Psalms For Life
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Psalm 106

Where sin increased…

When tragedy strikes, we ask, Where is God? When Jerusalem fell, the Israelites asked why God had abandoned them. This psalm corrects that view, saying it was the reverse: Israel abandoned God.

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

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 kindness 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 through a desert.
10 He freed them from their enemies’ grip
redeeming them from their control.
11 The waters closed over their foes’ heads
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 had been consecrated to YHWH.
17 So the earth opened up and swallowed Dathan
and buried Abiram’s entire band.
18 Fire fell on that lot
burning all those wicked people up.
19 The Israelites cast a golden calf at Horeb
and bowed low before their molten god.
20 They exchanged their glory
for the image of a grass-eating, belching bull.
21 They forgot the God who had saved them
doing such spectacular things in Egypt
22 such miracles in the land of Ham
such awesome deeds at the Sea of Reeds.
23 So he said he’d wipe them out
and he would certainly have done so
had it not been for Moses, his chosen leader
who intervened to keep him
from angrily destroying them.

24 Next, 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 YHWH 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 Peor
eating sacrifices offered to the dead.
29 Their actions provoked YHWH’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 destroy Canaan’s godless cultures
as YHWH had commanded them to.
35 They intermarried with pagans instead
adopting their evil practices
36 and worshipping 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 prostituted themselves in what they did.

40 That made YHWH’s anger
burn against his people
till he abhorred the very people
he’d made his inheritance.
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, God heard their cries
saw that they were in trouble
45 and remembered his covenant with them
relenting in the overflow of his unfailing love
46 and showing them mercy
in full view of their captors.

47 Rescue us, YHWH 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 YHWH, Israel’s God
from age to age, eternally!
Let everyone say, Amen!
Praise YHWH!

Meant to be taken together, Psalms 105 and 106 recount God’s mighty acts in Israel’s history, but the two psalms give different sides of the story: Psalm 105 focuses on God’s faithfulness and Psalm 106 on Israel’s unfaithfulness, as the backdrop against which God’s faithfulness played out. Remarkably, Psalm 106 sets Israel’s stark infidelities against God’s sterling fidelity. The psalmist begins and ends with a call to praise since praise remembers God’s grace.

Despite God’s amazing grace poured out on them, the Israelites habitually believed they knew better than God, that they had their best interests at heart more than he did. So they repeatedly forgot his kindness and failed to trust him. These are things we can all relate to. The psalmist’s implicit point is that she and her hearers are no different from their ancestors.*

She points out how, after being liberated in the crossing of the sea, the Israelites embraced ingratitude, jealousy, idolatry, immorality, unbelief, intermarriage with pagans, and finally even child sacrifice. Throughout, God’s grace persists in holding onto his people when everything else would have told him to let go. While we’d expect his holiness to make him shun people who have embraced evil, it actually makes him bear the burden of his people’s sins—a story that repeats endlessly from Genesis to Malachi and beyond. Where his people’s sin increased, God’s grace proved to be greater still.

Writing after the exile, the psalmist asks God to bring his people back from among the nations. She thus implicitly acknowledges Israel’s sins as her own and asks God to restore his people, as he promised he would through Moses. 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 world. Help me to cling to your relentless love, believing that—despite our many sins—your grace will yet restore your people. Amen.

In your free moments today, pray this prayer:

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


* I imagine the psalmist here as a woman of faith, like Miriam, Deborah, Hanna, or the Virgin Mary (see further, my answer to the question: Who wrote the psalms?).


Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH or YHVH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and sometimes transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Likewise, all modern translations either translate or transliterate it. Some other options for translating it are “the Eternal,” “the Almighty,” or “the Sovereign Lord.”

While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it seems to me more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. This roots it more firmly in the biblical story as the name God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Meaning “the self-existent One who answers to no one,” the name YHWH 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. I’ve chosen to transliterate only YHWH’s consonants since the earliest Hebrew manuscripts contain only consonants, the vowels being added much later. My aim in doing so is to honor God’s name and set it apart, as unique.

One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it out of reverence. (They read Adonai instead whenever they come to YHWH in the text.) I take the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard, who advocated pronouncing it as Yahveh (Yah·vay). He favored that over the standard Yahweh since the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish. It also makes it sound more robust, period.

Finding strength in the ancient psalms

May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.