Please forgive us of all of our sins. It is such a simple phrase—uttered time and time again. Those who do so likely mean it sincerely; however, it unquestionably lacks the expression of contrition and appreciation that God deserves. In the closing psalm of Book Four, a section highlighting man’s relationship with God, the psalmist details the rebellious history of Israel as part of a confession on behalf of the nation, a confession that the people would then themselves sing as they reminded one another of the joint spiritual failures of their fathers—a powerful spiritual exercise, to be sure, and one God’s people today would do well to consider. Our confession of sins should take place within the context of God’s own character, a reflection on the goodness and mercy that gives any meaning to confession (Psa. 106:1). Confession ought to focus on what God has done to make salvation possible (Psa. 106:2) and on the righteousness He expects of His people—and on how we have failed Him (Psa. 106:3). Confession remains incomplete without meditation on the grace that offers the opportunity (Psa. 106:4) and that makes hope still possible (Psa. 106:5). Indeed, any request for forgiveness removed from the context of God’s character and personal introspection lacks the spiritual heart God Himself intended. “We have sinned with our fathers, We have committed iniquity, We have done wickedly” (Psa. 106:6). Moreover, the psalmist’s subsequent listing of the sins of the nation demonstrates how important it is for man to reflect on the whole of his existence and failures rather than on just the most recent occurrence, because this helps us see the patterns of rebellion that plague us and the longsuffering of God that makes it possible for Him to forgive us again.
Israel rebelled even before they left Egypt because they failed to appreciate the deliverance God was making possible (Psa. 106:7), but God demonstrated His own character in responding to their sin with an opportunity they did not deserve, which they, in the moment, embraced (Psa. 106:8-12; Rom. 5:8-9). In the wilderness they thought only of themselves and not God and thus tested Him (Psa. 106:13-14), and yet He proved Himself and His care once again (Psa. 106:15). They rebelled against the leadership He established (Psa. 106:16) and were judged as a result (Psa. 106:17-18). At the foot of Sinai they turned away from the God who delivered them and turned back to the idolatry of Egypt (Psa. 106:19-22); only Moses’ pleading kept them from destruction (Psa. 106:23). Faith failed them when they spied out the land (Psa. 106:24-25), so the first generation died in the wilderness (Psa. 106:26-27). They fell into paganism and immorality with the Midianites (Psa. 106:28) and suffered a plague as a result (Psa. 106:29) until Phinehas rose to oppose the sin (Psa. 106:30-31). Their grumbling at the lack of water grew so virulent that a frustrated Moses responded rashly and was thus kept out of Canaan (Psa. 106:32-33). They failed to destroy the Canaanites but instead compromised their identity with them (Psa. 106:34-38), and God responded by letting them feel the consequences of their own decision (Psa. 106:39-40)—time and time again until ultimately sending them into captivity (Psa. 106:41-46). Their history of rebellion was all too real, and they needed to acknowledge it—just like we do.
However, in the closing verses, the true beauty of the psalm shines forth. As we turn to God for salvation, He still will listen (Psa. 106:47a). As we offer our thanks and our praise once more, He hears our cries (Psa. 106:47b). All of this—the character of God, our history of sinfulness, and divine longsuffering—should teach us to grow in appreciation for our God more and more everyday. For He alone deserves our allegiance, because He alone is truly faithful. Therefore, He deserves for us to recognize all that He has done and praise Him with all our heart (Psa. 106:48). It is hard to capture all of this in one easy throwaway phrase. And we should not try.