Nevertheless, He Looked upon Their Distress: Storytelling in Psalms 105 and 106

Narrative is how we understand the world and the way God relates to us. The Bible itself is the story of God’s salvation for us. The Psalter contains many narrative psalms that explore the depths of human suffering, ponder the meaning of life, proclaim joy, and tell the story of Israel’s history.

Psalms 105 and 106 recount much of this history in sequence, but each are told in very different ways. Events appear slightly out of chronological order and with differing tones which highlight the differences between human memory and God’s perfect memory.

Remembering the Good Times

Memory is tricky. Humans often remember extremes, the best and the worst. Storytelling then projects these extremes. The narrative we internalize and the moments that penetrate our soul shine through in the retelling.

This may be why the author of Psalm 105 recounts the plagues out-of-order, mentioning first the ninth plague of darkness. As the story of the plagues passed down from generation to generation, darkness for three days may have been a penetrating extreme. While the Israelites still had light, “there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days.” (Ex 10:22) That is definitely a heightened moment to tell the grandchildren!

…and the Bad times

Psalm 105 unfolds with a sense of gratitude, while Psalm 106 focuses on the people’s disbelief. The tone and focus of a story affect what the audience takes away. These two Psalms were likely meant to rally God’s people during exile – to remind them of God’s faithfulness to them.

Even though God is constantly working in us and through us and has done countless great things for us, we don’t always remember. We focus instead on the current frustrating moment. Psalm 106:21 recounts how the people of Israel “forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt,” while they focused instead on their current frustration in the wilderness.

God Remembers All

Our memory is fickle and fleeting, but God remembers all. No matter where we are in our lives or how we remember the past, God remains faithful to his covenant promises. As we see at the end of Psalm 106, “Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress,” and “remembered his covenant.” (Ps 106: 44-45)

As humans we fumble along through our story, holding on to the highs and lows, rejoicing and grumbling, fixating on the light and the darkness. God remembers all and remains steadfast in his commitment to us.

As we at Raleigh Avenue walk through our study on the Psalms, let us pray that we hold fast to all God has done for us in during both times of difficulty and triumph.

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