This psalm, like a number of others, opens with the imperative, “Praise Yah.” He is deserving of thanksgiving or grateful “acknowledgment” (LXX), for he is “good” or “kind” (LXX) and his love, compassionate concern or “mercy” (LXX) is abiding. Being the ultimate standard of moral excellence, YHWH is good and the source of all good things, and his compassionate care can always be relied upon.
Words would fail one when making expression about all of YHWH’s mighty works and rendering the praise that is commensurate with all that he has done. “No human” is the implied answer to the psalmist’s question as to who would be able to relate the manifestations of YHWH’s might or to have others hear “all his praise.” The human vocabulary appears to be insufficient for properly expressing everything that he has accomplished and praising him accordingly.
Fortunate, blessed or in an enviable state of well-being are all who “keep justice,” dealing fairly and impartially with everyone. At all times, they “do righteousness” or live an upright life.
The psalmist prayed to be included when YHWH showed favor to his people and came to their aid, delivering them from distress or affliction. He desired to see God’s “chosen ones” (the people whom he had chosen as his possession) in a good or prosperous state and to share in the joy of God’s nation. As his possession, the nation of Israel was YHWH’s “inheritance.” The psalmist wanted to boast or glory with this inheritance, taking proper pride because of being a member of the people whom YHWH acknowledged as his own. (Regarding the Hebrew word for “glory,” see the Notes section on verse 5.)
The psalmist included himself with his people, acknowledging that they, like their “fathers” or ancestors, had sinned. He repeated the confession, adding, “We have done wrong; we have acted wickedly.” As expressed in the rendering of the Septuagint, the people had been lawless and unjust in their conduct.
In Egypt, their “fathers” or ancestors failed to give proper consideration to God’s amazing deeds. Their having seen the ten devastating plagues that revealed his great power and then experiencing liberation from Egyptian bondage should have made a deep impression on their minds. If they had really given thought to all that they witnessed, they should have been confident that their God would protect them and provide all essentials. This did not prove to be the case. The Israelites lost sight of the abundance of God’s abiding love, compassionate care, or “mercy” (LXX). At the Red Sea, they rebelled. Upon becoming aware that Pharaoh’s forces were pursuing them, they gave way to fear and faithlessly complained that it would have been better for them to have continued serving the Egyptians than to face death in the wilderness. (Exodus 14:10-12)
Nevertheless, YHWH delivered them from the Egyptian pursuers, doing so “for his name’s sake.” The Most High acted so that his name would not be reproached, not allowing a situation to develop that would have led to his being misrepresented as unable to rescue his people. By means of an impressive miracle, he made known his mighty power.
He “rebuked” the sea, causing it to part and become dry. Then he led the Israelites through the “deep” or the area of the sea that had become waterless like a desert. In this way, YHWH saved the Israelites from the “hand” or power of the hateful enemy.
After the Egyptian forces entered the miraculously provided escape route through the Red Sea, they were trapped. The waters covered all of them, and not a single one escaped.
Upon experiencing the amazing rescue, the Israelites believed God’s “words” or the promises he had made to their ancestors. They raised their voice in song, praising him for what he had done for them.
Soon, however, they forgot “his works.” In the wilderness, they began to doubt his ability to care for them. They failed to wait for his “counsel” or the direction he would give for obtaining what they needed. When finding themselves without a supply of drinkable water, they did not look to God as their caring provider but complained. (Exodus 15:23, 24) Later, they complained that it would have been better for them to have remained in Egypt, where they had food, than to face perishing from hunger. (Exodus 16:2, 3)
In the wilderness, they demonstrated an inordinate craving for meat, expressing contempt for the divinely provided manna. (Numbers 11:4-6) The people put God to the test. Their complaining was an implied demand that he should act immediately to satisfy their needs and suggested that he could not do so. They failed to trust him and looked at the situation from a human standpoint, losing sight of his past compassionate dealings with them. (See the Notes section for additional comments on verse 14.)
Still, YHWH gave them what they asked for, causing quail in great numbers to come within their reach. They showed such extreme greed that they were punished for it, many among them perishing from “wasting disease.” (Numbers 11:31-33)
Certain men in the camp of Israel became jealous of (“angered,” LXX) Moses and his brother Aaron. The psalmist referred to Aaron as the “holy one of YHWH.” This was because of his holy office as high priest.
In the book of Numbers (16:1-3, 16-19, 24-35) more details are provided. Prominent in the rebellion were the Levite Korah and the Reubenites Dathan and Abiram. With two hundred fifty prominent men of Israel, Korah confronted Moses and Aaron. After stating that all in the congregation were holy, the rebellious ones challenging said to Moses and Aaron, “Why do you raise yourselves up above the assembly of YHWH?” Divine judgment befell Dathan and Abiram when the ground split open and they and their households tumbled into the fissure. Fire consumed Korah and the company of 250 at the time they presented themselves to offer incense. Verses 17 and 18 of Psalm 106 refer to these events. “The earth [or ground] opened and swallowed up Dathan and covered the company of Abiram. And fire was kindled in their company, flame burned up the wicked [sinners, LXX].”
In Horeb (the region including and surrounding Mount Sinai), the Israelites made the representation of a calf or a young bull and then bowed down before it. When Moses had been on Mount Sinai for an extended period and the people did not know what had happened to him, they pressured Aaron to make a “god” or “gods” (depending on whether the Hebrew term is to be understood as being either singular [a plural of excellence] or plural [as in the Septuagint]) for them. (Exodus 32:1-6)
They exchanged “their glory” (the glory belonging to their God who needed no food to sustain him) for the representation of a young bull that eats grass. Although all the Israelites had heard the command not to make any representation for worship (Exodus 20:4, 5), this did not restrain them from approaching Aaron with their request, and he yielded to them. (Exodus 32:21-24)
They “forgot God their Savior,” who had delivered them from Egypt and had made known his commands to them. Instead of appreciatively calling to mind the “great things” he had done in Egypt to bring about their liberation and choosing to follow his commands, they acted as persons who had banished him from their thoughts.
In Egypt or the “land of Ham,” they had witnessed amazing things (the ten plagues). Then, at the Red Sea, they saw things that filled them with a wholesome fear or awe, for there Pharaoh and his host met their end. Nevertheless, the Israelites did not keep these developments in mind and allow themselves to be influenced by the memory of YHWH’s impressive deeds.
For their unfaithfulness, they deserved to be destroyed, but Moses pleaded for them. The psalmist referred to him as God’s “chosen one,” for he had been divinely appointed to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and to function as mediator. In his capacity as mediator, Moses “stood in the breach” so that YHWH would turn away from his wrath and not destroy them. What Moses did was comparable to his positioning himself in a space between God and the Israelites, making his petition for them to be spared.
After ten faithless spies brought back a bad report about the land of Canaan, claiming that the Israelites would never be able to take possession of it because of the might of its inhabitants, the people rejected it (the “pleasant” or “desirable land”). The Israelites had no faith in God’s promise to give them the land. (Numbers 13:27-33)
In their tents, the people gave way to murmuring. They felt that it would have been better for them to die in Egypt or in the wilderness and gave consideration to appointing a leader who would take them back to Egypt. (Numbers 14:1-4) They did not “listen” to or heed YHWH’s voice or his word directing them to take possession of the land.
With a solemn oath as one raising his hand, God declared that he would make the faithless Israelites fall in the wilderness. They would die there and not come to see the land that he had promised to give them. (For another possible meaning of verse 26, see the Notes section.)
To that faithless generation, YHWH also revealed what would happen to their “seed” or offspring in the future. This would be when their descendants would be settled in the land. For unfaithfulness, he would cause them to fall or perish among other nations and to be scattered in other lands. (Leviticus 26:27-33)
Shortly before the younger generation was about to enter the land of Canaan, thousands among the men yielded to the allurement of Midianite and Moabite women and “attached themselves to the Baal of Peor,” sharing with them in the worship of the god Baal associated with the location of Peor. The “dead ones” to whom they sacrificed may have been the lifeless deities.
With their idolatrous dealings, the Israelites provoked YHWH. As a punishment, a deadly scourge broke out among them. (Numbers 25:9)
The decisive action of priest Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, ended the scourge. When Zimri of the tribe of Simeon brazenly brought Cozbi, a Midianite woman, into the Israelite camp for illicit relations, Phinehas took action, killing both of them. (Numbers 25:6-15)
From “generation to generation,” or for limitless time to come, the deed of Phinehas would be counted to him as “righteousness.” When acting decisively to preserve the purity of the camp of Israel, Phinehas did what was right or righteous. This act resulted in merit for him and assured the continuance of his priestly line. (Numbers 25:11-13)
On an earlier occasion, many Israelites, when in an area where there was no water, assembled themselves against Moses and Aaron. (Numbers 20:2) The psalmist referred to them as “angering” or provoking “at the waters of Meribah.” Although the psalmist’s words do no specify whom the people angered, numerous translations make the reference to God explicit. “They roused the LORD’s anger at the waters of Meribah.” (REB) “By the waters of Meribah they angered the LORD.” (NIV) “At the waters of Meribah they so angered Yahweh, that Moses suffered on their account.” (NJB) The Septuagint reads, “They angered him at the water of quarreling [contention, strife, or quarreling being the meaning of Meribah].” With their faithless words directed to Moses and Aaron, the people also quarreled with God, implying that he had failed to fulfill his promise to bring them into a land where figs, grapes, and pomegranates flourished and had left them to die in a wretched waterless place. (Numbers 20:5, 13)
The Israelites complained that it would have been preferable for them to have died in the wilderness than for them and their livestock to perish from having no water. (Numbers 20:3-5) On their account, it “went badly” for Moses, causing him to lose his patience and, ultimately, the opportunity to enter the Promised Land.
