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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Psalms 106

 

 

Verses 1-48

Spiritual Declension

Psalm 106:12-14

We have in these three lines some of the greatest words in human history, and some of the most vivid experiences of human life. We seem to need no one to expound these words to us—they are written upon our memory, and they are inwrought, so to speak, into the very substance of our consciousness. We do not need to go back a thousand years and more to find out whether these things are historically true. Every man who knows himself accepts them every one. We have all believed, praised, forgotten, and tempted. What is now our duty? If that question can be answered directly and solemnly and with due effect in the life, this will be as a birthtime, memorable through all the ages that are yet to dawn upon our life.

"Then believed they his words." This takes us back to a point of time. When did they believe his words? He rebuked the Red Sea, and it was dried up: so he led them through the depths as through a wilderness and he saved them from the hand of him that hated them, and redeemed them from the hand of the enemy. And the waters covered their enemies; there was not one of them left. And when they saw the dead Egyptians lying around them, all gone, from the oldest to the youngest, they believed God"s words. Any credit due to them? Not one whit. "Blessed are they that have not seen and yet have believed."

This brings us into the region of personal providential deliverances, and we have all been in that hallowed region. That such deliverances do occur every man who has read his life with any attention, will instantly attest. Our whole life is a providential deliverance. So blind are we, so foolish, that we expect only to see God in the miracle that is occasional, rather than in the miracle that is constant. Let me lure you, or if need be, scourge you, from the foolish idea that a miracle is something occasional and exceptional. There are indeed critical moments when the flash is brightest, when the voice is clearest and most resonant, but if we could read our life aright we should find that to be saved from disaster, to have evil prevented, as well as cured, is to live under the miraculous providence of an Almighty Father. We should say, were the great sun to crack, and fall in hemispheres upon creation, that if it could be put together again it would be a miracle. It is a grander miracle to keep it where it Isaiah , as it Isaiah , from age to age, always giving, never losing, always illuminating, never a beam the poorer for the infinite affluence. See this aspect of your life and you will never have far to go for the miraculous and the sublime.

Still I challenge your attention to occasional interpositions of a very remarkable kind. You remember when the child was sick: in your silent forebodings you had buried the dear little life: you had never spoken about it. But contrary to all expectation and forecast, the life was redeemed from the grave, and set back in its place in the house. You remember that wolf with the long gleaming teeth that was pursuing you, and you were just about to lie down and pant out your last breath, and somehow the wolf was diverted from the pursuit, and you saw the enemy, savage and terrible, no more. You remember when you were within three paces of bankruptcy, and that a friend suddenly started up in your course and brought with him the key that opened the house of your prison. You remember just toppling over the precipice, just going, and you were saved, rather by a hand of wind than by a hand of flesh—something between a thought and a thing—undefinable, inexpressible—but you were brought back and set on solid ground. What was the result? Religious faith. For the moment you were a religious man. If in that moment any one had suggested to you that there was no God, all the forces of your blood would have risen against him in antagonism and passionate protest. You would have said, "Tell that to the idle winds, preach that wicked gospel to the beasts of the forest, to the waves of the sea, but to me you must make another declaration, for I myself have seen with these eyes angels and ministers of light and redeemers—yea, I have seen God."

Would that we had died in some of these raptures of faith. We have had days in life when it had been well for us if God had opened a door in his blue heavens and taken us to himself. To die with this triumphant faith and with this great grace overflowing the heart would surely be to go to heaven. But what drops there are in life, what descents from high mountain scenes and breezes, into imprisonments and poisonous atmospheres, and graves out of which it seems to be impossible that any trumpet can awaken us, so deep, so black.

But as in the text, so in our own experience, we have gone beyond mere faith, solid and solemn faith. We read in the text that they sang his praise. Music is the higher speech. There are times in our joy when we must sing—shout, rave, the world calls it; there are times in our religious consciousness when the only words that seem to fitly express our swelling emotion are such as "Hallelujah—praise the Lord: Hallelujah—praise the Lord." Ecstasy and folly supreme to those who are not in the same mood, but, to men of kindred experience, music, a challenge to the fellowship of worship, and a call as of a trumpet blast to confess and honour the All-giving and Ever-giving God.

Once, O wanderer, you sang a religious hymn: do not drop your head now, and seem to forget all about it. You perhaps once sang in church, maybe you have come back to take up the strain where you dropped it, and to confess yourself a fool for your silence, seeing that God"s goodness has never ceased to attend your life. You have never told your friends of today that once you were a religious man. We beg you to return, to take up the ancient hymn, and to sing God"s praise once more, after ten or twenty years" silence. Will you? Your throat may be rusty for awhile; the voice will not yield very round and pleasant notes at first, but be steadfast, and the sweetness of the music will increase as you persevere.

