George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 4

Psalm 106

1. Structure

Introduction: Learning the personal importance of God’s Promises concerning His people and His Land...
...Even when the people are rebellious and the Land defiled.
There will not always be “failure”.
Thanks be to God for all this — the evil and the good.

2. Authorship

“This psalm is the dark counterpart of its predecessor, a shadow cast by human self-will in its long struggle against the light” (Kidner).

Thus, whatever may be said about the authorship of Psalm 105 (see Par. 3 there) applies equally well here.

3. Introduction

Just as Psalm 105 has undeniable connections with 1 Chronicles 16, so also does this psalm (see Psalm 96, Par. 2). Thus:

Verse 1
= 1 Chron. 16:34.
Verses 47, 48a
= 16:35,36a.

Praise ye the Lord. O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. See on the refrain in Psalm 136. The implicit idea is: Yahweh is a God who keeps His Promises, even though — as this psalm goes on to emphasize — His people prove unworthy of His kindness.
Blessed are they that keep judgment, and he that doeth righteousness at all times. See the list of “The Beatitudes in the Psalms” Psalms Studies, Vol. 1, p. 23).
That I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation. This Hebrew word goy means Gentile. The story unfolded in this psalm is about God’s people becoming “Gentiles” in their faithlessness. But why gladness? It is tempting to see vv. 4,5 as insertions made in Hezekiah’s time when the northern tribes, which had certainly become “Gentiles”, showed a readiness to join in his great reformation (2 Chron. 30:1-12; 1 Kings 8:46-48).
We have sinned with our fathers. This does not mean: ‘They sinned and we also sin’, nor: ‘We have sinned in the same way as they’, but ‘we have sinned with them’. This is the Bible’s doctrine of corporate responsibility: “By one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” (Rom. 5:19). “As in Adam all die” (1 Cor. 15:22). The Bible has many examples of this: e.g., Daniel’s sustained use of “we, us” in Dan. 9:5-19; Nehemiah’s comparable confession (1:6,7); 1 Kings 8:31-53; Ezra 9:6; 1 Chron. 15:13; 21:13; 2 Sam. 21:1; Isa. 59:8,9; Jer. 3:25; Matt. 18:25; 23:35,36; and especially Rom. 5:12-21. There can be no disowning of the sin of the community of which one is a member. This is an important principle which still holds for the New Israel, despite its having been called in question during certain controversies, and despite the extremes of “block disfellowship” practiced in some Christadelphian circles.

We have sinned... we have committed iniquity... we have done wickedly. According to the rabbis, this is an ascending order embodying all possible sins: (1) sins against oneself; (2) sins against one’s neighbor; and (3) sins against God. The same formula of three terms occurs in Solomon’s prayer (1 Kings 8:47) and Daniel’s (9:5). These three dreadful words do not occur again in this psalm; but instead, what a catalogue there is! Note the descriptive words which follow: “provoked” (v. 7), “forgat, waited not” (v. 13), “lusted, tempted” (v. 14), “envied” (v. 16), “forgat” (v. 21), “despised, believed not” (v. 24), “murmured, hearkened not” (v. 25), “provoked” (v. 29), “provoked” (v. 33), “went a whoring” (v. 39), and “provoked” (v. 43) again.

4. A shameful history

Our fathers understood not thy wonders in Egypt. Contrast v. 12 — but that did not last.

But provoked him at... the Red sea. They “were rebellious” (RV), even before they were out of Egypt: Exod. 14:11,12; cp. vv. 33,43 here.
Nevertheless he saved them for his name’s sake. That is, for the sake of His Promises to their fathers (Psa. 105:42).
He rebuked the Red sea also, and it was dried up. The s.w. occurs in Matt. 8:26: “Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea.” Compare also Psa. 65:7; 89:9; 93:3,4; 107:23-30.

So he led them through the depths, as through the wilderness: Isa. 63:13.
He... redeemed them. The Hebrew word ga’al signifies the act of a near-kinsman.
They soon forgat his works (Exod. 32:8). Literally, “they made haste to forget” (AV mg.), that is, they wanted to forget! After the mighty works of Exod. 14:21 and 15:1 there came (starting only three days later! — 15:22) the grumblings of 15:24; 16:2; 17:2; etc.

“Their problem was forgetting. And forgetting came because of lack of understanding and of a deep intelligent impression. Day after day they witnessed the results of God’s mighty power on their behalf, and therefore lived by sight. But the impression made upon their animal minds was faint and superficial. They gobbled and grunted when He filled the trough, and squeaked and squealed when He did not, but they never really knew Him” (G.A. Gibson).

They waited not for his counsel. Referring to the people’s impatience at Moses’ absence:

And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down out of the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him, ‘Up, make us gods, which shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we wot not what is become of him’ ” (Exod. 32:1).

