A Commentary, Critical, Practical, and Explanatory on the Old and New Testaments, by Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset and David Brown  at sacred-texts.com
psa 78:1This Psalm appears to have been occasioned by the removal of the sanctuary from Shiloh in the tribe of Ephraim to Zion in the tribe of Judah, and the coincident transfer of pre-eminence in Israel from the former to the latter tribe, as clearly evinced by David's settlement as the head of the Church and nation. Though this was the execution of God's purpose, the writer here shows that it also proceeded from the divine judgment on Ephraim, under whose leadership the people had manifested the same sinful and rebellious character which had distinguished their ancestors in Egypt. (Psa. 78:1-72)
my people . . . my law--the language of a religious teacher (Psa 78:2; Lam 3:14; Rom 2:16, Rom 2:27; compare Psa 49:4). The history which follows was a "dark saying," or riddle, if left unexplained, and its right apprehension required wisdom and attention.
psa 78:3This history had been handed down (Exo 12:14; Deu 6:20) for God's honor, and that the principles of His law might be known and observed by posterity. This important sentiment is reiterated in (Psa 78:7-8) negative form.
psa 78:5testimony-- (Psa 19:7).
psa 78:8stubborn and rebellious-- (Deu 21:18).
set not their heart--on God's service (Ch2 12:14).
psa 78:9The privileges of the first-born which belonged to Joseph (Ch1 5:1-2) were assigned to Ephraim by Jacob (Gen 48:1). The supremacy of the tribe thus intimated was recognized by its position (in the marching of the nation to Canaan) next to the ark (Num 2:18-24), by the selection of the first permanent locality for the ark within its borders at Shiloh, and by the extensive and fertile province given for its possession. Traces of this prominence remained after the schism under Rehoboam, in the use, by later writers, of Ephraim for Israel (compare Hos 5:3-14; Hos 11:3-12). Though a strong, well-armed tribe, and, from an early period, emulous and haughty (compare Jos 17:14; Jdg 8:1-3; Sa2 19:41), it appears, in this place, that it had rather led the rest in cowardice than courage; and had incurred God's displeasure, because, diffident of His promise, though often heretofore fulfilled, it had failed as a leader to carry out the terms of the covenant, by not driving out the heathen (Exo 23:24; Deu 31:16; Kg2 17:15).
psa 78:12A record of God's dealings and the sins of the people is now made. The writer gives the history from the exode to the retreat from Kadesh; then contrasts their sins with their reasons for confidence, shown by a detail of God's dealings in Egypt, and presents a summary of the subsequent history to David's time.
Zoan--for Egypt, as its ancient capital (Num 13:22; Isa 19:11).
psa 78:15There were two similar miracles (Exo 17:6; Num 20:11).
great depths--and--rivers--denote abundance.
psa 78:17yet more--literally, "added to sin," instead of being led to repentance (Rom 2:4).
psa 78:18in their heart-- (Mat 15:19).
for their lust--literally, "soul," or, "desire."
provoking--and--tempted--illustrated by their absurd doubts,
psa 78:19in the face of His admitted power.
psa 78:21fire--the effect of the "anger" (Num 11:1).
psa 78:22(Compare Heb 8:8-9).
psa 78:23(Compare Exo 16:11-15; Num 11:4-9).
psa 78:25angels' food--literally, "bread of the mighty" (compare Psa 105:40); so called, as it came from heaven.
meat--literally, "victuals," as for a journey.
psa 78:29their . . . desire--what they longed for.
psa 78:30not estranged . . . lust--or, "desire"--that is, were indulging it.
psa 78:31slew . . . fattest--or, "among the fattest"; some of them--
chosen--the young and strong (Isa 40:31), and so none could resist.
psa 78:33Though there were partial reformations after chastisement, and God, in pity, withdrew His hand for a time, yet their general conduct was rebellious, and He was thus provoked to waste and destroy them, by long and fruitless wandering in the desert.
psa 78:36lied . . . tongues--a feigned obedience (Psa 18:44).
psa 78:37heart . . . not right--or, "firm" (compare Psa 78:8; Psa 51:10).
psa 78:39a wind . . . again--literally, "a breath," thin air (compare Psa 103:16; Jam 4:14).
psa 78:40There were ten temptations (Num 14:22).
psa 78:41limited--as in Psa 78:19-20. Though some prefer "grieved" or "provoked." The retreat from Kadesh (Deu 1:19-23) is meant, whether--
turned--be for turning back, or to denote repetition of offense.
psa 78:43wrought--set or held forth.
psa 78:45The dog-fly or the mosquito.
psa 78:46caterpillar--the Hebrew name, from its voracity, and that of--
locust--from its multitude.
psa 78:47The additional effects of the storm here mentioned (compare Exo 9:23-34) are consistent with Moses' account.
psa 78:48gave . . . cattle--literally, "shut up" (compare Psa 31:8).
psa 78:49evil angels--or, "angels of evil"--many were perhaps employed, and other evils inflicted.
psa 78:50made a way--removed obstacles, gave it full scope.
psa 78:51chief of their strength--literally, "first-fruits," or, "first-born" (Gen 49:3; Deu 21:17).
Ham--one of whose sons gave name (Mizraim, Hebrew) to Egypt.
psa 78:52made his . . . forth--or, brought them by periodical journeys (compare Exo 15:1).
psa 78:54border of his sanctuary--or, "holy border"--i. e., region of which--
this mountain--(Zion) was, as the seat of civil and religious government, the representative, used for the whole land, as afterwards for the Church (Isa 25:6-7).
purchased--or, "procured by His right hand" or power (Psa 60:5).
psa 78:55by line--or, the portion thus measured.
divided them--that is, the heathen, put for their possessions, so tents--that is, of the heathen (compare Deu 6:11).
psa 78:56a deceitful bow--which turns back, and so fails to project the arrow (Sa2 1:22; Hos 7:16). They relapsed.
psa 78:58Idolatry resulted from sparing the heathen (compare Psa 78:9-11).
psa 78:59heard--perceived (Gen 11:7).
abhorred--but not utterly.
psa 78:60tent . . . placed--literally, "caused to dwell," set up (Jos 18:1).
psa 78:61his strength--the ark, as symbolical of it (Psa 96:6).
psa 78:62gave--or, "shut up."
his people-- (Psa 78:48; Sa1 4:10-17).
psa 78:63fire--either figure of the slaughter (Sa1 4:10), or a literal burning by the heathen.
given to marriage--literally, "praised"--that is, as brides.
psa 78:64(Compare Sa1 4:17); and there were, doubtless, others.
made no lamentation--either because stupefied by grief, or hindered by the enemy.
psa 78:65(Compare Psa 22:16; Isa 42:13).
psa 78:66And he smote . . . part--or, "struck His enemies' back." The Philistines never regained their position after their defeats by David.
psa 78:67tabernacle of Joseph--or, "home," or, "tribe," to which--
tribe of Ephraim--is parallel (compare Rev 7:8). Its pre-eminence was, like Saul's, only permitted. Judah had been the choice (Gen 49:10).
psa 78:69Exalted as--
high palaces--or, "mountains," and abiding as--the earth.
psa 78:70God's sovereignty was illustrated in this choice. The contrast is striking--humility and exaltation--and the correspondence is beautiful.
psa 78:71following . . . ewes, &c.--literally, "ewes giving suck" (compare Isa 40:11). On the pastoral terms, compare Psa 79:13.