"He Remembers His Covenant Forever" (Psalm 105) November 25-26
Psalm 105 continues from the past two psalms on the theme of praising and thanking God for His benefits—in this case, for His special care and provision for Israel in fulfillment of His promises. We earlier read Psalm 105 in conjunction with David's bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem—for the first 15 verses of the psalm are taken from the first part of David's song composed for that occasion (1 Chronicles 16:4-36). We more recently read Psalm 96, which is taken from the second part of that psalm in 1 Chronicles. (See the Bible Reading Program comments on 1 Chronicles 16:4-36; Psalm 105:1-15; 96; 106:1, 47-48 and on Psalm 105:16-45; 1 Chronicles 16:37-43; 2 Samuel 6:20-23.)
Just as the same doxology or praise expression "Bless the LORD, O my soul!" appears at the beginning and end of both Psalms 103 and 104, it seems likely that another doxology, "Praise the LORD!" (Hebrew Hallelujah) is found at the beginning and end of Psalms 105 and 106—the last two psalms of Book IV in the Psalter. It appears that the doxology "Praise the LORD!" at the end of Psalm 104 should actually begin Psalm 105—as it does in the Septuagint—prefixed to the statement from 2 Chronicles 16:1: "Oh, give thanks to the LORD!" (Psalm 105:1). Again, observe that the same doxology ends Psalm 105 and that it has been prefixed to the excerpt from 1 Chronicles 16:34 in Psalm 106:1 (and also affixed to the adaptation of 2 Chronicles 16:35-36 in Psalm 106:47-48).
Psalm 105:1-15 follows the source material from David in 1 Chronicles by instructing others to thank God, to seek Him and call on Him and to proclaim His wondrous deeds to others—one important way being through psalms such as this one. Minor changes may be noted from the source material. For instance, Psalm 105:6 refers to the Israelites ("children of Jacob") as the "seed of Abraham His servant" rather than "seed of Israel His servant" (see 1 Chronicles 16:13)—perhaps to emphasize the covenant with Abraham mentioned a few verses later. Both descriptions are of course true. The progression of patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob/Israel) appears in 1 Chronicles 16:16-17 and Psalm 105:9-10. In the entire book of Psalms the name Jacob occurs 34 times while Abraham is mentioned by name in only Psalm 105 (verses 6, 9, 42) and 47:9—and Isaac is recalled by name in Psalm 105:9 only.
In 1 Chronicles 16, David had emphasized the theme of remembering—for the Israelites to remember God's marvelous works and judgments (verse 12) and to remember the covenant He made with the patriarchs to give their descendants the land of Canaan (verses 15-19). The first reference (verse 12) is repeated in Psalm 105 verbatim (verse 5). Yet in the second reference, rather than calling for the audience to "remember His covenant forever" (1 Chronicles 16:15), Psalm 105 says that "He remembers His covenant forever" (verse 8). The change here would seem to stress that even if the people don't remember, God does. This further demonstrates, in line with other psalms of this section, God's benefits—here being His eternal faithfulness. The same theme of remembering is built on later in verse 42, where God's faithfulness is again demonstrated.
David's words in 1 Chronicles 16:20-22, repeated in Psalm 105:13-15, are a further reference to the patriarchs. God had promised them the land of Canaan as an inheritance when their households were few in number and they were actually strangers in the land, which was for the most part out of their control (verses 11-12). Though not immediately giving them this homeland, God preserved them from harm in the meantime as they traveled as nomads from nation to nation and kingdom to kingdom (verses 13-14). Regarding his rebuking of kings for their sakes, telling these rulers not to hurt His anointed ones (verse 15)—here synonymous with His prophets (same verse)—note two examples in the life of Abraham (see 12:10-20; 20:1-17). In the latter instance, God told Abimelech (the Philistine king of Gerar) that Abraham was a prophet (verse 7). Other stories in Genesis show that God continued to oversee the lives of Isaac and Jacob, protecting them from those who would have harmed them.
We then move into the latter part of Psalm 105, which was not taken from David's earlier composition in 1 Chronicles 16. The author of this latter section is unknown. It could have been David or, just as easily, anyone else from his time up to that of Ezra more than five centuries later. This section follows on from God's promise to give the land of Canaan to Israel by telling the story of what led up to their eventual inheritance (verses 16-45).
The psalmist picks up the Genesis account with the story of Joseph, who was sold by his brothers into slavery and ended up the ruler of all Egypt under its pharaoh. While in prison, Joseph, with God's inspiration, accurately interpreted the divinely induced dreams of the pharaoh's baker and butler—eventually securing his release. This is evidently what is referred to in Psalm 105:18-19, which the NIV translates as saying that Joseph was imprisoned "till what he foretold came to pass, till the word of the LORD proved him true." Joseph then interpreted dreams of the pharaoh to mean that a period of plenty would be followed by a period of famine—and the pharaoh appointed Joseph as his vizier or prime minister to oversee the storing up of provisions for the famine.
This eventually served to provide during the time of famine for Joseph's father Israel or Jacob and the rest of his family—who came down to settle in Egypt. Verse 16 declares the destruction of provision and resultant famine to be the work of God. And verse 17 further declares Joseph being sent as a slave to Egypt to be by God's design—so as to provide for His people. This is just what Joseph himself acknowledged in assuring His brothers that He would not take vengeance on them: "You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones" (Genesis 50:20-21).
