Although the author of this psalm is unknown, it appears that it was written during the Babylonian captivity, when the psalmist looks for hope to return to the Promised Land.
Many commentators believe that this psalm and the previous psalm, Psalm 105, belong together. Psalm 105 speaks of God’s faithfulness and power, while this psalm speaks about the repeated failure and rebellion on the part of His people.
In Psalm 105, Israel is called upon to remember God’s mighty deeds, but in this psalm, the psalmist tells us that Israel forgets about God’s mighty deeds.
The psalmist begins by giving thanks to God and then they confess the sins of their Israel’s fathers. In the previous psalm, Psalm 105, the psalmist praised the LORD because God had richly blessed Israel, in this psalm, the psalmist praises the LORD because of the mercy He has shown them time and time again.
The psalmist gives thanks to the LORD because He is good, that is, because of God’s goodness, Psalm 34:8. His love endures forever, that is, His love towards Israel, despite their disobedience never ceases, Psalm 136.
After praising God, the psalmist now asks, who is capable of proclaiming God’s mighty acts and who can fully declare His praises? The answer is no one because His mighty acts are beyond our comprehension and as a result, it’s impossible to fully declare His praises.
Because God had worked so wonderfully in Israel’s history, they had no excuse for their rebellion. Those who act justly and those who do what is right, are those who can proclaim God’s goodness and love.
After praising God, the psalmist now asks Him to remember them, when He shows favour to His people. They want God to help them and save them when He saves His people.
It appears the psalmist was on their own and had no one to help them at this time and so, the psalmist wants God to help them so that they can enjoy the prosperity along with God’s chosen ones. They want to share in the joy God’s nations have and join God’s inheritance in giving praise to God.
Although being alone and missing out on the blessings that God’s people are enjoying, the psalmist confesses the sins of their ancestors. The psalmist acknowledges and openly confesses to God that their ancestors did wrong and acted wickedly.
The psalmist now confesses seven sins to God, sins which were committed from the time they left Egypt and entered the Promised Land. Please note they are not in chronological order.
1. They rebelled at the Red Sea, Exodus 14:10-12.
They rebelled regardless of God’s miracles and the kindness that He had shown to them by delivering them out of the hand of the Egyptians, Exodus 15:22-27. Despite their rebellion, God still saved them for His own Name’s sake, so that His power might be known.
God rebuked the Red Sea, that is, He divided the sea for Israel to cross on dry ground and He caused the water to go back and drown Israel’s enemies, that is, the Egyptian army, Exodus 14:5-31. After this event, Israel believed and sang praises to God, Exodus 15.
2. They complained to Moses that they did not have water and food, Exodus 15:23-17:7.
Because they lived the good life in Goshen, they had all the food and drink they needed, they didn’t have to trust God. And so, because they didn’t know to survive in the wilderness, they companied to Moses and blamed him for taking them there, Psalm 78:18.
God gave them the water and food they so desired, but because they had focused so much on the material side of life, their souls starved, Numbers 11.
3. They questioned God’s appointed authority among the people, Numbers 16.
The leadership of Moses and Aaron led Dathan, Abiram and Korah to become jealous of their position, and so, they led some of the Israelites against their God-ordained leadership among the people, Numbers 16:3 / Numbers 16:13.
Despite Aaron building and making a golden calf, Exodus 32, he was still God’s consecrated one. God destroyed Dathan, Abiram and Korah and their families because of their rebellion against God’s men.
The ground opened them up and swallowed them, Numbers 16:31-33. The flames consumed 250 other men who were conspiring with Korah, Numbers 16:35.
4. They committed idolatry, Exodus 32 / Deuteronomy 9:8-29.
When Israel arrived at Mount Sinai, they wanted to manifest the glory of God in a golden calf idol. They had obviously been influenced by the idolatry of Egypt, the land of Ham, and so, turned their thinking to something that they had created after their own imagination.
When the apostle Paul speaks against all kinds of idolatry, in Romans 1:23, he quotes Psalm 106:20, to emphasise that anyone who puts anything ahead of God, is committing idolatry.
It was during this time they forgot about God, they forgot that He was the One who saved and brought them out of Egypt. If Moses hadn’t interceded for them on this occasion, God would have destroyed the entire nation of Israel, Exodus 32:31-35. He would have started another nation through the seed of Moses, Exodus 32:9-10.
Moses was God’s chosen one, it was Moses who pleaded to God not to destroy Israel, and as a result, Israel was saved, Exodus 32:11-
13 / Ezekiel 22:30. Notice that Aaron’s role in the building of the calf isn’t mentioned.
5. They failed to enter the Promised Land, Numbers 13:1-14:45.
Instead of entering the land as God asked them to, they came up with a plan to send spies into the land to check it out first, and when they returned they gave a discouraging report, Deuteronomy 1:19-46.
They didn’t believe God’s promises, they grumbled against Moses and Aaron, Numbers 14:1-4, and they didn’t believe the report of Joshua and Caleb, the two faithful spies, Numbers 13:30.
As a result of their unbelief, God sore to them and lifted His hand, Genesis 14:22 / Deuteronomy 32:40 / Nehemiah 9:15 / Revelation 10:5-6 and told them they would die in the wilderness and they would be scattered throughout the lands.
