"They Soon Forgot...For Their Sake He Remembered" (Psalm 106) November 27-28
In the arrangement of the Psalter as it has come down to us, Psalm 106 is the concluding psalm of Book IV. Yet as explained in the Bible Reading Program's introductory comments on the Psalms, it appears that Books IV and V originally formed a single collection before a book division was placed here. Furthermore, as was mentioned in the program's opening comments on Psalm 101, Psalms 101-110 appear to form a collection of hymns. Indeed, Psalms 105, 106 and 107 (now the first psalm of Book V) seem to be very closely related (more on this later). Of course, the location of the book division here, though seemingly artificial, must surely have been very carefully selected. Perhaps this place was chosen so that Book V would flow right on from Book IV in theme and tone, serving to establish the continuity of the psalms.
Recall that Psalms 103 and 104 both begin and end with the same inner exhortation "Bless the LORD, O my soul." Likewise, as noted in prior comments, it appears that Psalms 105 and 106 both begin and end with a shared doxology or praise expression: Hallelujah or, as translated, "Praise the LORD!" (as this expression on the last line of Psalm 104 seems more likely to open 105). Coming immediately after these opening words in Psalm 105 is the call to gratitude: "Oh, give thanks to the LORD!" (verse 1), taken along with a large section that follows (verses 1-15) from David's psalm composed for the occasion of bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem in 1 Chronicles 16 (see verses 7-22). In Psalm 106 we find a parallel to this. Occurring right after its opening doxology is another call to thanksgiving taken from a later related line in the very same Davidic composition: "Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy [or steadfast love] endures forever" (compare Psalm 106:1; 1 Chronicles 16:34). The end of Psalm 106 was essentially taken from the same song as well, as we will later consider further (compare Psalm 106:47-48; 1 Chronicles 16:35-36). For this reason we earlier read these parts of Psalm 106 (verses 1, 47-48) in conjunction with our reading of 1 Chronicles 16. Observe moreover that Psalm 107 also opens with David's words "Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy [or, again, steadfast love] endures forever." (This is also powerfully expressed throughout Psalm 136.)
Many consider Psalm 106 to be a companion to 105 in various respects-including both language and theme. Psalm 106 rehearses much of the same national history covered in 105 but with an expanded perspective. Psalm 105 is a song of thanks to God for His faithfulness in remembering His promises and covenant as a benefit for His people. Psalm 106 thanks God for continuing in His faithfulness despite the rebellion of His people-repeatedly leading them to repentance and restoration. On this basis, the psalm is also a prayer to be included among the recipients of this wonderful benefit of God's mercy and deliverance, which is here asked for yet again. Note especially verses 4-5: "Remember me, O LORD, with the favor You have toward Your people. Oh, visit me with Your salvation, that I may see the benefit of Your chosen ones, that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation, that I may glory with your inheritance." Thus, Psalm 106 constitutes a continuation of the presentation of God's benefits to His people begun in Psalm 103-the benefit here being God's wonderful patience.
A strong contrast is drawn throughout the psalm: the sinful rebellion of the people versus the constant faithfulness of God; the people who "soon forgot His works" (verse 13), who "forgot God their Savior" (verse 21), versus the God who "for their sake...remembered His covenant, and relented according to the multitude of His mercies" (verse 45). In all the confession of Israel's rebellion throughout the psalm, we must not make the mistake of seeing this as the point of the psalm. As one commentator expresses it: "The purpose of the psalm is not to condemn Israel but to extol the Lord for His longsuffering and mercy toward His people. In order to glorify God, the writer had to place God's mercies against the dark background of Israel's repeated disobedience" (Wiersbe, Be Exultant, introductory note on Psalm 106).
The particular circumstance behind the composition of the psalm is not known except that the psalmist appears to have been scattered with others of God's nation among foreigners (see especially verse 47). For this reason and a statement we will later note in verse 46, many have surmised that the psalm was written during the Babylonian captivity. Furthermore, we can see that the psalmist was familiar with Psalm 105, using it and its source material by David in 1 Chronicles 16 to write Psalm 106. (Some advocate the same author for Psalms 105, 106 and 107.)
The psalmist may have been reflecting on the amazing events described in the previous psalm, "God's wonders in the land of Ham" (105:27), for He notes that the Israelites forgot that God did "wondrous works in the land of Ham" (106:22). Remarkably, God had done these wondrous works for His people despite the fact that they had basically lost faith in Him and persisted in their failure to acknowledge Him even as He rescued them (verse 7).
Interestingly, the great act of God left out of the Exodus account in Psalm 105 is the Red Sea crossing-but this pivotal event is incorporated as a major focus in the expansion of the story in Psalm 106 (verses 7-12, 22). Verse 12 says that this episode finally led the people to then believe God's words and sing His praise-yet only, as the next verse clarifies, for a very brief period. They did not wait on God, lacking trust and patience (verse 13), and grumbled for water (see verse 14; compare Exodus 15:22-27), for food (see Exodus 16) and more specifically for meat (see Numbers 11:4-15, 31-35). Although God gave the people what they asked for, He allowed them to suffer consequences (Psalm 106:15; compare Numbers 11:33).
