Psalm 105

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With the exception of a few minor differences, Psalm 105:1-15 and 1 Chronicles 16:8-22 are identical. In 1 Chronicles 16:7, the composition is associated with David.


This psalm starts with the imperative, “Give thanks to YHWH. Call upon his name. Make his acts known among the peoples.” The thanksgiving or grateful acknowledgment would primarily be for his saving acts. Calling upon his name signifies appealing to him in prayer. His worshipers should make his deeds widely known, letting other peoples learn about them.

The people are to sing praises to YHWH, making their expressions of deep appreciation for him in song. All the wonderful works they should “relate” are (as the context indicates) his saving acts. (Regarding “relate,” see the Notes section on verse 2.)

For God’s servants to “glory” or “make [their] boast” in “his holy name” could mean attributing to him (the holy God) all that they enjoyed and then gratefully acknowledging his aid and blessing. The Septuagint rendering epainéo (praise) indicates this to be an expression of laudation. The “heart” of those seeking YHWH is to rejoice. Within their deep inner selves, they would experience great joy because of their wanting an approved relationship with him. According to a Dead Sea scroll, the heart of those seeking “his favor” is to rejoice.

The person “seeking” YHWH wants his guidance and help. Seeking his “strength” denotes desiring that his might be displayed in providing deliverance and protection. To “seek his face continually” signifies to want his favor and approval at all times, as if one had been honored to stand in his very presence.

The psalmist called upon his people to remember the “wonderful works” God had done for them, never losing appreciation for the help he provided. As the context reveals, the “wonderful works” include everything he did to effect their deliverance from Egyptian bondage. The “wonders” or “miracles” probably are to be understood as applying to the ten plagues, and the “judgments,” from the standpoint of their being expressions of divine justice, likely refer to these plagues and the destruction of Pharaoh and his host.

The Israelites were the “seed,” offspring or descendants of Abraham through his grandson Jacob whose name had been changed to Israel. In being called God’s “servant,” Abraham is identified as having done God’s will and enjoying an approved relationship with him. The Israelites or “sons of Jacob” are called God’s “chosen ones.” They were chosen to be his people because of God’s love for their forefathers and the oath-bound promise he had made to them. (Deuteronomy 4:37, 38; 7:6-8)

All of God’s dealings with Israel, prompted the psalmist’s words, “He [is] YHWH our God.” When referring to YHWH’s judgment as being in “all the earth,” the psalmist indicated that the Most High held peoples everywhere accountable for their actions and did not limit administering justice to Israel.

YHWH would never forget the covenant that he concluded with the Israelite forefathers. This covenant is the “word he commanded” or the promise he made to them. That promise was sure—“for a thousand generations.”

The covenant is identified as the one “made with Abraham,” repeated to Isaac as a “sworn promise,” confirmed to Jacob like an unalterable “statute,” “decree,” or “enactment,” and given to Israel as an eternal covenant. It is summed up in the words, “To you I will give the land of Canaan.” The land would be their allotted inheritance.


At the time God made his covenant with the Israelite forefathers, they were few in number and resident aliens in the territories where they lived and through which they passed with their flocks and herds.

In the land of Canaan, various ethnic groups had established permanent residence, and towns or cities had their own rulers or kings. During a time of famine, Abraham and his household also spent time in Egypt. Therefore, as the psalmist expressed it, the forefathers wandered “from nation to nation,” and “from one kingdom to another people.”

During their nomadic existence, YHWH did not permit any man to oppress or to defraud them. On their account he rebuked kings or rulers. On the recommendation of his princes, Egypt’s Pharaoh brought Sarah to his palace. Having been led to believe that she was Abraham’s sister, he intended to take her as his wife. The subsequent adverse developments prompted Pharaoh to return Sarah to Abraham, perceiving these developments to constitute a divinely sent reproof. (Genesis 12:10-19) On another occasion, when Abraham represented Sarah as his sister, King Abimelech took her, wanting to make her his wife. In a divinely sent dream, Abimelech was commanded to return Sarah to Abraham or face death for failing to do so. (Genesis 20:2-7)

YHWH did not permit anyone to “touch” (or injure) his “anointed ones” or to harm his “prophets.” As his servants and men who represented him, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (though not directly anointed with oil) could rightly be called his “anointed ones.” They also were his prophets, for God communicated with them. To and through them, he made known his purpose and future developments respecting their offspring.

To YHWH, the psalmist attributed the famine that came upon the land of Canaan, saying, “He called a famine on the land.” As to the severity of the famine, the psalmist continued, “He broke every staff of bread.” With every staff broken, no stored “bread” or food would be available anywhere. So, breaking of every staff denoted the taking away of all food supplies.

Regarding God’s providential care for Jacob and his family, the psalmist referred to God’s sending a man ahead of them. This was Jacob’s son Joseph whom his jealous half brothers had sold as a slave.

