Problems, Cries, Deliverance and Thanks
During the week I was thinking about themes for Harvest Thanksgiving and looked up several passages. Among the verses I looked up I read vv.37-38 of Psalm 107.
"they sow fields and plant vineyards and get a fruitful yield. By his blessing they multiply greatly, and he does not let their livestock diminish."
I decided to backtrack to read the entire Psalm and now I want to share with you what I found there.
The opening verses of the psalm tell us what the psalm is all about. It is a call to respond with thankfulness and praise to the Lord God because of what he is like and for the things that he does and has done.
The subsequent contents of the psalm suggest that it was written to celebrate the return of God's people to the Promised Land as the exile was brought to an end. That return is described graphically in v.3 where the redeemed are brought back from the four corners of the world.
The psalm begins (and indeed ends) with declarations of the LORD's goodness and uprightness and with reminders of his steadfast love. The love in question is his strong unwavering, covenantal love. He has freely chosen to commit himself to his people to act towards them in this manner and nothing, but nothing, will stop him.
The psalm is addressed to believers for they are the ones who can be described as the redeemed of the LORD v.2. The word redemption describes the buying back of something that had either got lost or been previously sold: here it applies to God's people who had got themselves into all kinds of problems. In delivering them from these problems the LORD redeemed them, or bought them back.
The NT takes up this idea of redemption – deliverance through the payment of a price. The price that the LORD was willing to pay to set his people free was the death of his own unique son Jesus Christ. As Peter put it:
1Pet.1:18-19 "you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold... but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot."
If you are a believer then you have great cause for being thankful and great cause for being confident of his ongoing support!
As we move from the introduction into the psalm itself we find that the main body of the psalm is made up of 4 stanzas like 4 four verses of a hymn. When those have been completed the psalmist concludes with an extended statement concerning the way in which the LORD remains intimately involved in the world he has made and how he intervenes in it demonstrating a strong upright moral concern.
Let's turn now to the main body of the psalm.
107:4-9 First stanza – Lost and bewildered travellers
Each successive stanza describes the overall experience of the people of God viewed from a variety of different angles. Each specific picture has its own particularities and yet there is a repeating emphases which appears in each of the stanzes.
The words of v.6 are repeated in vv.13, 19 and 28:
"Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,and he delivered them from their distress."
And the words of v.8 are picked up again in vv.15, 21 and 31.
"Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of men!"
In this opening stanza the picture we are presented with is that of a weary traveller who has lost his way in the wilderness. The place is deserted and there is no-one to show the way to go or where he can go to find the help and sustenance he so much needs. This traveller has nothing to eat or drink and he's becoming weary both in body and in spirit.
At last after struggling on without success there comes a turning to the LORD. The weary dispirited traveller finally cries out to him from the midst of his troubles for help.
It seems as though the prayers were a long time coming as men tried everything they could to solve their own problems. And how often that is the case with men and women still today! Many will still only call upon the name of the LORD in extreme situations when everything else has failed them.
Well if men are slow to pray the LORD by contrast is swift to respond. Deliverance comes and rescues the weary traveller from his distress. Further detail is then given as to just what this involved v.7
"He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in."
It was a deliverance that was relevant and absolutely adapted to the prevailing needs – in this instance it was direction and guidance.
Here at Sunnyhill we quite often sing the hymn "What a friend we have in Jesus". That hymn contains these lines:
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
all because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer!
This psalm teaches us this truth – how irrational we are when we delay our prayers.
This first stanza continues with an exhortation to those who do pray and who do find that the LORD hears and answers their prayers. It is an exhortation to return thanks to the Lord who keeps his steadfast love and does wonderful things for his people.
This exhortation is pressed with a further argument – the generosity of God is by no means niggardly!
v.9 "For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things."
When we read this psalm in the light of the NT we ought to be able to see that Jesus is really written all over it!
This is what I mean:
the people were lost but Jesus is the Way
they were hungry but he is the Bread of Life
they were thirsty but he is the One who gives Living Water to drink
they were fainting and he is the One who calls those who are weary and heavy-laden to come to him so that he might give them rest!
If that were not enough we find too in the NT that Jesus brings an end to isolation – he joins his followers together into his body, the church – not some hierarchical institution or some cold building but a living body – his living body – where relationships of love are to be dominant. Jesus also promises never ever to leave his disciples – he will be with them through thick and thin all the way to the end!
Having spent some considerable time on the first stanza we must move on to the next three which we will treat increasingly rapidly.
107:10-16 Second Stanza – Miserable Capture
Turning to the second stanza we are presented with a different picture. This time the picture painted is a dark one of prison bondage and forced labour. (The language can refer to literal captivity but also to the no less real captivity of the human spirit in depression and psychological suffering.) In this particular instance the psalmist declares that the sufferer has brought his sufferings upon himself by his own deliberate and wilful disregard of God's word. (This must not be taken to mean that all depressive conditions are due to that; what it does mean is that a deliberate setting aside of God's Word is not without consequences.)
There is distress here and a heavy burden to be born and no-one to alleviate it. But at the last, here too the captives turn to the LORD and cry for help from their troubles.
