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Bible Commentaries

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary

Psalms 106

Israel's Unfaithfulness from Egypt Onwards, and God's Faithfulness Down to the Present Time

With this anonymous Psalm begins the series of the strictly Hallelujah-Psalms, i.e., those Psalms which have הללו־יה for their arsis-like beginning and for their inscription (Ps 106, 111-113, Psalms 117:1-2, 135, 146-150). The chronicler in his cento, 1 Chronicles 16:8., and in fact in 1 Chronicles 16:34-36, puts the first and last verses of this Psalm (Psalms 106:1, Psalms 106:47), together with the Beracha (Psalms 106:48) which closes the Fourth Book of the Psalms, into the mouth of David, from which it is to be inferred that this Psalm is no more Maccabaean than Psalms 96:1-13 and Ps 105 (which see), and that the Psalter was divided into five books which were marked off by the doxologies even in the time of the chronicler. The Beracha, Psalms 106:48, appears even at that period to have been read as an integral part of the Psalm, according to liturgical usage. The Hallelujah Psalms 106, like the Hodu Ps 105 and the Asaph Ps 78, recapitulates the history of the olden times of the Israelitish nation. But the purpose and mode of the recapitulation differ in each of these three Psalms. In Ps 78 it is didactic; in Ps 105 hymnic; and here in Psalms 106 penitential. It is a penitential Psalm, or Psalm of confession, a ודּוּי (from התודּה to confess, Leviticus 16:21). The oldest types of such liturgical prayers are the two formularies at the offering of the first-fruits, Deut. 26, and Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the Temple, 1 Kings 8. And to this kind of tephilla , the Vidduj, belong, beyond the range of the Psalter, the prayer of Daniel, Daniel 9:1 (vid., the way in which it is introduced in Daniel 9:4), and the prayer (Neh 9:5-38) which eight Levites uttered in the name of the people at the celebration of the fast-day on the twenty-fourth of Tishri. It is true Psalms 106 is distinguished from these prayers of confession in the prose style as being a Psalm; but it has three points in common with them and with the liturgical tephilla in general, viz., (1) the fondness for inflexional rhyming, i.e., for rhyming terminations of the same suffixes; (2) the heaping up of synonyms; and (3) the unfolding of the thoughts in a continuous line. These three peculiarities are found not only in the liturgical border, Psalms 106:1-6, Psalms 106:47, but also in the middle historical portion, which forms the bulk of the Psalm. The law of parallelism, is, it is true, still observed; but apart from these distichic wave-like ridges of the thoughts, it is all one direct, straight-line flow without technical division.

Verses 1-5

The Psalm begins with the liturgical call, which has not coined for the first time in the Maccabaean age (1 Macc. 4:24), but was already in use in Jeremiah's time (Psalms 33:11). The lxx appropriately renders טּוב by χρηστός , for God is called “good” not so much in respect of His nature as of the revelation of His nature. The fulness of this revelation, says Psalms 106:2 (like Psalms 40:6), is inexhaustible. גּבוּרות are the manifestations of His all-conquering power which makes everything subservient to His redemptive purposes (Psalms 20:7); and תּהלּה is the glory (praise or celebration) of His self-attestation in history. The proclaiming of these on the part of man can never be an exhaustive echo of them. In Psalms 106:3 the poet tells what is the character of those who experience such manifestations of God; and to the assertion of the blessedness of these men he appends the petition in Psalms 106:4, that God would grant him a share in the experiences of the whole nation which is the object of these manifestations. עמּך beside בּרצון is a genitive of the object: with the pleasure which Thou turnest towards Thy people, i.e., when Thou again (cf. Psalms 106:47) showest Thyself gracious unto them. On פּקד cf. Psalms 8:5; Psalms 80:15, and on ראה ב , Jeremiah 29:32; a similar Beth is that beside לשׂמח (at, on account of, not: in connection with), Psalms 21:2; Psalms 122:1. God's “inheritance” is His people; the name for them is varied four times, and thereby גּוי is also exceptionally brought into use, as in Zephaniah 2:9.

