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Verses 1-48

Psalms 106:1-48

THE history of God’s past is a record of continuous mercies, the history of man’s, one of as continuous sin. The memory of the former quickened the psalmist into his sunny song of thankfulness in the previous psalm. That of the latter moves him to the confessions in this one. They are complements of each other, and are connected not only as being both retrospective, but by the identity of their beginnings and the difference of their points of view. The parts of the early history dealt with in the one are lightly touched or altogether omitted in the other. The keynote of Psalms 105:1-45 is, "Remember His mighty deeds," that of Psalms 106:1-48 is, "They forgot His mighty deeds."

Surely never but in Israel has patriotism chosen a nation’s sins for the themes of song, or, in celebrating its victories, written but one name, the name of Jehovah, on its trophies. But in the Psalter we have several instances of such hymns of national confession; and, in other books, there are the formulary at the presentation of the first fruits {, Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple, {1 Kings 8:1-66} Nehemiah’s prayer, {Nehemiah 9:1-38} and Daniel’s. {Daniel 9:1-27}

An exilic date is implied by the prayer of Psalms 106:47, for the gathering of the people from among the nations. The occurrence of Psalms 106:1 and Psalms 106:47-48 in the compilation in 1 Chronicles 16:1-43 shows that this psalm, which marks the close of the Fourth Book, was in existence prior to the date of 1 Chronicles.

No trace of strophical arrangement is discernible. But, after an introduction in some measure like that in Psalms 105:1-45, the psalmist plunges into his theme, and draws out the long, sad story of Israel’s faithlessness. He recounts seven instances during the wilderness sojourn (Psalms 106:7-33), and then passes to those occurring in the Land (Psalms 106:34-39), with which he connects the alternations of punishment and relenting on God’s part and the obstinacy of transgression on Israel’s, even down to the moment in which he speaks (Psalms 106:40-46). The whole closes with a prayer for restoration to the Land (Psalms 106:47); to which is appended the doxology (Psalms 106:48), the mark of the end of Book 4, and not a part of the psalm. The psalmist preludes his confession and contemplation of his people’s sins by a glad remembrance of God’s goodness and enduring lovingkindness and by a prayer for himself. Some commentators regard these introductory verses as incongruous with the tone of the psalm, and as mere liturgical commonplace, which has been tacked on without mush heed to fitness. But surely the thought of God’s unspeakable goodness most appropriately precedes the psalmist’s confession, for nothing so melts a heart in penitence as the remembrance of God’s love, and nothing so heightens the evil of sin as the consideration of the patient goodness which it has long flouted. The blessing pronounced in Psalms 106:3 on those who righteousness and keep the law is not less natural, before a psalm which sets forth in melancholy detail the converse truth of the misery that dogs breaking the law.

In Psalms 106:4-5 the psalmist interjects a prayer for himself, the abruptness of which strongly reminds us of similar jets of personal supplication in Nehemiah. The determination to make the "I" of the Psalter the nation perversely insists on that personification here, in spite of the clear distinction thrice drawn in Psalms 106:5 between the psalmist and his people. The "salvation" in which he desires to share is the deliverance from exile for which he prays in the closing verse of the psalm. There is something very pathetic in this momentary thought of self. It breathes wistful yearning, absolute confidence in the unrealised deliverance, lowly humility which bases its claim with God on that of the nation. Such a prayer stands in the closest relation to the theme of the psalm, which draws out the dark record of national sin, in order to lead to that national repentance which, as all the history shows, is the necessary condition of "the prosperity of Thy chosen ones." Precisely because the hope of restoration is strong, the delineation of sin is unsparing. With Psalms 106:6 the theme of the psalm is given forth, in language which recalls Solomon’s and Daniel’s similar confessions. {1 Kings 8:47; Daniel 9:5} The accumulation of synonyms for sin witnesses at once to the gravity and manifoldness of the offences, and to the earnestness and comprehensiveness of the acknowledgment. The remarkable expression "We have sinned with our fathers" is not to be weakened to mean merely that the present generation had sinned like their ancestors, but gives expression to the profound sense of national solidarity, which speaks in many other places of Scripture, and rests on very deep facts in the life of nations and their individual members. The enumeration of ancestral sin begins with the murmurings of the faint-hearted fugitives by the Red Sea. In Psalms 105:1-45 the wonders in Egypt were dilated on and the events at the Red Sea unmentioned. Here the signs in Egypt are barely referred to and treated as past at the point where the psalm begins, while the incidents by the Red Sea fill a large space in the song. Clearly, the two psalms supplement each other. The reason given for Israel’s rebellion in Psalms 106:1-48 is its forgetfulness of God’s mighty deeds (Psalms 106:7 a, b), while in Psalms 105:1-45 the remembrance of these is urgently enjoined. Thus, again, the connection of thought in the pair of psalms is evident. Every man has experiences enough of God’s goodness stored away in the chambers of his memory to cure him of distrust, if he would only look at them. But they lie unnoticed, and so fear has sway over him. No small part of the discipline needed for vigorous hope lies in vigorous exercise of remembrance. The drying up of the Red Sea is here poetically represented, with omission of Moses’ outstretched rod and the strong east wind, as the immediate consequence of God’s omnipotent rebuke. Psalms 106:9 b is from Isaiah 63:13, and picturesquely describes the march through that terrible gorge of heaped-up waters as being easy and safe, as if it had been across some wide-stretching plain, with springy turf to tread on The triumphant description of the completeness of the enemies’ destruction in Psalms 106:11 b is Exodus 14:28, and "they believed on His words" is in part quoted Exodus 14:31, while Miriam’s song is referred to in Psalms 106:12 b.

