This is a rather long psalm of Asaph – 72 verses. But it reads really well with a flow of stories about God’s relationship to His people. The recurring theme is that Asaph was trying to teach the children so that they would teach their children of God’s power and kindness to His people. Again and again Asaph highlighted that their forefathers had constantly strayed from faith in God.
Asaph charts the journey of faithlessness of the people through specific instances in their history. This description is not chronological but starts with the tribe of Ephraim choosing not to follow God’s instructions to fight – there are a number of instances of this happening but when Jephthah defeated the Ammonites and 42,000 Ephraimites died too as a result of their refusal to join God’s army (Judges 11 and 12) is probably the time that Asaph described.
Asaph mentioned the Ephraimites abandoning their covenant with God and then started to describe what they chose to forget about God. Asaph then described the miracles in the desert that God performed in spite of the lack of faith of the people of Israel. Asaph included all the tribes as descendants of Jacob when he told of how God gave them water and fed them and then destroyed them because of their arrogance.
“In spite of all this, they kept on sinning; in spite of His wonders, they did not believe” Verse 32 demonstrates Asaph’s impatience with the people of Isreal’s faithlessness. He described how whenever God punished them, the people would turn back to Him as their Redeemer, but even in those moments of faith they were lying and “their hearts were not loyal to Him” (verse 37).
Asaph then returned to the miracles that God showed the world in Egypt. He did this in exasperation of the people’s forgetfulness. He listed the miracles and God’s mercy to the people. But in verse 56, he described how the people rebelled against God again, like their forefathers.
Asaph continued from this point in his history lesson highlighting that the people were sold into captivity, God abandoned the tabernacle at Shiloh, the Ark of the Covenant was taken from them and many people died. He stated that this was because the people angered God.
In verse 65, Asaph leapt forward in time to God’s choice of David as king. He highlighted that God decided to find someone to be the shepherd of his people and lead them in His favour.
The final verse probably shows the point of the psalm – to “big up” David as king:
“And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.” (verse 72)