Psalm 106 is, in one sense at least, like the speech of Stephen right before he is stoned to death by the Jews in Acts 7. The psalmist reviews the history of the Jewish people. It is not a pretty picture.
He speaks of their many sins. These sins included complaining against God, idolatry, sacrificing their own children to these false gods, not believing what God told them, and disobedience on many levels. The writer speaks of what the people did at the Red Sea, in the wilderness, when they were told to take the land, after they entered it, during the times of the Judges, and even in the days of the psalmist. It was like a broken record, playing the same tune over and over. The people sinned and God disciplined them.
But that is not the main point of the psalm. Instead, the mercy of the Lord is highlighted. In all these instances, where the discipline of God was both well-deserved and needed, God remembered His covenant with His people. He showed them mercy upon mercy.
The writer starts this psalm declaring that the “mercy” of the Lord “endures forever” (v 1). He then speaks of the “favor” the Lord showed the Jews during their long history (v 4). God did not destroy them at Sinai, even though their sin called for Him to do so, because Moses interceded for them (v 23). Another man stood up for righteousness and the Lord stopped the plague He used to discipline them (v 30). At the conclusion of the psalm, the author relates how God had delivered them from the trouble they brought upon themselves “many times” (v 43). When their discipline caused affliction, repeatedly the Lord “heard their cry” (v 44). The psalmist summarizes God’s dealings with His people by reminding his readers that God is faithful to His word and treated them with the “multitude of His mercies” (v 45). God’s mercy, then, begins and ends this psalm. In that mercy and grace, He forgave them each time they cried out to Him.
The author is not just giving his readers a history lesson. He is appealing to the Lord to treat him and the Jews of his day in the same way He treated their ancestors. The nation of Israel is in captivity in Babylon. Once again, it is because of their sin. But the psalmist once again appeals to God’s mercy. He acknowledges that they have sinned (v 6) but calls upon the Lord to save them from their captivity and deliver them from their affliction (v 4). That is his final appeal (v 47).
Many have pointed out that this final appeal will be fulfilled in the fullest extent in the last days, when Christ returns and saves all believing Israel from their enemies during the Tribulation. At that time, Christ will gather His people, Israel, from among the Gentiles and set up His kingdom on the earth.
It is impossible to read Psalm 106 and not conclude that God is a merciful God towards His chosen people. Even though He has disciplined them over and over again, it was for their own good, and He remains faithful to them. He has forgiven them time and time again.
The Lord deals with Christians in the same way. If you are a believer, He has forgiven you every time you confessed your sins (1 John 1:9). If we recounted the number of times we have appealed to His mercy, the psalm we would write would turn into a novel, much longer than Psalm 106.
The lesson the NT teaches us is that because we have been the recipients of such great mercy, we are to extend it to our fellow believers. We are to forgive them when they sin against us (Eph 4:32). Our mercy towards others should be drawn from a bottomless well. Every time a fellow believer asks for our forgiveness, we should treat him just as Christ treats us (Matt 18:21-22).
Right after telling us that that is the way we ought to deal with fellow believers, the Lord gives a parable about an unmerciful servant (Matt 18:23-35). This is a parable about Christians who are not merciful towards their brothers and sisters in Christ. If we want to enjoy the mercy of the Lord in our daily lives—and do we ever need it—then we must extend it to others.
After we read Psalm 106, we walk away from it amazed at the mercy of the Lord towards the Jews in the OT. That is the point. But we are just like they were. Blessings from the Lord are available to us because of that mercy.
Let us look at Jesus Christ. Look at how He treats us. Then, let us do the same.