Note, incidentally, that Egypt is referred to here as the "land of Ham" (Psalms 105:23, 27; 106:22; compare 78:51). Ham was one of the three sons of Noah, and from him sprang Mizraim or the Egyptians (Genesis 10:1, 6). The H in "Ham" was pronounced as a heavily aspirated or "coughed" K—so that the name could be written as Khem (as the Moffatt Translation renders the word in Psalms 105 and 106). Khem (sometimes spelled Chem) was in fact the ancient name for Egypt, written in hieroglyphic script as KM, the name denoting "black" or "hot" (in the sense of "burnt."). The "black" meaning here is often understood to refer to the darkened fertile soil along the length of the Nile. But the name Khem could just as well derive from the name Ham, which has the same meaning, or be a reference to Ham's dark-skinned descendants.
Jacob's family grew and prospered in Egypt until God turned the hearts of the Egyptians "to hate His people...and deal craftily with His servants" (Psalm 105:25). At no time does the psalmist question why this long history of intrigue and reversal was necessary for giving the Promised Land to Abraham's descendants. He trusts God. The Lord's performance of spectacular miracles during the Exodus period that comes next in the story flow was critical for Israel's remembering (see Deuteronomy 15:15).
In introducing the Exodus, the psalmist mentions God sending Moses and Aaron to perform signs and wonders (Psalm 105:26-27; compare Exodus 4; 7:8-13). He then follows with a description of the plagues with which God struck Egypt (Psalm 105:26-36; compare Exodus 7:14-12:30). The psalmist begins with the plague of darkness (Psalm 105:28a), which was actually the ninth of the 10 plagues. It may be that he was using this to metaphorically represent all the plagues as a dark time of affliction for Egypt. And this could have been intended as a play on words—the sending of darkness or blackness on the "Black Land" (as "land of Ham" in the previous verse could mean).
The second part of verse 28 has caused much difficulty in interpretation. The NKJV has: "And they did not rebel against His word." Some take the "they" as "these"—referring to the plagues that follow in the next few verses, meaning that these (in a personified sense) did not veer from accomplishing what God sent them to do. Others take the "they" of verse 28 to be the same "they" of verse 27, that is, Moses and Aaron (verse 26), which would mean they did not go astray from fulfilling the signs God gave them to perform. Others take "they" in verse 28 to refer to the "them" of verse 25, among whom signs were performed—though it is not clear whether this refers to the Israelites or the Egyptians (see verses 24-25). If the Israelites, verse 28 would mean that they did not go against doing what God commanded them at this time—i.e., keeping the Passover, etc.
However, the "they" in verse 28 is usually understood to refer to the Egyptians, as "their" in the next verse clearly refers to them. Yet how did the Egyptians "not rebel against [God's] word" when they were punished for defying God's command to release His people? Some Bible versions try to fix this problem by dropping the word "not" before "rebel"—meaning that the Egyptians did rebel. However, the Hebrew word for "not"—lo—is clearly present here. The NIV and Jewish Publication Society Tanakh more reasonably solve the problem by interpreting the words as a rhetorical question: "...for had they not rebelled against his words?" Another possibility is that the statement here speaks of the end result of all the plagues—that the darkness of the plagues in the previous clause broke the Egyptians so that they no longer rebelled against His order to release His people. Finally, it may be that the statement simply means that at all points the Egyptians did not withstand His word (to any effect)—as they could not.
The psalm then reiterates the various plagues in generally the same order as the book of Exodus except for switching flies and lice and skipping over the fifth plague of livestock deaths and the sixth plague of boils (and, as already mentioned, for having darkness first as a summary rather than in its actual next-to-last position). The psalm, we must remember, is written as poetry and makes no claim to giving the historical order. The present wording may simply have better fit the musical composition.
Following the description of Egypt's punishment, we then again see God's provision and benefits for His people. Psalm 105:37 mentions the Israelites departing enriched with silver and gold. Where the same verse says that there was "none feeble" among them, J.P. Green's Literal Translation says that "not one was stumbling." The NIV says "no one faltered" (compare JPS Tanakh). Thus, God took such excellent care of His people that everyone made it. Verse 39 describes His pillar of cloud and fire, which shaded the people from the desert sun during the day and gave them light to see at night. And during their travel through the desert He miraculously fed them with quail, manna and water (verses 40-41)—the word "satisfied" here recalling the listing of God's benefits in Psalm 103:5.
God performed all of this because ("for") "He remembered His holy promise" to Abraham (Psalm 105:42). Joyfully and gladly, God gave the land to "His chosen ones," Abraham's descendants. They inherited a land already developed by the labor of the Canaanites, so they could immediately enjoy its produce and benefits. Yet all this required a proper heartfelt response of gratitude (as the psalm begins) and the honoring of God through obedience. "He gave them the lands...that they might observe His statutes and keep his laws" (verse 45).
God remembered His covenant and promises and stuck to them—and the people needed to do the same. Moreover, these wonderful laws, as God's greatest benefits to Israel, gave the people far more freedom than their physical deliverance from Egypt. Far more than land and populace in the land of Canaan, obedience to God's laws would make them a truly great nation, as God had also promised Abraham (compare Genesis 12:1-3; Deuteronomy 4:6-8). This promise is yet to be completely fulfilled when Israel at last comes to properly understand all this and fully submits to God's ways in the Kingdom of God.
Psalm 105 makes it clear that God is in charge of history—and guides its outcome for the benefit of His people. As we will see, the next psalm continues the theme of God remembering His people for their great benefit (compare 106:4-5). As we reflect on these psalms, may we all join in our thoughts in the expression that opens and closes them: Hallelujah or "Praise the LORD!"