Now the tone changes, the wind goes round to a bitter quarter—"They soon forgat his works." Literally, they hastened to forget, they made speed to cleanse their memory of every religious recollection, they took down the broom and swept the house of their memory, so that no relic of the old religious emotion and utterances was left in the dismantled and impoverished soul. How easy it is to forget favours. How possible it is to give so many favours to an ungrateful person as to cause that person to imagine he has a right to claim them as his due. The giving of favours where gratitude is not kept up proportionately with the gift is a heart-hardening process. The Lord thus hardened Pharaoh"s heart. If there had been fewer mercies and more scourges, Pharaoh"s heart would not have been hardened. But who expects to find a man praying to-morrow morning because the sun has risen upon his fields? We expect the sun to rise, and if he come with a cloud before his face we grumble and murmur. God has given us that sun so long and so punctually, that if he were withheld to-morrow morning we should complain bitterly because of the withholding of the usual light. The sun is a daily gift. Give us this day our daily bread, our daily light, our daily health, our daily life. At eventide God draws the black line around us and says, "The day is past and gone, and to-morrow is in eternity."

Some men have wonderful absorbing powers. They take any number of favours and never remember one of them. If this be Song of Solomon , as between man and Prayer of Manasseh , what wonder that the charge should heighten in solemnity and gravity in its religious applications? It is the miracle which astounds the Omniscient. There are some things for which even God cannot prepare himself. From all eternity the whole drama of this human life lay outspread before him in every detail, in every accent of expression and every flush of colour, and yet he himself has been afflicted with surprise. Does it not seem to be so in the hearing of such words as these, namely, "Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for I have nourished and brought up children and they have rebelled against me. The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master"s crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider." We have carried our ingratitude so far as to surprise Omniscience and shock Almightiness.

"They soon forgat" Religious impression is most transitory. Beautiful as the morning dew while it lasts, it exhales, and we see no rainbow in the sky. It vanishes, it perishes, unless it be diligently seized and wisely deepened, yea, even cultured with all a husbandman"s patient care, until it blooms into flower or develops into fruit, and is fit for the Master"s plucking. What is forgotten so soon as religious impression? The first thing that we hear at the church door is a remark about the weather, and that remark will obliterate every hymn, anthem, and sacred reading; earnest prayer and high expostulation will go down in one inquiry about the fickle climate. Frail is the thread that binds us to heaven, mean and weak the threadlet that attaches us to the altar and the church—a breath may break it, a little splutter of flame may crack it, and then our life may be lost.

Perhaps the catastrophe ended at forgetfulness? No; further reading gives denial to that happy hope. The reading is black, and proceeds thus: "They lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, and tempted God in the desert." They believed, they lusted, they sang, they tempted. It is such swift oscillation that we find in our own consciousness and experience of religious things. Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall. Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe. You a believing Prayer of Manasseh , and now every passion aflame? You a singing Prayer of Manasseh , and now you are tempting and mocking God by hard words and evil questions, and setting him tasks which you suppose to be above his power or beyond his grace? O Lucifer, son of the morning, how art thou fallen from heaven! Take care. Beware of dogs, beware of the concision, beware of evil workers, beware of bad companions, beware of relationships that please for the moment and then embitter all remaining time.

If the ancient people of God believed and sang—and then lusted, forgat and tempted God—who are we that we. should of our own strength be more competent to reply to the challenges of the devil or to bear the burden of the world? Let us connect ourselves with the sum total of humanity; and read in the history of others what might have happened in our own career; and learn from the ruins of the ages that we, too, might have been thrown down in uttermost disorganisation and afflicted with incurable disease. Do not say that you are stronger than other men that have lived: humanity is one: history is lost upon us if we do not see in that which has occurred to others what may happen to ourselves. It is painful to think of the possibility of a believing Prayer of Manasseh , a singing Christian, forgetting his God, so that when he hears the holy name he does not recognise it And more distressing the still graver thought of a preacher after having preached to others becoming a castaway—falling from the pulpit into perdition, laying down God"s hymn and psalm to take up the devil"s ribald praise. How sad to think that lips that were opened in prayer to heaven should be opened in homage to the devil—yet this same tragic thing is possible to every one of us. Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.

The backslider may not fall all at once: he falls from his singing into forgetfulness—nothing more serious. He falls into a negative state, he does not instantly lay down the hymn-book and begin to blaspheme God. There is an intermediate course. Thus—in the ardour of his piety he attends the sanctuary twice every Sabbath. By-and-by he says he is afraid to go out in the evening. Mark the beginning of a possible declension. That statement is perfectly true in some cases, and therefore we have no wish whatever to mitigate its force or to dispute its religious application in those instances. In the ardour of his early piety he attended the week-day services. He thinks that perhaps he has been neglecting his duty to his family by doing Song of Solomon , and therefore he surrenders them. Mark the beginning. Once he loved his own pastor above all others: now he wanders, he cannot bear to hear any one man more than three times. Mark the beginning. Once he was not afraid to say to others, "Come with me, I am going to a high mountain top today: the outlook is beautiful, the breeze is healthy, the companionship is inspiring—come with me and hear a man that in Christ"s name told me all things that ever I did: is not this an apostle of truth?" And now when challenged with having heard that same Prayer of Manasseh , he says, "Well, I did drop in now and then: I do not mean to say that I have often been there, but at the same time I—I—" What, you did drop in there? Did you not come with both feet and with your head and your heart and your whole love, and was it not the happiest hour of your life you spent there? O Prayer of Manasseh , tell no lies: do not wriggle out of the condition.

Thus we go little by little astray. The gradient that goes down is not abrupt; it is hardly measurable by the finest instruments, but it is going down still. Beware the first evil, beware the cooling process. Religion is nothing if it is not passion. Christianity is not a creed of words, it is an inspiration of life, it is a sacrifice.

How is it going to be with us? We have forgotten God; let us pray to him to become the inspiration of our memory, that we may begin our counting where we left it off, and number all his mercies, until by their multitudinousness they confound and disable us. If we could remember any one instance of our life as we ought to remember it, the recollection of that instance would be a graphic, complete, final reply to every temptation to disbelieve and distrust our God. Now and again we do see our lives, we get a swift panoramic view of the wondrous past, and sometimes it so flashes upon our vision that we turn up the head glowing with a new life, and open our lips to offer a new Psalm , a new anthem of gratitude to him who was our fathers" God, and who has never allowed us to know the hunger that had no bread, the thirst that could find no water, the weariness that could find no rest.

Note

The Psalter in Hebrew is divided into five books, perhaps to make it uniform in this respect with the Pentateuch, or for some other reason of which we are ignorant, which end respectively with the41st, the72nd, the89th, the106th, and the150th Psalm. Each of these Psalm ends with a doxology, or ascription of praise; the first three with the words Amen and Amen, the fourth with Amen, Hallelujah, and the last with Hallelujah only, as though praise unceasing were to form the occupation of the world of praise.

It is impossible not to observe that there is a certain principle or plan observed in the traditional arrangement of the Psalm , though it may not be very definite or very closely followed: for example, the first Psalm is clearly a kind of introduction to the whole book, and the last Psalm swell louder and louder the notes of praise, as though they were intended to be a fitting conclusion to a series of hymns and prayers which had so often been fraught with sorrow....

As long as the career of mortal man is what it is in life, chequered by trial, danger, and bereavement; as long as the human heart is what it Isaiah , full of want and sin, and ever liable to sorrow, so long will the Psalm of David find their echo there, and not fail of earnest and anxious readers. The songs of Horace or Anacreon will please for a while, and will please an educated many or few, as the case may be; but a time will come when these will lose their sweetness for even their greatest admirers, and there must always be many whom they will fail to touch; but with respect to the prayers and hymns of David there can be no such thing as old age. They are the voice of man as Prayer of Manasseh , and they are the truest expression of what must ever be permanent and unchanging—man"s relation to God.

Nor is it necessary to look far for a reason, because the Psalm deal more especially with those aspects of human life in which all men are reduced to a common level, imminent danger, heart-rending grief, and a passionate longing for divine assistance. It is self-evident that many of the Psalm are the natural, spontaneous outpouring of the joy or sorrow of the writer. In this respect they are simply unrivalled, and stand alone among all the poetry of all nations and languages.—Professor Stanley Leathes, M.A.

Prayer

Almighty God, we bless thee for the testimony of thy saints in all ages. All the houses of history have said, His mercy endureth for ever. In thy mercy we live. It is not only mercy, it is tender mercy. Who can tell how tender is the mercy of God? Thou wilt not break the bruised reed, thou wilt not quench the smoking flax; thou gatherest the lambs in thine arms, thou carriest them in thy bosom; thy loved ones are as the apple of thine eye unto thee: who then shall speak worthily of the divine mercy, or sing worthily of the divine love by which we were created and have been redeemed and shall be sanctified and glorified? Herein is the mystery of love. Other love we have known, but who can know in all its fulness the love of God which passeth knowledge? Help us to believe that we must grow in grace, and grow in Wisdom of Solomon , and continually ascend in all holy strength and power until we do more clearly apprehend the immeasurableness of the love of God. Oh that thy redeemed ones might no longer be silent! May they bear testimony to the tenderness and fulness of the mercy of the Lord; then shall the worst hear and wonder and inquire; on the right hand and on the left shall a man arise to say, Come, all ye that fear God, and I will declare unto you what he hath done for my soul. May this be an age of witness-bearing, may there still be living confessors, souls that shall say, God is love. We commend one another to thy tender mercy: keep us as in the hollow of thine hand: when the enemy would come in as a flood, lift up thy Spirit as a standard against him, and may he be made to know that God is for us, therefore none can be successfully against us. Pity those who are in great distress; heal the misery of our hearts; send forth thy Word, a light, a sun, a gospel from heaven, and let men answer it with contrition, broken-heartedness, and hope in the Cross of Christ. Blessed Cross! all-saving Cross! before it we daily, constantly, bow as before the altar on which alone our hope is founded. The Lord be with us, mightily, gently, sometimes almost visibly, so that in our souls there may be no fear. Amen.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 106:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/psalms-106.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, September 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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