Psalm 78 - The Lord rained down on them manna

[The people] did not keep God’s covenant, but refused to walk according to his law.
They forgot what he had done, and the miracles that he had shown them.
Yet God commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven;
he rained down on them manna to eat, and gave them the grain of heaven.
Psalm 78:10-11, 23-24 (NRSV)
11th Sunday of Pentecost, Year B, verses 23-29

Some psalms are cast as theological history lessons, recapping the history of the people with a theological lesson. This psalm explicitly teaches and asks the reader/hearer to pay attention: Give ear, O my people, to my teaching… things that our ancestors have told us.

It casts the wonders of God’s deeds against the people’s forgetting God’s deeds of power and their stubborn refusal to walk according to God’s commandments. The exodus through the sea, water in the desert, and still they complained and refused to trust God’s power and provision.

Maybe they had reason. It’s tough to trust when you are hungry and weary and have no prospects of the sweet and pleasant land of your dreams. Even tougher when it’s your life and safety that is at stake, not simply your comfort.

The full psalm goes back and forth over this ground - miracles on the one hand and trust issues on the other. The people had no faith in God, and did not trust God’s saving power. And yet, and yet, God commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven; God rained down on them manna to eat, and gave them the grain of heaven.

The whole psalm stresses the disobedience of the people. They tested God again and again, they did not keep in mind his power, and forgot his actions to preserve and support them.

We see this in our own lives. It is easy to forget, or simply not notice, God’s faithfulness undergirding daily life. We need to be trained, to develop the habits of remembering, and of attending to our side of the relationship with the Most High God.

The Psalms are themselves one of the most useful resources for doing that. They go to the depths of our experience, and yet return again and again to God’s faithful love. The psalm concludes with a statement that the Lord (or perhaps David), tended the people with upright heart, and guided them with skillful hand. We are given manna from the heavens, and all we need do is take, and eat.
Anonymous. Gathering of the Manna, Flemish, 1460-1480. Musée de la Chartreuse de Douai. Public domain.


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