The Contrite & Grateful Praise & Plea of Israel

adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 25 June 2010


Psalm 106, or at least the first part of it, is familiar to most of us. We often use it as a thanksgiving psalm of praise much like the way that a non psalm-singing church might use the Doxology—“Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

What many of us may not realise is that the bulk of the psalm, verses 6-46, is about the history of God’s people from Egypt to Babylon or from Exodus to Exile. In this spiritual recount of history, we are reminded of how greatly we owe gratitude to the LORD for his mercies extended to our fathers and to us despite our rebellion against him.

The final two verses of this psalm contain a petition for deliverance from captivity.

We may entitle this Psalm, “The Contrite and Grateful Praise and Plea of Israel.”

Let’s consider this the three parts of this psalm.


1. Call to Praise & Thank the LORD

This is the section of the psalm that we are most familiar with:

1 Praise ye the LORD. O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.  2 Who can utter the mighty acts of the LORD? who can shew forth all his praise? 3 Blessed are they that keep judgment, and he that doeth righteousness at all times.

This is a call to praise and thank the LORD. Who is issuing the call? Well, the author is anonymous; but we know that it is inspired by the Spirit of Christ; and that when the Church of Christ sings the psalms in worship she sings in union with Christ.

So this call when it is heard in congregational singing may be viewed as the call of Christ and His church united to him. It is possible that in verse 3, “they that keep judgement” refers to the church, whereas “he that doeth righteousness at all time” refers to Christ. Christ and His church are given the blessing of the ministry of praising and thanking God.

But why are we to praise and give thanks to the LORD? We must praise and thank the LORD “for he is good: for his mercy endureth forever.” We must also praise and thank the LORD for His greatness and His mighty acts (v. 2). Indeed, so great is the LORD and his mighty acts that no one can adequately express his glory. This thought is suggested by the rhetoric question of verse 2.

Thanks be to God for the privilege of being His justified saints appointed to declare His praise (v. 3). Thank God also that along with this blessing of praise, we may petition Him for the same deliverance and help that He has favoured his people with. We must do so, so that we may wholeheartedly praise him in union with the church, His inheritance (v. 4-5):

4 Remember me, O LORD, with the favour that thou bearest unto thy people: O visit me with thy salvation; 5 That I may see the good of thy chosen, that I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation, that I may glory with thine inheritance.  

Christ our Lord must have prayed this prayer and was heard of the Father, and so too we may have the confidence of the Father’s help that we might see the good of the Israel of God down the generations.

But even as we seek the LORD’s blessing, we must not forget that neither we, nor our fathers, deserve His blessing.


2. Contrite Acknowledgement of Mercy Undeserved

6 We have sinned with our fathers, we have committed iniquity, we have done wickedly. 7 Our fathers understood not thy wonders in Egypt…

In this individualistic age, very few of us would ever think of confessing the sins of our fathers. But we must remember that although we are elected and justified individually, we can never be completely isolated from the church of Christ down the ages.

And though we may not be biologically descended from the fathers who left Egypt, we are related to them spiritually. As such, it is appropriate for us to confess the sins of our fathers, and acknowledge that the mercy that the LORD showed them is a mercy shown to us as a church.

Our fathers sinned so the church of which they are a part is guilty. They sinned over and over again despite the great privileges they enjoyed through the special providential hand of the LORD. They were stiff-necked. They deserved God’s wrath and curse. But God over and over again, showed them compassion and forgave them.

Our fathers understood not the Lord’s miracles; they remembered not his mercies; and they even provoked God by their doubts at the Red Sea (v. 7).

Nevertheless, God saved them for His name’s sake (v. 8). He parted the sea for them to cross (v. 9). He delivered them from the Egyptians, and even destroyed them (v. 10-11).

Only then did our fathers believe his words and sing his praise (v. 12).

But all that was soon forgotten. They became impatient and discontented (v. 13). They lusted for meat (v. 14). God  gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul (v. 15).

Then they, led by Korah, Dathan and Abiram, envied Moses and Aaron, and challenged their leadership (v. 16). The Lord dealt with them by fire and also by causing the ground to split open to swallow up Dathan and Abiram and their families and Korah’s family (cf. Num 16:31-32).

Even worse than that, at the time when Moses went up to Mt Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments; the people grew impatient waiting for him and made a golden calf and began to worship it (v. 19)!

They changed their glory for the idol of an ox (v. 20)! They forgot God their Saviour (v. 21). They despised the promised land. They believed not God’s word (v. 24). They murmured against God and refused to obey Him (v. 25).

