For anyone who operates on the moral level of the heart, it is thoroughly frustrating to see people walk away from that beguiling faculty of the Spirit. It is inherent in the most ancient roots of Hebrew culture to take seriously the ability of the heart to sense directly the moral fabric of Creation, to taste the very essence of God’s character. This higher level of understanding was the norm, but apparently not typical, particularly with the people of Israel. You can sense the deep sorrow in Asaph’s soul as he contemplates the record of his nation’s refusal to rise above the flesh and mere intellect.
But what can he do? So he opens this majestic psalm with the blunt warning that what follows cannot be understood without that higher faculty of the heart-mind which Westerners tend to marginalize by referring to it simply as our convictions. Parabolic language and symbolic logic were the legacy of Hebrew language itself; Jesus later said this was the only way we could properly discuss divine truth. You cannot discuss God and His character any other way, so the psalm begins with a plain notice that what follows is parabolic in nature, using the Hebrew word most often translated as “parable,” telling us that it will seem to mere intellect as “dark sayings” — mysterious stuff.
The only way to understand God is to maintain the focus of awareness in your heart. Do you want to understand how God works? You might well see His mighty miracles with eyes of mere flesh, but you will never grasp what these events could tell you of God, and consequently you will never understand what His Laws mean, nor your place in this world, nor much of anything that really matters. So teach the history of the nation, but teach also the mastery of the heart-mind. Otherwise, generations to come will have no idea what it all means and there will cease to be any meaning to the name “Israel.”
See the mighty Tribe of Ephraim? You would think they should rule the nation, but God had other ideas because Ephraim didn’t follow Him with a fully committed heart. The early tribal elders during the time of Moses saw the acts of God in providing for the nation during the Exodus. Yet they chose to lead in rebellion against God’s man by whining about the provisions. Their leadership brought suffering to the whole nation, even as they were still chewing on the food of angels. Sure, they got their meat; more than they could eat. Right at the climax of their feast, God showed His wrath against their sin. Did Ephraim lead them into repentance? On the contrary, it only got worse. The nation was more harmed by Ephraim’s fleshly leadership than all the other threats they encountered along the way.
So when everyone began to cry out in repentance, God relented. Asaph notes that Jehovah was more generous than a doting father to his only child. They kept breaking His heart but you would think He was far too soft on them. The Plagues on Egypt alone should have indicated something of God’s moral nature, but the nation as a whole was too much like a bratty child, crowing about someone else’s misfortune. So when God put on them some lesser measure of the same kind of wrath He poured out on Egypt, they dared accuse Him of being unjust. Was Egypt this arrogant? We hardly expect Egypt to comprehend that Jehovah could have been their God, too, but Israel kept wandering off from an unprecedented clear revelation from her Lord.
They thought they had Him over a barrel, so God allowed Israel’s enemies to take the Ark of Covenant and destroy the Tabernacle at Shiloh, priests and all. So complete was the slaughter that there was no one left in that area to mourn the dead. You would think God had wandered off from His own sanctuary and took a long nap. Suddenly He seemed to have awakened and that was the last time He allowed Ephraim any kind of leadership. Instead, He moved His chosen site for worship to another place under the rule of David, some nobody from the Tribe of Judah.
Thus, Asaph explains that it’s not as if God hated Ephraim. They were still one of the most powerful tribes in terms of sheer size, wealth and power. He didn’t take that from them, but He showed it was in their own best interest to let someone else call the shots. They prospered under David’s reign like never before. It’s not about politics, but a reflection of the deep moral character of God.