In Egypt, probably early during his unjust imprisonment, Joseph’s “feet” or ankles were “hurt” or constrained with fetters, and his “soul” came to be in iron bonds. Although the designation “soul” could apply to Joseph, numerous translators have rendered the expression as meaning “neck.” “They thrust his feet into fetters and clamped an iron collar round his neck.” (REB) “His neck was put in irons.” (NIV) “His neck was put in a collar of iron.” (NRSV)

Joseph experienced affliction until “his word” came to pass. That “word” applied to the prophetic dreams pointing to his future exalted position, with all in his family acknowledging his superior authority. (Genesis 37:5-11) As divinely sent dreams, they are called the “word of YHWH.” That “word” tested Joseph, for his enslavement and unjust imprisonment gave no evidence that he would ever experience the honor that the prophetic dreams indicated. For him, the test was whether he would continue to believe the divine revelation and, ultimately, maintain faith in his God.

The psalmist passed over the developments that led to Egypt’s ruler hearing about Joseph and sending for him to interpret two dreams. Instead, the psalmist’s composition focused on the fulfillment of the “word.” The Egyptian “king,” or “ruler of peoples,” sent for Joseph and set him free. Pharaoh appointed him as “lord over his house” and all his possessions. According to Genesis 41:40 (NRSV), he said to Joseph, “You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command; only with regard to the throne will I be greater than you.”

Regarding the authority Pharaoh granted to Joseph, the Masoretic Text literally reads, “to bind his princes to his soul.” This could mean that Joseph had been empowered to punish or discipline Pharaoh’s princes. The Septuagint, however, says that Joseph had the authority to “instruct.” Modern translations convey a variety of meanings (“to instruct his princes as he saw fit” [NJB], “to instruct his officials at his pleasure” [NRSV], “to instruct his princes by his word” [NAB], “to correct his officers as he saw fit” [REB], “to discipline his princes at will” [Tanakh], and “in command of the officials” [CEV]).

The “elders” would have been the counselors who were known for their wisdom. Joseph, although young, taught wisdom to these elders. This may be understood to include the wise direction he provided to prepare for the famine during the seven years of plenty and, later, to administer affairs related to food distribution during the seven years of scarcity. (Genesis 41:33-49, 53-55; 47:13-26)

During the time of famine, “Israel” or Jacob, with his entire family, came to Egypt and thereafter resided there. Egypt is called the “land of Ham,” because of its linkage to Mizraim, a son of Ham. (Genesis 10:6) The Hebrew designation “Mizraim” is the common name for Egypt.


During the time Jacob’s descendants resided in Egypt, they increased in numbers and became mightier than their foes, the Egyptians who had enslaved them. The psalmist attributed their rapid population growth to YHWH.

Because divine permission was involved, the psalmist spoke of YHWH’s turning the “heart” of the Egyptians to hate his people and to scheme against his servants. In their inmost selves, the Egyptians began to fear that, in time of war, the Israelites would pose a threat to their security. This prompted Pharaoh to subject them to forced labor and, later, to adopt measures to have all male babies killed at birth. (Exodus 1:8-22)

Decades after that, YHWH sent Moses (“his servant”) and his brother Aaron (“whom he had chosen”) as agents to obtain the release of the Israelites from bondage. Divinely empowered, Moses and Aaron performed “signs” and “wonders” among the Egyptians in the “land of Ham.” These “signs and “wonders” were the ten devastating plagues that culminated in the liberation of the Israelites. (For additional comments on verse 27, see the Notes section.)

The psalmist did not mention all ten plagues nor did he follow the order in which they occurred. He started with the ninth plague—God’s sending darkness and making it dark. The Egyptians experienced a darkness that could be felt and which prevented them for leaving their homes for three days. (Exodus 10:21-23)

There is a measure of obscurity in the second part of verse 28, which reads (in the Masoretic Text), “And they did not rebel against his words.” According to the account in Exodus, however, the Egyptians proved to be rebellious, for Pharaoh stubbornly refused to release the Israelites. The Septuagint does not agree with the Masoretic Text, for it does not include the word “not” (“And they embittered [rebelled against] his words”).

Modern translations have variously rendered the passage, endeavoring to avoid giving the impression that the Egyptians did not rebel. “He sent darkness, and made the land dark; they rebelled against his words.” (NRSV) “He sent darkness; it was very dark; did they not defy His word?” (Tanakh) “He sent darkness, and all was dark, but still the Egyptians resisted his commands.” (REB) “Darkness he sent, and darkness fell, but that nation defied his orders.” (NJB) “God sent darkness on the country, but the Egyptians did not obey his command.” (GNT, Second Edition) “He sent darkness, and it became dark — for did they not defy His commands?” (HCSB) “The LORD blanketed Egypt in darkness, for they had defied his commands to let his people go.” (NLT) “Moses and Aaron obeyed God, and he sent darkness to cover Egypt.” (CEV)

God turned the waters into blood, causing the fish to die in the toxic waters that had become blood red. This was the first plague to befall the land of Egypt. (Exodus 7:15-24)

The second plague brought a huge frog infestation into the land. Even the chambers of “kings” or rulers teemed with frogs. (Exodus 8:2-6)

At God’s command, extraordinary “swarms of flies” came into Egypt, and gnats came to be within all of Egypt’s boundaries. The Hebrew expression for “swarms of flies” (‘aróv) appears in Exodus (8:21-24, 29-31 [8:17-20, 25-27 ]) when the events of the fourth plague are narrated. There is a measure of uncertainty about the meaning of the Hebrew term. The Septuagint rendering is kynómuia, meaning “dog fly.” So it may be that horseflies plagued the Egyptians. In this verse, “gnats” would seem to parallel “swarms of flies” (based on the usual poetic style). According to Exodus (8:17, 18 [8:13, 14]), however, the plague of “gnats” (the plural of ken) was third in the order of events, suggesting that verse 31 of Psalm 105 may relate to two plagues.

