George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 4

Psalm 105

1. Structure

Let Israel continue the praise of the Lord. Why?
Because of His faithfulness to the fathers
And because of His faithfulness to their children

2. Theme

In all this recapitulation of history (which closely resembles Psalm 78), there is not one word of reproach against any of the patriarchs or against their people Israel. What a contrast with its companion, Psalm 106! Neither is there reference to the Law or to the Levitical service. Thus, positively and negatively, the emphasis is on salvation by faith.

In the latter portion of the psalm, Joseph and Moses dominate the picture. Stephen (Acts 7) made it very clear to a faithless and rebellious nation that they should learn from the lives of these two faithful men, who were the forerunners of a greater deliverer:

“Which [i.e., Joseph and Moses] shewed before the coming of the Just One” (Acts 7:52).

The student of this psalm must learn the same lesson.

Modern Israel too must learn the same lesson — and they will — but only the hard way: with yet another bondage in Egypt (Isa. 19:18-25; Deut. 28:68; Joel 3:19), to be followed by the appearance of a God-sent Savior (but only when they cry, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord... Hallelujah!”). Thus Psalm 105 is a Messianic prophecy as well as a history. Compare the force of evermore (vv. 4,8,10), in all the earth (v. 7), and a thousand generations (v. 8).

3. Authorship

Possibly Moses, since he was instructed by God to “tell in the ears of [his] son, and of [his] son’s son, what things I have wrought in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them; that ye may know how that I am the Lord” (Exod. 10:2).

Or possibly David, who used some of the words of this psalm (vv. 1-15) in 1 Chronicles 16:8-22 (see Psalm 96, Par. 2), on the occasion of the Ark (cp. v. 4) being settled in Zion.

Or possibly again Isaiah, who could have blended earlier fragments into a finished product, and whose prophecy has numerous parallels with this psalm.

4. Details

Praise ye the Lord (from 104:35) certainly belongs at the beginning of 105 (see “The Hallelujah Psalms”, Psalms Studies, Book 1, Introduction, Part 6).

Call upon his name. What name? The Covenant Name, of course! All the emphasis is on this, especially in the first portion of the psalm (vv. 1,3,4,7,19,45). Yet His people, who should pin their faith upon His Covenant Name and esteem it more than their necessary food, exclude it from their synagogue service and prayers. And a sizeable portion of the New Israel argues about its precise pronunciation (and misses its intrinsic meaning?).
The repetitions (Sing... sing... Seek... seek... seek) are rather like a similar feature in many of the Songs of Degrees. Is this a small pointer as to when this psalm may have been written (or at least completed)? Or has this rather been a common-enough feature of Hebrew poetry throughout the ages? Like this psalm, Isaiah has plentiful references to the patriarchs and to the Exodus and the wilderness journey.
Sing unto him. But take care that your singing is really “unto Him”, and not merely for the sake of the music or to delight the ears of others.

Talk ye of all his wondrous works:

“Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name” (Mal. 3:16).
Let the heart of them rejoice that seek the Lord: Matt. 5:10-12; Luke 6:23; Rom. 5:3; James 1:2.
Seek the Lord, and his strength. That is, the Shekinah Glory resident in the Ark of the Covenant (Psa. 78:61; 132:8; 2 Chron. 6:41). The Ark of God’s Glory was called His “Strength” because it was the sign of His kingship in Israel, and the focal point for the display of His person in the midst of the nation (Psa. 26:8; 63:2). David’s use of these words in 1 Chron. 16:8-22 — when he was bringing the Ark to Jerusalem — substantiates this.
Remember, in the psalms, nearly always occurs in the context of the Memorial Name (vv. 1,3,4,7), or the Name of Remembrance.

The judgments of his mouth are not the Ten Commandments, but the Promises to the fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, called also “word” (v. 8) and “law” (v. 10). The context requires this.
O ye seed of Abraham his servant. Why not “Abraham his friend”? Because the seed of Abraham have been happier having God as a Master (under the bondage of the Law) rather than as the Friend He was to their great ancestor. Nor is the New Israel (the true “seed” of Abraham: Gal. 3:16,27-29) completely free from this mistaken emphasis. (In place of “Abraham”, the parallel verse of 1 Chron. 16:13 has Israel. Why?)

