I was reading in Psalms the other day (actually I read this one quite a few days ago, but I’ve been thinking about it and revisiting it several times since). As Christians we hear a lot about Jesus’ Great Commission to us to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). This is a very clear directive intended for all Christ-followers to obey. Indeed, it has been in God’s plan all along for His people to reveal Him to their world through both words and actions. In the Old Testament, Moses told the Israelite nation “See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:5-8)
This brings me to Psalm 107. It is a psalm which very clearly calls God’s people to testify to the world about Him. I’ve broken the text down into its individual stanzas with a few thoughts listed after each one.
Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
The psalm begins with a call for those God has redeemed (according to one dictionary this means to “gain or regain possession of (something) in exchange for payment”) to verbalize this fact. Note that the all-inclusive compass directions indicate that this is a word to everyone across the planet who has been bought back by God and for God, through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, the sacrificial payment for our sins who was provided for us by (and as) God himself.
The next four stanzas identify several examples of what kinds of words and actions might constitute the “saying so” of the redeemed. They each follow a similar formula:
- Identification of the needful condition or situation in which the redeemed might find him/her self.
- Recognition of that condition and then acknowledgment to God of their need for salvation.
- God’s action in bringing them out of (or through) their situation.
- Their response to God in praise and gratitude for His redemption. Notice the recurring phrase encouraging both general praise – “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man!” – followed by more specific praise for what God has done in specific answer to the situation the redeemed was in.
Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.
This is a depiction of those who were lost and searching for meaning. There are many people who recognize that something eternal exists beyond them (e.g. a city to dwell in). They seek answers in a variety of places but recognize that they haven’t found anything satisfying. God is faithful to reveal Himself to those who seek Him. In Romans 1:20, the apostle Paul assures us that God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.” Anyone who is seeking God will ultimately be able to find him. However, the seeking must lead to the obeying. Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” This is not a general statement spoken to anyone, but specifically to those (the exiled Israelites) who seek God with desire and intent to follow and obey Him. Jesus made a similar statement in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7) when he said “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” This is not a general statement applicable to anyone anytime. It is in the context of Jesus talking about the importance of obedience and choosing the narrow obedient path, rather than the broad “easy” path that most people follow. This stanza of the psalm concludes with the indication that true satisfaction comes through obedience (following God down the straight way).
Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High. So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor; they fell down, with none to help. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and burst their bonds apart. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! For he shatters the doors of bronze and cuts in two the bars of iron.
This stanza reflects the experience of one who once followed God, but rebelled against Him. They have suffered the consequences of their choices and have come to the end of their rope. They recognize how dependent they ultimately are upon God and seek Him to free them from the life of misery that they have incurred. This is very reminiscent of the story of the prodigal son told by Jesus in Luke 15. In it, the son rejects his Father’s house and demands to be given freedom (and his inheritance) to go off and do his own thing. When his life falls apart, he comes back in repentance and is welcomed home.
Some were fools through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!
This stanza seems similar to the previous one. Iniquity leads to suffering leads to despair leads to repentance. The big difference is found in the word “rebelled” (in the previous stanza) and the word “fools” in this stanza. One openly rebels against God and rejects His ways. The other simply does stupid stuff, still rejecting God’s way but perhaps claiming that “I’m fine. I’m a believer. God’ll take care of me.” Jesus told another parable which follows this line of reasoning in Matthew 21:28-31. He was speaking to religious leaders who thought they were fine with God and didn’t recognize their own sinfulness: “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” This is the danger with fools, as this Psalm points out. The fool has rebelled just as much as one who openly does so, but the fool doesn’t recognize (or acknowledge) their “hidden” rebellion, and therefore are often much more resistant to actual repentance, because they just don’t see the need to repent.
Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders.
He turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground, a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the evil of its inhabitants. He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water. And there he lets the hungry dwell, and they establish a city to live in; 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. When they are diminished and brought low through oppression, evil, and sorrow, he pours contempt on princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes; but he raises up the needy out of affliction and makes their families like flocks. The upright see it and are glad, and all wickedness shuts its mouth.
At this point the psalm takes a bit of a different direction. It talks generally about how God controls His creation and how this interacts with humanity. It reminds me a bit about Paul’s statement (Acts 14:15-17) to the residents of Lystra. Paul had just healed a man whose feet had been crippled from birth, and the people immediately assumed Paul and Barnabas were gods and started to worship them. Paul said, “Men, why are you doing these things? We also are men, of like nature with you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” Paul encouraged, as the psalmist does, that people need to consider the world and look for God’s work in it. However, as Paul found out, and as the psalmist notices, there are many, especially those who are prosperous and don’t see a need for God, who have contempt for God and refuse to humble themselves before him, but those who recognize and acknowledge their need for Him will certainly find him.
Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.
The concluding statement is an admonition for us all. Be wise and consider God’s work and love for us. When you do so, you will find Him and desire to serve him. Then, let the redeemed of the Lord SAY SO!