Salvation’s Fractured Story
Happily, Ever After – Not!
A Lesson from Asaph
Psalms 78 – Teaching of Asaph
Good morning, this is segment two in a series Salvation’s Fractured Story from Psalms 78. Fairy tales have been a part of childhood reading for countless years; some of them have changed in order to meet changing ideologies. Salvation’s story is as old as time itself; The story is retold through our testimony and by the fruit of our life. The Psalm is called “a Maskil of Asaph” which, is a Lesson plan for the pupils of Israel. At this point in history, the nation had been free from Egypt for about 430 years; so, no one under the tutelage of Asaph had experienced the Exodus, the years of walking in circles, Moses or, the time of the judges. To the nation of the time, they had always been a kingdom, had their autonomy, and a great king sat on the throne. Having never experienced any of the struggles of previous generations, lends to a misconception that the only mode of God is to bless; because of it, the people took God’s blessings for granted. Today in America and across the world, we face the same struggle as nation Israel and that is, we do not know what the earlier generations inherited from the generation before them; all we know, is what is before us today and what we have is all too often taken for granted.
When we read about the heroes of old, the tendency might be in awe of the power their message while, at the same time, losing sight of the path they took. So, Asaph writes this rather lengthy psalm crafting in the good, the bad, and the “boy oh-boy”! So, why is it important for Asaph to cover the lives of the nation in such detail? The reason is, if we do not know that these people are human, like us, we might get the mis-perception that they never struggled with sin, they never fell for Satan’s trickery, and never ended up with egg on their face. One thing that stands out in my mind about scripture is that it never embellishes nor diminishes a person’s character in order to make a point. I want to tell you three points that believe are important for your walk.
Point 1 – Tell the Whole Story
If Asaph were only to tell the good things, the listener would get a lopsided story about life in a real world; which, creates unreal expectations and misleads the listener. Only in children’s story books, of my time at least, did the story end with “and they lived happily ever after”. As a boy, I admired my father because, he never seemed to do anything wrong, everything he did was executed except for when I was helping him of course. My viewpoint created an identity problem for me because, I tried to be like him and failed miserably. I asked my dad years later how he was able to do such things without making mistakes. He then told me with a chuckle “I just cleaned the mistake up before anybody caught on”; this part of the story filled in the holes and cleared up misconceptions for me. In the same way, if Asaph only wrote about the crushing of Egypt without telling the horrible things Israel did along the way, he would misrepresent God as one who was prone to “favoritism” instead of being a Just and Holy God.
Everything we do in life, good, bad, or otherwise, makes us who we are. It is inadvisable to wipe out the bad that we did in order to become a new person in Jesus. If we do so, we become as much of a hypocrite as the group we are opposing. I am not advocating the practice of parading our sins for the world to see; rather, coming to grips with our failures and being sensitive to issues of others. The nation Israel had been through a lot over the 430 years much of which they had more reason to hang their heads before God then to hold them high. The hope of every succeeding generation should be that they would learn from the miserable failures of the past generation so as not to repeat the same mistakes; sadly, it does not happen. George Santayana said, “If we do not learn from history we are doomed to repeat it”. So, we owe it to our self to first be honest about our past, and to come to grips with it. We need never fear being honest before God about what we did in ignorance nor, in rebellion. What we need to fear is the rock of God falling on us.
Point 2 – Be very careful of Urban Legends (verses 5-7)
An urban legend is a humorous or horrific story or piece of information circulated as though true, especially one purporting to involve someone vaguely related or known to the teller (dictionary.com). From urban legends, man feeds on his fears, prejudice, and deeply held opinions. What teacher Asaph is trying to get across to the people is the importance of telling the whole truth of what God has done in the lives of the people with the hopes that the children will catch the fire. When you read Asaph’s lesson plan, you will see that the story is not grandiose as to make a mole hill look like a mountain; nor, does he portray a big problem as a mere blip on the radar.
