Psalm 106:23-27

23. And he said that he would destroy them, unless that Moses his chosen had stood in the breach before his face, to turn away his wrath, that he might not destroy them. 24. And they despised the pleasant land; they did not believe his word; 25. And they murmured in their tents, and did not listen to the voice of Jehovah. 26. And he lifted up his hand against them, to destroy them in the desert: 27. And to destroy their seed among the heathen, and to scatter them throughout the lands. 1


23. And he said. The prophet informs us, by these words, that the people had a feeling sense of their remarkable deliverance from impending destruction, by means of prayer alone, which, for a season, restrained God's vengeance from bursting forth against them. In a very short time, however, they return to their wonted disposition of mind, a striking proof of the awful perversity of their hearts. To represent how highly God was offended, the prophet says that he had purposed to destroy the transgressors: not that God is subject to human passions, to be very angry for a little, and then immediately afterwards, on being appeased, changes his purpose; for God, in his secret counsel, had resolved upon their forgiveness, even as he actually did pardon them. But the prophet makes mention of another purpose, by which God designed to strike the people with terror, that coming to know and acknowledge the greatness of their sin, they might be humbled on account of it. This is that repentance so frequently referred to in the Scriptures. Not that God is mutable in himself; but he speaks after the manner of men, that we may be affected with a more feeling sense of his wrath: like a king who had resolved to pardon an offender, yet sisted him before his judgment-seat, the more effectually to impress him with the magnitude of the kindness done to him. God, therefore, while he keeps to himself his secret purpose, declared openly to the people that they had committed a trespass which deserved to be punished with eternal death. Next he says that Moses stood in the breach, meaning that he had made intercession with God, lest his awful vengeance might break forth among the people. There is here an allusion to the manner in which cities are stormed; for if a breach is made in the wall by any of the various engines which are employed in war, brave soldiers will instantly throw themselves into the breach to defend it. 2 Hence Ezekiel reproaches the false prophets, who, unlike Moses, deceiving the people by their flatteries, making, as it were, a mud-wall, do not place themselves in the breach in the day of battle.

"Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel, to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord," Ezekiel 13:5.

Some expositors are of opinion that the prophet refers to the separation which the people had made among themselves in violating the covenant of God, and the sacred relation in which they stood to each other; but the meaning is the same. For in that breach which gave rise to this metaphor or similitude, God, in defending his people so faithfully, was to them in place of a wall or bulwark. Having provoked him to anger anew, he was about to rush upon them for their destruction, had not Moses interposed as their intercessor.

24. And they despised. It was an evident demonstration of the unconquerable wickedness of the Jews, that, after they had been in the jaws of destruction, and while they had scarcely escaped from danger so great and so imminent, they rose up in rebellion against God. What was the cause of this rebellion? The despising of the Holy Land, which of all things ought to have been most desired by them. The country of Canaan, which had been destined to them, as the place where they were to be brought up under God's paternal care, and as a people separated from heathen nations were to worship him only, and which, also, was more especially to them a pledge of the heavenly inheritance, -- this country here, and in several other passages, is very properly called the pleasant land. Was it not, then, the basest ingratitude to despise the holy habitation of God's chosen people? To the cause of this scorn the prophet refers, when he says, they did not believe God's word. For had they laid hold upon God's promise with that faith which it was incumbent upon them to do, they would have been inflamed with such a strong desire for that land, that they would have surmounted all obstacles which might occur in their way to it. Meanwhile, not believing his word, they not only refuse the heritage which was offered to them, but excite a rebellion in the camp, as if they would rise up in arms against God.

26. And he lifted up. He describes another example of the vengeance of God, the recollection of which ought to have been deeply seated in their hearts, so that cherishing a constant fear of him, they might watch over themselves with the utmost solicitude. No good having ensued from all this, it is obvious that the madness of that people was incurable. At that time God did restrain his anger, in that he did not disperse their offspring throughout various parts of the earth; but his threatening of itself ought to have sufficed for the subduing of their pride, had they not been incorrigible. To lift up the hand is in this passage susceptible of two meanings. In Scripture God is frequently said to lift up his hand to inflict punishment. But as it is generally admitted that the prophet is here speaking of swearing, 3 with this opinion I most readily coincide. The practice of lifting up the hand, as if they would have called God down from heaven, was a solemn usual rite among them, accompanying an oath; and is therefore improperly applied to God, whose sublimity rises above all things, and who, as the apostle says, cannot swear by a greater than himself, (Hebrews 6:13) In employing it, therefore, it must be understood that he borrows it from the common customs which prevail among men. Had not the Holy Land been preserved to the people by the prayers of Moses, awful indeed would their dispersion have been.

1 Some interpreters, as Mudge and Horsley, have felt great difficulty in interpreting this verse. "Nothing," says the latter critic, "was said about overthrowing the seed, at the time when the adults, which came out of Egypt, were sentenced to perish in the wilderness. On the contrary, it was promised that their little ones, i.e., those who were under the age of twenty years at the time of the general muster, should be settled in the land of Canaan. -- See Numbers 14." He farther adds, that "nothing was said at the time alluded to about scattering the seed, which should be settled in Canaan, in some future period, through the lands." And he concludes his note on the verse by observing, that, upon the whole, he could not explain it to his own satisfaction. But there seems in the passage to be a reference to those prophetical denunciations afterwards uttered, by which God threatened that he would punish the sins of the Israelites, not only in their own persons, but also in their posterity; -- denunciations which have been fulfilled in the various dispersions of that people, and which are fulfilling at the present day. -- Leviticus 26:33; Deuteronomy 28:64. "It is obvious," says Dr Morison, "that those interpreters are mistaken who refer the allusions of the 27th verse to the same history as those of the 26th. The people overthrown in the wilderness were to be destroyed by pestilence; but the overthrow threatened in the 27th verse was by banishment and captivity."

2 The sins of the people had opened a breach or gap, for God as an enemy to enter and destroy them. But, like soldiers who stand in the breach that has been made in the walls of a beleaguered city to oppose the irruption of the enemy, Moses, by his earnest prayer, stopped this breach, Exodus 32:11-14. "Moses is here mentioned in the character of a mediator, under the figure of one standing in the breach of the wall of a city made by besiegers, to oppose any farther hostile aggressions. The figure of a breach is frequently employed in Scripture to denote some destruction by God. Thus in Judges 21:15, God made a breach,Prp, in the tribes of Israel, i.e., He destroyed one of the tribes, viz., that of Benjamin: see also 2 Samuel 6:8; Ezekiel 22:30. Hence in this passage we understand that God would have destroyed the Israelites, had not Moses stood in the breach, i.e., interceded by his prayers, just at the time when the divine judgments were about to be executed. The Chaldee has paraphrased it thus, If Moses had not stood before Him and prevailed in prayer, i.e., arrested the destruction." -- Phillips

3 The passage refers to the oath which God swore against that people recorded in Numbers 14:21-23. To the same oath there is an allusion in Psalm 95:11. The Chaldee paraphrast has, "He lifted up his hand with an oath."


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