Lessons from the Past
Lord, help me to keep iniquity out of my life so that I do not undergo what Israel went through.
Read Psalm 106
1 Praise the Lord.[a]
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
2 Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord
or fully declare his praise?
3 Blessed are those who act justly,
who always do what is right.
4 Remember me, Lord, when you show favor to your people,
come to my aid when you save them,
5 that I may enjoy the prosperity of your chosen ones,
that I may share in the joy of your nation
and join your inheritance in giving praise.
6 We have sinned, even as our ancestors did;
we have done wrong and acted wickedly.
7 When our ancestors were in Egypt,
they gave no thought to your miracles;
they did not remember your many kindnesses,
and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.[b]
8 Yet he saved them for his name’s sake,
to make his mighty power known.
9 He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up;
he led them through the depths as through a desert.
10 He saved them from the hand of the foe;
from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them.
11 The waters covered their adversaries;
not one of them survived.
12 Then they believed his promises
and sang his praise.
13 But they soon forgot what he had done
and did not wait for his plan to unfold.
14 In the desert they gave in to their craving;
in the wilderness they put God to the test.
15 So he gave them what they asked for,
but sent a wasting disease among them.
16 In the camp they grew envious of Moses
and of Aaron, who was consecrated to the Lord.
17 The earth opened up and swallowed Dathan;
it buried the company of Abiram.
18 Fire blazed among their followers;
a flame consumed the wicked.
19 At Horeb they made a calf
and worshiped an idol cast from metal.
20 They exchanged their glorious God
for an image of a bull, which eats grass.
21 They forgot the God who saved them,
who had done great things in Egypt,
22 miracles in the land of Ham
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
23 So he said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him
to keep his wrath from destroying them.
24 Then they despised the pleasant land;
they did not believe his promise.
25 They grumbled in their tents
and did not obey the Lord.
26 So he swore to them with uplifted hand
that he would make them fall in the wilderness,
27 make their descendants fall among the nations
and scatter them throughout the lands.
28 They yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor
and ate sacrifices offered to lifeless gods;
29 they aroused the Lord’s anger by their wicked deeds,
and a plague broke out among them.
30 But Phinehas stood up and intervened,
and the plague was checked.
31 This was credited to him as righteousness
for endless generations to come.
32 By the waters of Meribah they angered the Lord,
and trouble came to Moses because of them;
33 for they rebelled against the Spirit of God,
and rash words came from Moses’ lips.[c]
34 They did not destroy the peoples
as the Lord had commanded them,
35 but they mingled with the nations
and adopted their customs.
36 They worshiped their idols,
which became a snare to them.
37 They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to false gods.
38 They shed innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan,
and the land was desecrated by their blood.
39 They defiled themselves by what they did;
by their deeds they prostituted themselves.
40 Therefore the Lord was angry with his people
and abhorred his inheritance.
41 He gave them into the hands of the nations,
and their foes ruled over them.
42 Their enemies oppressed them
and subjected them to their power.
43 Many times he delivered them,
but they were bent on rebellion
and they wasted away in their sin.
44 Yet he took note of their distress
when he heard their cry;
45 for their sake he remembered his covenant
and out of his great love he relented.
46 He caused all who held them captive
to show them mercy.
47 Save us, Lord our God,
and gather us from the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
and glory in your praise.
48 Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
Let all the people say, “Amen!”
“O sing unto the Lord a new song: for he hath done marvelous things” (“Cantate Domino”; Psa. 98:1).
Ancient societies sang their history, as do old surviving cultures today such as Aboriginal Australians. Traditional, pre-literate people rehearsed their history in song and dance, ensuring that the next generation took a knowledge of their past into their future. As today’s psalm powerfully proclaims, there are crucial lessons to be learned from the past. Philosopher George Santayana first coined the saying that those who do not know their past are condemned to repeat it.
The psalmist understood this. Some psalms, including last Sunday’s, celebrate God’s power and faithfulness in his great saving acts of the past (e.g., Psa. 105; 136). Today’s psalm remorselessly catalogs not the glories but the sins of Israel’s past, by using words like “forget,” “sin” and “rebel.” Written during the Babylonian exile, the psalm lists Israel’s past failures to follow God’s way and the punishments the people suffered. Finally, however, the theme of the psalm is the faithful continuation of God’s grace. After every episode of rebelliousness and punishment, God restored his people. Using words like “save,” “redeem” and “lead,” the psalmist calls on the exiles to learn from this and to trust that God can and will redeem them.
There are many sinful chapters in the history of the church. We, as the people of God, still act wrongly. Crises which face the contemporary church are like chapters in the ongoing story told in this psalm, but we are called to repentance as people of a God always ready to forgive those who turn back to him. When we return, it’s with confidence that God will meet us with his unending grace.
How much chastisement could we avoid if we were smart enough to learn from the mistakes of others?
“Save us, Lord our God, and gather us from the nations, that we may give thanks to Your holy name and glory in Your praise” (47).