Here begins a penitential confession of sin, which was in a special manner seasonable now that the church was in distress; for thus we must justify God in all that he brings upon us, acknowledging that therefore he has done right, because we have done wickedly; and the remembrance of former sins, notwithstanding which God did not cast off his people, is an encouragement to us to hope that, though we are justly corrected for our sins, yet we shall not be utterly abandoned.
I. God’s afflicted people here own themselves guilty before God (Ps. 106:6): “We have sinned with our fathers, that is, like our fathers, after the similitude of their transgression. We have added to the stock of hereditary guilt, and filled up the measure of our fathers’ iniquity, to augment yet the fierce anger of the Lord,” Num. 32:14; Matt. 23:32. And see how they lay a load upon themselves, as becomes penitents: “We have committed iniquity, that which is in its own nature sinful, and we have done wickedly; we have sinned with a high hand presumptuously.” Or this is a confession, not only of their imitation of, but their interest in, their fathers’ sins: We have sinned with our fathers, for we were in their loins and we bear their iniquity, Lam. 5:7.
II. They bewail the sins of their fathers when they were first formed into a people, which, since children often smart for, they are concerned to sorrow for, even further than to the third and fourth generation. Even we now ought to take occasion from the history of Israel’s rebellions to lament the depravity and perverseness of man’s nature and its unaptness to be amended by the most probable means. Observe here,
1. The strange stupidity of Israel in the midst of the favours God bestowed upon them (Ps. 106:7): They understood not thy wonders in Egypt. They saw them, but they did not rightly apprehend the meaning and design of them. Blessed are those that have not seen, and yet have understood. They thought the plagues of Egypt were intended for their deliverance, whereas they were intended also for their instruction and conviction, not only to force them out of their Egyptian slavery, but to cure them of their inclination to Egyptian idolatry, by evidencing the sovereign power and dominion of the God of Israel, above all gods, and his particular concern for them. We lose the benefit of providences for want of understanding them. And, as their understandings were dull, so their memories were treacherous; though one would think such astonishing events should never have been forgotten, yet they remembered them not, at least they remembered not the multitude of God’s mercies in them. Therefore God is distrusted because his favours are not remembered.
2. Their perverseness arising from this stupidity: They provoked him at the sea, even at the Red Sea. The provocation was, despair of deliverance (because the danger was great) and wishing they had been left in Egypt still, Exod. 14:11, 12. Quarrelling with God’s providence, and questioning his power, goodness, and faithfulness, are as great provocations to him as any whatsoever. The place aggravated the crime; it was at the sea, at the Red Sea, when they had newly come out of Egypt and the wonders God had wrought for them were fresh in their minds; yet they reproach him, as if all that power had no mercy in it, but he had brought them out of Egypt on purpose to kill them in the wilderness. They never lay at God’s mercy so immediately as in their passage through the Red Sea, yet there they affront it, and provoke his wrath.
3. The great salvation God wrought for them notwithstanding their provocations, Ps. 106:8-11. (1.) He forced a passage for them through the sea: He rebuked the Red Sea for standing in their way and retarding their march, and it was dried up immediately; as, in the creation, at God’s rebuke the waters fled, Ps. 104:7. Nay, he not only prepared them a way, but, by the pillar of cloud and fire, he led them into the sea, and, by the conduct of Moses, led them through it as readily as through the wilderness. He encouraged them to take those steps, and subdued their fears, when those were their most dangerous and threatening enemies. See Isa. 63:12-14. (2.) He interposed between them and their pursuers, and prevented them from cutting them off, as they designed. The Israelites were all on foot, and the Egyptians had all of them chariots and horses, with which they were likely to overtake them quickly, but God saved them from the hand of him that hated them, namely, Pharaoh, who never loved them, but now hated them the more for the plagues he had suffered on their account. From the hand of his enemy, who was just ready to seize them, God redeemed them (Ps. 106:10), interposing himself, as it were, in the pillar of fire, between the persecuted and the persecutors. (3.) To complete the mercy, and turn the deliverance into a victory, the Red Sea, which was a lane to them, was a grave to the Egyptians (Ps. 106:11): The waters covered their enemies, so as to slay them, but not so as to conceal their shame; for, the next tide, they were thrown up dead upon the shore, Exod. 14:30. There was not one of them left alive, to bring tidings of what had become of the rest. And why did God do this for them? Nay, why did he not cover them, as he did their enemies, for their unbelief and murmuring? He tells us (Ps. 106:8): it was for his name’s sake. Though they did not deserve this favour, he designed it; and their undeservings should not alter his designs, nor break his measures, nor make him withdraw his promise, or fail in the performance of it. He did this for his own glory, that he might make his mighty power to be known, not only in dividing the sea, but in doing it notwithstanding their provocations. Moses prays (Num. 14:17, 19), Let the power of my Lord be great and pardon the iniquity of this people. The power of the God of grace in pardoning sin and sparing sinners is as much to be admired as the power of the God of nature in dividing the waters.
4. The good impression this made upon them for the present (Ps. 106:12): Then believed they his words, and acknowledged that God was with them of a truth, and had, in mercy to them, brought them out of Egypt, and not with any design to slay them in the wilderness; then they feared the Lord and his servant Moses, Exod. 14:31. Then they sang his praise, in that song of Moses penned on this great occasion, Exod. 15:1. See in what a gracious and merciful way God sometimes silences the unbelief of his people, and turns their fears into praises; and so it is written, Those that erred in spirit shall come to understanding, and those that murmured shall learn doctrine, Isa. 29:24.