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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 1–8
Verses 1–8

These verses, which contain the preface to this history, show that the psalm answers the title; it is indeed Maschil—a psalm to give instruction; if we receive not the instruction it gives, it is our own fault. Here,

I. The psalmist demands attention to what he wrote (Ps. 78:1): Give ear, O my people! to my law. Some make these the psalmist’s words. David, as a king, or Asaph, in his name, as his secretary of state, or scribe to the sweet singer of Israel, here calls upon the people, as his people committed to his charge, to give ear to his law. He calls his instructions his law or edict; such was their commanding force in themselves. Every good truth, received in the light and love of it, will have the power of a law upon the conscience; yet that was not all: David was a king, and he would interpose his royal power for the edification of his people. If God, by his grace, make great men good men, they will be capable of doing more good than others, because their word will be a law to all about them, who must therefore give ear and hearken; for to what purpose is divine revelation brought our ears if we will not incline our ears to it, both humble ourselves and engage ourselves to hear it and heed it? Or the psalmist, being a prophet, speaks as God’s mouth, and so calls them his people, and demands subjection to what was said as to a law. Let him that has an ear thus hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches, Rev. 2:7.

II. Several reasons are given why we should diligently attend to that which is here related. 1. The things here discoursed of are weighty, and deserve consideration, strange, and need it (Ps. 78:2): I will open my mouth in a parable, in that which is sublime and uncommon, but very excellent and well worthy your attention; I will utter dark sayings, which challenge your most serious regards as much as the enigmas with which the eastern princes and learned men used to try one another. These are called dark sayings, not because they are hard to be understood, but because they are greatly to be admired and carefully to be looked into. This is said to be fulfilled in the parables which our Saviour put forth (Matt. 13:35), which were (as this) representations of the state of the kingdom of God among men. 2. They are the monuments of antiquity—dark sayings of old which our fathers have told us, Ps. 78:3. They are things of undoubted certainty; we have heard them and known them, and there is no room left to question the truth of them. The gospel of Luke is called a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us (Luke 1:1), so were the things here related. The honour we owe to our parents and ancestors obliges us to attend to that which our fathers have told us, and, as far as it appears to be true and good, to receive it with so much the more reverence and regard. 3. They are to be transmitted to posterity, and it lies as a charge upon us carefully to hand them down (Ps. 78:4); because our fathers told them to us we will not hide them from their children. Our children are called theirs, for they were in care for their seed’s seed, and looked upon them as theirs; and, in teaching our children the knowledge of God, we repay to our parents some of that debt we owe to them for teaching us. Nay, if we have no children of our own, we must declare the things of God to their children, the children of others. Our care must be for posterity in general, and not only for our own posterity; and for the generation to come hereafter, the children that shall be born, as well as for the generation that is next rising up and the children that are born. That which we are to transmit to our children is not only the knowledge of languages, arts and sciences, liberty and property, but especially the praises of the Lord, and his strength appearing in the wonderful works he has done. Our great care must be to lodge our religion, that great deposit, pure and entire in the hands of those that succeed us. There are two things the full and clear knowledge of which we must preserve the entail of to our heirs:—(1.) The law of God; for this was given with a particular charge to teach it diligently to their children (Ps. 78:5): He established a testimony or covenant, and enacted a law, in Jacob and Israel, gave them precepts and promises, which he commanded them to make known to their children, Deut. 6:7, 20. The church of God, as the historian says of the Roman commonwealth, was not to be res unius aetatis—a thing of one age but was to be kept up from one generation to another; and therefore, as God provided for a succession of ministers in the tribe of Levi and the house of Aaron, so he appointed that parents should train up their children in the knowledge of his law: and, when they had grown up, they must arise and declare them to their children (Ps. 78:6), that, as one generation of God’s servants and worshippers passes away, another generation may come, and the church, as the earth, may abide for ever; and thus God’s name among men may be as the days of heaven. (2.) The providences of God concerning them, both in mercy and in judgment. The former seem to be mentioned for the sake of this; since God gave order that his laws should be made known to posterity, it is requisite that with them his works also should be made known, the fulfilling of the promises made to the obedient and the threatenings denounced against the disobedient. Let these be told to our children and our children’s children, [1.] That they may take encouragement to conform to the will of God (Ps. 78:7): that, not forgetting the works of God wrought in former days, they might set their hope in God and keep his commandments, might make his command their rule and his covenant their stay. Those only may with confidence hope for God’s salvation that make conscience of doing his commandments. The works of God, duly considered, will very much strengthen our resolution both to set our hope in him and to keep his commandments, for he is able to bear us out in both. [2.] That they may take warning not to conform to the example of their fathers (Ps. 78:8): That they might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation. See here, First, What was the character of their fathers. Though they were the seed of Abraham, taken into covenant with God, and, for aught we know, the only professing people he had then in the world, yet they were stubborn and rebellious, and walked contrary to God, in direct opposition to his will. They did indeed profess relation to him, but they did not set their hearts aright; they were not cordial in their engagements to God, nor inward with him in their worship of him, and therefore their spirit was not stedfast with him, but upon every occasion they flew off from him. Note, Hypocrisy is the high road to apostasy. Those that do not set their hearts aright will not be stedfast with God, but play fat and loose. Secondly, What was a charge to the children: That they be not as their fathers. Note, Those that have descended from wicked and ungodly ancestors, if they will but consider the word and works of God, will see reason enough not to tread in their steps. It will be no excuse for a vain conversation that it was received by tradition from our fathers (1 Pet. 1:18); for what we know of them that was evil must be an admonition to us, that we dread that which was so pernicious to them as we would shun those courses which they took that were ruinous to their health or estates.