Saturday, December 8, 2012

Psalm 106

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 106.

Psalm 106 is about Israel's sins in the past, which includes the following examples: not remembering God's acts on Israel's behalf during the Exodus but rather provoking God at the Red Sea (or Sea of Reeds); envying Moses and Aaron; desiring meat; the Golden Calf; despising the Promised Land; worshiping the Baal-Peor; and child sacrifice.  Through all of this (and beyond, into the exile, the apparent setting of Psalm 106), Israel has experienced God's judgment and mercy.  The lessons that Psalm 106 takes from Israel's history pertain to God's strength, God's mercy, and the importance of doing righteousness, and the Psalmist proceeds to ask God to save Israel by re-gathering her from exile.  Such a request is consistent with a recognition of God's strength, mercy, and history of saving Israel, and the confession of Israel's sins coincides with the realization that God values righteousness.

In terms of the meaning of certain verses, there were three discussions in my study that especially stood out to me.  First of all, v 20 says (in the KJV) that "Thus they changed their glory into the similitude of an ox that eateth grass", and a number of interpreters said that "their glory" refers to God himself. But I have long wondered: Was not Israel degrading herself through the Golden Calf incident, in that she compromised her own glory?  Do not we compromise our own glory through our sins and character defects?

Second, in v 27, which is set after the Israelites despised the Promised Land and refused to go into it (Numbers 14), we read that God at that time lifted up God's hand to "overthrow their seed also among the nations, and to scatter them in the lands."  This puzzled me because God did not scatter the Israelites or their seed among the nations soon after the Israelites sinned by despising the Promised Land, but rather God consigned Israel to wander in the wilderness for forty years.  I checked some commentaries to see how they explained this passage, and John Gill referred to Jewish interpreter David Kimchi's view that v 27 concerns the Israelites being discomfited by the Amorites and Canaanites when the Israelites went up to battle without God's permission or presence.  But Gill disagrees with Kimchi and says that God in v 27 was simply vowing to scatter Israel in the far off future.  For Gill (and others) God used short-term and long-term vision after the Israelites sinned by despising the Promised Land!

Third, v 28 says "They joined themselves also unto Baalpeor, and ate the sacrifices of the dead."  What were the sacrifices of the dead?  Some said that Baalpeor and other false gods are called dead to set them in contrast with the living God, the God of Israel; as Peake's commentary notes, however, Psalm 106 also seems to regard the false gods as very much alive, for v 37 refers to them as shedim, or devils.  Similarly, the apostle Paul regards the idols as nothing while also seeing them as devils (I Corinthians 10:14ff.).  Others contend that the Baalpeor was dead in the sense that Baal descended to the underworld (yet dead is plural in v 28).  Another view is that v 28 is condemning the consultation of the dead (see Deuteronomy 18:11; Isaiah 8:19).

Regarding the homiletical application of verses in Psalm 106, there were two discussions that stood out to me.  First, vv 32-33 state: "They angered [him] also at the waters of strife, so that it went ill with Moses for their sakes: Because they provoked his spirit, so that he spake unadvisedly with his lips."  In Charles Haddon Spurgeon's Treasury of David, there were two commentators who made profound points about Moses' struggle with himself.  One (Isaac Williams) noted that Moses, although he is called the meekest man on earth in Numbers 12:3, had a temper, for Moses had killed an Egyptian, thrown down the tablets of the Ten Commandments, and struck a rock in anger.  Another said that we should be vigilant: "Blessed is the man who, although years have passed without an attempt at burglary, still bars his doors and sees his windows fastened."  Moses had to work at being meek, and he needed to be vigilant, even if years had passed without him having an outburst.  The same is true of many of us: We need to be vigilant in maintaining a good character.

Second, a point that came up a couple of times in my study----specifically in E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible and Jimmy Swaggart's Expositor's Study Bible----is that it took much longer to get Egypt out of Israel than it took for God to get Israel out of Egypt.  On a related note, the Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary mentions a view in Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 118b that, even after God drowned the Egyptians at the Red Sea, the Israelites feared that there were Egyptians who had escaped to shore.  Egypt was still in Israel in the sense that Israel was idolatrous, but I think that Egypt was also in Israel in the sense that Israel did not feel fully free, and she had a hard time embracing God's wonderful future for her because she was still chained (in her mind) to her oppressive past.  It's difficult for people who have had hard pasts to believe that things could get better, and perhaps that was Israel's problem.  Whether God dealt well with Israel when she was in that state of mind is a good topic for discussion: Did God really help matters by keeping Israel in Egypt for a little over four centuries?  Did God teach Israel in the wilderness to rely on him because that would be a stepping stone between slavery----in which Israel was provided for----and the Promised Land----in which Israelites would have to assume more initiative and responsibility for their own lives (while still depending on God)?

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