Psalm 107:1–9, 33–38, 43 comment (0)
March 22, 2012
By James R. Barnette
Related Scripture: Psalm 107:1-9, 33-38, 43
Bible Studies for Life
Associate professor of religion, Department of religion, Samford University
I Thank You
Psalm 107:1–9, 33–38, 43
Psalm 107 is a direct response to the concluding plea in Psalm 106:47, which is the end of Book IV. Psalm 107 continues using one of the key words found threaded throughout Psalm 106: “steadfast love.” This word, which is “hesed” in the Hebrew, occurs in the first and last verses of Psalm 107, and it appears in the second of the Psalm’s two refrains (verses 8, 15, 21, 31).
Considering this Psalm’s structure, it is helpful to think of it as a sermon on God’s unfailing love, beginning with an invitation for congregational response (verse 1–3), followed by four illustrations (verses 4–9, 10–16, 17–22, 23–32) and concluding with a hymnlike summary based on the four illustrations (verses 33–42) and a challenge to hear what has been said and remember God’s steadfast love.
Invitation to Give Thanks (1–3)
Verse 1 ties Psalm 107 to 106 and introduces its major theme: steadfast love. The people described in this Psalm needed God’s help, either because of their own folly or because of circumstances beyond their control. They called upon the Lord and He delivered them. The “redeemed” are those who were “gathered” from exile. The term “redeemed” is used elsewhere to name those who returned from Babylonian dispersion (see Isaiah 43:1; 44:22–23; 52:9). However, “redeemed” also remembers the custom that obliged a kinsman to step in to rescue his close relative from debt or slavery. Indeed this is what God did for us through His Son.
Reasons to Give Thanks (4–9)
While these verses may be understood as the experience of any person or a group, there are also allusions that relate the experience to Israel’s experiences of exodus/wilderness and return from exile. It is significant to note that lostness, hunger, thirst and exhaustion are all images that Jesus would later employ as He offered Himself as the Way, the Bread, the Water of life and the Giver of rest. In Middle Eastern thought, the desert and the sea are symbolic of chaos. Thus two acts of salvation from sin (verses 10–16, 17–22) are coupled with two acts of salvation from chaos (verses 4–9, 23–32). The verb “cried” validates the place of crying to God for help, acknowledging our dependence on Him. When we cry to Him in our times of trouble, He hears us, and His steadfast love comforts and strengthens us. Verse 8 calls readers to “give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds towards men.” This verse is the second refrain, which is repeated verbatim in verses 15, 21 and 31 and echoes phrases from the Psalm’s first line.
Response of the Thankful (33–38, 43)
Here the approach changes and the focus is not on people in crisis but on the Lord. He can turn the garden into a desert and the desert into a garden (see Isaiah 35:1–2; 41:18). God can judge the land because of the wickedness of the people who live there (see Genesis 19:24–28). He also can heal the land and bless it because of the people’s faith and obedience. Verses 33–43 offer poetic description of the return from exile. Earthly sovereigns are made subject to God’s sovereignty as part of His great reversal of fortunes. Verses 33–38 recall the desert scene of verses 4–9, but now it is not humanity that gets lost and found but humanity’s habitat that dies on them or presents them with abundance. This attention to God’s power over habitat reminds us of just how far we are from being masters of our own fate. Verse 43 asserts that wisdom consists of heeding the lesson of the preceding illustrations. Those who renounce self-sufficiency and cry to God will be the beneficiaries of His blessings, which reveal His enduring steadfast love. This message is diametrically opposed to what North American culture seems to teach people. We are taught to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps when we are down. We are taught that our security rests in careful planning, investment and management. We are taught to be self-made people — no need to cry to God for help. Seldom does it occur to us that our very lives depend on God. Hence the simple but radical message of Psalm 107: There is ultimately no such thing as self-sufficiency, for our lives depend on God and His love.