The next instance of departure is the lusting for food (Psalms 106:13-15). Again the evil is traced to forgetfulness of God’s doings, to which in Psalms 106:13 b is added impatient disinclination to wait the unfolding of His counsel or plan. These evils cropped up with strange celerity. The memory of benefits was transient, as if they had been written on the blown sands of the desert. "They hasted, they forgot His works." Of how many of us that has to be said! We remember pain and sorrow longer than joy and pleasure. It is always difficult to bridle desires and be still until God discloses His purposes. We are all apt to try to force His hand open, and to impose our wishes on Him, rather than to let His will mould us. So, on forgetfulness and impatience there followed then, as there follow still, eager longings after material good, and a tempting of God. "They lusted a lust is from Numbers 11:4. "Tempted God" is found in reference to the same incident in the other psalm of historical retrospect. {Psalms 78:18} He is "tempted" when unbelief demands proofs of His power, instead of waiting patiently for Him. In Numbers 11:33, Jehovah is said to have smitten the people "with a very great plague." The psalm specifies more, particularly the nature of the stroke by calling it "wasting sickness," which invaded the life of the sinners. The words are true in a deeper sense, though not so meant. For whoever sets his hot desires in self-willed fashion on material good, and succeeds in securing their gratification, gains with the satiety of his lower sense the loss of a shrivelled spiritual nature. Full-fed flesh makes starved souls. The third instance is the revolt headed by Korah, Dathan, and Abiram against the exclusive Aaronic priesthood (Psalms 106:16-18). It was rebellion against God, for He had set apart Aaron as His own, and therefore the unusual title of "the holy one of Jehovah" is here given to the high priest. The expression recalls the fierce protest of the mutineers, addressed to Moses and Aaron, "Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy"; {Numbers 16:3} and also Moses’ answer, "Jehovah will show who is holy." Envy often masquerades as the champion of the rights of the community, when it only wishes to grasp these for itself. These aristocratic democrats cared nothing for the prerogatives of the nation, though they talked about them. They wanted to pull down Aaron, not to lift up Israel. Their end is described with stern brevity, in language coloured by the narrative in Numbers, from which the phrases "opened" (i.e., her mouth) and "covered" are drawn. Korah is not mentioned here, in which the psalm follows Numbers 16:1-50 and Deuteronomy 11:6, whereas Numbers 26:10 includes Korah in the destruction. The difficulty does not seem to have received any satisfactory solution. But Cheyne is too peremptory when he undertakes to divine the reason for the omission of Korah here and in Deuteronomy 11:6, "because he was a Levite and his name was dear to temple poets." Such clairvoyance as to motives is beyond ordinary vision. In Psalms 106:18 the fate of the two hundred and fifty "princes of Israel" who took part in the revolt is recorded as in Numbers 16:35.

The worship of the calf is the fourth instance (Psalms 106:19-23) in the narrative of which the psalmist follows Exodus 32:1-35, but seems also to have Deuteronomy 9:8-12 floating in his mind, as appears from the use of the name "Horeb," which is rare in Exodus and frequent in Deuteronomy. Psalms 106:20 is apparently modelled on Jeremiah 2:11: "My people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit." Compare also Paul’s "changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness, " etc. {Romans 1:23} "His glory" is read instead "their glory by Noldeke, Graetz, and Cheyne, following an old Jewish authority. The LXX, in Codd. Alex. and Sin. (second hand), has this reading, and Paul seems to follow it in the passage just quoted. It yields a worthy meaning, but the existing text is quite appropriate. It scarcely means that God was the source of Israel’s glory or their boast, for the word is not found in that sense. It is much rather the name for the collective attributes of the revealed Godhead, and is here substantially equivalent to "their God," that lustrous Light which, in a special manner, belonged to the people of revelation, on whom its first and brightest beams shone. The strange perverseness which turned away from such a radiance of glory to bow down before an idol is strikingly set forth by the figure of bartering it for an image and that of an ox that ate grass. The one true Substance given away for a shadow! The lofty Being whose light filled space surrendered: and for what? A brute that had to feed, and that on herbage! Men usually make a profit, or think they do, on their barter: but what do they gain by exchanging God for anything? Yet we keep making the same mistake of parting with Substance for shadows. And the reason which moved Israel is still operative. As before, the psalmist traces their mad apostasy to forgetfulness of God’s deeds. The list of these is now increased by the addition of those at the Red Sea. With every step new links were added to the chain that should have bound the recipients of so many mercies to God. Therefore each new act of departure was of a darker hue of guilt, and drew on the apostates severer punishment, which also, rightly understood, was greater mercy.

"He said that He would annihilate them" is quoted from Deuteronomy 9:25. Moses’ intercession for the people is here most vividly represented under the figure of a champion, who rushes into the breach by which the enemy is about to pour into some beleaguered town, and with his own body closes the gap and arrests the assault. {cf. Ezekiel 22:30}

The fifth instance is the refusal to go up to the land, which followed on the report of the spies (Psalms 106:24-27). These verses are full of reminiscences of the Pentateuch and other parts of Scripture. "The delightsome, land" (lit. "land of desire) is found in Jeremiah 3:19 and Zechariah 7:14. "They despised" is from Numbers 14:31. "They murmured in their tents" is Deuteronomy 1:27 (the only other place in which the word for murmuring occurs in this form). Lifting up the hand is used, as here, not in the usual sense of threatening to strike, but in that of swearing, in Exodus 6:8, and the oath itself is given in Numbers 14:28 sqq., while the expression "lifted up My hand" occurs in that context, in reference to God’s original oath to the patriarch. The threat of exile (Psalms 106:27) does not occur in Numbers, but is found as the punishment of apostasy Leviticus 26:33 and Deuteronomy 28:64. The verse, however, is found almost exactly in Ezekiel 20:23, with the exception that there "scatter" stands in a instead of make to fall. The difference in the Hebrew is only in the final letter of the words, and the reading in Ezekiel should probably be adopted here. So the LXX and other ancient authorities and many of the moderns.

The sixth instance is" the participation in the abominable Moabitish worship of "Baal-Peor," recorded in Numbers 25:1-18. The peculiar phrase "yoked themselves to" is taken from that chapter, and seems to refer to "the mystic, quasi-physical union supposed to exist between a god and his worshippers, and to be kept up by sacrificial meals" (Cheyne). These are called sacrifices of the dead, inasmuch as idols are dead in contrast with the living God. The judicial retribution inflicted according to Divine command by the judges of Israel slaying "everyone his man" is here called a "plague," as in the foundation passage, Numbers 25:9. The word (lit. "a stroke," i.e., from God) is usually applied to punitive sickness; but God smites when He bids men smite. Both the narrative in Numbers and the psalm bring out vividly the picture of the indignant Phinehas springing to his feet from the midst of the passive crowd. He "rose up," says the former; he "stood up," says the latter. And his deed is described in the psalm in relation to its solemn judicial character, without particularising its details. The psalmist would partially veil both the sin and the horror of its punishment. Phinehas’ javelin was a minister of God’s justice, and the death of the two culprits satisfied that justice and stayed the plague. The word rendered "did judgment" has that meaning only, and such renderings as mediated or appeased give the effect of the deed and not the description of it contained in the word. "It was reckoned to him for righteousness" as Abraham’s faith was {Genesis 15:6} It was indeed an act which had its origin "In the faithfulness that had its root in faith, and which, for the sake of this its ultimate ground, gained him the acceptation of a righteous man, inasmuch as it proved him to be such" (Delitzsch, Eng. Trans.). He showed himself a true son of Abraham in the midst of these degenerate descendants, and it was the same impulse of faith which drove his spear, and which filled the patriarch’s heart when he gazed into the silent sky and saw in its numberless lights the promise of his seed. Phinehas’ reward was the permanence of the priesthood in his family. The seventh instance is the rebellion at the waters of Meribah (Strife), in the fortieth year. {Numbers 20:2-13} The chronological order is here set aside, for the events recorded in Psalms 106:28-31 followed those dealt with in Psalms 106:32-33. The reason is probably that here Moses himself is hurried into sin, through the people’s faithlessness, and so a climax is reached. The leader, long tried, fell at last, and was shut out from entering the land. That was in some aspects the masterpiece and triumph of the nation’s sin. "It fared ill with Moses on their account," as in Deuteronomy 1:37; Deuteronomy 3:26, "Jehovah was angry with me for your sakes." "His Spirit," in Psalms 106:33, is best taken as meaning the Spirit of God. The people’s sin is repeatedly specified in the psalm as being rebellion against God. and the absence of a more distinct definition of the person referred to is like the expression in Psalms 106:32, where "indignation" is that of God, though His name is not mentioned. Isaiah 63:10 is a parallel to this clause, as other parts of the same chapter are to other parts of the psalm. The question which has been often raised, as to what was Moses’ sin, is solved in Psalms 106:33 b, which makes his passionate words, wherein he lost his temper and arrogated to himself the power of fetching water from the rock, the head and front of his offending. The psalmist has finished his melancholy catalogue of sins in the wilderness with this picture of the great leader dragged down by the prevailing tone, and he next turns to the sins done in the land.

