Title: A Song of Praise from a Nation Set Free
Theme: God is good!
- KJV Bible is used throughout unless noted otherwise.
- “Special Notes” and “Scripture” follow associated verses.
The alarm rang on God’s great clock in heaven signaling that it was time for God to set in motion the decree of Cyrus the Persian. The captives could now go home, for they had been set free. The prophesy of Jeremiah was fulfilled, the prayer of Daniel answered; their exile was over.
The exile had lasted for seventy years and the majority of the Jews were born in Babylon during that time and they lived more like Babylonians than Jews. They worked and lived there, their family and friends were there, and they seemed to yawn in the face of God. They couldn’t bear to even contemplate the rigors of a four-month trek through the merciless desert. The hardships of pioneering in Palestine were not for them. They had made the world their home, and they were satisfied with their prospects; so they chose this present evil world and stayed in Babylon
Of the exiled Jews only 42,360 returned, taking with them seven-thousand slaves―it says much about Jewish backsliding in Babylon that, of the whole tribe of Levi, only seventy-four Levites decided to return to the Promised Land.
The first contingent to return was led back by a prince of the house of David, Zerubbabel, the only person of royal blood to heed the mighty moving of the Spirit of God. Zerubbabel was accompanied by a priest named Joshua. It was not until seventy-eight years later that Ezra the scribe led a second group back.
The little band of former captives descending upon the Promised Land found that the temple was gone and Jerusalem was little more than a heap of rubble. The Edomites had seized much of the land, and the entire central portion of the country was in the hands of men of mixed race known as Samaritans. It was a discouraging beginning.
But it was time, according to God’s time table, for the people to return to the land, and those who returned were acutely aware of the sins of the nation that had brought about the captivity, and they were determined to put first things first. They began by building an alter for God and reinstituting the sacrifices.
Then they started on the construction of the new temple. That was in their second year ―535 b.c. The foundation was laid amid the nation’s mingled songs and sobs. The musical services instituted by David were restored. Shouts of joy rang out over Jerusalem’s ruined walls and desolate streets. Old men who could remember the glory and beauty of Solomon’s Temple added their sobs, which sounded a note of sadness.
Psalm 107 seems to be one of the psalms centering on these events. It is a psalm we can associate with the laying of the foundation of that temple and the courts to which one day the Messiah Himself would come. The psalm foreshadows the return that has begun in our day, but is (like the return from Babylon) far from complete.
This song of adoration has close connections to the two that precede it. Psalms 105-107 have, in fact, been recognized many times as a trilogy and all three were probably written by the same person. Psalm 107, however, is not historical. Its descriptions of the various circumstances of human life are not related to specific episodes in the history of Israel. They are instead generalized observations of the many ways in which God’s deliverances are seen.
The psalm reminds us not only that God’s providences (foreseeing care and guidance) watches over men, but that His ear is open to their prayers. It teaches us that prayer may be offered for temporal deliverance, and that such prayer is answered. It teaches us that it is right to acknowledge with thanksgiving such answers to our petitions. The intense conviction that when in need or when battling stress men seek help from God, and that help is forthcoming, is also a striking characteristic of the psalm.
This psalm, according to verse 32 was composed for the purpose of being sung at a national religious service, in which joy is the theme. It was also, according to verse 22, connected with the offering of sacrifices and thank-offerings. It is thought that it was composed for the first celebration of the feast of tabernacles, after the return of the exiles, when Israel was gathered as one man, at Jerusalem, and sacrifices were ordered (Ezra 3:1-3). The psalm is applicable to the whole Church, and to each individual, after experiencing some remarkable Divine intervention or deliverance.
- How God Regathered The People Of Israel.(107:1-3)
- What the Lord Ought to Have (107:1)
“O give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.”
The Lord deserves our praise.
There is not much we can give to God. He does not need our money. He will use it if we give it to Him, and will reward us in heaven for our faithful stewardship, but He does not need money. He could create gold out of water if He wanted to. He does not need our help with anything. He has countless angels stronger, swifter, and superior to us. What He wants is our thanks and our praise. God’s goodness and eternal mercy are the basis for a call to praise. In other words, He wants our worship.
- What the Lord Did (107:2-3)
Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy; And gathered them out of the lands, from the east, and from the west, from the north, and from the south.
