Psalm 106 Study – Part II
Sycamore Presbyterian Church Friday Men’s Bible Study Psalm 106 (see notes)
Question 4. Verses 16-18. What is the third kind of sin the Psalmist remembers and confesses? What examples of this have you seen in yourself and others?
16When men in the camp were jealous of Moses and Aaron, the holy one of the Lord,
17the earth opened and swallowed up Dathan, and covered the company of Abiram.
18Fire also broke out in their company; the flame burned up the wicked.
The third kind of sin the Psalmist remembers is the sin of envy. The rebellion of Korah, in which Dathan and Abiram (D & A) played a significant part, is recounted here as jealousy. D & A became envious of Moses. When Moses sent for D & A, presumably to talk it out, they not only refused to come up, but pined away for Egypt, and betrayed their envy by asking, “Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you must also make yourself a prince over us?” It is this last element that showed their envy. Moses had already told them that the rebellion against his leadership was rebellion against God (Num. 16:11). This was coveting something that belonged to another (the position of leadership over the congregation). Despite Moses’ humble attempt to save D & A from God’s judgment, they obstinately stood at their own tents (a local power center, where these two attempted to lead and judge the congregation) and were swallowed up. The reference to fire is God’s judgment against all those Levites who, along with Korah, brought censers to test their ability to offer a sacrifice before the Lord in competition with Aaron the High Priest. They had come to this pass because of their envy of Moses and Aaron. God judged these men by devouring them with fire.
There is good background information on this passage in the Matthew Henry Commentary on Numbers 16 here.
When I became a new Christian, I went through some interesting stages. The first stage was the honeymoon; I can still remember the feeling I had shortly after my conversion – ineffable peace. It was as if my brain had been taken out of my skull and dipped in cool water, then put back in. I don’t believe that an adult conversion experience is necessary to be a Christian (which would mean that the children we raise in covenant community miss out on something critical); nevertheless I had an adult conversion experience and the good feeling lasted a few months. Then, God apparently decided enough was enough and it was time to get to work. The difficulties started piling up; one such difficulty (not the only one) was my desire, despite my newness, to become an influential teacher. I coveted the authority and influence that pastors and elders had in the church. I read a lot and began to question everything. By itself, an inquisitive mind is not a bad thing, but mine was tilted in the direction of obtaining something I coveted. This is similar to the sins of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. The sorry culmination of this episode was my taking a job as a teacher in a Christian school when my family needed me simply to provide. A word to the wise: it’s very, very hard for a male bread-winner to provide for his family as a teacher in a private Christian school. Don’t do it.
More to the point, if any adult Christian has the joy of seeing an adult friend convert to the Christian faith, he should provide a book like this one. They should also read 1 Corinthians 7:17, 20-24 together:
17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.
20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.
21 Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.)
22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ.
23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.
24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.
What is amazing about this passage is that it gives specific instructions to churches that have adult converts. It teaches that whatever one’s occupation or status, he should keep them at conversion (with the caveat that the whole word of God applies; in that culture a converted priest in a pagan cult would have had to change occupations!) It is almost as if God, when He calls an adult, is assigning someone to take point in His ongoing war against sin and unbelief in that man’s field. If He calls a pilot, He wants a Christian pilot. If He calls a baker, janitor, or investment banker, He wants more Christians in those fields. It’s a war out there and He is building an army that will eventually overwhelm the world.
Question 5. Verses 19-23. (a) What is the fourth kind of sin the Psalmist remembers and confesses? (b) Verse 23. What is the reason why Israel – and we – are not destroyed by God for our sins? (c) What examples of this have you seen in yourself and others?
19They made a calf in Horeb and worshiped a metal image.
20They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.
21They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt,
22wondrous works in the land of Ham, and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
23Therefore he said he would destroy them — had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.
This is clearly the sin of idolatry. Because of their sensuality (their desire to see, hear, touch) the people asked Aaron to make them “a god”. We must not oversimplify this: the people wanted something new (covenantal idolatry: a violation of the first commandment), but Aaron (who cast the idol), made reference to “the Lord,” and may have had the real God of Israel in mind, but made up his own way to worship Him (liturgical idolatry: a violation of the second commandment). Either way, since breaking the 2nd Commandment is breaking the whole Law, we do not minimize this sin by examining it. The Psalmist did not make a fine distinction: whatever the exact nature of the sin, he wrote they “exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.” To conclude with an application, if we do not worship Jesus, we’re idolators. Also, if we worship Jesus, but according to the tastes and ideas of man and not the Bible, we’re still idolators.
What were they really seeking? Moses, while not acting as a king, was acting as both a prophet (full-time) and as a priest (part-time). Aaron was the High Priest and there were certainly other priests who made sacrifices, but Moses interceded for Israel, sparing the lives of the whole congregation many times through prayer, a priestly act. And it was Moses’ disappearance which spurred the people to ask Aaron to give them something to see: “When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people gathered themselves together to Aaron and said to him, “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him,” (Ex. 32:1). They hungered for some sort of mediator between themselves and a holy, terrifying God acting in full Technicolor awesomeness.
The reason that God did not destroy Israel immediately, which was His holy desire and right, was that “Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before Him, to turn away His wrath from destroying them.” Moses interceded for Israel, making reference neither to the people’s needs nor their attributes, but to God’s glory. We should remember that this is the point of our salvation, not our individual benefits. If the point of the Father’s provision of His Son for our salvation was only that some people would get to heaven, then why did Moses pray this way? Why would God not end history now and rapture all Christians to heaven, letting Satan have his way with the rest of the world? Where is God’s glory in that outcome? In his Reply to Sadoleto, John Calvin chided the Catholic Bishop for leaving out the glory of God in his letter to the Genevans: “For although commendation of … eternal life is a theme which deserves to be sounded in our ears by day and by night, … and made the subject of ceaseless meditation, … it is not very sound theology to confine a man’s thoughts so much to himself, and not to set before him, … zeal to illustrate the glory of God. For we are born first of all for God, and not for ourselves.” (Source: A Reformation Debate, by ), p. 63). Hey Brian, we should study this book!
Today, we are not destroyed by God for our idolatry (and we all share in this sin to some extent, even if not fatally so), because of our mediator, Jesus. In fact, if we take seriously Jesus’ words in John 8:58 (Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am,”) we will know that He (the antitype) and not Moses (the type) was the reason that God did not act out of strict justice with His people Israel at Horeb. How much more have we been given, to know that Moses (a great man of faith) was the shadow that pointed to Jesus the reality!
An example of this kind of sin is any kind of anger or frustration at the circumstances of life (think about your last unexpected traffic jam) that is rooted in forgetting who God is and what he has done for us. This is a very subtle form of idolatry for a Christian; there is no little statue of Baal in the closet, just something else in our mind where God should be. That “something else” could be: convenience, comfort, ease, money, etc. God solved Israel’s massive idol worship problem by exiling them. In response we’ve just made idolatry invisible and sophisticated. The solution? An ongoing meditation on God’s work for us ought to give us peace in the face of difficulty. This is very easy to write, and very hard to do. I surely hope I’m not alone in this kind of subtle sin (wait – what did I just write? That I want everyone to be an idolator too? Sorry!) This is why the church is called to preach the gospel, and why God’s people are called to regularly hear it. He wants us to fight against our sin, Satan and the world with patience and joy; our weekly retreat to listen to our Master (who uses the man behind the pulpit as His medium to speak to us from His throne in heaven – which is amazing if you think about it just a little) is His way to equip and feed His army.
Question 6. Verses 24-27. What is the fifth kind of sin the Psalmist remembers and confesses? What examples of this have you seen in yourself or in others?
24Then they despised the pleasant land, having no faith in his promise.
25They murmured in their tents, and did not obey the voice of the Lord.
26Therefore he raised his hand and swore to them that he would make them fall in the wilderness,
27and would make their offspring fall among the nations, scattering them among the lands.