Verses 6-12

The key-note of the vidduj, which is a settled expression since 1 Kings 8:47 (Daniel 9:5, cf. Bar. 2:12), makes itself heard here in Psalms 106:6; Israel is bearing at this time the punishment of its sins, by which it has made itself like its forefathers. In this needy and helpless condition the poet, who all along speaks as a member of the assembly, takes the way of the confession of sin, which leads to the forgiveness of sin and to the removal of the punishment of sin. רשׁע , 1 Kings 8:47, signifies to be, and the Hiph. to prove one's self to be, a &#רשׁע עם in Psalms 106:6 is equivalent to aeque ac, as in Ecclesiastes 2:16; Job 9:26. With Psalms 106:7 the retrospect begins. The fathers contended with Moses and Aaron in Egypt (Exodus 5:21), and gave no heed to the prospect of redemption (Exodus 6:9). The miraculous judgments which Moses executed (Exodus 3:20) had no more effect in bringing them to a right state of mind, and the abundant tokens of loving-kindness (Isaiah 63:7) amidst which God redeemed them made so little impression on their memories that they began to despair and to murmur even at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:11.). With על , Psalms 106:7, alternates בּ (as in Ezekiel 10:15, בּנהר ); cf. the alternation of prepositions in Joel 3:8. When they behaved thus, Jahve might have left their redemption unaccomplished, but out of unmerited mercy He nevertheless redeemed them. Psalms 106:8-11 are closely dependent upon Ex. 14. Psalms 106:11 is a transposition (cf. Psalms 34:21; Isaiah 34:16) from Exodus 14:28. On the other hand, Psalms 106:9 is taken out of Isaiah 63:13 (cf. Wisd. 19:9); Isa. 63:7-64:12 is a prayer for redemption which has a similar ground-colouring. The sea through which they passed is called, as in the Tôra, ים־סוּף , which seems, according to Exodus 2:3; Isaiah 19:3, to signify the sea of reed or sedge, although the sedge does not grow in the Red Sea itself, but only on the marshy places of the coast; but it can also signify the sea of sea-weed, mare algosum , after the Egyptian sippe , wool and sea-weed (just as Arab. ṣûf also signifies both these). The word is certainly Egyptian, whether it is to be referred back to the Egyptian word sippe (sea-weed) or seebe (sedge), and is therefore used after the manner of a proper name; so that the inference drawn by Knobel on Exodus 8:18 from the absence of the article, that סוּף is the name of a town on the northern point of the gulf, is groundless. The miracle at the sea of sedge or sea-weed - as Psalms 106:12 says - also was not without effect. Exodus 14:31 tells us that they believed on Jahve and Moses His servant, and the song which they sang follows in Ex. 15. But they then only too quickly added sins of ingratitude.

Verses 13-23

The first of the principal sins on the other side of the Red Sea was the unthankful, impatient, unbelieving murmuring about their meat and drink, Psalms 106:13-15. For what Psalms 106:13 places foremost was the root of the whole evil, that, falling away from faith in God's promise, they forgot the works of God which had been wrought in confirmation of it, and did not wait for the carrying out of His counsel. The poet has before his eye the murmuring for water on the third day after the miraculous deliverance (Exodus 15:22-24) and in Rephidim (Exodus 17:2). Then the murmuring for flesh in the first and second years of the exodus which was followed by the sending of the quails (Ex. 16 and Num. 11), together with the wrathful judgment by which the murmuring for the second time was punished ( Kibrôth ha - Ta'avah , Numbers 11:33-35). This dispensation of wrath the poet calls רזון (lxx, Vulgate, and Syriac erroneously πλησμονήν , perhaps מזון , nourishment), inasmuch as he interprets Numbers 11:33-35 of a wasting disease, which swept away the people in consequence of eating inordinately of the flesh, and in the expression (cf. Psalms 78:31) he closely follows Isaiah 10:16. The “counsel” of God for which they would not wait, is His plan with respect to the time and manner of the help. חכּה , root Arab. ḥk , a weaker power of Arab. ḥq , whence also Arab. ḥkl , p. 111, ḥkm , p. 49 note 1, signifies prop. to make firm, e.g., a knot (cf. on Psalms 33:20), and starting from this (without the intervention of the metaphor moras nectere , as Schultens thinks) is transferred to a firm bent of mind, and the tension of long expectation. The epigrammatic expression ויּתאוּוּ תאוה (plural of ויתאו , Isaiah 45:12, for which codices, as also in Proverbs 23:3, Proverbs 23:6; Proverbs 24:1, the Complutensian, Venetian 1521, Elias Levita, and Baer have ויתאו without the tonic lengthening) is taken from Numbers 11:4.