Two flagrant instances are given-disobedience to the command to exterminate the inhabitants, and the adoption of their bloody worship. The conquest of Canaan was partial; and, as often is the case, the conquerors were conquered and the invaders caught the manners of the invaded. Intermarriage poured a large infusion of alien blood into Israel; and the Canaanitish strain is perceptible today in the fellahin of the Holy Land. The proclivity to idolatry, which was natural in that stage of the world’s history, and was intensified by universal example, became more irresistible, when reinforced by kinship and neighbourhood, and the result foretold was realised-the idols "became a snare". {Judges 2:1-3} The poet dwells with special abhorrence on the hideous practice of human sacrifices, which exercised so strong and horrible a fascination over the inhabitants of Canaan. The word in Psalms 106:37 demons is found only here and in Deuteronomy 32:17. The above rendering is that of the LXX. Its literal meaning seems to be "lords." It is thus a synonym for "Baalim." The epithet "Shaddai" exclusively applied to Jehovah may be compared.

In Psalms 106:40-46 the whole history of Israel is summed up as alternating periods of sin, punishment, deliverance, recurring in constantly repeated cycles, in which the mystery of human obstinacy is set over against that of Divine long suffering, and one knows not whether to wonder most at the incurable levity which learned nothing from experience, or the inexhaustible long suffering which wearied not in giving wasted gifts. Chastisement and mercies were equally in vain. The outcome of God’s many deliverances was, "they rebelled in their counsel"-i.e., went on their own stiff-necked way, instead of waiting for and following God’s merciful plan, which would have made them secure and blessed. The end of such obstinacy of disobedience can only be, "they were brought low through their iniquity." The psalmist appears to "be quoting Leviticus 26:39, "they that are left of you shall pine away in their iniquity"; but he intentionally slightly alters the word, substituting one of nearly the same sound, but with the meaning of being brought low instead of fading away. To follow one’s own will is to secure humiliation and degradation. Sin weakens the true strength and darkens the true glory, of men.

In Psalms 106:44-46 the singer rises from these sad and stern thoughts to recreate his spirit with the contemplation of the patient lovingkindness of God. It persists through all man’s sin and God’s anger. The multitude of its manifestations far outnumbers that of our sins. His eye looks on Israel’s distress with pity, and every sorrow on which He looks He desires to remove. Calamities melt away beneath His gaze, like damp stains in sunlight. His merciful "look" swiftly follows the afflicted man’s cry. No voice acknowledges sin and calls for help in vain. The covenant forgotten by men is none the less remembered by Him. The numberless number of His lovingkindnesses, greater than that of all men’s sins, secures forgiveness after the most repeated transgressions. The law and measure of His "repenting" lie in the endless depths of His own heart. As the psalmist had sung at the beginning, that lovingkindness endures forever; therefore none of Israel’s many sins went unchastised, and no chastisement outlasted their repentance. Solomon had prayed that God would "give them compassion before those who carried them captive"; {1 Kings 8:50} and thus has it been, as the psalmist joyfully sees. He may have written when the Babylonian captivity was near an end, and such instances as those of Daniel or Nehemiah may have been in his mind. In any case, it is beautifully significant that a psalm, which tells the doleful story of centuries of faithlessness, should end with God’s faithfulness to His promises, His inexhaustible forgiveness, and the multitude of His lovingkindnesses. Such will be the last result of the world’s history no less than of Israel’s.

The psalm closes with the prayer in Psalms 106:47, which shows that it was written in exile. It corresponds in part with the closing words of Psalms 105:1-45. Just as there the purpose of God’s mercies to Israel was said to be that they might be thereby moved to keep His statutes, so here the psalmist hopes and vows that the issue of his people’s restoration will be thankfulness to God’s holy name, and triumphant pealing forth from ransomed lips of His high praises.

Psalms 106:48 is the concluding doxology of the Fourth Book. Some commentators suppose it an integral part of the psalm, but it is more probably an editorial addition.

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