God’s dramatic rescue of His people from Pharaoh’s oppression is the Old Testament type-model of the even more dramatic rescue of His people from sin’s oppression. I write this first because what came next referred to the God-chosen, saved covenant community, the OT church, Israel. This was God’s elect nation. As such, when the people grumbled about the Promised Land, and lacked faith in God’s promises, they were not making distinctions between belief and unbelief in God Himself. This was the faithful showing its unbelief in the plans and future that God had made for them. Trying to understand what this means to us as the church isn’t easy. What kind of sin is it that makes us not believe in God’s future for us as His people?
This could be personal eschatology; we know that if we die we will first go to heaven, then receive our glorified bodies in the resurrection, and live forever with God in the new heavens and the new earth. In this view, the Promised Land points to the new earth. If this is how we interpret the Israelites’ complaint, then it would signify someone having faith in Christ but not in the promised results of that faith. I haven’t ever heard of any Christian having that reaction.
This could be national eschatology; however, to confound our political arrangement with God’s elect is ridiculous. If you think the United States is a Christian nation, just go hang out at the mall on Saturday night. Or even better, read the United States Constitution.
I can’t see any other remaining anti-typical thing around here than the church. And here, since we’re not talking about salvation, nor about the kingdoms of men, we have to consider whether God has made plans for us as His people in the future, and whether we believe them. This is a massive issue touching on the eschatology of the church. I can’t go into much detail on a subject that I tremble to touch on (because of its complexity and the strong emotions surrounding it). I will attempt a summary: there are four major schools of thought:
- Dispensational Premillenialism (Dispensationalism)
- Historic Premillenialism (Historic Premil)
- Amillenialism (Amil)
- Postmillenialism (Postmil)
Of these four views, only the first (Dispensationalism) is out of accord with the Westminster Standards. I have met many good men and true in the Reformed world who hold to Amil and Postmil. I have met one man (a ruling elder) in an Orthodox Presbyterian Church who was a Historic Premil. I wish I had taken that guy out for a beer to pick his brain, as there aren’t that many of them. In the Presbyterian Church in America, Amil is the most popular view and probably the majority report at Sycamore Presbyterian. I am Postmil (there are some manifestations of this label that I don’t agree with, which I can talk about). Here’s the best book I’ve read on Amil by Dr. Kim Riddlebarger, my pastor in California (and a recovering Dispensationalist if I recall correctly). Here’s the best book I’ve read on Postmil by Keith Mathison, the Director of Curriculum Development for Ligonier Ministries. I think I should read a book about Historic Premil someday but it’s not a high priority.
Suffice it to say that all of the major views affirm Christ’s second coming and that the paradise of eternity at the last day in the new heavens and new earth will be awesome and wonderful beyond our ability to describe; let us call that point in time point B. We are, today, at point A. Where these views differ radically is in the space between points A and B; let’s call that A-B.
To grossly over-summarize, some Amils and all Dispensationalists are pessimistic about A-B; some Amils and all Postmils are optimistic about A-B. I am not quite sure how Historic Premils view A-B. Lastly, some Amils are either neutral about A-B or think it’s irrelevant. I believe that A-B will be positive for the world in general and the church in particular, but I don’t think it’s going to be smooth sailing. I think this passage of Psalm 106 is about this; God is telling us through the Psalmist that He wants us to trust that His plan for His bride is positive in history and on earth, but there will be battles and many soldiers will fall (as the Israelites suffered losses as they “consumed” the land of Canaan). I believe God wants the church to believe and act upon the knowledge that He will care for His bride in history and on this earth, as well as after history and in the new earth.
I have to finish this by acknowledging that there are good and trustworthy men on every side of this debate. Any Christian who reads about eschatology (beyond the Left Behind series) is one who takes his Bible and God’s promises seriously, and so deserves respect and mercy from his brothers. That being said, even though I love and respect my Dispensationalist brothers as fellow Christians, I believe their teaching on this subject is very destructive to the church in our country. To teach a system in which Christ is portrayed as a sore loser, the church as a “parenthesis,” and Satan as a ruler, is radically at odds with the Bible’s entire story arc. Christ is the ultimate winner already; His bride will someday share with Him everything He has for her; Satan is bound and limited to telling lies, hoping to ensnare the unwary.
