The Praise and Prayer of God’s People
One week from today, social distancing will be history—many of us (if not all of us) will likely be hugging one another (I’m a hugger so I’ll be a part of that group). Some of us will be greeting one another with a holy kiss (I will NOT be a part of that group)...
Masks (for the most part) will be history—we’re actually gonna see each others’ smiles (and each other’s teeth that need professional help)... it’s gonna be SO good! Isn’t this something we have been praying for for the past year and a half? COVID-19 will be history, and we will be “back to normal.” Like praise the Lord!
But is this actually the case? Is this how we should respond to the past year and a half? Not that there’s anything wrong with being excited about July 11th, but do we just hug everything that moves and have mask-burning ceremonies coz we finally “stuck it to COVID?” Do we praise the Lord because our freedom is coming and that’s all we look forward to? Are our prayers answered come July 11th since Covid is in the rear view and we’re “back to normal?” Is this what our praise and our prayer is all about?
Consider our text today in Psalm 106 and see what this psalmist’s praise is about, and what his prayer is about. Because he looks back on different times of hardship throughout history, yet in his praise and his prayer he highlights the faithfulness of God during those seasons of drought, and that’s what gives him joy and excitement for what’s ahead.
Starting in verses 1-3, we see the praise of the psalmist.
The Praise of the Psalmist
“Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” (106:1).
Now many of us have heard this familiar phrase before. We just sang about it moments ago, and we’ve heard this from different Psalms, specifically the previous psalm, Psalm 105: “Oh give thanks to the Lord; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples!”
Throughout Psalm 105, the psalmist recalls events from the history of Israel. Yet, he doesn’t talk about what Israel did, but rather what God did. The mighty deeds of the Lord throughout Israel’s history. Then listen to what he says in verse 2: “Who can utter the mighty deeds of the Lord, or declare all his praise?” (106:2).
Well, this is exactly what he has been doing for the last 45 verses in Psalm 105. So here, what he is actually asking is “who can fully utter? Who can perfectly declare?” His answer? No one. No one is capable of fully uttering or perfectly declaring his praise as this psalmist has just tried to do. But despite that, “Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!” (106:3).
Blessed are they who follow in the Lord’s footsteps, even though they can’t fully keep up. Blessed are they who align themselves with who God is and what He has done throughout history, even though they can’t perfectly measure up.
This is the praise of the psalmist, and it’s all about God’s grace despite man’s imperfection. Then in verses 4-5, we see the prayer of the psalmist.
The Prayer of the Psalmist
“Remember me, O Lord, when you show favour to your people; help me when you save them” (106:4).
When we wrapped up our Genesis series, we talked about how people began to pray because they realized that the promised offspring wasn’t coming right away. So they prayed for God to come through on His promises. Here we see the psalmist doing the same thing: praying for God to remember His promise, which is the salvation of His people.
Notice how he goes from an individual request, to a corporate request. Remember me— remember your people; help me—help them. What’s the end goal? Look at verse 5: “That I may look upon the prosperity of your chosen ones, that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation, that I may glory with your inheritance” (106:5).
Now don’t miss the intentionality of the literary structure here. One idea being repeated in similar yet different words. Throughout the Psalms, we will notice this happening lots. It’s called parallelism, many Psalmists regularly employ this common technique. (See what I did there? I just used parallelism to explain parallelism)!
So the psalmist says that the individual experiences God’s favour and salvation (as requested in verse 4) in the tangible prosperity, joy, and glory (as laid out in verse 5) that one shares in as a part of God’s people. As one commentator says, “The object of God’s remembrance is the individual as a member of [His] covenantal people.” (Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, eds., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition), vol. 5 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008).
This is why we do praise and prayer every Sunday when we meet together. Or prayer meetings. Our individual prayers are fully realized in the context of our prayers together as the people of God.
This is the prayer of the psalmist, and it’s all about him asking God individually to come through on His promise to save His people altogether. Remember/Save me, to remember/ save your people, o God. And the end goal of this prayer is for the people of God to share in the prosperity and joy and glory together, with one another, which all comes from God alone.
