“They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them” (Psalm 78:11).
Psalm 78 is a lengthy recounting of God’s faithfulness to Israel, from the time He brought them out of Egypt until the time of David. But that faithfulness is set in contrast to Israel’s constant disobedience. Though God had delivered them from oppression in a miraculous way, they soon forgot what He had done and began to complain. The entirety of the psalm focuses on Israel’s faithlessness and God’s continuing mercy in spite of it.
The beginning of Psalm 78 is an invitation for all peoples to hear what God has done for Israel. All who hear are to pass on what they have learned to their children, who will tell it to their own children, who in turn will tell it to their own children. In this way, the works of God will never be forgotten. Yet that is exactly what has happened in Israel. The people have forgotten God’s mighty works. So Asaph reminds them. He recounts the splitting of the Red Sea, through which the Israelites passed on dry ground before the waters plunged back together over the heads of the Egyptian pursuers. He reminds the people of how God provided water in the wilderness by making it gush forth from a rock.
This second incident, however, sets the stage for one of Israel’s greatest complaints. They saw God providing water, but instead of being overcome with gratefulness, they began to complain about what He hadn’t given them. “They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved” (v. 18). They knew He could provide, and now they just wanted more. They didn’t trust Him to continue to give them what they needed; they demanded meat, testing God to see if He was actually able to give it to them.
And He did. He gave them the meat they desired, but He sent a plague along with it. The blessing they had demanded turned into a curse. God would have given them what they needed anyway, but because they had tested Him, they lost the blessing they would have otherwise had. And unfortunately, they did not learn well from this mistake. The history of Israel is one of constant disobedience and rebellion against God. Not trusting Him to provide what they needed, they sought for it at their own discretion. They “tested and rebelled against the Most High God and did not keep his testimonies, but turned away and acted treacherously like their fathers” (vv.56-57a). They forgot His great works, and so they forgot Who He is.
How often are we guilty of the same thing? God has done so many incredible things, as revealed in the Bible and even in our own lives. But we so quickly lose sight of that. We want what we want, and we want it now. We forget that God already knows what we need and will provide it in His own way. He doesn’t need our demands; He wants our trust. When we trust Him to do what He has promised to do, He acts in incredible ways. But He leaves it up to us to believe Him.