In the time of Moses, a group spies are sent out to get a lay of the land. Two (Joshua and Caleb) came back carrying fruit as evidence of the good land and encouraging news for the leadership. The rest came back with a whopper of an urban legend that got the whole nation spooked and on edge but had no physical proof to back their claim up. Imagine the listener to the story of the Anakytes “There are giants in the land and they are so big that we were grasshoppers in their sight and they looked down on us with the same viewpoint”. As stories go, the more they are told, the bigger the whopper. Caleb and Joshua tried to convince the growing mob of worry Worts that, “yes there the sons of Anak are in the land but, we can conquer it” (Numbers 13:1-33). Compared to all the nation had gone through from the day they left Egypt, to the drowning of the Egyptian army (Exodus 15:4), and the defeat of Sihon and Og (Numbers 25:21-35), there should be no doubt in the people’s mind that God is able to do exactly what he says. All of the evidence for honoring God and the people still believed 10 fools without one time asking themselves “why are they purporting such a story”? This is the problem with urban legends, no one asks what the precipice of the story is because, confessing a self-driven motive would mean being exposed. Part of the reason for telling a whopper, I believe anyways, is that part of the group (2.5 tribes) didn’t want to go into the Canaan and the part had been unwilling to go from the very beginning. The same problem exists today, whoppers are told as believable stories in order to either have an excuse for not being obedient or, to get what he or she wants in the first place.
When it comes to theology, there are also urban legends or, Bratchert puts it, “Folk Theology” which has no scriptural support just pure “pulpit propaganda”. When we rely on folk theology in order to sound scriptural or to draw an audience, we are entering an area that has brought down prophets and priests alike. Consider the San Hedrin who had been using “Laws of Moses” as a calling card in order to maintain the audience; after all, who wouldn’t stop and listen to what Moses has to say? Then along comes Jesus speaking and living the truth and he is seen as a heretic instead of the Messiah. How did the people know Jesus was genuine and the Priests a fake? Because of the very words “he speaks as one in authority and not a scribe (Matthew 7:29).
A Pastoral friend of mine once said of the Bible “it is like book ends; either the book fits or doesn’t; there is no gray area”. This is important to note because, today we hear a lot about “end times” and “rapture” yet, never fully come to grips with what the Bible really has to say about God’s plan for our lives. Some so-called Prophets are spouting out heresy and it is being accepted without thought one of the troubles it will cause. When the people tire of hearing urban legend, all prophesy will be disregarded regardless if it is true or not, whether or not it comes to fruition or, if it is supposedly what God has to say or not. The Devil is well aware that if enough non-sense is spewed out, people will stop listening to the church and then he can move in as easily as a hot knife through butter. I remember a cartoon series I read many years back in which a person wrote in the paper “I will be robbing xyz store tomorrow at 2p”; the time came and left without incident. The next day, another letter was written in the paper “I will be robbing bank 1 tomorrow at 3p”; the time came and left without incident. This went on for about a week until people thought it was just a joke; only one person in the entire community put two-and-two together and was able to apprehend the person.
Deciphering Urban legend from fact can be a little bit tricky because, the Devil speaks in lies which sound exactly truth with a twist. When the Devil tried to trick Jesus into taking the bait, you will notice in each situation, he used a verse to back up his claim. Yet, Jesus was one step ahead of the Devil throughout the meeting (Matthew 4:1-11). If we are not armed with the whole word of God, we will be easily tripped up by the adversary and he will not give up until we are shut down permanently.
Point 3 – Leaving the Path (verses 9 – 20)
Ephraim is the younger son of Joseph born to Potiphera daughter of the Priest of Ohn during Joseph’s exile in Egypt. If anybody in the Old Testament should never had a problem with leaving the path, it was Ephraim. As you read in the account of Jacob’s blessing, Ephraim is put before Manasseh (Genesis 48:13-14) just as Jacob was put before Esau (Genesis 25:21-23), his tribe was set ahead of Manasseh in the order of tribes leaving camp and presenting gifts; yet, something drastically changed over time. In Isaiah 28, the “wreath of Ephraim’s glory” is in disrepair and is no longer fit for service. In the book of Genesis, Jacob speaking, “By you shall the nation invoke blessings saying, ‘May you be like Ephraim and Manasseh’” (Genesis 48:20). Knowing this, how on earth did Ephraim go from on top to the bottom, to non-existent? It happens in the same way it does for all of civilizations and that is, slipping slowly over time. Each succeeding generation takes it queue from the previous generation about what is or is not important; that which is not important in the next and it goes. Scripture reminds us that we are not around forever (verse). While we live we have the opportunity to make a difference in our community, City, State, and nation. Unfortunately, the 900-pound gorilla in the room is our choices. For the nation of Ephraim, they were given a tremendous blessing that should’ve propelled them to heights unknown. I say I “unknown” because, all we know is that they existed, came from the lineage of Joseph, and during the exile of 571, disappeared. Scripture is not clear what happened to them. Regrettably, anytime a family lineage disappears, a part of the nation loses connection to its past, it’s present, and future; it is also the impetus of war among nations consider the whole Israel Assyrian war that has raged for centuries.