The second principal sin was the insurrection against their superiors, Psalms 106:16-18. The poet has Numbers 16:1 in his eye. The rebellious ones were swallowed up by the earth, and their two hundred and fifty noble, non-Levite partisans consumed by fire. The fact that the poet does not mention Korah among those who were swallowed up is in perfect harmony with Numbers 16:25., Deuteronomy 11:6; cf. however Numbers 26:10. The elliptical תפתּה in Psalms 106:17 is explained from Numbers 16:32; Numbers 26:10.

The third principal sin was the worship of the calf, Psalms 106:19-23. The poet here glances back at Ex. 32, but not without at the same time having Deuteronomy 9:8-12 in his mind; for the expression “in Horeb” is Deuteronomic, e.g., Deuteronomy 4:15; Deuteronomy 5:2, and frequently. Psalms 106:20 is also based upon the Book of Deuteronomy: they exchanged their glory, i.e., the God who was their distinction before all peoples according to Deuteronomy 4:6-8; Deuteronomy 10:21 (cf. also Jeremiah 2:11), for the likeness ( תּבנית ) of a plough-ox (for this is pre-eminently called שׁוּר , in the dialects תּור ), contrary to the prohibition in Deuteronomy 4:17. On Psalms 106:21 cf. the warning in Deuteronomy 6:12. “Land of Cham” = Egypt, as in Psalms 78:51; Psalms 105:23, Psalms 105:27. With ויאמר in Psalms 106:23 the expression becomes again Deuteronomic: Deuteronomy 9:25, cf. Exodus 32:10. God made and also expressed the resolve to destroy Israel. Then Moses stepped into the gap (before the gap), i.e., as it were covered the breach, inasmuch as he placed himself in it and exposed his own life; cf. on the fact, besides Ex. 32, also Deuteronomy 9:18., Psalms 10:10, and on the expression, Ezekiel 22:30 and also Jeremiah 18:20.

Verses 24-33

The fact to which the poet refers in Psalms 106:24, viz., the rebellion in consequence of the report of the spies, which he brings forward as the fourth principal sin, is narrated in Num 13, Num 14. The appellation ארץ חמדּה is also found in Jeremiah 3:19; Zechariah 7:14. As to the rest, the expression is altogether Pentateuchal. “They despised the land,” after Numbers 14:31; “they murmured in their tents,” after Deuteronomy 1:27; “to lift up the land” = to swear, after Exodus 6:8; Deuteronomy 32:40; the threat להפּיל , to make them fall down, fall away, after Numbers 14:29, Numbers 14:32. The threat of exile is founded upon the two great threatening chapters, Lev 26; Deuteronomy 28:1; cf. more particularly Leviticus 26:33 (together with the echoes in Ezekiel 5:12; Ezekiel 12:14, etc.), Deuteronomy 28:64 (together with the echoes in Jeremiah 9:15; Ezekiel 22:15, etc.). Ezekiel 20:23 stands in a not accidental relationship to Psalms 106:26.; and according to that passage, וּלהפיל is an error of the copyist for וּלהפיץ (Hitzig).

Now follows in Psalms 106:28-31 the fifth of the principal sins, viz., the taking part in the Moabitish worship of Baal. The verb נצמד (to be bound or chained), taken from Numbers 25:3, Numbers 25:5, points to the prostitution with which Baal Peôr, this Moabitish Priapus, was worshipped. The sacrificial feastings in which, according to Numbers 25:2, they took part, are called eating the sacrifices of the dead, because the idols are dead beings (nekroi', Wisd. 13:10-18) as opposed to God, the living One. The catena on Revelation 2:14 correctly interprets: τὰ τοῖς εἰδώλοις τελεσθέντα κρέα .

