Psalms 78-80

June 18th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2015

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For your convenience, links are provided below that take you directly to today's chapters in multiple Bible versions on the website. Choose your preferred translation for today:

Psalms 78-80 (King James Version - KJV)
Psalms 78-80 (New Revised Standard Version - NRSV)
Psalms 78-80 (New International Version - NIV)
Psalms 78-80 (The Message - MSG)

In addition, the link below takes you to the NAB version from the US Conference of Catholic Bishops:
Psalm 78 (New American Bible - NAB) (click the "next chapter" link on the site for chapters 79-80)

Summary of Chapters

This trio of Psalms begins with a history lesson and ends with two Psalms requesting help. In Psalm 78, the author reviews Israel’s history from the time of captivity until the reign of David, emphasizing how God delivered the people, and cared for them, but they rebelled and were punished. He selected David from the house of Judah to rule and selected the land of Judah for the temple rather than the northern tribes (Ephraim) because the people there had turned from him.

    And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which he hath established for ever.
    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.

    - Psalm 78: 70-72 (KJV)

The 79th and 80th Psalms call for help from God to reverse invasions and restore the people and the nation, apparently referring to the fall of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians as recorded in the end of 2 Kings and the end of 2 Chronicles. The degree to which the invaders had defiled the nation is depicted in 79:2 (KJV): “The dead bodies of thy servants have they given to be meat unto the fowls of the heaven, the flesh of thy saints unto the beasts of the earth.”

In the 80th Psalm the author uses specific metaphors to indicate the relationship between the people and God. In verse 1, God is referred to as the Shepherd of Israel, and in verse 8, God’s actions are described in terms of the management of a vineyard:

    You transplanted a vine from Egypt;
        you drove out the nations and planted it.
    You cleared the ground for it,
        and it took root and filled the land.
    The mountains were covered with its shade,
        the mighty cedars with its branches.
    Its branches reached as far as the Sea,
        its shoots as far as the River.

    - Psalm 80:8-11 (NIV)

Then the psalmist describes how God allowed the walls around the vineyard to be broken, exposing it to trespassers and unclean animals. The author pleads with God to return to caring for the people, as their vines have been cut and burned.

Reflection and Application

The beginning of the 78th Psalm emphasizes the importance of retelling God’s story to each generation so that they do not make the same mistakes as their fathers.

    What we have heard and know;
    things our ancestors have recounted to us.

    We do not keep them from our children;
    we recount them to the next generation,
    The praiseworthy deeds of the LORD and his strength,
    the wonders that he performed.

    - Psalm 78:3-4 (NAB)

We have seen in the Old Testament that some generations learned and improved their standing with God relative to their fathers while others made worse mistakes and led people away from God.

James Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family, says that a father’s “most important responsibility…is to communicate the real meaning of Christianity to his children.” He compares this role to the handoff of the baton in a relay race, and notes that relay races are won or lost in the transfer of the baton. Dobson emphasizes that it’s important for us to share the Gospel with as many people as possible, but the number one role for parents is to ensure the message is delivered to our own children (1).

We can thank our spiritual forefathers for giving us the lessons of the Old and New Testament and then honor them by ensuring that the next generation learns the lessons therein.

The 38th versus of Psalm 78 is the middle verse of all of the 5,896 versus of the Psalms (2) and is worth remembering as a keystone concept: “Yet he was merciful; he forgave their inequities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his fall wrath.”

The imagery in the 80th Psalm was very understandable to the original audience who had experience with shepherding and caring for vineyards. Jesus also often used the imagery of vineyards in his parables and in other instructions. For example, in the Parable of the Tenants, he described the misdeeds of farmers who rented land from a man and then killed his servants who came to collect the rent. The owner sent his son in their place but they killed him too. Jesus concludes by quoting from Psalm 118: "The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone (Psalm 118:22)." See Matthew 21:33-45 for the whole story (which is also found in Mark 12 and Luke 20). If we want to understand Jesus, then it's important for us to continue to study the scriptures that he studied: The law, the books of wisdom, and the prophets.

What analogies could we use so that people in our culture could relate? How about God as the CEO of our faith who drove out the competition, planted a franchise which became so profitable that it was able to establish other franchises and dominate a region. What metaphor works for you?

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What is your favorite story to tell?
    2. What has been your favorite story from the Bible so far?
    3. What can you do today to help pass on knowledge of God to the next generation?
    Recommended Prayer
    God, we acknowledge you as the owner of the vineyard. Help us to produce good fruit.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Vineyard Owners and Workers


    (1) Dobson, James, "Passing the Baton,"Men's Devotional Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993, p595
    (2) Rozenberg, Martin S. and Zlotowitz, Bernard M, The Book of Psalms, A New Translation and Commentary, Jason Aronson, Inc, Northvale, NJ, Jerusalem, 1999, p486

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Psalms 81-88 (Celebrate!)

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