Ye children of Jacob his chosen. In contrast with Esau (Mal. 1:2,3).
He hath remembered his covenant for ever, the word which he commanded to a thousand generations (Luke 1:72,73). Compare Exod. 20:6:

“And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.”

Should this read “unto thousands”, or — as in Psa. 105:8,9 — “unto a thousand generations”? Notice the italics in Exod. 20:5: “generations” is added there, by the translators, to give the sense; and so it probably should be here also. At any rate, Psa. 105:8,9 (and Psa. 103:17,18; Deut. 7:9; 1 Chron. 16:15; Isa. 51:8; and Luke 1:50) provide divine warrant for this interpretive addition. But is not a thousand generations a gross exaggeration? By any reckoning, there cannot have been more than about 300 total generations since Adam. True, unless these passages mean spiritual “generations” in Christ, which can be “begotten” in rapid succession. The enthusiastic convert to the truth in Christ loses no time in converting a friend or relative to the same faith. And so on, and so on, until God’s mercy has been shown indeed to a thousand such “generations”! (H.A. Whittaker, Bible Studies, pp. 186,187).
The covenant was made with Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3 and 13:14-17), and confirmed by an oath (22:16); renewed to Isaac (26:3) and to Jacob (28:13; 35:12). As a token of his participation in this covenant, Jacob was given the new name Israel at the ford of Jabbok (32:28). As “word” = “covenant” (v. 8), likewise here law = covenant.
Saying, Unto thee will I give the land of Canaan, the lot of your inheritance (Psa. 16:6). “Unto thee” is singular (as it is in 1 Chron. 16:18). The Promise was made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob separately as individuals. But note “your [plural] inheritance”; it will be fulfilled to all of them collectively. But here is a promise to the patriarchs not yet fulfilled, either in the past or the present (Acts 7:5; Heb. 11:8,9,13).
When they were but a few men in number; yea, very few, and strangers in it (Deut. 26:5). This is a quotation from Jacob in Gen. 34:30, when he had first come into the Land with his sons (cp. v. 13 here). God esteems faith in His faithful remnant far more than formality in the mass of the people. “There is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few” (1 Sam. 14:6).
When they went from one nation to another, from one kingdom to another people. The wandering life of the patriarchs is thus described: Gen. 12:1,9; 13:18; 20:1; Heb. 11:9.
He suffered no man to do them wrong: yea, he reproved kings for their sakes. This plural, kings, is accurate: Pharaoh in Gen. 12:17, and Abimelech king of Gerar in 20:7 and 26:11.
Touch not mine anointed. The LXX has the singular: “my Christ”; but most versions give the plural: “my anointed ones”. Who was (were) the Anointed One(s)? The fathers, along with Sarah, in the general sense of having been specially selected by God? (But where is the actual “anointing” that we should expect to find in their cases?) Or — as singular — the “Messiah” in the womb of Sarah (Gen. 20:3,7; cp. 18:14), on the general principle of Heb. 7:9,10 (Levi paying tithes while still in the loins of his father Abraham)?

This is the same point about which David was scrupulous with regard to Saul: Never would he lift up a hand against the Lord’s anointed (1 Sam. 24:6,10; 26:11,23). Did David learn this psalm — and this attitude — from Samuel? (If so, then here is a point in favor of Mosaic authorship for the psalm, or at least for the first part; see Par. 3 above.)

And it was because of “the anointing” (Isa. 10:27) of Hezekiah (as David’s successor and Jesus’ predecessor) that the Assyrian army — having swept through all of Judah (vv. 28-32) — was at last turned aside short of its ultimate objective of Jerusalem (vv. 23,24, 33,34).