They were adding sin upon sin to provoke God to wrath; so much so that God declared that he would destroy them (v. 23, 26-27). Were it not for Moses’ intercession, they would have been destroyed.

And yet, our fathers did not learn their lesson. Later under the instigation of Balaam and the seductions of Moabitish women, they joined themselves unto Baal Peor (v. 28).

God was again greatly angered. He sent a terrible plague which was stayed only after Phinehas and the Levites rose up to purge the nation of idolators (v. 29-30).

But again the people did not learn their lesson. At Meribah in Kadesh, they provoked Moses to anger so that he smote the rock rather than speak to it (v. 32-33).

Then when they finally entered into Canaan, they again refused to obey God’s commandment to exterminate the inhabitants of the land (v. 34). Instead they mingled with them, learned their ways, and served their idols (v. 35-36). They even learned from the heathen the abominable practice of human sacrifice (v. 37-39). 

It is small wonder that the LORD’s wrath was kindled against them (v. 40). He gave them over to the heathen to be ruled by them—the Philistines, Midianites, Moabites etc during the days of the judges (v. 41-42).

Israel never learned her lesson. They continued down the generations even in the days of the kings, to continue to rebel against the LORD. But the Lord did not forsake them despite their many provocations. Over and over again, He delivered them when they were humbled and cried out to him. “he remembered for them his covenant, and repented according to the multitude of his mercies” (v. 45).

Indeed, even when He had to send them into exile eventually, “He made them… to be pitied of all those that carried them captives” (v. 46).

Such is the covenant God of grace and mercy that we and our fathers serve. Indeed, were it not for His patience, and longsuffering and mercy, our fathers would have been completely destroyed many times over—whether in Old Covenant times or even in New Covenant times.

For has not the church, even in New Covenant times, apostatized over and over again? The Lord always has His remnant held in the palms of hand; but do we not see a large bough of the Olive Tree becoming corrupt and barren even after Pentecost; even after the Reformation?

In our own days, the Olive Tree is in such a diseased state, that were it not for the long suffering, grace and mercy of our Lord, the Tree would have long been hewn down.

Therefore, let us thank Him and praise Him with hearts overflowing with gratitude, even as we make our plea to the Lord,—according to the concluding words of this psalm,— not to forsake us, but to deliver us yet.


3. Concluding Plea for Further Deliverance

47 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.

This is an amazing prayer. When our fathers sang these words during the Assyrian and Babylon captivity, they no doubt desired of the LORD to deliver Israel out of exile amongst the heathen.

But we must remember that the return of the Jews from Babylonian captivity was to serve as a type of the gathering of the Gentiles from among the heathen. So today when we pray “Save us, O LORD our God, and gather us from among the heathen…”, we are praying—“LORD, bring in the elect whom Christ laid His life down for. Save them from the world and from sin. Bring them into thy fold so that we may together praise and thank thy holy name.”

This is the main reason why we evangelise and witness. Our aim, ultimately, is that the sheep of Christ may be gathered and joined together as the Israel of God to praise God, who alone is worthy of our praise.

The chief end of man, and of the Israel of God, after all, is the glory and enjoyment of God in Christ. For this reason, this psalm concludes with the doxology:

48 Blessed be the LORD God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting: and let all the people say, Amen. Praise ye the LORD.


Conclusion

Dearly beloved brethren and children, this is Psalm 106. The next time you sing it, do remember that it is not an isolated chorus of thanksgiving. It is, rather, praise founded upon the enduring mercies of God towards his people demonstrated in history.

The first 5 verses which we commonly sing are just the beautiful snow peak of a great mountain. Holding up the snow peak is the undeniable history of the longsuffering and mercy of God toward his ungrateful people.

Let us therefore sing this psalm,—whether it is the first part or the last part, or the middle historical part,—with a contrite spirit, recognising that our failures and sin despite the grace of the Lord bestowed upon us, make us most undeserving of His blessing and love, for as WS Plummer puts it:

If the great mercies bestowed on the Jews made their sins odious and abominable; how aggravated must be the offences of men, who live in sin under the full blaze of Gospel light.

But let us also acknowledge the Lord’s undeserved mercies with a heart overflowing with gratitude. And as we thank the Lord, let us remind ourselves of how our lives, and not just our lips, must demonstrate our gratitude towards him—for his salvation and all spiritual blessings so rich and free. Amen. Ω