Instead of rain, God gave “hail” to the Egyptians, with flashes of lightning accompanying the hailstorm. The hail struck their grape vines and their fig trees and also shattered other trees throughout the country. This calamity constituted the seventh plague. (Exodus 9:22-26)

At God’s command, innumerable locusts came into the land. They consumed all the vegetation and any remaining agricultural produce that the hail had not ruined. (Exodus 10:4-6, 12-15; also see the Notes section regarding Psalm 105:34.)

Finally, God struck down Egypt’s firstborn. (Exodus 12:29, 30) The psalmist referred to the firstborn of the Egyptians as the “beginning of all their strength.” This is because the firstborn son would have been viewed as the beginning of a man’s procreative power.

Before the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn, commenced, the Israelites asked the Egyptians for silver and gold objects. (Exodus 11:2) Therefore, as the psalmist indicated, YHWH led his people forth “with silver and gold.” They departed from Egypt in an orderly way, not in panicky flight. No one among the tribes of Israel stumbled.

In view of the calamitous plagues the Egyptians had experienced, they were glad to see the Israelites go. The “dread” of Israel had fallen upon the Egyptians—a fear that even more serious afflictions would come upon them if the Israelites remained in the land.


YHWH “spread a cloud for a covering.” A column of cloud guided the Israelites in their journeying during the day. When Pharaoh and his host chased after them, the cloud served as cover, preventing the Egyptians from continuing their pursuit. (Exodus 13:21, 22; 14:19, 20) At night, the column of cloud became luminous. It was then a column of fire that provided light.

When the Israelites longed to have meat, God brought quails into their camp. He also furnished them with manna—“bread from heaven” in abundance. The expression “bread from heaven” called attention to its heavenly source. It was YHWH’s provision for sustaining his people in the wilderness.

The Most High miraculously furnished water for the Israelites, opening a “rock” or crag. From this crag, water flowed like a river through the arid land.

God lovingly cared for the Israelites during their wandering in the barren wilderness, for he “remembered” (or did not treat as something long forgotten) the “holy word” to his servant Abraham. This “holy word” was the promise he had made to Abraham, which related to giving the land of Canaan to his descendants. Being the “word” of the holy God, it was holy and could be relied upon. For that word to be fulfilled, the Israelites had to be brought back to the land of Canaan and to be sustained during their wandering in the wilderness.

YHWH led “his people,” “his chosen ones,” with joy and singing. One notable occasion proved to be when they escaped from the pursuing Egyptians and saw the destruction of Pharaoh and his host who had determined to capture and again to enslave them. They rejoiced greatly and raised their voices in song. (Exodus 15:1-21)

When the wandering of the Israelites came to an end, YHWH gave them the “lands of the nations,” or the territories of the various ethnic populations living east and west of the Jordan River. The “labor of the peoples” of which the Israelites took possession refers to the cities and houses they had built, their cisterns, and the vineyards, olive groves, orchards, and fields that they had cultivated. (Compare Deuteronomy 6:10, 11.)

Everything YHWH had done for them in fulfillment of his promise to their forefathers should have motivated the Israelites to keep his statutes and to observe his laws. The psalm concludes with the imperative, “Praise Yah!” It was most fitting for the Israelites to laud YHWH (Yah being the abbreviated form of the divine name) for all his favors and blessings. He had fulfilled his part of the covenant. Rightly, they should fulfill their obligation to him, obeying his commands.


A Dead Sea scroll opens with words found in Psalm 118 and 136, “Give thanks to YHWH, for he [is] good, for his compassion [is] eternal.” The word rendered “compassion” denotes “abiding love,” compassionate concern, or “mercy” (LXX).

Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1. The extant text of the Septuagint starts with Hallelujah (“Praise Yah!” [the abbreviated form of YHWH]).

In verse 2, the Hebrew word sícha, depending on the context, denotes “tell,” “relate,” “complain,” “ponder,” “reflect,” or “meditate.” The Septuagint rendering is diegéomai, meaning “relate,” “tell,” or “describe.”

With the third person plural form of the verb sum (“they set” ), the Masoretic Text (in verse 27) links the “signs” and “wonders” to Moses and Aaron, but the Septuagint uses the third person plural form of the verb títhemi (“he set”), making the application to God.

In verse 34, the Hebrew word yéleq parallels ’arbéh (“locust”) and is rendered broúchos in the Septuagint. Likely yéleq and broúchos refer to a wingless stage of the locust. The Hebrew term has been rendered “grasshopper” or “hopper.”

The extant text of the Septuagint does not conclude with “Hallelujah” (“Praise Yah!”) but opens with this expression in the next psalm.