In other words, that generation of Israelites, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb wouldn’t be allowed to enter the Promised Land, Numbers 14:22-25. It was because of this unbelief that they weren’t allowed to enter the land, Hebrews 3:7-19.
6. They committed idolatry at Baal Peor, Numbers 25:1-18.
The young women of Moab teased the men of Israel into idolatry and immorality at Baal Peor, in which they ate sacrifices to the dead.
Worship of the Canaanite god, Baal, included fornication by which one would join himself to the god through acts of fornication, 1 Corinthians 6:13-20. Baal was the Canaanite god of fertility, and Peor was possibly a hill where the idols of the Moabite god were worshipped, Numbers 23:28.
As a result of their idolatry, God sent a plague among the people, and the plague was only stopped when Phinehas intervened and took action, Numbers 25:6-9. Because Phinehas intervened, God declared that his act of righteousness would bless him and his descendants, Numbers 25:10-13.
7. They angered God at Meribah, Numbers 20:1-13.
The Israelites had angered Moses with their continuous complaining and moaning at Meribah, Numbers 20:9-11. God told Moses to speak to the rock and He promised that miraculously water would pour from it, Numbers 20:7-8.
The problem was that Moses in his anger didn’t speak to the rock, he struck it, Numbers 20:9-11, and as a result of his disobedience, Moses wasn’t allowed to enter the Promised Land, Numbers 20:12-13.
Although Moses personally disobeyed God at Meribah and had to live with the consequence of his own disobedient actions, Israel had driven him to strike the rock out of frustration.
The emphasis in these verses isn’t so much focused on Moses’ actions but on how the Israelites drove Moses to become angry and strike the rock.
When Israel entered the Promised Land, they were supposed to destroy all the people of the land, Deuteronomy 7:1-6 / Deuteronomy 17-26 / Deuteronomy 20:10-18. However, they didn’t do that, they ended up through trade and social interchange, Israelites married Canaanite people.
Their apostasy went to the point of human sacrifices, which practice was carried out by the Canaanites when Israel first entered the land, Deuteronomy 12:31 / Deuteronomy 19:9-10 / 2 Chronicles 33:5-6 / Ezra 16:20-21 / Ezra 20:31.
They polluted the land with innocent blood, Genesis 4:10, they defiled themselves and prostituted themselves, Numbers 35:33.
Because of all the sinfulness the psalmists mentioned above, God became angry with His people, and abhorred His inheritance, that Israel themselves, Deuteronomy 32:9 / Isaiah 19:25. As a form of punishment, they were forced into captivity, where they were oppressed and subjected to their power.
Throughout Israel’s history, especially the history recorded in the Book of Judges, Judges 21:25, Israel went through a cycle of sin and repentance. The nation would rebel against God and so, God would punish them, and then they would repent. God would deliver them but they would fall into sin again.
However, this cycle of sin and repentance came to a conclusion when God finally determined that they were determined to commit idolatry and so, He was sent into captivity, Deuteronomy 28:36 / 2 Kings 24:1 / 2 Kings 24:10-17 / 2 Kings 25:1-21 / Jeremiah 29:10.
Despite God punishing them, He heard their cries and for the sake of His own covenant and His great love, He relented. He caused those who had taken Israel captive to show them mercy, that is, they felt sorry for Israel, Ezra 1:1-2 / Jeremiah 52:4.
The psalmist ends with a prayer, that God will gather His people who were dispersed among the nations through the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities.
A remnant of all twelve tribes would eventually come from the nations in order to praise the Lord again in the land of promise. It would be King Cyrus of the Medo-Persian Empire who would allow the captives to return to their homelands, just as God had said, 2 Chronicles 36:23 / Isaiah 45:13.
When God gathers His people they will be thankful for God’s Holy Name and they will praise God and God’s glory. When God gathers His people they will say, ‘Amen, praise the LORD’, in gratitude for what he has done.
It’s with these words, that concludes the fourth book of the five books of the psalms.
The psalmist spoke about Israel’s cycle of sin and it’s in the Book of Judges we see this cycle highlighted.
In Judges 1:1 through to Judges 3:6, we find that the Israelites have failed to keep their part of the covenant, and they didn’t entirely conquer and take control of all the land that they were promised. This problem unfortunately grows wildly out of control as time goes on.
In Judges 3:7 through to Judges 16, we see God raising up judges to rescue Israel several times. And what we see is this vicious cycle appearing, where the Israelites sin, then God rescues them, they worship God for a while and sin starts all over again and so forth.
We see that these rescues were temporary because we find that the nation’s obedience only lasted as long as the life of that particular judge.
In Judges 17 through to Judges 21, we see Israel sinking into a horrid state of moral demise and ruin. It’s mainly in the tribes of Dan and Benjamin that we see just how far man has really turned from the God of Abraham.
The tribe of Dan had almost completely given in to the worship of idols made by a man named Micah, even to the point that they practically defend it.
Later, the entire tribe of Benjamin are almost wiped out, down to 600 men in a violent and vicious civil war. And it’s during this time we find those sad words of Judges 21:25 “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.”
We must learn that we will continue in the cycle of sin if we’re not totally committed to God and His ways, James 4:7 / 1 Corinthians 9:26-27.