Salvation story is replete with peoples, nations, and continents that rise to do great things in the name of Yahweh God. Consider the nation United States of America, in its original design, the people came because of the turmoil in the church in Europe (reference). While it is true that much our history is tainted in bloodshed, bigotry, hate, and violence, there are bright shiny spots in which the nation excelled in righteousness as brief as they might have been. People like Martin Luther King, DL Moody, Billy Sunday, Billy Graham, and many others made a difference while they were alive. It was said of Billy Graham that he reached over 1 million people in his lifetime for Christ; many still walk with the Lord today (reference). Realistically, when you compare the nation Israel to the USA or, the world at large, we are all very much the same. God has no respect of persons, anyone who comes to him with a repentant heart asking for his help, his grace, and his mercy he will not reject them (Acts 10:34 and Romans 2:11). God does not care where we came from only where we are going to. Dr. Rex Allen in his teaching on “The Unchanging God in a Changing World” said, “the one thing we can count is that God never changes”. This is good news for us today because, as our world shakes and falls apart we can commit our lives to God through Jesus Christ.
Our choices will always lead us closer to or, further apart from God. While we live we have the opportunity to except or reject his gift. God does not care how big or how small the number of people there in a group only how willing they are to be obedient (Judges 7 as an example). God does not expect us to never make a mistake; nor, does he expect a level of superiority all of the days of our life. If we never struggled with sin, never made a mistake in judgement, we would become arrogant, rigid in our beliefs, and look down on those in sin (Luke 18:10-14). What he does expect of us is to adhere to his commands and precepts (Micah 6:8).
Many start off on the right path under the tutelage of wise Pastors and teachers just like King Joash did under the Priest Jehoiada (2ndKings 12:2). While the wise teacher is alive, we can sit under the teaching but, there is an unwritten law that states “What you are being taught, you need to apply to your life so as to build a foundation for your life”. When we do not use that time to grow strong in our faith, we will forget what he or she taught us after that person is gone from our life. When you read the account of Joash’s reign, you see two different people on the throne: a wise king and a foolish king. The evil influences that surround our life never disappear, they stay out of sight while our ears are attuned to wise counsel. When that counsel is gone, even for a day or a weekend, the evil influences will show themselves once again. For King Joash, when Jehoiada passed away, the priests of Baal came out as friends with the cunning of Satan to destroy the work of Jehoiada. When we do not grow strong while we have the support and teaching, we will not be strong when it really counts. King Joash died at the age of 52; which is quite young. According to scripture, he was wounded in battle but, was assassinated by two of his officials in retaliation for killing the sons of Jehoiada.
Getting saved does not guarantee us a life time without temptation nor keep us from falling. Simply, it removes us from the path we were on that was leading to our destruction onto a path that leads to life. The Devil would have us to believe that if God saved us once, He can do it again so “party on”. Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth. Once we are on the path of salvation leading towards the Kingdom of God, we need to stay on that path and let nothing stop us; scripture puts it this way “Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds; for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations” (Proverbs 27:23-24).
In storybooks, the infamous last words “and they lived happily ever after” are believable because, the book closes sort of like closing a window shade. The windows shade, like the book cover, blocks the person from looking in to see what is going on after the book is closed. It is from this closed book that the imagination is triggered to come up with new stories with different outcomes. Teacher Asaph recorded the story of Israel so as to remind the people where they came from, what happened to the nation, and the paths that led them where they are and also where they are heading. It is a common ailment among humans to repeat failure simply because we fail to learn from our ancestors both the good, the bad, and the “Boy-oh-boy”.
Please guide the reader today. Thank you for all who have found this web page. My prayer is that they will be ever encouraged in their struggle and will overcome whatever hurdle they may be facing. Thank you for the work of Jesus who went to Calvary’s tree in place of us that we would be able to have peace in our life and that the battles that rage against us would have no hold on us.
Rex Allen. The Unchanging God in a Changing World. Podcast (6/2015).
Nissan Mindel. Joash King of Judea. Kehot Publication Society (2018). Accessed https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/112315/jewish/Joash-King-of-Judea.htm