Calvinism in Context: Psalm 106:6–12

red seaThen they believed his words; they sang his praise.
— Psalm 106:12 —

Speaking of the law (Hebrews 10:1), the festivals and the Sabbath (Col 2:19), the New Testament regularly understands God’s redemption in Israel as a “shadow” or “type” of the redemption procured by Jesus Christ. In Luke 9:31, for instance, Jesus discusses his “departure” (read: “exodus,” exodon) with Moses and Elijah. Truly all the saving events of the Old Testament prefigure the saving events of the New.

Psalm 106 is no different. In that glorious Psalm, the author remembers the work of God to save Israel from Egypt. Running like a thread through the Psalm is the sin of Israel (e.g., vv. 6, 13, 21, 24-25, 28, 39, etc.), followed by the grace of God to save (vv. 10, 23, 30, 44-46).

More particularly, when the people sinned God sent a mediator. In Egypt, it was Moses; at Baal-Peor, it was Phineas. Even in Psalm 105, we discover God saved his people through the previous “sending” of Joseph to Egypt. In truth, God demonstrates his love for Israel, in that while they were still sinning God sent Joseph, Moses, and Phineas to “save” his people from destruction. In this way, Psalm 105 and 106 foreshadow the kind of salvation God would ultimately give in Jesus Christ.

In fact, situated as the final Psalm in the fourth book of the Psalter, Psalm 106 perfectly sets up the culminating redemption anticipated in Book V of the Psalter. The God who reigns (see Pss 90–99), will accomplish salvation once and for all, by sending his final mediator, his own son, to bring salvation to his people.

Psalm 106: A Pattern of Regeneration 

Narrowing our focus, Psalm 106 foreshadows Christ’s work of redemption and specifically the doctrine of effectual calling, with regeneration preceding faith. While not speaking of “regeneration”, the movement from depravity, to redemption, to faith in Psalm 106 is instructive. 

In brief, notice the condition of the Israel in verses 6-7.

Both we and our fathers have sinned; we have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness. Our fathers, when they were in Egypt, did not consider your wondrous works; they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love, but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.

Sin. Iniquity. Wickedness. Three words, one point: rebellion against God engulfed the nation of Israel. The Psalmist is comparing the sin of Israel in his day (during the exile) to the sin of Israel prior to the exodus. He equates the sins of the fathers to those of the sons, thus expressing a doctrinal truth known as total depravity.

Next, verse 8 inserts a glorious contrast: “Yet he saved them.” Like Paul’s “but God” in Ephesians 2:4, God intervened in Egypt. The people sinned and God responded in grace. For the sake of his name he saved his people. With a desire to demonstrate his power and glory, he delivered his covenant people out the nation of Egypt, providing them plenteous redemption and powerfully displaying his grace and power.  Verse 8 reveals the motivation of God—for the sake of his glory, he gave grace.

Following this revelation of God’s motivation, verses 9-11 recall the mode by which God saved his people.

He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry, and he led them through the deep as through a desert. So he saved them from the hand of the foe and redeemed them from the power of the enemy. And the waters covered their adversaries; not one of them was left.

Giving explicit attention to the watery judgment at the Red Sea which physically separated Israel from Egypt and effectively destroyed Pharaoh and his army, these verses speak to the decisive salvation God gave his covenant people. To a people who were committing iniquity and doing wickedness (Psalm 106:6), God graciously saved them. Though not speaking of the substitutionary atonement of the Passover, which were necessary for their salvation, the Psalmist makes it plain: God lifts sinners out of slavery; slaves to sin don’t save themselves.

This brings the final point and the final verse (v. 12):

Then they believed his words; they sang his praise.

To be fair, the chronological “then” is a rendering of the vav-consecutive, meaning it is the translation of a word that can also mean “and” (v. 11) or “yet” (v. 8). That being said, the context makes clear—faith came after the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, not before. Before, when the people were in Egypt, they worshiped false gods (Ezekiel 20:7–9); they even rebelled against God at the Red Sea (Ps 106:7)–the very place of their salvation. In truth, there was nothing meritorious that caused God to grant them salvation. As Moses says later in Deuteronomy 7 and 9, it was not because of Israel’s size or righteousness that led him to save them. It was purely of grace.

From start to finish, the people carried out their wills in total disobedience to God. And yet, God did not act because of their foreseen faith. The text says “he saved them for his namesake, that he might make known his mighty power” (v. 8). God saved Israel not because of what might be, but because of who he is. Salvation is entirely of grace, including the gift of faith that God gives on the other side of his mighty work.

Verse 12 says that after God brought them through the waters which destroyed their enemies, the people of Israel “believed.” They believed “his words” and “sang his praise.” These words reflect accurately the historical record of Exodus 14:31:

Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

Such an order of operations helps us understand how God saves: first God worked, then the people believed.

Regeneration Before Faith

As a shadow of things to come, Psalm 106 shows us how God’s redemption of Israel corresponds to and anticipates the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Through the work of his Son and Spirit, God commands us to “live,” and we come to life. He buries and raises us with Christ, and then centuries later he sends the Gospel to awaken us and enable us to respond in faith to the work of Christ.

Technically, the word “regeneration” doesn’t occur in Psalm 106, but it does in picture. Throughout Scripture, life emerges out of the waters—just consider the creation story in Genesis 1. So too, Israel’s passage through the Red Sea was not a means of defeating God’s enemy alone; it was also the creation of a new nation. It is not inaccurate, to see Israel’s “salvation” as a type of “regeneration” or “new birth.” In fact, Paul will make that same comparison in 1 Corinthians 10 when he likens Red Sea ordeal as a baptism into Moses—a shadow of the true baptism whereby we are buried and raised to life with Christ (cf. Rom 6:3-6).

In the end, what we find in Psalm 106 is a beautiful account of God’s gracious work in the life of Israel. In delivering them out of Egypt, he creates a pattern he will repeat with his new covenant people through Christ’s “exodus.” Like Yahweh at the Red Sea, he will look to his glory and not our rebellious grumbling as the genesis of our salvation. For the sake of his name, he crucifies and raises us in Christ, so that when the Son sends the Spirit, our first breath of life will sing faith-filled praises to God. Our expression of belief does not solicit or secure the new birth; rather, it reflects the evidence of the already-extant new birth granted by God’s grace.

Wonderfully, God grants regeneration apart from faith. It is the new birth that gives faith. And saving faith, in turn, confirms the reality of the new birth. In the New Testament, this is repeatedly demonstrated (John 3:5-8; 1 John 5:1; etc.), but also in the Old Testament we find this Calvinistic doctrine in the context of Scripture.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds