (Judg. 5:14). On separate occasions, they argued with two of Israel's judges for not being called upon to defend Israel (Gideon, Judg. 8:1-3; and Jephthah, Judg. 12:1).

Ephraim also opposed King David. After the death of his predecessor Saul, they supported Saul's son, Ish-bosheth (2 Sam. 2:8-9). Later, they assisted Absalom in his coup attempt against his father David (2 Sam. 18:6).

Ephraim’s opposition to the godly men of Israel became even more prominent after Solomon’s reign. Because of Solomon’s unfaithfulness, God split the kingdom into two. The Southern Kingdom remained under Solomon and his descendants, while the Northern Kingdom came under Jeroboam, an Ephraimite (1 Kings 11:26). Jeroboam then made Bethel, an Ephraimite town, the religious capital of the Northern Kingdom (1 Kings 12:33). But the Lord wasn’t worshipped at Bethel; idols were. From then on, Ephraim represented Israel’s religious apostasy.

In short, Psalm 78 highlights Ephraim because it represents all the sinfulness and idolatry of Israel as a whole. In contrast, Judah represents the minority among the Israelites who remained faithful to the Lord. In the end, Ephraim, and the other Israelite tribes that followed it, faded into insignificance, while Judah became the tribe of the Davidic kings, and ultimately, the Messiah.

Grass vs. Trees

Here’s another thing to keep in mind: just as those who were faithful to the LORD were often the minority, they were the more significant ones. We often equate size and power with significance – whoever has the larger numbers and the bigger stick is the more significant one, right?

But God’s Word tells us that even the most powerful men throughout history are just grass. They are the most significant grass in the world! (Isaiah 40)

But the righteous, we are told elsewhere in Scripture, are like a tree planted by streams of water (Psalm 1).

Most people want to have lives that matter. So they follow trends, they do what’s “relevant”. They value what everyone else values! From a human perspective, that’s really common sense. There’s safety in numbers, especially if those numbers include the elite members of society. It’s that simple.

But Psalm 78 tells us, No! Do you want your life to matter? Then forget what the world says, and pursue God!

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