Psalm 106:16-18 recalls the rebellion in Numbers 16 of Korah, Dathan, Abiram and other dissenters who envied and opposed the leadership of Moses and Aaron-though Korah is not named here, perhaps for the simple reason of poetic construction. The earlier horrific episode of the golden calf at Horeb or Mount Sinai, the very site of Israel's covenant with God, is also recalled (Psalm 106:19-20; see Exodus 32). On more than one occasion God would have destroyed the people for their idolatry "had not Moses His chosen one stood before Him in the breach, to turn away His wrath" (verse 23). "The metaphor 'stood in the breach' derives from military language, signifying the bravery of a soldier who stands in the breach of the wall, willing to give his life in warding off the enemy" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, note on verse 23). Similar imagery occurs in Ezekiel 22:30, where God finds no one to "stand in the gap" before Him on behalf of His people's land so that he should not destroy it.
The psalm next addresses the Israelites' fearful refusal to honor God in embracing and entering the Promised Land, which brought on them the penalty of their decades of wandering and death in the wilderness (Psalm 106:24-27; see Numbers 14).
The next two incidents in Psalm 106 happened near the end of Israel's wilderness years. The episode of worshipping Baal of Peor (verse 28) is found in Numbers 25, which mentions the people's involvement in Moabite and Midianite sexual rites. Psalm 106 adds the detail that the people "ate sacrifices of the dead" (verse 28b, KJV)-which horridly might mean that they ate the dead as sacrifices, for Baal worshippers practiced cannibalism (the word cannibal deriving from Kahna-Baal, meaning "priest of Baal"). The idolatrous debauchery so provoked God that He sent a plague that killed 24,000 people, withdrawing it only when Aaron's son Phinehas executed an Israelite man and Midianite woman who brazenly attempted to perform their lewd rites at God's tabernacle. Because of Phinehas' bold stand for the holiness of God and His people, God promised him an enduring priesthood for his descendants.
The incident at the "waters of strife" (verse 32) or "waters of Meribah" (NIV) occurred earlier (Numbers 20). Moses lost patience with the people and reacted to their rebellious grumbling "so that he spoke rashly with his lips" (verse 33). As a result of his angry outburst, Moses lost the privilege of leading the people into Canaan. This drastically contrasts with Moses' intercessory role in verse 23. The point seems to be that they wore down even their wonderful intercessor so much that he lost patience with them and stumbled.
When the people finally entered the Promised Land, they "did not destroy the peoples, concerning whom the LORD had commanded them" (verse 34). They instead embraced the lifestyle and customs of the native Canaanites (verse 35). They worshipped their idols, even sacrificing their children to the pagan deities behind them, which were actually demons (verses 36-37; compare Leviticus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:17; 1 Corinthians 10:20). By these works they defiled themselves and polluted the land (verses 38-39). Therefore God's wrath was so great that He "abhorred His own inheritance" (verse 40). Pathetically, in blending with the gentiles (that is, the other nations), the Israelites were actually submitting to the ways of peoples who hated them. God therefore gave them over wholly to these enemies (verses 41-42).
Yet God's purpose, even in the midst of His wrath, was not to destroy His people but to bring them to repentance and rescue them. "Many times He delivered them" during the period of the Judges (verse 43), but the people always drifted away from Him (verse 44). Nevertheless, He heard their cry (verse 44), remembered His covenant (verse 45) and relented (same verse). Verse 46 further says that God made His people's captors to take pity on them. The Zondervan NIV Study Bible says this "makes clear that the author's recital includes the Babylonian captivity (see 1Ki 8:50; 2Ch 30:9; Ezr 9:9; Jer 42:12). Although there were earlier captivities of Israelite communities, no other captive group was said to have been shown pity" (note on Psalm 106:46). This, of course, assumes past Scripture as the only source of the psalmist's information.
Finally, as previously noted, verses 47-48 are, as with the opening of the psalm, taken from David's psalm in 1 Chronicles 16 but with some interesting differences. Observe that David in 1 Chronicles 16 tells those who hear his psalm to "say, 'Save us, O God..." (verse 35). Psalm 106:47 does not say to "say," but rather simply says, evidently in response to David's words, "Save us, O LORD our God..." David further said to say, "Gather us together, and deliver us from the Gentiles..." In David's context of Israel as an independent nation, this would simply have been a prayer for the unity of God's people and help against foreign enemies bent on destroying them. When applying this statement in Psalm 106:47, notice that it has been changed to fit new circumstances: "...And gather us from among the Gentiles..." (emphasis added). This implies a time of captivity-again commonly assumed to mean that the psalmist and his people are captives in Babylon.
The last two lines of verse 47 and the first two lines of verse 48 are the same as in 1 Chronicles 16:35-36. Yet observe in 1 Chronicles 16:36 that the second line ends David's psalm. It is followed by this description of what happened following its performance: "And all the people said, 'Amen!' and praised the LORD" (same verse). This is transformed in Psalm 106:48 into a directive as part of the song: "And let all the people say, 'Amen!' Praise the LORD!" Thus verse 47 says what David told the people to say. And verse 48 tells people to say what the people did say in response to David's song. This ending to Psalm 106 very much seems to be an intrinsic part of the psalm rather than an editorial attachment of a doxology and amen as in other book endings within the Psalter-further strengthening the idea that there was initially no book ending here.