Our own unhelpful behaviour can often lead us into bondage and oppression from which we are powerless to free ourselves. For example, the telling of one lie leads to another and another and pretty soon we're caught in the complexity of the web we have woven. God's people had got themselves into a right mess as they refused to listen to what he said – persistent refusal is in view. The people of God had turned little by little away from the LORD until his Word had come to mean very little to them any more.
The enemy of souls is of course involved in all this and he is active in our lives to try to bring about the same reaction. Perhaps he begins with something that seems small and insignificant but greak oaks from little acorns grow and soon if we have begun setting aside God's Word in small matters we're likely to find we're giving way in bigger matters too. And Satan does promise us great enjoyment if only we will free ourselves from the shackles of God's Word as he puts it.
We listen to him at our peril!
The pleasures of sin are but for a moment and the way of sin is certainly not the way of freedom but rather of destructive, depressing bondage. The man or the woman who chooses their way to freedom will find that they do have a certain degree of liberty but they forfeit the liberty of doing what is good or pure or holy – indeed they can no longer do what is right in the sight of God, they have become slaves to their selfish corrupt wills.
And so after being weighed down for an inordinate amount of time by burdens and heavy labour these people have finally woken up and realised their predicament. From their distress they call to the Lord and he answers will the same promptness and the same efficacy. Again the deliverance corresponds to the plight – and this time it means that an effective release is granted: v.14 "He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and burst their bonds apart."
Once again the exhortation to give thanks is supported by a further description of what the Lord has done: v.16 "For he shatters the doors of bronze and cuts in two the bars of iron."
Just as the people have been slow to turn to the Lord and to cry out to him for help so it would seem are they slow to respond to him with thanksgiving for in every instance the psalmist exhorts the people to offer praise.
Is that an exhortation we need to hear because too are so slow to give thanks to our Great and Almighty God?
And Jesus is here too!
to men lost in darkness Jesus presents himself as the Light of the World –
the NT miracles of exorcism and deliverance from demon oppression show that Jesus is capable of setting the captives free
he offers true rest "Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
he forgives sin – in this instance the sin that led to distress was the sin of wilfully disregarding God's Word – amongst the sweetest most comforting titles Jesus bears are these, "Saviour of the World" and "Friend of sinners".
107:17-21 Third Stanza – Sickness
Sin is again to the fore in this next stanza and the consequences of sin here are to be seen in poor health and the associated problems of loss of appetite and other eating disorders.
Again we must be careful not to make the text say things that it doesn't say. There is no straight line to be drawn here between sin and sickness and to suggest so would be most unwise.
And yet at the same time we must recognize that poor choices in life do have an effect and an impact upon our life experience. The alcoholic, for example, who through his own choice to drink alcohol may well brings many other health problems into his life.
Once more suffering is endured for a long time time before help is sought but finally the people call out to the LORD who responds once more to their need. The explanation of the deliverance he brings is once again well-adapted to the situation:
v.20 "He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction."
Even the most cursory of readings in the gospels narratives will make it clear to the reader that Jesus was a wonder-worker able and willing to heal all kinds of sickness and disease. He healed by touch and he healed with a word of command, he healed those in his presence and he healed at distance. Jesus is here in this section too!
There is a slight change to the way in which the psalmist ends this (and the subsequent) stanza. Instead of adding a further reason why thanksgiving should be offered he enlarges upon the very idea of thanksgiving itself:
v.22 "And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!"
Appropriate thanksgiving will be costly and joyful.
107:23-32 Fourth Stanza – Floundering at Sea
The fourth and last stanza deals with problems at sea. The Jews generally did not like the sea and were hesitant to venture on it. They never became a great sea-faring nation. And a reason for that is to be found here. The sea can be unpredictable and dangerous. Storms can blow up suddenly and can reduce even the bravest of men to fear.
As the psalmist paints his fourth picture we are given a vision of men at sea as the tempest rages – they try everything they can to save themselves (cf. the accounts Jonah's shipwreck in the OT or Paul's in the Acts of the Apostles in the NT). But having tried all they can think of they are at their wits' end. Happily man's extremity is God's opportunity and they finally turn to him and the storm is calmed and the harbour is safely attained.
Do I need to remind you of how Jesus rebuked the winds and the waves and calmed the storm that had so terrified his followers? The next thing we read there was that they were immediately brought safe to land too!
Once more do you see how Jesus is written all over this psalm? I wonder whether it could be said that Jesus is written all over your life too? Have you turned to him and cried out to him to come and put your life back on track and deal with those sins which both keep you from God and spoil your own life too?
We don't have time to consider these verses in detail but the psalmist now turns from a consideration of the problems the people of God had experienced to focus more closely on God's intimate involvement with the world he has made.
God reigns and rules supreme over all he has made and does so with a strong concern for uprightness and righteousness.
If men are evil God will act. (vv.33-34) On the other hand where there is need he is ready to intervene to bless – in fact he does this so regularly that men think of this as simply due to the forces of nature!
God is no respecter of persons either – the prince is not treated favourably because of his so-called status – but he does hear and heed the cry of the humble. As the prophet Isaiah put it:
Is.57:15 "For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: "I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite."
The final words of the psalm constitute a final summing up and a call to action on our part – the psalm is not for our interest only it call for our response:
v.43 "Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD.