Bible Commentary: Psalm 106

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Psalm 106

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"They Soon Forgot...For Their Sake He Remembered"

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 Beyond Today Bible Commentary 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 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 Psalms 106:1 Psalms 106:1Praise you the LORD. O give thanks to the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endures for ever.
American King James Version×
; 1 Chronicles 16:34 1 Chronicles 16:34O give thanks to the LORD; for he is good; for his mercy endures for ever.
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). The end of Psalm 106 was essentially taken from the same song as well, as we will later consider further (compare Psalms 106:47-48 Psalms 106:47-48 [47] Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the heathen, to give thanks to your holy name, and to triumph in your praise. [48] Blessed be the LORD God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting: and let all the people say, Amen. Praise you the LORD.
American King James Version×
; 1 Chronicles 16:35-36 1 Chronicles 16:35-36 [35] And say you, Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather us together, and deliver us from the heathen, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and glory in your praise. [36] Blessed be the LORD God of Israel for ever and ever. And all the people said, Amen, and praised the LORD.
American King James Version×
). 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" (Psalms 105:27 Psalms 105:27They showed his signs among them, and wonders in the land of Ham.
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), for He notes that the Israelites forgot that God did "wondrous works in the land of Ham" (Psalms 106:22 Psalms 106:22Wondrous works in the land of Ham, and terrible things by the Red sea.
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). 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 Exodus 15:22-27 [22] So Moses brought Israel from the Red sea, and they went out into the wilderness of Shur; and they went three days in the wilderness, and found no water. [23] And when they came to Marah, they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah. [24] And the people murmured against Moses, saying, What shall we drink? [25] And he cried to the LORD; and the LORD showed him a tree, which when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet: there he made for them a statute and an ordinance, and there he proved them, [26] And said, If you will diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, and will do that which is right in his sight, and will give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases on you, which I have brought on the Egyptians: for I am the LORD that heals you. [27] And they came to Elim, where were twelve wells of water, and three score and ten palm trees: and they encamped there by the waters.
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), for food (see Exodus 16) and more specifically for meat (see Numbers 11:4-15 Numbers 11:4-15 [4] And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat? [5] We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic: [6] But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes. [7] And the manna was as coriander seed, and the color thereof as the color of bdellium. [8] And the people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in a mortar, and baked it in pans, and made cakes of it: and the taste of it was as the taste of fresh oil. [9] And when the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna fell on it. [10] Then Moses heard the people weep throughout their families, every man in the door of his tent: and the anger of the LORD was kindled greatly; Moses also was displeased. [11] And Moses said to the LORD, Why have you afflicted your servant? and why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? [12] Have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that you should say to me, Carry them in your bosom, as a nursing father bears the sucking child, to the land which you swore to their fathers? [13] From where should I have flesh to give to all this people? for they weep to me, saying, Give us flesh, that we may eat. [14] I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heavy for me. [15] And if you deal thus with me, kill me, I pray you, out of hand, if I have found favor in your sight; and let me not see my wretchedness.
American King James Version×
, Numbers 11:31-35 Numbers 11:31-35 [31] And there went forth a wind from the LORD, and brought quails from the sea, and let them fall by the camp, as it were a day's journey on this side, and as it were a day's journey on the other side, round about the camp, and as it were two cubits high on the face of the earth. [32] And the people stood up all that day, and all that night, and all the next day, and they gathered the quails: he that gathered least gathered ten homers: and they spread them all abroad for themselves round about the camp. [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. [34] And he called the name of that place Kibrothhattaavah: because there they buried the people that lusted. [35] And the people journeyed from Kibrothhattaavah to Hazeroth; and stayed at Hazeroth.
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). Although God gave the people what they asked for, He allowed them to suffer consequences (Psalms 106:15 Psalms 106:15And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul.
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; compare Numbers 11:33 Numbers 11:33And 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.
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).

Psalms 106:16-18 Psalms 106:16-18 [16] They envied Moses also in the camp, and Aaron the saint of the LORD. [17] The earth opened and swallowed up Dathan and covered the company of Abiram. [18] And a fire was kindled in their company; the flame burned up the wicked.
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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 (Psalms 106:19-20 Psalms 106:19-20 [19] They made a calf in Horeb, and worshipped the molten image. [20] Thus they changed their glory into the similitude of an ox that eats grass.
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; 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 Ezekiel 22:30And I sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land, that I should not destroy it: but I found none.
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, 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 (Psalms 106:24-27 Psalms 106:24-27 [24] Yes, they despised the pleasant land, they believed not his word: [25] But murmured in their tents, and listened not to the voice of the LORD. [26] Therefore he lifted up his hand against them, to overthrow them in the wilderness: [27] To overthrow their seed also among the nations, and to scatter them in the lands.
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; 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 Leviticus 17:7And they shall no more offer their sacrifices to devils, after whom they have gone a whoring. This shall be a statute for ever to them throughout their generations.
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; Deuteronomy 32:17 Deuteronomy 32:17They sacrificed to devils, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not.
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; 1 Corinthians 10:20 1 Corinthians 10:20But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that you should have fellowship with devils.
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). 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 1 Kings 8:50 1 Kings 8:50And forgive your people that have sinned against you, and all their transgressions wherein they have transgressed against you, and give them compassion before them who carried them captive, that they may have compassion on them:
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; 2 Chronicles 30:9 2 Chronicles 30:9For if you turn again to the LORD, your brothers and your children shall find compassion before them that lead them captive, so that they shall come again into this land: for the LORD your God is gracious and merciful, and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him.
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; Ezra 9:9 Ezra 9:9For we were slaves; yet our God has not forsaken us in our bondage, but has extended mercy to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us a reviving, to set up the house of our God, and to repair the desolations thereof, and to give us a wall in Judah and in Jerusalem.
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; Jeremiah 42:12 Jeremiah 42:12And I will show mercies to you, that he may have mercy on you, and cause you to return to your own land.
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). Although there were earlier captivities of Israelite communities, no other captive group was said to have been shown pity" (note on Psalms 106:46 Psalms 106:46He made them also to be pitied of all those that carried them captives.
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). 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). Psalms 106:47 Psalms 106:47Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the heathen, to give thanks to your holy name, and to triumph in your praise.
American King James Version×
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 Psalms 106:47 Psalms 106:47Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the heathen, to give thanks to your holy name, and to triumph in your praise.
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, 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 1 Chronicles 16:35-36 [35] And say you, Save us, O God of our salvation, and gather us together, and deliver us from the heathen, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and glory in your praise. [36] Blessed be the LORD God of Israel for ever and ever. And all the people said, Amen, and praised the LORD.
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. Yet observe in 1 Chronicles 16:36 1 Chronicles 16:36Blessed be the LORD God of Israel for ever and ever. And all the people said, Amen, and praised the LORD.
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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 Psalms 106:48 Psalms 106:48Blessed be the LORD God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting: and let all the people say, Amen. Praise you the LORD.
American King James Version×
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.