Psalm 78 – God’s Dealings in the History of Israel & Power Over Egypt in the Hymn to Osiris

Maschil of Asaph.

1 Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.

2 I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:

3 Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.

4 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.

5 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:

6 That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:

7 That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:

8 And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God.

9 The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.

10 They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law;

11 And forgat his works, and his wonders that he had shewed them.

12 Marvelous things did he in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.

13 He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through; and he made the waters to stand as a heap.

14 In the daytime also he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire.

15 He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths.

16 He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.

17 And they sinned yet more against him by provoking the most High in the wilderness.

18 And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust.

19 Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?

20 Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can he give bread also? can he provide flesh for his people?

21 Therefore the LORD heard this, and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel;

22 Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation:

23 Though he had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven,

24 And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven.

25 Man did eat angels’ food: he sent them meat to the full.

26 He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by his power he brought in the south wind.

27 He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea:

28 And he let it fall in the midst of their camp, round about their habitations.

29 So they did eat, and were well filled: for he gave them their own desire;

30 They were not estranged from their lust. But while their meat was yet in their mouths,

31 The wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen men of Israel.

32 For all this they sinned still, and believed not for his wondrous works.

33 Therefore their days did he consume in vanity, and their years in trouble.

34 When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and enquired early after God.

35 And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer.

36 Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues.

37 For their heart was not right with him, neither were they steadfast in his covenant.

38 But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath.

39 For he remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.

40 How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert!

41 Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel.

42 They remembered not his hand, nor the day when he delivered them from the enemy.

43 How he had wrought his signs in Egypt, and his wonders in the field of Zoan:

44 And had turned their rivers into blood; and their floods, that they could not drink.

45 He sent divers sorts of flies among them, which devoured them; and frogs, which destroyed them.

46 He gave also their increase unto the caterpillar, and their labor unto the locust.

47 He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycamore trees with frost.

48 He gave up their cattle also to the hail, and their flocks to hot thunderbolts.

49 He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them.

50 He made a way to his anger; he spared not their soul from death, but gave their life over to the pestilence;

51 And smote all the firstborn in Egypt; the chief of their strength in the tabernacles of Ham:

52 But made his own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.

53 And he led them on safely, so that they feared not: but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.

54 And he brought them to the border of his sanctuary, even to this mountain, which his right hand had purchased.

55 He cast out the heathen also before them, and divided them an inheritance by line, and made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents.

56 Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God, and kept not his testimonies:

57 But turned back, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers: they were turned aside like a deceitful bow.

58 For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images.

59 When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel:

60 So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men;

61 And delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemy’s hand.

62 He gave his people over also unto the sword; and was wroth with his inheritance.

63 The fire consumed their young men; and their maidens were not given to marriage.

64 Their priests fell by the sword; and their widows made no lamentation.

65 Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine.

66 And he smote his enemies in the hinder parts: he put them to a perpetual reproach.

67 Moreover he refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim:

68 But chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved.

69 And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which he hath established forever.

70 He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds:

71 From following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance.

72 So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands.

The church in time of persecution prays for relief.  It seems to belong to the time of the Machabees.  Learning how God’s dealings are based upon His love and choice to have a corporate testimony.

Power Over Egypt
in the Hymn to Osiris

A long, long time ago, when the Nile first began to flood and replenish the delta, the god Osiris became king of the people.

Osiris inherited the throne from his father, Geb, the Earth.

At that time the Egyptians were barbarous cannibals.

They didn’t know how to live together, or how to take advantage of the gifts of the Nile.

Osiris taught the Egyptians what to eat.

He showed them the useful grains, like barley, and taught them how to plant and harvest and bake bread and make beer.

He showed them which animals are proper and good to eat and how to hunt and cook them.

Osiris gave the Egyptians laws.

He also taught them how to maintain cosmic harmony through worship of the gods.

When Osiris had bestowed all of these gifts and was done civilizing the Egyptians, he traveled the world to teach other peoples.

He asked his wife (and sister), the goddess Isis, who was the paragon of motherly virtues and wielder of many forms of magic, to rule the kingdom in his absence.

Which Isis did. Very well. For many, many years.

As it turned out, the world needed a lot of civilizing.

Frequently we find similarities between the Bible and ancient texts from Egypt or Mesopotamia.  As significant as those commonalities are, it is at least equally important to recognize differences among the texts so that we can discern the ways in which the beliefs of Israel were truly unique.

Psalm 78 is a recitation of the history of God’s rule over Israel from the time of the Exodus to that of David.  The story is not fully chronological but selectively demonstrates that the Lord was sovereign over the Israelites, punishing them when they sinned but delivering them from oppression and slavery.

from the 18th Dynasty of Egypt has come a stele that contains a hymn celebrating the rule of Osiris over Egypt.  In the myth Osiris was slain by his brother, the god Seth, but was restored by his sister/consort, the goddess Isis.  Osiris then became lord over the realm of the dead, as well as over Egypt, both through his son Horus and through the earthly representative of Horus, the pharaoh.

The hymn proclaims how the “Two Lands” (i.e., Upper and Lower Egypt), the Nile and all the beasts of Egypt honor Osiris, Isis, and Horus.

As the Egyptian text does for Osiris, Ps 78 proclaims the reign of the Lord over all Israel.  And as the Egyptian text does for the pharaoh, the psalm depicts a human viceroy to the reign of God in the person of David (vv 70-72). 

However, unlike the Egyptian song the psalm is focused entirely upon events in human history.  The Egyptian hymn builds upon the mythical slaying and rising of Osiris, while the psalm focuses on God’s dealings with his people in specific events in history.  This, above everything else, separates Biblical theology from paganism.