Psalm 106:43-45 Many times [the LORD] delivered them, but they were bent on rebellion and they wasted away in their sin. But he took note of their distress when he heard their cry; for their sake he remembered his covenant and out of his great love he relented.
Faber’s hymn, ‘Souls of men, why will you scatter’, contains the verse: ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea; there’s a kindness in his justice which is more than liberty.’ This is what has gripped the heart of the psalmist here.
The psalm reflects upon the history of God’s chosen people: their rebellious behaviour … God’s punishment … their cry for help … God’s mercy and blessing … their rebellious behaviour … God’s punishment … their cry for help … God’s mercy and blessing … – and on and on the cycle continues. Why did the LORD persevere with them? … because of HIS covenant faithfulness, and HIS covenant love. He had made promises to them, just as they had made to him; the big difference is that he KEPT his promises.
What do we learn from this? Firstly, that it is never too late to turn back to him, no matter how many times we have done it before. We might have messed things up over and over again, but ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’ (1 John 1:9) – it is never too late, or too hopeless (cf Israel’s track record!).
Secondly, we sense that this cycle can’t just continue forever without some phenomenal event that meets its challenge and SATISFIES GOD’S JUSTICE as well as demonstrating his lovingkindness and mercy (his ‘chesed’ in Hebrew), an event that gives a HOLY God some BASIS on which he CAN keep on forgiving.
Unlike the psalmist, who could only ANTICIPATE such an event in hope, WE can look back on it with gratitude and wonder. As Jesus took the cup at the Passover meal he shared with his disciples as he faced the cross he said, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28). Faber went on to write: ‘There is plentiful redemption in the blood that has been shed; there is joy for all the members in the sorrows of the Head.’
While the Scriptures remind us of the danger of PRESUMING on God’s mercy (cf Hebrews 6:4-8), if we DO feel the need to REPENT and seek God’s mercy we CAN discover just how WIDE it IS. The Author of Hebrews goes on to say, “… by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 6:18b-20). Remember Jesus’ parable of the ‘Lost Sheep’ (Luke 15:4-7), and Jesus’ promise: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; NO-ONE CAN SNATCH THEM OUT OF MY HAND.” (John 10:27-28)!