The next part of the psalmist’s prayer here is confession. So we have just seen the praise and the prayer of the psalmist, so it would only make sense if what we saw next was “the confession of the psalmist.” But instead, we see the confession of a community.
The Confession of a Community
We see this starting in verse 6: “Both we and our fathers have sinned; we have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness” (106:6). This is the ultimate meaning of confession: acknowledging your sinful state before the Holy God.
But instead of the psalmist confessing his own sinfulness, he makes a confession for a community’s sinfulness throughout their history. In Psalm 105, he focuses on God’s faithfulness throughout history, while in Psalm 106 he focuses on His people’s sinfulness despite His faithfulness throughout history. This sets the stage for the majority of Psalm 106, which is categorized as a ‘community lament.’
We’ve looked at different psalms the past 2 weeks—Psalm 133 being a song of Ascents as they ascended up to Zion, while last week we looked at Psalm 50, a Psalm of Asaph, in which God speaks ‘out of Zion.’ Today, we see a community lament in Psalm 106. Community because the psalmist moves from ‘me to them,’ and lament because the bulk of the psalm is the confession of a community.
While this big confession is made from different episodes throughout Israel’s history, there are really two main confessions that make up verses 6-46. And in verse 7, we see the first one.
The Confession of a Community #1: We Did Not Remember
“Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works. They did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love” (106:7).
Instead of remembering God’s love, they “rebelled by...the Red Sea” after God led them out of Egypt. But despite that, God’s mercy shines brightly: “Yet he saved them for his name's sake, that he might make known his mighty power. He rebuked the Red Sea...” (106:8-9a).
As in, the Red Sea was in the way of God’s name being magnified; it was in the way of God making known his mighty power. So “it became dry, and he led them through the deep as through a desert. So he saved them from the hand of the foe and redeemed them from the power of the enemy. And the waters covered their adversaries; not one of them was left. Then they believed his words; they sang his praise. But they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel” (106:8-13).
So after seeing an ocean split in half and their worst enemies drowning to death because of God, they just... forgot? Obviously this is not a case of them forgetting because the ocean coming down was so powerful that they were mind blown and got amnesia...
Notice the word soon. They soon forgot. Here, the episode moves from Israel crossing the Red Sea into the desert. From God’s people being “led through the deep as through a desert” (106:9). And on the way, they forgot God’s mighty works in delivering them from their worst enemies—because they were hungry.
“But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness, and put God to the test in the desert; he gave them what they asked, but sent a wasting disease among them” (106:14-15).
This is talking about Numbers 11 and how Israel was sick of manna and wanted meat. In doing so, they put God to the test. One important thing to notice here is that while God eventually gave them meat despite their sin of putting Him to the test, He sent a consequence through the wasting disease (or the great plague that killed many according to Numbers 11). Sin always has a consequence, and it leads to death.
Here’s another example of their sin leading to a consequence towards death. “When men in the camp were jealous of Moses and Aaron, the holy one of the Lord, the earth opened and swallowed up Dathan, and covered the company of Abiram. Fire also broke out in their company; the flame burned up the wicked” (106:16-18). This is Numbers 16, when Israel wanted to get rid of Moses and Aaron, yet ultimately wanting to be rid of God. So God gave the ground a tough pill to swallow. Literally.
Keep in mind the main sin being confessed here from verse 13. God’s people forgot God’s works, and did not wait for His counsel. His counsel was for them to eat manna, but they were impatient for meat. His counsel was for them to follow Moses and Aaron, but they wanted other people to lead.
In short, they were forgetting that the manna, or Moses and Aaron, were all appointed to them by God—therefore, they were forgetting God. Look at verse 19: “They made a calf in Horeb and worshiped a metal image. They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass. They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt, wondrous works in the land of Ham, and awesome deeds by the Red Sea” (106:19-22).
This is talking about Exodus 32 where Moses intercedes and asks God to remember His promises, despite Israel forgetting YHWH for a dumb cow. Literally. Yet, despite broken covenant after broken covenant time and time again, God’s mercy shines brightly yet again.
“Therefore he said he would destroy them—had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them” (106:23).
The psalmist says that Moses “stood in the breach,” which means a gap in a fortified wall in the context of battle imagery. Ezekiel employs this same language down the road: “And I sought for a man among them who should build up the wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not destroy it, but I found none. Therefore I have poured out my indignation upon them. I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath” (Ezekiel 22:30-31).
Essentially, it means that there was no one to bridge the gap in the wall and stop the incoming destruction. Yet Moses did that for the people of God as he interceded for them. Very important detail here in applying the text later on.
Since verse 6, the psalmist has confessed 3 times that they, as the people of God, did not remember (106:7). They forgot his works (106:13), and they forgot God their Saviour (106:21). From God’s saving work in Egypt, to the desert where Gods presence was with them regularly, to the mountain where God gave his covenant to His people, they still did not remember.
So that’s the first main confession of the community: We Did Not Remember. And in verse 24-25, we see the second main confession.
The Confession of a Community #2: We Did Not Obey
“Then they despised the pleasant land, having no faith in his promise. They murmured in their tents, and did not obey the voice of the Lord” (106:24-25).
This one might not be as obvious, but Israel despised the promised land when they scouted it and 10 reports came back negative. In fact, this is why they wanted Moses and Aaron out the door for new leaders in verses 16-18, because they didn’t want to enter and conquer the land like God told them to. Here’s the consequence to their disobedience.
“Therefore he raised his hand and swore to them that he would make them fall in the wilderness, and would make their offspring fall among the nations, scattering them among the lands” (106:26-27).
And fall in the wilderness they did. This is why Israel wandered in the desert for the 40 years. The why their children would eventually be exiled and scattered among the nations. But the sin and disobedience doesn’t stop there: “Then they yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor, and ate sacrifices offered to the dead; they provoked the Lord to anger with their deeds, and a plague broke out among them” (106:28-29).
Much like the plague described in verses 16-18, here’s another consequence of disobedience that lead to people’s death. Yet once again, we should not be surprised with the pattern of God’s mercy shining brightly once more in verse 30: “Then Phinehas stood up and intervened, and the plague was stayed. And that was counted to him as righteousness from generation to generation forever” (106:30-31).
Much like Moses who stood in the breach (the gap in the wall) to stand in the way of God’s wrath, Phinehas stood up and killed the sin before the sin killed more people. As Moses interceded, Phinehas intervened by literally taking a spear to the whoring Israelite and MIdianite woman in the act of crime. Note the similar language used for Abraham being saved by faith; Phinehas’ faithfulness to God through his good deeds that flowed from his faith was counted to him as righteousness, which he was then rewarded for with a perpetual line of priesthood.
Yet once again, “They angered him at the waters of Meribah, and it went ill with Moses on their account, for they made his spirit bitter, and he spoke rashly with his lips” (106:32-33). Israel angering God went ill with Moses, as in, it was trouble for Moses because he became bitter at the Israelites and spoke rashly as opposed to speaking in faith.
Out of frustration with Israel, he struck the rock instead of speaking to the rock like God commanded him to. As a result, Moses got to see water flow from the rocks, but he would not see milk and honey flow from the promised land. Israel did not obey, Moses did not obey. Thus, the consequence. Yet this never-ending cycle continued even when their children crossed the Jordan and entered the land.
“They did not destroy the peoples, as the Lord commanded them, but they mixed with the nations and learned to do as they did. They served their idols, which became a snare to
them. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood. Thus they became unclean by their acts, and played the whore in their deeds. Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people, and he abhorred his heritage; he gave them into the hand of the nations, so that those who hated them ruled over them. Their enemies oppressed them, and they were brought into subjection under their power. Many times he delivered them, but they were rebellious in their purposes and were brought low through their iniquity” (106:34-43).
They did not obey. They did not obey. They did not obey. Sin upon sin and grace upon grace, and they still did not obey. Yet as their sin of disobedience abounded, grace abounded all the more (Romans 5:20).
“Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress, when he heard their cry. For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love. He caused them to be pitied by all those who held them captive” (106:44-46).