(Note: In the second section of Aboda zara, on the words of the Mishna: “The flesh which is intended to be offered first of all to idols is allowed, but that which comes out of the temple is forbidden, because it is like sacrifices of the dead,” it is observed, fol. 32 b: “Whence, said R. Jehuda ben Bethêra, do I know that that which is offered to idols ( תקרובת לעבדה זרה ) pollutes like a dead body? From Psalms 106:28. As the dead body pollutes everything that is under the same roof with it, so also does everything that is offered to idols.” The Apostle Paul declares the objectivity of this pollution to be vain, cf. more particularly 1 Corinthians 10:28.)

The object of “they made angry” is omitted; the author is fond of this, cf. Psalms 106:7 and Psalms 106:32. The expression in Psalms 106:29 is like Exodus 19:24. The verb עמד is chosen with reference to Numbers 17:13. The result is expressed in Psalms 106:30 after Numbers 25:8, Numbers 25:18., Numbers 17:13. With פּלּל , to adjust, to judge adjustingly (lxx, Vulgate, correctly according to the sense, ἐξιλάσατο ), the poet associates the thought of the satisfaction due to divine right, which Phinehas executed with the javelin. This act of zeal for Jahve, which compensated for Israel's unfaithfulness, was accounted unto him for righteousness, by his being rewarded for it with the priesthood unto everlasting ages, Numbers 25:10-13. This accounting of a work for righteousness is only apparently contradictory to Genesis 15:5.: it was indeed an act which sprang from a constancy in faith, and one which obtained for him the acceptation of a righteous man for the sake of this upon which it was based, by proving him to be such.

In Psalms 106:32, Psalms 106:33 follows the sixth of the principal sins, viz., the insurrection against Moses and Aaron at the waters of strife in the fortieth year, in connection with which Moses forfeited the entrance with them into the Land of Promise (Numbers 20:11., Deuteronomy 1:37; Deuteronomy 32:51), since he suffered himself to be carried away by the persevering obstinacy of the people against the Spirit of God ( המרה mostly providing the future for מרה , as in Psalms 106:7, Psalms 106:43, Psalms 78:17, Psalms 78:40, Psalms 78:56, of obstinacy against God; on את־רוּחו cf. Isaiah 63:10) into uttering the words addressed to the people, Numbers 20:10, in which, as the smiting of the rock which was twice repeated shows, is expressed impatience together with a tinge of unbelief. The poet distinguishes, as does the narrative in Num. 20, between the obstinacy of the people and the transgression of Moses, which is there designated, according to that which lay at the root of it, as unbelief. The retrospective reference to Numbers 27:14 needs adjustment accordingly.

Verses 34-43

The sins in Canaan: the failing to exterminate the idolatrous peoples and sharing in their idolatry. In Psalms 106:34 the poet appeals to the command, frequently enjoined upon them from Exodus 23:32. onwards, to extirpate the inhabitants of Canaan. Since they did not execute this command (vid., Judges 1:1), that which it was intended to prevent came to pass: the heathen became to them a snare (mowqeesh), Exodus 23:33; Exodus 34:12; Deuteronomy 7:16. They intermarried with them, and fell into the Canaanitish custom in which the abominations of heathenism culminate, viz., the human sacrifice, which Jahve abhorreth (Deuteronomy 12:31), and only the demons ( שׁדים , Deuteronomy 32:17) delight in. Thus then the land was defiled by blood-guiltiness ( חנף , Numbers 35:33, cf. Isaiah 24:5; Isaiah 26:21), and they themselves became unclean (Ezekiel 20:43) by the whoredom of idolatry. In Psalms 106:40-43 the poet (as in Nehemiah 9:26.) sketches the alternation of apostasy, captivity, redemption, and relapse which followed upon the possession of Canaan, and more especially that which characterized the period of the judges. God's “counsel” was to make Israel free and glorious, but they leaned upon themselves, following their own intentions ( בּעצתם ); wherefore they perished in their sins. The poet uses מכך (to sink down, fall away) instead of the נמק (to moulder, rot) of the primary passage, Leviticus 26:39, retained in Ezekiel 24:23; Ezekiel 33:10, which is no blunder (Hitzig), but a deliberate change.

