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Psalm 106

Where sin increased…

When tragedy strikes, people ask, Where was God? After Jerusalem’s fall, the Israelites struggled to grasp why God had abandoned them. The psalmist sets the record straight, saying it was the other way around.

Praise Yahveh!
Attest to Yahveh’s unalterable goodness
for his unfailing love endures forever.
2 Who could possibly do justice
to all of Yahveh’s mighty acts
and give him all the praise he deserves?
3 How happy are those who always act justly
and do what’s right.
4 Remember me, Yahveh
when you bless your people—
include me when you rescue them.
5 Let me share in your chosen ones’ success
so I can celebrate with them
praising you for all you’ve done for us.

6 We’ve sinned just like our ancestors before us
we’ve done wrong and acted wickedly.
7 When our ancestors were in Egypt
they paid no attention to your miracles
and saw none of your kindnesses to them
rebelling against you at the Sea of Reeds.

8 Even so, he rescued them
for the honor of his name
to reveal his great power
to a watching world.
9 He blasted the Sea of Reeds and it dried up.
He led them through its depths
as if it were desert.
10 He freed them from their enemies’ grip
redeeming them from their control.
11 The waters closed over their foes
leaving not a single survivor.
12 Then at last they believed his promises
and sang his praises.

13 But they quickly forgot what he did
and wouldn’t wait for his directions.
14 Becoming utterly insatiable in the desert
they put God to the test in the wilderness.
15 He gave in to their demand
but sent a ravaging bird flu along with it.

16 Then some in the Israelite camp envied Moses
and Aaron, who was consecrated to Yahveh.
17 So the earth opened up and swallowed Dathan
and buried Abiram’s entire band.
18 Fire fell on that crowd
burning those wicked people up.
19 The Israelites cast a golden calf at Horeb
and bowed low before their molten god.
20 They traded their glory in
for that of a belching, cud-chewing bull.
21 They forgot the God who had saved them
doing such spectacular things in Egypt
22 miracles in the land of Ham
awesome deeds at the Sea of Reeds.
23 So he said he’d wipe them out
and he would have done so
had it not been for Moses
his chosen leader, who intervened
to keep him from angrily destroying them.

24 Then they despised the land of their dreams
refusing to believe that God’s promise was good.
25 They grumbled in their tents
and wouldn’t listen to a thing Yahveh said.
26 So with his hand solemnly upraised
he swore he’d make them fall in the desert
27 and their descendants fall among the nations
scattered in foreign lands.
28 They took part in the worship of Baal at Peor
eating sacrifices offered to the dead.
29 Their actions provoked Yahveh’s anger
and a plague broke out among them.
30 Then Phinehas stood up and intervened
and the plague was checked.
31 His action that day was counted as righteous
and will be for all time.
32 They provoked God at the waters of Meribah
and it went badly for Moses because of them.
33 They made Moses so angry
that he lashed out recklessly in what he said.

34 They didn’t wipe out the peoples in Canaan
as Yahveh had ordered them to.
35 Instead, they intermarried with pagans
adopted their evil practices
36 and worshipped their idols
which became their downfall.
37 They even sacrificed their sons
and daughters to the demons
38 leering from behind those Canaanite idols.
They shed innocent blood
the blood of their infant sons and daughters
polluting the land with bloodshed.
39 They thus defiled themselves
by their own dark deeds and—
giving themselves to evil, body and soul—
prostituted themselves.

40 That made Yahveh’s anger
burn against his people
till he abhorred the people he’d made his own.
41 So he handed them over to pagan nations
to be ruled by people who hated them.
42 Their enemies oppressed them
forcing them to submit to their control.
43 God rescued them time and time again
but so bent were they on rebellion
that their sin finally laid them low.
44 Even then, he heard their cries
saw when they were in trouble
45 and remembered his covenant with them.
Due to the overflow of his amazing grace
he relented 46 and showed them mercy
in full view of their captors.

47 Rescue us, Yahveh our God!
Bring us back from among the nations
so we can attest to your holy character
and celebrate by praising you.

48 Blessed be Yahveh, Israel’s God
from age to age, eternally!
Let everyone say, Amen!
Praise Yahveh!

Psalms 105 and 106 both recount God’s mighty acts in Israel’s history, but the two psalms tell different parts of the story, focusing respectively on God’s faithfulness and Israel’s unfaithfulness. Remarkably, this psalm asks Israel to set their stark infidelities against God’s sterling fidelity. The psalmist begins with a call to praise since praise both remembers God’s grace and relies on it.

The Israelites habitually believed they had their best interests at heart more than God did. So they repeatedly forgot his kindness and failed to trust him—something we can all relate to. The psalmist doesn’t strictly follow chronological order since it’s not needed for her to make her point, which is that we’re no different from our ancestors. She mentions Israel’s crossing the sea, their ingratitude, jealousy, idolatry, and immorality in Sinai, the twelve spies, and Israel’s intermarriage with pagans and idolatry in Canaan. God’s grace persists in holding onto his people when he’d otherwise have let go of them. And instead of just making him shun evil, his holiness makes him bear the burden of his people’s sins.

Writing after the exile, the psalmist acknowledges Israel’s sins as her own and asks God to restore his people—herself included—as he promised to. The final verse concludes the Psalter’s Book IV.

I see my past in Israel’s sorry record of rebellion, Lord. But your amazing grace always trumped Israel’s sins, revealing your holy character to the whole world. Help me cling to your unfailing love, believing that, despite our many sins, your grace will yet restore your people. Amen.

During your free moments today, pray this prayer:

Rescue us, Yahveh our God!
Bring us back from among the nations
so we can attest to your holy character
and celebrate by praising you.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.