God remembered his covenant with his people, even though His people did not remember their covenant with Him. And because He remembered His people and His promise to save them, He heard their cry. He relented according to the abundance of His steadfast love (that’s how much it cost; the riches of His grace). He caused them to be pitied by their captors to eventually be taken back home from exile.
This is the 2nd main confession of a community; we did not obey. From not remembering God to not obeying Him, the corporate confession transitions back into a prayerful petition. In the same structure of verses 4-5 in the prayer of the psalmist, we now see in verse 47 the prayer of God’s people.
The Prayer of God’s People
“Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations; that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise” (106:47).
In contrast to verses 4-5, we see a full transition from the individual prayer to the prayer of a community as a whole. As another commentator puts it, “The salvation of the individual finds its place in the context of the salvation of the community” (Mark D. Futato and George M. Schwab, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 7: The Book of Psalms, The Book of Proverbs. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2009).
In fact, the plea to “gather us from the nations” tells us that the psalmist is part of the offspring that was scattered among the lands (106:27) and is ruled by those they hated (106:41). And the prayer of God’s people for salvation tells us that their salvation is not coming right away.
But that is why the people of God pray—for God to come through on His promises; to give thanks to God’s holy name, for the “praise of his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:6). As a result, the prayer of God’s people rightfully leads up to, and concludes with, verse 48. The praise of God’s people.
The Praise of God’s People
“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, ‘Amen!’ Praise the Lord!” (106:48).
As his “love endures forever” (106:1), so will the praise of God's people be from everlasting to everlasting. In the hope of deliverance and prosperity, the people of God respond with “Amen!” Praise the Lord!
So What? Why Does This Matter To Us Today?
Our history is not too far from Israel’s history here in Psalm 106. We have tasted and seen God’s goodness and grace time and time again, yet we still fail to remember, Just like they did. We continually fail to obey. Just like they did. Yet “the truth that God saved a sinful people in the past—provides the basis for calling on God to save a [sinful] people today” (Futato & Schwab).
That’s why this matters to us today. Because we need God to save us. And that’s exactly what this psalm looks forward to—the full realization of God’s salvation of His sinful people.
In verse 10, God saving his people from the Egyptians and redeeming them from their slavery to Egypt, is fully realized in Jesus who saves us from God’s own wrath and redeeming us from our slavery to sin and death! In verse 26, Israel who falls in the wilderness for 40 years is surpassed by Jesus, the true Israel, who is in the wilderness for 40 days and overcomes temptation, sin and death so that in Him we can have eternal life! Despite Moses interceding and Phinehas intervening as mediators for God’s people then, we have an eternal mediator in Jesus Christ who “stood in the breach” and took the wrath of God in our place and is now interceding for us to the Father.
Who is the basis of our praise and prayer today? Jesus. Despite the abundance of our sins, God’s grace abounds all the more in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Now What? What Do We do?
Look back in your history as the psalmist did here. Look back at the past year of and a half of COVID-19. Look back and remember God’s faithfulness despite our faithlessness; remember God’s abounding grace and mercy despite our selfishness and sinfulness. This is what the praise and prayer of God’s people is all about. Acknowledge that you are a sinner, and confess that you need Jesus; because in him you are forgiven, redeemed, and that He stood in the breach to stand in the way of God’s wrath in your place.
“This psalm, which exposes so much sin, starts with the words, ‘Praise the Lord! Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!’ And it ends on a similar note: ‘Save us ... so we can thank your holy name and rejoice and praise you.’ Thus, the confession of sin is ultimately a sacrifice of praise to the God of saving grace, whose ‘faithful love endures forever’” (Futato & Schwab).
So yes, look back, confess, and remember God’s grace that never ceases—but look forward to His promises for you and I together as the people of God. We have more to look forward to than July 11th, because we have the rest of eternity to enjoy.
More than masks being taken off in order to to breathe properly, we can look forward to our sinful bodies and nature being taken off for perfected bodies at Christ’s return and breathe NEW life. More than being able to see people and hug people because restrictions are finally lifted, look forward to seeing your Father and hugging your Saviour Jesus Christ because the curse of sin and death is finally lifted.
This is why we say: “Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, ‘Amen!’ Praise the Lord!” (106:48).