Verses 44-46

The poet's range of vision here widens from the time of the judges to the history of the whole of the succeeding age down to the present; for the whole history of Israel has essentially the same fundamental character, viz., that Israel's unfaithfulness does not annul God's faithfulness. That verifies itself even now. That which Solomon in 1 Kings 8:50 prays for on behalf of his people when they may be betrayed into the hands of the enemy, has been fulfilled in the case of the dispersion of Israel in all countries (Psalms 107:3), Babylonia, Egypt, etc.: God has turned the hearts of their oppressors towards them. On ראה ב , to regard compassionately, cf. Genesis 29:32; 1 Samuel 1:11. בּצּר לחם belong together, as in Psalms 107:6, and frequently. רנּה is a cry of lamentation, as in 1 Kings 8:28 in Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the Temple. From this source comes Psalms 106:6, and also from this source Psalms 106:46, cf. 1 Kings 8:50 together with Nehemiah 1:11. In ויּנּחם the drawing back of the tone does not take place, as in Genesis 24:67. חסדו beside כּרב is not pointed by the Kerî חסדּו , as in Psalms 5:8; Psalms 69:14, but as in Lamentations 3:32, according to Psalms 106:7, Isaiah 63:7, חסדו : in accordance with the fulness (riches) of His manifold mercy or loving-kindness. The expression in Psalms 106:46 is like Genesis 43:14. Although the condition of the poet's fellow-countrymen in the dispersion may have been tolerable in itself, yet this involuntary scattering of the members of the nation is always a state of punishment. The poet prays in Psalms 106:47 that God may be pleased to put an end to this.

Verse 47

He has now reached the goal, to which his whole Psalm struggles forth, by the way of self-accusation and the praise of the faithfulness of God. השׁתּבּח (found only here) is the reflexive of the Piel, to account happy, Ecclesiastes 4:2, therefore: in order that we may esteem ourselves happy to be able to praise Thee. In this reflexive (and also passive) sense השׁתבח is customary in Aramaic and post-biblical Hebrew.

Verse 48

The closing doxology of the Fourth Book. The chronicler has ואמרוּ before Psalms 106:47 (which with him differs only very slightly), an indispensable rivet, so to speak, in the fitting together of Psalms 106:1 (Psalms 107:1) and Psalms 106:47. The means this historian, who joins passages together like mosaic-work, calls to his aid are palpable enough. He has also taken over. Psalms 106:48 by transforming and let all the people say Amen, Hallelujah! in accordance with his style (cf. 1 Chronicles 25:3; 2 Chronicles 5:13, and frequently, Ezra 3:11), into an historical clause: ויּאמרוּ כל־העם אמן והלּל ליהוה . Hitzig, by regarding the echoes of the Psalms in the chronicler as the originals of the corresponding Psalms in the Psalter, and consequently 1 Chronicles 16:36 as the original of the Beracha placed after our Psalm, reverses the true relation; vid., with reference to this point, Riehm in the Theolog. Literat. Blatt, 1866, No. 30, and Köhler in the Luther. Zeitschrift, 1867, S. 297ff. The priority of Ps 106 is clear from the fact that Psalms 106:1 gives a liturgical key-note that was in use even in Jeremiah's time (Psalms 33:11), and that Psalms 106:47 reverts to the tephilla-style of the introit, Psalms 106:4. And the priority of Psalms 106:48 as a concluding formula of the Fourth Book is clear from the fact that is has been fashioned, like that of the Second Book (Psalms 72:18.), under the influence of the foregoing Psalm. The Hallelujah is an echo of the Hallelujah-Psalm, just as there the Jahve Elohim is an echo of the Elohim-Psalm. And “let all the people say Amen” is the same closing thought as in Psalms 106:6 of Ps, which is made into the closing doxology of the whole Psalter. Ἀμὴν ἀλληλούΐα together (Revelation 19:4) is a laudatory confirmation.

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Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Psalms 106". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.