Here “counsel” means not only the Decalogue but also the other details of the Law which were to govern their lives.
But lusted exceedingly in the wilderness. Literally, “they lusted a lust” (Num. 11:4, s.w.). What a dramatic contrast there is in Luke 22:15, where the very same word (and Hebrew idiom) is used by Jesus:

With desire have I desired to eat this passover with you before I suffer.”

And tempted God in the wilderness. There is no contradiction with James 1:13. God cannot be tempted to do evil; rather, His patience was “tested” (RSV) (cp. Psa. 78:18,41,56; 95:9).
And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul. Remarkably, the LXX has “fatness” (with reference to the excess of quails in Num. 11:20,32?). If, however, “leanness” is correct, the reference is to Num. 11:33:

And while the flesh was yet between their teeth, ere it was chewed, the wrath of the Lord was kindled against the people, and the Lord smote the people with a very great plague.”

This was “leanness of soul”, or “life” — there was no need to send “leanness of spirit”. That they already had!
They envied Moses also in the camp, and Aaron the saint of the Lord. The word “saint” (or ‘holy one’, an apt term for the priest) recalls the ground of complaint against Aaron and Moses: that they had made themselves the “holy” or elite ones, when in fact the whole congregation could lay claim to that title (Num. 16:3-5).
The earth opened and swallowed up Dathan, and covered the company of Abiram (Num. 16:30-34). But what about Korah?...
A fire was kindled in their company; the flame burned up the wicked. This is Num. 16:35 (and cp. 26:10).
They made a calf in Horeb (Acts 7:41), emphasizing that this happened in the very place where the Ten Commandments were given (Exod. 20:4,5; Deut. 4:16).
Thus they changed their glory into the similitude of an ox that eats grass. There is a withering contempt in those last three words. In the Tabernacle the cherubim of glory were probably in the form of oxen (as they were in Solomon’s Temple: cp. with 1 Kings 7:25,29,44; 2 Chron. 4:3,4,15; and see H.A. Whittaker, Bible Studies, pp. 170,181). The usual explanation that the golden calf was an imitation of Egypt’s idol Apis is a commentator’s fantasy. Furthermore, “These be thy gods” (Exod. 32:4,5) seems to require more than one ox, which accords well with the plural figures of the cherubim, but not with the singular “god” of Egypt.

They changed their glory. This is quoted by Paul in Rom. 1:23:

And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.”

Ignorant Gentiles cannot change the Glory of God into any human or animal pattern, for the simple reason that they have never properly known the Glory of God in the first place. But this statement is literally true of Israel. This point, and several others, suggest that the common assessment of Romans 1 — i.e., that it is describing the depravity of the Gentile world — needs to be rethought (see Psalm 81, Par. 5c; Whittaker, Bible Studies, pp. 305-308).
They forgat God their Savior. There is a play here on the name of Moses.
Wondrous works in the land of Ham: Psa. 105:23,27.
Moses... stood... in the breach (Exod. 32:9-14,30-35).

And Moses returned unto the Lord, and said, ‘Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin — and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written’ ” (Exod. 32:31,32).

Moses did not seek to disavow the sins of the community over which God had placed him (cp. v. 6 here), but rather sought to take total responsibility for those sins. He stood fearlessly at the place where the line of defense had been broken, as a last protecting barrier for the nation helplessly at risk because of their sins. This is “the good shepherd” laying down his life for the sheep (John 10:11,15); it is the yearning of Paul to save his fellow-Israelites, even at his own expense (Rom. 9:3). And it is David’s desire to be punished for the sins of the nation (2 Sam. 24:17). But all of these — stirring examples though they be — are but inadequate previews or echoes of the one and only great sacrifice, by which the Man Christ Jesus stood in the breach (cp. Ezek. 22:30), and redeemed all his sinful brethren (Psa. 49:7; Isa. 59:16,17; Mark 10:45; Matt. 20:28; Tit. 2:14; Heb. 9:12,15; 1 Tim. 2:6; 1 Pet. 1:18,19).
Yea, they despised the pleasant land, they believed not his word. They relinquished all desire for the Land of Promise, by ignoring the reports of Joshua and Caleb (Num. 14:31).
But murmured in their tents, and hearkened not unto the voice of the Lord. This verse quotes Deut. 1:27, where to the one sin of grumbling is added the other of blasphemy.
Therefore he lifted up his hand against them, to overthrow them in the wilderness. The Almighty takes an oath: cp. Num. 14:28,30; but also — thank God! — Num. 14:21.
To overthrow their seed also among the nations, and to scatter them in the lands. This language — “the nations”... “the lands” — clearly calls for a much wider application than that which ensued after Num. 14. In fact, it appears to be quoting Moses’ own warning of later days: Lev. 26:33-38; Deut. 28:64-68. And so it is quoted later by Ezekiel:

I lifted up mine hand unto them also in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the heathen, and disperse them through the countries” (20:23).
They joined (literally, “yoked”, as RSV) themselves also unto Baalpeor, and ate the sacrifices of the dead (Num. 25). The word “yoked” suggests the sin fornication (cp. Paul in 1 Cor. 6:16-18 and 2 Cor. 6:14-17). The reference to “the dead” is either to the worship of dead idols, called “No-gods”, or to the worship of departed spirits and the belief in the immortality of the soul (v. 37, notes; Deut. 32:17; cp. 1 Cor. 8:4,5; Isa. 8:19; Deut. 18:9-11).
Then stood up Phinehas, and executed judgment. Or, as the LXX: ‘made atonement’, that is, by “sacrifice” of the offending “worshipers” (Num. 25:7-11).
And that was counted unto him for righteousness unto all generations for evermore. Such exceptional statements are made of only two men — Abraham is the other (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3,9,22; James 2:23). And it is of course true also of all those who are “in Abraham” (Rom. 4:24,25).
They provoked his spirit. This should probably be read as “God’s Spirit”, with reference to the Angel of the Lord (cp. Isa. 63:9,10).

So that he [Moses] spake unadvisedly with his lips. There is no implication of reprobation behind the word translated “unadvisedly”; rather it means ‘emphatically’. The reprobation is in the phrase: “with his lips”, in the sense of ‘his own lips’ instead of ‘with God’s guidance’: “Hear now, ye rebels, must we [Moses and Aaron — not Moses and God] fetch you water out of the rock?” (Num. 20:10).
They did not destroy the nations, concerning whom the Lord commanded them. Judges 1:27-29 and 2:14-22 is an extended commentary on this and the next nine verses.
Devils is a bad translation of shedim (which occurs elsewhere only in Deut. 32:17). Instead, it should be “destroyers”, a play on the name of the Almighty — Shaddai. Instead of God-blessed fruitfulness, they chose what was a gross parody — the Canaanite fertility cults — and what would bring their spiritual destruction.

Both occurrences of shedim in the LXX are translated by daimonion in the New Testament — referring of course to idols and not to any disembodied “spirits”, whether good or evil. It is in this sense that the New Testament occasionally uses daimonion (1 Cor. 10:20,21; Rev. 9:20; 1 Tim. 4:1) (A.H. Nicholls, The Evangelical Revival, pp. 71-78).
And he remembered for them his covenant. What a moving contrast with vv. 13,21! “Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee” (Isa. 48:15).

And repented according to the multitude of his mercies. But of course God does not “repent” in the literal sense of the term. He is not a man that He should repent (1 Sam. 15:29). Then why does Scripture use this kind of language so often about Him? The only alternative to asserting, time and again, that the words of the Bible do not mean what they say, is to accept that God uses this kind of terminology because He wants His people to think of Him in this way. This is what is best for them. (For fuller details on this theme, see H.A. Whittaker’s Revelation: A Biblical Approach, pp. 271, 272.)
Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the heathen, to give thanks unto thy holy name, and to triumph in thy praise. The whole of this verse invites comparison with 1 Kings 8:49,50:

Then hear thou their prayer and their supplication in heaven thy dwelling place, and maintain their cause, and forgive thy people that have sinned against thee, and all their transgressions wherein they have transgressed against thee, and give them compassion before them who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them.”

One fulfillment of this desired deliverance from captivity was in Ezra and Nehemiah; but such Scriptures as Isa. 49:8-26 indicate that the massive captivity rounded up by Sennacherib (as described in the Taylor Prism) had an early and happy release, thanks to the unquenchable faith of Hezekiah (see references, Psa. 81, Par. 4).

Thy holy name alludes to Isa. 6:3.
Blessed by the Lord God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting: and let all the people say, Amen. Praise ye the Lord. This “doxology” concludes Book 4 of the Psalms (see Psalms Studies, Book 1, Introduction, Part 2).

5. Messianic overtones

Any reference of these concluding verses to deliverance in the time of Hezekiah or Ezra is almost pathetically inadequate to account for the emphasis and fine sweep of the phraseology. There must therefore be a final, magnificent fulfillment in the coming day of the Lord:

And he remembered for them his covenant, and repented according to the multitude of his mercies. Not yet is the covenant “remembered”, nor the multitude of God’s mercies yet fully expressed in the experience of Israel.
He made them also to be pitied of all those that carried them captives. Not yet is there any sign, amongst the nations of the world, of a warm affection for Israel, nor of any goodwill which might lead to their aid. Anti-Semitism is still the standard for many.
Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the heathen, to give thanks unto thy holy name, and to triumph in thy praise. The prayer “Save us” (“Jesus” us!) has not truly been fulfilled; therefore Israel does not give thanks unto the Holy Name — in fact they do not even speak it at all!
This is a salvation from everlasting to everlasting, and this doxology is spoken by all the people (amim = Israel, all of them!). “And so all Israel shall be saved” (Rom. 11:26,27; Isa. 59:20; Jer. 31:31), but only when their sins are forgiven and the Messiah comes.

Praise ye the Lord. Compare the repeated “Hallelujahs” of Rev. 19:1-6.

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