Psalm 78:65 – “Then the Lord awoke as from sleep, like a strong man shouting because of wine.”
Have you ever been sleeping, and someone comes and abruptly wakes you up from your sleep? Maybe you are falling asleep on the couch at night while watching a movie with your spouse, and they really want you to wake up and see something in the movie, so they push you, or yell your name to get you to wake up. If that has happened to you, you know that sometimes when you wake up, you are not the nicest person. There is an anger that quickly rises in you. In God’s sovereignty, he wants us to think of a scenario like this when we think of His wrath. In fact, in Psalm 78:65, God wants us to think of a strong man who is yelling in anger while he is drunk when we think of God acting out in his rage. Why on earth would God want us to think of a drunken, angry man when we think of Him? Why would God give us this analogy as a way of helping us better understand an attribute of God?
The context of Psalm 78 shows us that the psalmist is recounting three different groups of God’s people who had been shown powerful works of God, who turned and worshiped and served other gods. Consider the Israelites living in Egypt, who were enslaved by the Egyptians. When God demanded that Pharaoh let his people go, Pharaoh refused, and God unleashed his wrath on the Egyptians and the gods and goddesses they worshiped. “He turned their rivers to blood, so that they could not drink of their streams. He sent among them swarms of flies, which devoured them, and frogs, which destroyed them” (Psalm 78:44-45).
After God freed his people, the psalmist tells us that “he led out his people like sheep and guided them in the wilderness like a flock. He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid, but the sea overwhelmed their enemies” (Psalm 78:52-53). “Yet they tested and rebelled against the Most High God and did not keep his testimonies, but turned away and acted treacherously like their fathers” (Psalm 78:56-57). The psalmist goes on to explain that when they were living under the judges, they set up “high places” in the Promised Land, just like the Canaanites that they were to destroy. As a result of this constant unfaithfulness by God’s people, the psalmist tells us, “When God heard, he was full of wrath, and he utterly rejected Israel” (Psalm 78:59).
What this psalm shows us is that God is constantly at work for his people. Yet even while he is constantly at work for his people, his people almost constantly rebel against Him. This provokes God to anger. His anger is such that it is like a man who has been startled from sleep, or like a strong man who is drunk because of drinking too much wine. This seems like a horrible way of describing God, doesn’t it? Remember that analogies are just that: analogies. They are not perfect descriptions. So, today how do we understand God in light of Psalm 78:65?
As hard as it is to imagine, realize that the wrath that this describes is wrath that has been poured out on God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Consider what John MacArthur said: “God’s wrath is a holy raging torrent and only his grace, like a dam, prevents it from spilling on us sinful human beings. The good news is that when we embrace Christ as Lord and Savior, the dam of God’s righteous anger breaks upon Jesus, not us. When he bore our sins on the cross, the Lord was our substitute. Jesus Christ endured the white-hot fury that the Father had been storing up for us.”
Praise God that Jesus received God’s wrath in our place!