The psalmist now enters on his main subject—the transgressions of Israel in the past, and God's manifold mercies vouchsafed to them. These he traces from the time of the Exodus ( Psalms 106:7 ) to that of the Babylonish captivity ( Psalms 106:46 ).
And they served their idols: which were a snare unto them; or, which became a snare unto them. The idols worshipped were especially Baal and Ashtoreth—the nature-god and nature-goddess, sometimes identified with the sun and moon. These alone are mentioned in the time of the Judges. Afterwards, however, Chemosh, Molech, Remphan, the gods of Syria, and perhaps Ammon of Egypt, were added to the catalogue ( 1 Kings 11:7 ; 2 Kings 21:19 ; 2 Chronicles 28:23 ; Acts 7:43 ).
Sin in many forms.
It is not only the psalmist who says, "I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord" ( Psalms 32:5 ). It becomes us all to say, "We have sinned … we have committed iniquity" ( Psalms 106:6 ). Sin takes many forms, as this psalm makes clear. We may be guilty of—
I. SINFUL FAILURE TO UNDERSTAND . ( Psalms 106:7 .) As the children of Israel "understood not God's wonders in Egypt," so we guiltily fail to recognize the wonderful working of the Divine hand, not only in human history and in domestic experience, but also in the daily and hourly ministries of nature, and in the ordering of our individual life (see James 1:16 , James 1:17 ).
II. SINFUL FORGETFULNESS . ( Psalms 106:7 , Psalms 106:21 , Psalms 106:22 .)
1 . We also "remember not the multitude of his mercies," oblivious of all that God has been doing for us and in us through all our days.
2 . We are too ready to forget the special deliverances which, at the time of their occurrence, we resolved to keep continually before our eyes; we allow them to be hidden, and to disappear beneath the engagements and excitements that supervene.
III. THE SIN OF FITFULNESS . ( Psalms 106:12 , Psalms 106:13 .) Is not the Divine Master grieved with us when he has to think of us as he did of his own apostle, who in a few hours passed from loud profession to positive denial (see John 13:36-38 )? Spiritual fickleness is a very grave offence; it is also particularly injurious.
IV. THE SIN OF UNRESTRAINED APPETITE . ( Psalms 106:14 .) In this case it led to unhallowed importunity; to a request that became an impious demand, and that brought down retribution ( Psalms 106:15 ). More often such "lust" of the flesh conducts to other evils—to bodily deterioration, to loss of self-respect, to injury wrought on others, to ruin and to death.
V. THE SIN OF ENVY . ( Psalms 106:16-18 .) To envy those who are distinguished from ourselves by the favour of God is most unworthy and culpable. Instead of being grateful to the Divine Giver for bestowing so great a blessing as a strong and helpful man, we cherish a spirit that is mean and selfish. It is a common but a serious sin.
VI. THE SIN OF IDOLATRY . ( Psalms 106:19 , Psalms 106:20 , Psalms 106:28 .) The guilt of idolatry is in the substitution of the creature for the Creator, rendering that honour to the visible or the human which is due only to the Divine (see Romans 1:19-25 ).
VII. THE SIN OF UNBELIEF ; leading here ( Psalms 106:24 , Psalms 106:25 ) to discontent, to the loss of inheritance, to cowardly inactivity; leading, in our case, to the neglect of God's Word and will, to continuance in spiritual obduracy, to a fatal forfeiture of eternal life.
VIII. IMPERFECT OBEDIENCE , WARFARE , SEPARATION . ( Psalms 106:34 , Psalms 106:35 .)
The nevertheless of God's mercy.
This is actually expressed in Psalms 106:44 , but it is the theme of the whole psalm. Note concerning it—
I. IT IMPLIES PREVIOUS AND TERRIBLE PROVOCATION . And, indeed, there had been such:
1 . In sins actually committed. What a catalogue of them the psalm contains! Sin at the very beginning ( Psalms 106:7 ). The former psalm reviewed the history of God's people as a subject for adoring praise, because of God's never-failing care. Here, also, a "Hallelujah!" is raised, in view of the same history, because of God's never-failing forgiveness. And the sins that needed this forgiveness are confessed here—the shortlived gratitude ( Psalms 106:13 ); the shameful murmuring ( Psalms 106:15 ); the wicked envy ( Psalms 106:16 ); the disgraceful idolatry ( Psalms 106:19 ); their unbelief ( Psalms 106:24 ); their sacrifices to Baal-peor ( Psalms 106:28 ): their murmuring at Meribah ( Psalms 106:32 ); their disobedience ( Psalms 106:34 ). What a melancholy list it is! And this is not all; for see:
2 . The mercies of God despised. ( Psalms 106:13 .)
3 . Their treatment of Moses. ( Psalms 106:16 , Psalms 106:23 , Psalms 106:32 .)
4 . Their hardened resistance, so that God's punishments had no power to change their evil will (cf. John 1:5 ). Yes, there had been provocation indeed.
II. IT PROCLAIMS THE INFINITE COMPASSION AND FORBEARANCE OF GOD . Sin is the dark foil on which the brightness of God's mercy is all the more seen. That is why the angels of God can never render the praises of the redeemed. What a marvel it is that he should have spared Israel! It is equalled only by the marvel of his sparing us.
III. WHEN THE SOUL BECOMES CONSCIOUS OF ALL THIS , IT IS OVERWHELMED IN GRATITUDE , LOVE , AND PRAISE . See the opening of this psalm and its close. Thus is God's mercy the spring and abiding impulse of the new life unto him. See the well known verse—
"Oh the sweet wonders of that cross
On which my Saviour groaned and died
Her noblest life my spirit draws
From his dear wounds and bleeding side."