Psalm 106

Praise ye the Lord, for He is good;
Give thanks and bless His Name;
His loving-kindness changes not,
From age to age the same.

What tongue can tell His mighty deeds,
His wondrous works and ways?
O who can show His glory forth,
Or utter all His praise?

Like the psalm preceding it, Psalm 106 is a historical song, recounting the history of the nation of Israel.  But while Psalm 105 praises God for his faithfulness to his people, the majority of Psalm 106 is a record of the faithlessness of the Israelites.  While it’s never appealing for us to read through such a dismal catalog of sins, one purpose of using Psalm 106 in Christian worship is to convict us of our own rebelliousness towards our Lord.  Yet it also provides a contrasting hope; the song never fails to keep one eye firmly fixed on the changeless steadfast love of God.

There’s only one setting of Psalm 106 (number 211) in the 1959/1976 Psalter Hymnal, a complete versification originating in the 1912 Psalter.  In that book and in the 1934 Psalter Hymnal, however, the psalm was split up into two shorter songs: “Praise Ye the Lord, for He is Good” (vv. 1-20) and “Their God and Savior They Forgot” (vv. 21-48).  As the flow of thought was clearly broken up by this split, I think the editors of the Psalter Hymnal made a wise decision when they merged the two into one.

Holding the record at 23 stanzas, the greatest number for any song in the Psalter Hymnal, the text of “Praise Ye the Lord, for He is Good” can seem prohibitively long.  Maybe it’s not practical to sing every verse during a worship service, but choosing a selection of five or six verses that relate the key themes of the psalm shouldn’t be hard.  As a fairly literal and understandable setting of Psalm 106, the text has very few shortcomings.

Two tunes for this setting are offered in the 1959/1976 Psalter Hymnal, BARRE or ST. FLAVIAN.  I’ve found that BARRE can start sounding a little redundant if it’s sung several times in a row, since the melodic and rhythmic structures are predictable and repetitive.  To me, it also seems a little more cheery than befits the theme of the text.  Both of these factors lead me to prefer ST. FLAVIAN instead—an older yet more beautiful tune.  (If you’re looking for a suitable tune for an offertory or piece of service music, ST. FLAVIAN is especially easy to arrange and embellish!)  But regardless of the tune, singing this version of Psalm 106 can be an edifying reminder of God’s mercy to us—even when we fall far short of his righteousness.

In the Bible, the Psalter is divided into five books (Psalms 1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106, 107-150), and the first four books all end with statements of praise.  So Psalm 106, which ends Book III of the Psalter, concludes with this congregational doxology, full of joy and praise for our covenant God whose steadfast love endures forever:

Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting!
And let all the people say, “Amen!”
Praise the LORD!

(Psalm 106:48 ESV)

–MRK

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