The author of this Psalm is unknown but it is a song of national confession and grief and sorrow.. It points out God’s longsuffering mercy in dealing with His people.
The psalm has four major sections.
1.Praise and Confession (verses 1- 6) The author issues a call to praise, followed by an expression of extreme blessing, a personal prayer, and a confession of national sin. He includes the current generation along with the past ones, in that confession and blessing.
2. Murmuring and Disobedience (verses 7 - 33) In this section the author recounts the times that the nation muttered and disobeyed during the wilderness wanderings after being freed of Egyptian slavery .
- At the Red Sea - Exodus 14:10-12 (NLT2)10 As Pharaoh approached, the people of Israel looked up and panicked when they saw the Egyptians overtaking them. They cried out to the LORD,11 and they said to Moses, “Why did you bring us out here to die in the wilderness? Weren’t there enough graves for us in Egypt? What have you done to us? Why did you make us leave Egypt?12 Didn’t we tell you this would happen while we were still in Egypt? We said, ‘Leave us alone! Let us be slaves to the Egyptians. It’s better to be a slave in Egypt than a corpse in the wilderness!’”
- Murmuring about food - Exodus 16:1-3 (NLT2)1 Then the whole community of Israel set out from Elim and journeyed into the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Mount Sinai. They arrived there on the fifteenth day of the second month, one month after leaving the land of Egypt.2 There, too, the whole community of Israel complained about Moses and Aaron.3 “If only the LORD had killed us back in Egypt,” they moaned. “There we sat around pots filled with meat and ate all the bread we wanted. But now you have brought us into this wilderness to starve us all to death.”
- Jealous of Aaron and Moses - Numbers 16:1-3 (NLT2)1 One day Korah son of Izhar, a descendant of Kohath son of Levi, conspired with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth, from the tribe of Reuben.2 They incited a rebellion against Moses, along with 250 other leaders of the community, all prominent members of the assembly.3 They united against Moses and Aaron and said, “You have gone too far! The whole community of Israel has been set apart by the LORD, and he is with all of us. What right do you have to act as though you are greater than the rest of the LORD’s people?”
- Idol Worship - Exodus 32:1-4 (NLT2)1 When the people saw how long it was taking Moses to come back down the mountain, they gathered around Aaron. “Come on,” they said, “make us some gods who can lead us. We don’t know what happened to this fellow Moses, who brought us here from the land of Egypt.”2 So Aaron said, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives and sons and daughters, and bring them to me.”3 All the people took the gold rings from their ears and brought them to Aaron.4 Then Aaron took the gold, melted it down, and molded it into the shape of a calf. When the people saw it, they exclaimed, “O Israel, these are the gods who brought you out of the land of Egypt!”
- Believed the report of the spies rather than believing God - Numbers 14:1-4 (NLT2)1 Then the whole community began weeping aloud, and they cried all night.2 Their voices rose in a great chorus of protest against Moses and Aaron. “If only we had died in Egypt, or even here in the wilderness!” they complained.3 “Why is the LORD taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?”4 Then they plotted among themselves, “Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!”
- Joined others in idol worship - Numbers 25:1-3 (NLT2)1 While the Israelites were camped at Acacia Grove, some of the men defiled themselves by having sexual relations with local Moabite women.2 These women invited them to attend sacrifices to their gods, so the Israelites feasted with them and worshiped the gods of Moab.3 In this way, Israel joined in the worship of Baal of Peor, causing the LORD’s anger to blaze against his people.
- Their murmuring even caused Moses to disobey God - Numbers 20:9-13 (NLT2)9 So Moses did as he was told. He took the staff from the place where it was kept before the LORD.10 Then he and Aaron summoned the people to come and gather at the rock. “Listen, you rebels!” he shouted. “Must we bring you water from this rock?”11 Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with the staff, and water gushed out. So the entire community and their livestock drank their fill.12 But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust me enough to demonstrate my holiness to the people of Israel, you will not lead them into the land I am giving them!”13 This place was known as the waters of Meribah (which means “arguing”) because there the people of Israel argued with the LORD, and there he demonstrated his holiness among them.
3. Backsliding and Unfaithfulness (verses 34 - 36) Even after entering Canaan, the nation continued in its unfaithfulness. First of all they did not destroy the nations of the land as God commanded. This lead to them being influenced by the pagan people left in the land. In mingling with the inhabitants, they learned new sin. They not only served idols but they now joined in the abomination of human sacrifice. God although compassionate and merciful was completely justified in His punishment. God's compassion notwithstanding, punishment.
4. Prayer and Praise (verses 37 - 48) The Psalm ends with prayer and praise. The prayer is a request for mercy and restoration. Even with all the rebellion God is still merciful and blesses His people. Yes there are consequences and there is punishment for sin but God is longsuffering in His mercy. When we realize our sin and confess it God hears us, forgives us and blesses us.
1 John 1:9 (NLT2)9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
The author’s praise is based on his confidence that God has heard his confession, on behalf of the nation, and that He will forgive and then bless.