Psalm 78 is the only parable in the psalter. At least it is the only psalm that identifies itself as a parable. “I will open my mouth in a parable” (v.2). This became Jesus’ template for his ministry, quoted in Matthew 13:35.


Eugene Peterson unpacks what a parable is by explaining,


“The parable is a form of speech that has a style all its own. It is a way of saying something that requires the imaginative participation of the listener. Inconspicuously, even surreptitiously, a parable involves the hearer. This brief, commonplace, unpretentious story is thrown into the conversation and lands at our feet, compelling notice…. And then we begin seeing connections, relations. A parable is not ordinarily used to tell us something new but to get us to notice something that we have overlooked although it has been right there before us for years. Or it is used to get us to take seriously something we have dismissed as unimportant because we have never seen the point of it. Before we know it, we are involved.” (Tell It Slant, 19)


This definition accurately fits Psalm 78. It is a historical Psalm, recounting selections of Israel’s narrative. The nation’s history is infamous. We know it well. “But they continued to sin” (v.17) about sums it up. It’s not a very happy Psalm. It wouldn’t inspire patriotism. There’s nothing comparable in the American songbook.


The conclusion is strange. “He [God] chose Judah…he chose David…and David shepherded them with integrity of heart, with skillful hands he led them” (vv.68-72). How does this fit? What is this doing here? The refrain of the previous stanzas could be summed up by the phrase “Wow, what a bunch of rebels!” Why would God give such a good ruler to such an unruly people?


Remember, this is a parable. The story of Israel’s history is your history. This is your story. Chapter after chapter in your life have similar titles to Israel’s: “Unbelief”, “Tested God”, “Rebelled”, “Rebelled more”. The same reason God gave David to Israel, is the reason God gave Jesus to you. God chooses to intervene in your story apart from your deserving and according to his purposes.