The Israelites embittered “his spirit,” making him furious and resentful. In anger, he addressed the people as rebels and made no acknowledgment of YHWH as the generous provider. As the psalmist said of Moses, “he spoke rashly with his lips.” According to Numbers 20:10 (NRSV), he said, “Listen, you rebels, shall we bring out water for you out of this rock?” As one who represented God, Moses failed to sanctify his name. Moses’ attitude and words failed to reflect the unmerited kindness and compassion of YHWH when generously furnishing water for the people despite their unjustified complaining or quarreling.
Once they were settled in the Promised Land, the Israelites failed to carry out YHWH’s command to destroy the morally corrupt people. Instead, they mingled with them and adopted “their works” or their debased idolatrous practices.
The Israelites began to “serve” or worship their idols, and came to be ensnared by the rituals associated with the veneration of nonexistent deities. Like the inhabitants of the land, they sacrificed their sons and daughters to “demons” or to the spirits to whom they attributed misfortunes and whom they sought to appease.
They poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, when sacrificing them to the idols of Canaan. In this manner, the Israelites defiled the land with the blood of their own children.
From YHWH’s standpoint, they made themselves unclean through degrading idolatrous practices. The covenant he had concluded with them at Mount Sinai signified that their relationship to him was like that of a wife to a husband. Through their idolatrous acts, therefore, they made themselves guilty of whoredom.
God’s anger was aroused against his people, and he began to loathe them as his inheritance. He abandoned them into the “hand” or power of enemy nations. So those who hated them came to dominate over them. Their enemies oppressed them, and subjected them under their “hand” or maintained complete control over them. This was the situation during the period that “judges” administered affairs among the Israelites.
Many times YHWH delivered his people from their oppressors when they cried out to him on account of their distress. Still, in their “counsel,” design, or plan, they were rebellious. Or, according to the Septuagint, “they embittered” God with “their counsel” or design. Through their iniquity or lawlessness, they were brought low, finding themselves in the helpless state of an oppressed people.
Despite their wayward ways, YHWH took note of their distress and listened to their cry. He “remembered” his covenant with them or acted in keeping with the promise he had made to be compassionate. In expression of his abiding love, compassionate care, or “mercy” (LXX), he felt regret, restraining himself from bringing upon them the punishment they deserved. He caused all those who held them captive to have compassion or pity for them.
The next words of the psalmist suggest that the Israelites were then scattered among enemy nations. He appealed to YHWH to deliver his people and to gather them from among the nations. This would enable them to give thanks to his holy name or to appreciatively acknowledge him as their deliverer. They would also boast or glory in his praise, taking pride in him as their God who was deserving of laudation.
For all time to come, YHWH, the God of Israel, should be “blessed,” praised, or spoken well of. In expressing their agreement, all the people should say, “Amen” (“May it be; may it be,” LXX). Because YHWH would prove to be their deliverer, they had good reason to heed the imperative, “Praise Yah.”
Regarding the divine name (YHWH), having the abbreviated form “Yah,” see Psalm 1.
In verse 5, the Hebrew word halál, depending on the context and the form in which it appears, can mean “eulogize,” “laud,” “praise,” “boast,” or “glory.” The Septuagint uses a form of epainéo, meaning “praise” or “commend.” In their renderings, numerous translation use “glory” (as a verb). Other renderings include “pride” (as a noun) and “praise” (as a verb).
In verse 14, the great craving is indicated through a repetition of the Hebrew word ’awwáh, meaning “longing” or “desire.” This repetition is also preserved in the rendering of the Septuagint.
The Hebrew expression (in verse 15) considered to mean “wasting disease” is razón, which denotes “leanness” or “emaciation.” It appears that the Septuagint translator read the word as being derived from rawáh (“satiate”) and rendered it plesmoné (“surfeit,” “satiety,” “abundance,” or “plenty”).
There is a possibility that, in verse 26, the raising of the hand could refer to lifting it up to strike. “So he lifted his hand against them, to strike them down in the desert.” (NJB)
The extant Septuagint text does not include the concluding “Hallelujah” (“Praise Yah”).