And do my prophets no harm. A quite remarkable addition to the Gentile account, yet strictly true: Both Abraham (Gen. 22:8; 17:17; Rom. 4:19) and Sarah (Gen. 21:10,12; Gal. 4:30) were “prophets”! And so also were Isaac (Gen. 27:27-29) and Jacob (48:15-22; 49:1-27).
He called for a famine upon the land. Not that famine which faced Abram, driving him to make the mistake of going into Egypt, but that which brought about the migration there of Jacob’s family (Gen. 41:54-57). These famines were the work of God, but so also (v. 17) was the sequence of events which earlier brought Joseph to power in Egypt. God first created the problem, and then provided the solution.

He brake the whole staff of bread. Food is to strengthen and support, hence the figure of a staff (Lev. 26:26; Isa. 3:1; cp. Psa. 104:15). To God it is as easy to make a nationwide famine as to break a staff!
He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant: whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron (Gen. 39:20; Psa. 107:10). This supplies details not given in the historical account. The Hebrew is literally “his soul entered into iron” (AV mg.). But Coverdale reverses the two, and gives the haunting phrase which has since become proverbial: “the iron entered his soul”. Thus he expressed poetically that it was more than Joseph’s flesh that felt the cold metal; his whole being came into its embrace.

Joseph being such a detailed prototype of the Messiah (see H.A. Whittaker’s Joseph the Saviour and P. Pickering’s Joseph and His Brethren), this v. 18 must also have been true of Jesus: In his trial he would have worn fetters, and in his crucifixion his feet would have been fixed with iron (cp. Gen. 3:15 — “bruised in the heel”). And so iron entered into his soul also.
The word of the Lord tried him, as gold being refined (Psa. 12:6; 17:3; 18:30; Prov. 30:5; 1 Pet. 1:7). The long years before the fulfillment of Gen. 37:7,9 meant a severe testing of Joseph’s faith. And how was he tried by the Word of God? (1) It was the predetermined counsel of God that Joseph endure trials, and (2) The detailed parallel of Joseph’s experience with the antitype Jesus necessitated such trials (cp. Acts 7:52). Or is this simply two ways of saying the same thing?
He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his sub-stance: to bind his princes at his pleasure. Does this mean there was an active and organized opposition to Joseph, that had finally to be dealt with? Was it because he was a Hebrew?

He who was “bound” (v. 18) now “binds” others! And here we may see the One who was judged, for a moment, yet nevertheless will be the eternal Judge of all his adversaries (Matt. 26:64).

However, the RSV has “instruct” for “bind”; the two words are easily confused in the Hebrew. “Instruct” would yield a parallel with the latter part of the verse. Or, alternatively, “bind... at his pleasure” could be translated “bind to his person”, as a gifted teacher would bind his students to him, in trust and respect.

And to teach his senators (elders: NIV) wisdom (Gen. 41:40,44). Does this explain Akhnaton, the only known monotheistic Pharaoh?
Israel also came into Egypt; and Jacob sojourned in the land of Ham. Shem the blessed came to lodge awhile with Ham the cursed; the “dove” settled down momentarily in the nest of the “vulture”. The “sojourned” (cp. v. 13 above; Gen. 47:4) reminds us that the fairest land in “Egypt” is still in Egypt, and as such must be considered a temporary abode by God’s faithful.
And he increased his people greatly; and made them stronger than their enemies (Exod. 1:7,9). He turned their [i.e., their enemies’] heart to hate his people, to deal subtilly with his servants. This evil experience, like that of v. 16, was the direct work of God. But how slow men are, even God’s own people, to learn the truth which shouts at them here — that even “darkness” and “evil” are created by God (Isa. 45:7)! Certainly Joseph — who was a chief actor in much of this drama — learned well this lesson, that God’s Providence can work in all circumstances, even ones that might be characterized as “evil”:

“God did send me before you to preserve preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance” (Gen. 45:5,7).

“As for me, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (50:20).
There are omissions and differences of order between the historical record in Exodus and the survey given here:

Psalm 105
1. Water into blood
2. Frogs
3. Lice
4. Flies
5. Murrain of beasts
6. Boils and blains
7. Hail, and fire (lightning)
8. Locusts
9. Darkness
10. Firstborn slain
9. Darkness (v. 28)
1. Water into blood (v. 29)
2. Frogs (v. 30)
4. Flies (v. 31)
3. Lice (v. 31)
7. Hail and fire (vv. 32,33)
8 Locusts (v. 34)
10. Firstborn slain (v. 36)

This list (in Psalm 105) is slightly different again from the one in Psalm 78:43-51, which also has several (though not all the same) omissions.

Why the drastic dislocation of the plague of darkness? Is it because there was, from the beginning, spiritual darkness over Egypt? Or is it that the darkness symbolizes God’s unceasing wrath, which always hung over Egypt (Joel. 2:2; Zeph. 1:15)?

And why the mysterious omission of the murrain of beasts, and of boils and blains? Because these were primarily on the cattle and not on man?
They rebelled not. Here the LXX (followed by RV and RSV) is almost certainly correct in omitting “not”. (And the NIV changes this to a question: “For had they not rebelled against his words?”) Is the reference to Egyptian stubbornness? If so, then they did rebel. And if the reference is to Hebrew stubbornness, then the answer is still the same (cp. Psa. 106:7), although such a negative statement does not fit at all the positive tone of Psalm 105.
He smote... their fig trees. A pattern of Christ’s cursing of the fig tree (Matt. 21:18-22; Mark 11:12-14,20-26), as if to say that the Israel of his day was no better than the Egypt of Moses’ day.
He brought them forth also with silver and gold (Exod. 12:35,36): and there was not one feeble person among their tribes. There was “none that stumbled” (RV mg.) (cp. Isa. 63:13; contrast Rom. 11:11). Were they strengthened by the Passover meal or the exhilaration of deliverance? This illustrates that the premature deaths of practically that whole generation in the wilderness was for their sin, and not because of disease or hardship.
Egypt was glad when they departed: for the fear of them fell upon them. As Egypt feared the Israelites because of the plagues, and was glad when they departed, so “the great city, which spiritually is called... Egypt” (Rev. 11:8) “makes merry” when the witnesses are killed (v. 10), but fears greatly when they receive the Spirit of God and stand on their feet again (v. 11). The fear and the rejoicing are the same in both cases. But, in Revelation, rather threateningly for the Apocalyptic “Egypt”, the rejoicing is supplanted by fear, and not the other way round. And so the last state of Egypt will be worse than the first.
He spread a cloud for a covering. As a canopy of protection from the burning heat of Sinai. See Psa. 78:14; 121:5,6; Exod. 13:21; 14:19,20; 1 Cor. 10:1; Isa. 4:5; Zech. 2:5.
The people asked, and he brought quails, and satisfied them with the bread of heaven: Psa. 78:18,22-27; Exod. 16:3,4,8,12.
He opened the rock, and the waters gushed out; they ran in the dry places like a river: Psa. 78:16,20; Exod. 17:1-7; cp. Num. 20:11. And see 1 Cor. 10:4.
For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham his servant. An allusion to his Covenant with Abraham:

Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them; and they shall afflict them four hundred years; and also that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge: and afterward shall they come out with great substance” (Gen. 15:13,14).
And gave them the lands of the heathen (Josh. 13:7; Psa. 78:55). But contrast Psa. 106:27: the One who gave could also — and did! — take away.

And they inherited the labour of the people. Normally amim means Israel (the twelve tribes), but here the context requires reference to Gentile Canaanites:

And I have given you a land for which ye did not labour, and cities which ye built not, and ye dwell in them; of the vineyards and oliveyards which ye planted not do ye eat” (Josh. 24:13; cp. Deut. 6:10,11; John 4:38).
That they might observe his statutes, and keep his laws. This one word — “That” — covers the entire psalm. All the Providence of God was intended to achieve this one result. Yet it failed!
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