Question 7. Verses 32-33. What is the sin being confessed here? What examples of this have seen in yourself or in others?
The sin being confessed here was causing a little one to stumble (in the sense that even the greatest heroes of the Christian faith, like Moses, are “little ones” to God). The complaining about the water became so distracting to Moses that he spoke wrongly (forgetting to attribute the miracle of the water’s appearance from a rock to God). God gave Moses a terrible sanction for this uncharacteristic ungodly speech, forbidding him to enter the land of Canaan. Both the account of this episode in Numbers 20:3-13, and in this coda make a firm connection between the speech of the people and the frustration felt by Moses (“they made his spirit bitter”), but the sanction fell on Moses directly.
This brings us, of course, to leaving late for church on Sunday morning in the car with the kids. If you are one of those perfect Christians that has never yelled at his family, has never been yelled at by his family, or gotten passive-aggressive by watching SportsCenter when you should have been looking for Junior’s nice shoes, please proceed to the front of the line. We’ll make you the busy husbands’ pastor. Usually by the time the mini-van hits 20 mph, everybody in that car hates everybody else in the car for 5 minutes. This is God giving you something you can remember for the silent confession of sin. This happened to a “friend of mine”.
But it’s instructive that in either a blood or church family, we can easily cause others to stumble (meaning: sin) at least in speech (but probably also in their silent attitudes about us) with intemperate, angry or harsh words. If we could sin with our speech with no ill effect on others, then that would be bad enough; but sinful speech almost always causes a sinful reaction in those closest to us. This ought to give us pause at the thought of doing something so wildly outrageous as talking in the company of other people, especially our wives and children.
Note for single men: your time is coming.
Question 8. Verses 40-48. Why has God saved Israel despite her sins?
40Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people, and he abhorred his heritage;
41he gave them into the hand of the nations, so that those who hated them ruled over them.
42Their enemies oppressed them, and they were brought into subjection under their power.
43Many times he delivered them, but they were rebellious in their purposes and were brought low through their iniquity.
44Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress, when he heard their cry.
45For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
46He caused them to be pitied by all those who held them captive.
47Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.
48Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! And let all the people say, “Amen!” Praise the Lord!
The answer to this question comes in verses 44-46. The Psalmist has until this point summarized centuries of ungrateful rebellion in Israel, and God’s use of negative sanctions against them. The people of Israel have not shown themselves by lawkeeping to be worthy of salvation. Salvation can only come to them from the mercy of God, operating through the structure of the covenant of grace. And so it is that God saw the sorry state of His people, remembered His covenant, and, moved by His infinite mercy, relented of His anger. The Psalmist ends his song by asking God to save and gather His people, and promises a response of worship and praise. So it shall be for us, in the anti-typical manifestation of Israel, the church. We will be gathered and saved and will continue to worship God until the last day.
This was a very long Psalm; there are a few things to remember along the way.
- This is a worship song whose aim (because it’s memorized) is to seal this history into the mind of the saint. I think we too often analyze the Psalms as bits of systematic theology that would work better if we used a theological scalpel to peer into their guts. That isn’t by itself a problem. But how much better would it be to sing this in church? If we sang this often we’d remember what God has done, fathom our sinful natures, and know that God saves unconditionally.
- Only once in my answers did I make reference to the Decalogue; every other sin confessed and analyzed was hard to classify into one of ten categories. There is no way for a thoughtful worshipper to sing this Psalm and think he could get away with mere externalism in his walk with God. In Psalm 106, God announced to the members of His Old Testament church that He knew their hearts and what He found there was critical to Him. But in the end He promises salvation and community to His people despite their sins. God was not looking for a merely external outworking of faith; he was telling His people to look to their hearts.
Using Praying the Psalms Group Study Product
All Bible quotes ESV