It is what God did that makes Him worthy of thanks. “Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy; and gathered them out of the lands . . .” (107:2-3).
“Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy (107:2).” If that injunction was meant to stir up the souls of the Jews, gathered back from exile, how much more it should stir up our hearts to sing. “Let the redeemed of the LORD say so (107:2).” We have so much for which to be eternally thankful. The Lord has delivered us from the clutches of an enemy greater and fiercer than any human foe. And we should never cease singing. If “the redeemed of the Lord” do not “say so” who will. Let us never allow the testings and sufferings of life rob us of the joy of our salvation and of a heart full of gratitude to God.
“From the east, and from the west, from the north, and from the south” (107:3) is evidently an allusion to the return from Babylonian exile.
The repatriated Jews, standing around the foundation of that new temple, were partakers in a new miracle. The greatest world power on earth had deliberately opened its hand and let them go.
One wonders why. Probably we shall never really understand the events of that second exodus―the marvelous miracle of a nation reborn when all the laws of history were set in defiance of such a thing ever happening―unless we see standing in the shadows of Babylon, near the throne and close to the heart of God the towering figure of a man named Daniel. One suspects it was Daniel who drew Cyrus’s attention to the ancient prophesy of Isaiah in which the conqueror was mentioned by name 220 years before his time (Isaiah 44:28). One suspects it was Daniel also that drew Cyrus’s attention to the prophesy of Jeremiah about the duration of the captivity.
But, whatever the reason, a miracle had transpired. The Persian bear, first seen in prophesy with three ribs in its mouth, symbolizing the kingdoms it had destroyed, released its captives. God had come down and, like David of old, had taken the lamb out of the jaws of the bear.
- How God Regarded the Spiritual and Real Plight of Israel (107:4-32)
This section of the psalm is punctuated by the fourfold repetition of that cry, “Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!” (107:8). Again and again the psalmist will remind us we have a lot for which to be thankful. Because there are so many ungrateful people in the world, let us be sure that we remember to express thanks to God.
The psalmist looks back over Israel’s years of exile. The nation had been uprooted and deported, its throne humbled in the dust, its temple committed to the flames, its youth slain or carried away in chains . . . but now nearly 50,000 people had come back to renew their claim to the land in view of the coming of the Messiah. The psalmist describes the coming of the desolate years. Four pictures rise up before his mind’s eye, which he has painted skillfully for us.
- Israel was like a person lost in a desert (107:4-9)
They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; they found no city to dwell in. Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them. Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses. And he led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation. Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness (4-9).
The psalmist now describes for us Israel’s desperate condition―“They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way . . . Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them (107:4-5),” partly due to a lack of necessary provisions, and partly through anguish of spirit. This is the way of life for those who are out of touch with God.
We are in this world as in a wilderness, having no continuing city; but we are under the care of One who is leading us through the desert to our homes, and He will not permit us to be without any good thing.
Something of the restlessness of the exiles is reflected in verses 4 and 5. Although physical conditions were not unbearable in Babylon and many became so well satisfied with their life abroad that they never returned to Palestine, yet to the truly devout it was like a homeless pilgrimage in the desert. Hungry, thirsty, faint of soul, they cried out to the Lord for help. He rescued them and set them on the right path. How great should their thanks be! How wonderful His specific response to human need!
“Then they cried unto the Lord (Heb. unto Jehovah, unto the true God) . . . and he delivered . . .” (107:6)
When their hearts turned to the LORD in their trouble, he delivered them out of their distresses, in answer to their prayers.
“And he led them forth (out of the wilderness, where they had lost their way, see v. 4) by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation” (107:7). The way the Lord leads is always “the right way.” “A city of habitation” is “a city where they might establish their homes.”
Israel was like a person lost in the desert, but God had found them and led them back home. “Oh that men would praise the LORD . . . for his wonderful works to the children of men! For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness” (8-9); that is, with the fruits of His goodness (103:5). In the Lord is satisfaction for the longing soul. Since “hungry soul” most likely refers to literal hunger, “goodness” is probably better translated as “good things.”
- Israel was Like a Person Locked in a Dungeon (107:10-16)
“Such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron; Because they rebelled against the words of God, and contemned the counsel of the most High: Therefore he brought down their heart with labour; they fell down, and there was none to help. Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder. Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! For he hath broken the gates of brass, and cut the bars of iron in sunder” (Psalm 107:10-16).
The same four characteristics are present in this section: a desperate condition, a dismal confession, a dramatic conclusion, and a determined conviction.
The psalmist describes Israel’s condition. They were a people “such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron; Because they rebelled against the words of God . . . Then they cried . . . and he saved them . . . He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder―that is, snapped their bands apart (107:10-14).” “Darkness” and bondage were the result of rebellion “against the words of God” (or against God’s commands) and contempt for the counsel of the most High. Therefore, “He brought down their heart” (12) ―the pride, the rebellion, and stubbornness of their hearts. God had judged the nation, and He found them guilty of the most horrible crimes. They were unashamed and walked the streets committing the most dreadful sins. So sentence had been passed, the prisoner led away, the iron gates slammed shut. Darkness had closed in, and dreary days had dragged by on leaden feet. The horror was always close behind them. Sin burdens the heart with “labor” and robs man of his only source of help (12). But God restored them to liberty in spite of all impediments and opposition.
Death watched from the shadows and stalked them, but God had come and opened the prison doors: “Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! For he hath broken the gates of brass, and cut the bars of iron in sunder (107:15-16). God’s power breaks “gates of brass” and cuts “bars of iron,” fulfilling the promise of Isaiah 45:2. No mere man can stand against the power of God.
THANK GOD FOR THE ONE WHO CAN OPEN PRISON DOORS.
- Israel Was Like a Person Lying on a Deathbed (107:17-22)
Fools because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted. Their soul abhorreth all manner of meat; and they draw near unto the gates of death. Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he saveth them out of their distresses. He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions. Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing.
Again we have that fourfold analysis: a desperate condition, a dismal confession, a dramatic conclusion, and a determined conviction.
“Fools” are not those who are ignorant or thoughtless, but those who are morally wicked. The term is commonly used in Proverbs (7:22; 10:8, 10, 18, 23; 11:29; etc.), and in the Gospels (Matthew 7:26, 25:2). It is the opposite of wisdom, which leads to life. They did not fall into sin once or twice, as good men may do, but it was their usual practice, and therefore they are justly punished. Verse 18 is related to 17; “because of their transgression their soul abhorreth all manner of meat; and they draw near unto the gates of death.” We are foolish to yield to temptations that lead to transgression of God’s Law and Word, for too often it brings with it bodily sickness. But let us beware of saying that sickness is a sign of special sin (John 9:2-3).
Sin had brought the nation to its deathbed. The economic physicians, the political and social and religious physicians, the liberal, conservative and scholastic physicians, all tried their hand at doctoring the patient (just as they are all trying their hand at doctoring the ills of the world today), but the nation’s case grew steadily worse. Sin was at the root of the trouble, and none of those doctors could diagnose or prescribe for that. Sin robs the soul of satisfaction and pays off in the coinage of death (Romans 6:23). Yet there is hope. When trouble turns the heart to the Lord, deliverance comes (19). In their dire distress they cried out to the Lord.
The power of God comes through His Word (20) and brings healing and deliverance. “He sent His Word (Jesus), and healed them (20).” His name in every age has been Jehovah-rophi, “the Lord that healeth thee” (Exodus 15:26). And He heals the diseases of the soul as well as the diseases of the body. Oh, put yourselves in the hands of the good Physician of souls!”
The nation was brought near to extinction. Indeed, it had already been pronounced dead by the watching world powers. But then God stepped in with new life: “Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing” (107:21-22). How was it done? He “sent His Word and healed them.” It was brought about by a spiritual awakening―one with messianic implications. Here we have a prophetic anticipation of the Lord Jesus, the living Word of God sent forth to heal human sickness and the soul’s diseases.
Instead of giving an immediate reason why men should praise the Lord, as in 8-9 and 15-16, the poet enlarges on the call for praise and suggested the “sacrifices of thanksgiving” (22). These are either properly called that; or praises and thanksgivings to God, which in Scripture are called sacrifices. Because they are no less acceptable to God than costly sacrifices. Thank offerings were a division of the peace offerings (Lev. 7:11-15; 22:29-30).
- Israel Was like a Person Hammered continuously by the Deep (107:23-28)
They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep. For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end. Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses (23-28).
For the fourth and final time the psalmist underlines that dreadful condition, dismal confession, dramatic conclusion, and determined conviction.
From verses 23-30 the psalmist gives us a remarkable description of God’s power over the elemental forces of the sea. The expression “down to the sea in ships” (23) reflects the fact that the ocean lies lower than the land. “Wind and waves” and storms are subject to God’s will (25), and do not come by chance.
This time he envisions a ship at sea. A cockleshell (a small, light, flimsy boat) of a ship is tossed about like a cork on mountainous waves. The seasoned sailors have ventured too far from shore, the winds have arisen, and the navigation lights are lost. The little vessel is at the mercy of the raging sea, and all hope is lost.
“To the depths” (26) means towards the bottom of the sea.
“Their soul is melted” means “when in danger their courage melted away.”
“At their wits' end” (27) has become a proverbial expression for coming to the end of man’s ingenuity and resourcefulness. The Lord stills “the storm,” and brings the mariners “unto their desired haven” (29-30).
He sees the nation is in great peril. The Gentile seas had risen at God’s command and had almost sunk Israel completely and forever. Once again God had intervened, however; “He maketh the storm a calm . . . he bringeth them unto their desired haven. Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! Let them exalt him also in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders (107:29-32).”
So for the fourth time the psalmist reminds Israel of the dreadful peril through which the nation had just passed, pointing to both its cause and its cure. The note of public worship―congregation and assembly―is clear and strong.
What does that have to say to us today? Let us make it personal.
- Do we feel like we are lost in a spiritual desert? The question is not addressed to unsaved people; it goes without saying that they are lost. It is addressed to the Lord’s people. Do we find ourselves looking this way and that in our circumstances. Without the slightest idea which is the right way to turn or what is the right step to take. Every step seems to be the wrong one. Then this psalm is for us.
- Do we find ourselves locked in a spiritual dungeon? We feel that circumstances have hemmed us in. We seem to be bound and chained and, like a prisoner on death row, we find ourselves driven to desperation? This psalm is for us.
- Do we find ourselves lying on a spiritual deathbed? Our souls are sick unto death, we are knotted up inside and our situations seem hopeless. We find we have lost our appetites; life has lost its charm. Things we once enjoyed are a dead weight on our hearts. This psalm is for us.
- Do we find ourselves struck continuously by the seething sea? We are overwhelmed because the circumstances through which we are passing are ominous and frightening. We are like a drunken person. We are at the mercy of our circumstances. We seem to stagger from one hopeless effort to another. This psalm is for us.
What can we do about it?
First, we must remember there is a cause. We must search our hearts, go back over our lives, allow the Spirit of God to show us why these things have happened. If sin and forgetfulness of God are at the bottom of the problem, we must confess that and get to the bottom of the problem.
Second, we must remember there is a cure. God has not abandoned us. He is going to work a great miracle for us as He did for Israel. He will bring us right through our problems if we will let Him. We will yet praise Him for His goodness and wonderful works.
“In the assembly of the elders” (32) refers to the magistrates or rulers, who are here opposed to the people. The sense is, let them not be ashamed before the greatest of men as poor persons commonly are (119:46). Or he mentions the elders particularly, because they are most apt to neglect and forget God, and to exalt themselves above and against Him; and therefore it was proper and necessary that they should be acquainted with the almighty power and universal providence and dominion of God, that they themselves might learn subjection and reverence to God, and might promote it among their people.
III. HOW God Restored The Scarred And Ruined Property Of Israel (107:33-38)
He changes rivers into a wilderness and springs of water into a thirsty ground; a fruitful land into a salt waste, because of the wickedness of those who dwell in it. He changes a wilderness into a pool of water And a dry land into springs of water; And there He makes the hungry to dwell, So that they may establish an inhabited city, And sow fields and plant vineyards, And gather a fruitful harvest. Also He blesses them and they multiply greatly, and He does not let their cattle decrease.
We must go back to that little band of repatriated Jews standing around the foundation of the new temple in Jerusalem.
- The Land Made Barren (107:33-34)
“He turneth rivers into a wilderness, and the watersprings into dry ground; A fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein.”
All around them the Jews could see the harvest of hundreds of years of rebellion and apostasy. Ruined cities. Barren fields. Desolation. This was the land that had once flowed with milk and honey. This was God’s “paid in full” for generation after generation of life in defiance of His Word. Israel had ignored His laws and replaced His Truths with the religious follies of the pagans.
The barrenness and fruitfulness of the land itself are related to judgment and reward. The wickedness of man causes the Lord to turn “rivers into a wilderness (33), water springs into dry ground, and the fruitful land into barrenness (34) ―a productive area becomes a salt marsh.” Those who trust in earthly comforts, and seem secure, may in a moment become destitute; while those who are in the greatest peril may suddenly become enriched with all manner of good things. Do not trust in things, but in God. He did not inflict them with these judgments by choice or without cause, rather “for the wickedness of them that dwell therein (34)”―for the punishment of sin in some, and the prevention of it in others.
- The Land Made Beautiful (107:35-38)
He foresees a great increase in precipitation: “He turneth the wilderness into a standing water, and dry ground into watersprings and there he maketh the hungry (poor people) to dwell, that they may prepare a city for habitation; and sow the fields, and plant vineyards, which may yield fruits of increase. He blesseth them also, so that they are multiplied greatly; and suffereth not their cattle to decrease” (35-38).
In other words, all the signs of God’s displeasure simply disappear. The scarred and ruined Property of Israel is restored. The desert is made the scene of vineyards and fields (35-37), the implied condition being the obedience and righteousness of the people. Population grows or declines under much of the same condition.
God transforms barrenness into beauty, sobs into songs. When He has accomplished His purpose in the difficulty of our lives, overnight He can restore all to beauty.
- How God revived the social and Religious prosperity of Israel (107:39-43)
Again, they are minished (become few) and brought low through oppression, affliction, and sorrow. He poureth contempt upon princes, and causeth them to wander in the wilderness, where there is no way. Yet setteth he the poor on high from affliction, and maketh him families like a flock. The righteous shall see it, and rejoice: and all iniquity shall stop her mouth. Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the LORD.
- The Sadness of Israel’s Judgment (107:39-40)
That this people, God’s people, poor people, had to be so dreadfully scourged and scattered before they would listen to Him is inexpressibly sad. The psalmist tells how God diminished and brought the people low, pouring contempt on their princes―those haughty princes of Judah who thought they could do as they pleased.
They, these poor men, who when they are exalted and blessed by God, kick at Him, and grow insolent and secure, which is a common reaction for some men; are minished and brought low; are by God’s just judgment diminished in their numbers and in their blessings.
“Through oppression, affliction, and sorrow”; or, through wicked oppression (by the tyranny of others, whom God sends to rob them of their riches), and by other griefs or grievous calamities with which God inflicts them.
“He poureth contempt upon princes (40); those who were honorable and adored like gods by their people, and terrible to their enemies, He renders them despicable to their own subjects, and to other nations; and He does this suddenly, abundantly, and unavoidably, as this phrase which says, pouring it out upon them seems to imply. To “wander in the wilderness where there is no way” (40); either means that, (1) He gives them up to pernicious counsels, by which they are exposed to contempt, and brought to their wit’s end, not knowing which course to take. Or, (2) He banished them from their own courts and kingdoms, and forced them to flee into desolate wilderness for shelter and food.
- The Land Made Beautiful (107:41-43)
All turned out well: “Yet setteth he the poor on high from affliction, and maketh him families like a flock. The righteous shall see it, and rejoice: and all iniquity shall stop her mouth” (41, 42). No one, whatever his rank, is exempt from God’s judgments on sin. The high are brought low, and the humble are exalted (41; Prov. 3:34). This is cause for the rejoicing of the righteous (42). The statement “all inequity shall stop her mouth” means “wrongdoers are silenced.” “Inequity,” is a product of unrighteous or ungodly men.
The singer smiled on the little flock gathered back from the wilderness of the world. “Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the LORD (43),” he said. The verse expresses the truth Jesus stated, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17). God is too wise to make mistakes, too loving to be unkind, too powerful to be thwarted in His ultimate purposes for His own. We can take heart in that. Let us ask God to give us this true wisdom and spiritual insight; that we may look out for these indications of Divine mercy, and treasure them for our encouragement and comfort, and as sources of praise.
No matter what we are facing in our lives, let us remember that God is working out a plan, a plan dictated by His loving kindness and His power.