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Many expositors are of opinion that this Psalm was written to celebrate the return of the Jews from the Babylonian exile. This opinion is based chiefly on Psalms 107:2-3. But the Psalm as a whole does not seem to us to favour such a conclusion. Perowne says: “It is obvious that this Psalm is not historical. It describes various incidents of human life, it tells of the perils which befall men, and the goodness of God in delivering them, and calls upon all who have experienced His care and protection gratefully to acknowledge them; and it is perfectly general in its character. The four or five groups, or pictures, are so many samples taken from the broad and varied record of human experience. Such a Psalm would have been admirably adapted to be sung in the Temple-worship, at the offering of the thank-offerings.
“But, whatever may have been the circumstances under which the Psalm was written, or the particular occasion for which it was intended, there can be no doubt as to the great lesson which it inculcates. It teaches us not only that God’s Providence watches over men, but that His ear is open to their prayer. It teaches us that prayer may be put up 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. This was the simple faith of the Hebrew Poet.”
The author of the Psalm is not known.
DISTRESSED TRAVELLERS AND THEIR DIVINE HELPER
It is probable, as Perowne suggests, that the first three verses are “a liturgical addition, framed with particular reference to the return from Babylon, and prefixed to a poem originally designed to have a wider scope.” The Psalm begins with the same liturgical formula as the preceding; and the Poet proceeds to represent the people of God as—
1. Redeemed by Him. “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy.” The allusion is probably to the deliverance of the Jews from the captivity in Babylon. The people of God now are redeemed from sin by the precious blood of Christ. They have had precious experiences of the goodness of the Lord, and are under special obligations to praise Him.
2. Gathered by Him. “Gathered them out of the lands from the east, and from the west, from the north, and from the south.” The Lord gathered the exiles out of all the lands into which they had been driven in the day of their distress. He gathers men now into His Church. And He is gathering His people to their home in heaven. From all lands they are being assembled in our Father’s home on high.
Then the Poet proceeds to represent the people as distressed travellers, relieved by Divine goodness, and calls upon them to praise the Lord. Consider—
I. The distressed travellers. “They wandered in the wilderness,” &c.
1. They were travellers through a pathless desert. “They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way.” “A solitary way” is not a correct translation. Perowne: “In a pathless waste.” Hengstenberg: “The pathless desert.” A wilderness is a scene of dreary desolation; and in this case the travellers are represented as having no path along which to travel through this dreary desert. The track is lost, perhaps obliterated by some violent sand-storm.
2. They were travellers through a homeless desert. “They found no city to dwell in.” There were no habitable places in the wilderness through which they journeyed.
3. They were travellers through an inhospitable desert. “Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them.” Their life was faint and exhausted by reason of hunger and thirst. We have here a picture of the pilgrimage of life. Apart from Divine guidance, man is a traveller who has lost his way; the track is clean gone; he is perplexed, bewildered. In this world there is no place of settled residence for man. “Here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” And unless man look to God for support, he will find in this world nothing to sustain his spiritual nature, nothing to satisfy the hunger and thirst of the soul.
II. The all-sufficient Helper. The Lord interposed in their need, and delivered them from all their distresses.
1. The Divine help was granted in answer to prayer. “Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them out of their distresses.” Perowne: “So it ever is: only the pressure of a great need forces men to seek God. Prayer is not only the resource of good men, but of all men in trouble. It is a natural instinct even of wicked men to turn to God at such times.” The fact that all men thus cry to God in their distresses implies—Faith
(1) in the existence of God; “that He is.”
(2) In His power to help His creatures; that He is able to relieve the distressed.
(3) In His regard for His creatures; that He is interested in their welfare.
(4) In His accessibleness to His creatures; that they may approach Him in prayer; “that He is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” Prayer is a great and glorious reality. There is ONE who hears and answers prayer.
2. The Divine help was adequate to their need. They were in a “pathless desert,” and He granted to them direction, guidance. “He led them forth by the right way.” They were in a homeless desert, and He directed them homeward. “He led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation.” They were fainting in an inhospitable desert, and He gave them abundant provision. “For He satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.” Both the hunger and the thirst He effectually relieves. And still for all who seek Him there is all-sufficient help in Him. He is the infallible Guide through life. His smile transforms a barren wilderness into a richly provided banqueting house. And he has prepared for us a home, peaceful and permanent, beautiful and blessed.
III. The manifest obligation. “Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men.”
1. God’s gracious doings for man are wonderful. “His goodness, and His wonderful works to the children of men.” They are wonderful in themselves, and in their object. “The children of men” are unworthy of the least of His favours. Yet He guides them, sustains them, &c.
2. Men are prone to overlook the gracious doings of God for them. His mercies often “lie
Forgotten in unthankfulness,
And without praises die.”
Men have to be urged to the celebration of the praise of their Divine Benefactor. “Oh that men would,” &c.
3. Men are under the most sacred obligation to celebrate the gracious doings of God for them. God rightly expects that those who receive His mercy will celebrate His praise. He requires this. Gratitude urges to this. Not to thank Him is to manifest extreme baseness.
“The stall-fed ox, that is grown fat, will know
His careless feeder, and acknowledge too;
The generous spaniel loves his master’s eye,
And licks his fingers though no meat he by;
But man, ungrateful man, that’s born and bred
By Heaven’s immediate power; maintained and fed
By His providing hand; observed, attended,
By His indulgent grace; preserved, defended
By His prevailing arm: this man, I say,
Is more ungrateful, more obdure than they.
Man, O most ungrateful man, can ever
Enjoy Thy gift, but never mind the Giver;
And like the swine, though pampered with enough,
His eyes are never higher than the trough!”
THE WAY OF THE REDEEMED
(Psalms 107:7. “He led them forth by the right way.”)
I. The way of the redeemed.
4. A desert way.
II. The rectitude of the way. It is the “right way.” Consider—
1. That it is the Divine way. “He led them forth” as a shepherd his flock.
2. To what it leads. “The city of habitation.”
1. Take an enlarged view of the Divine conduct. Think of the goal, as well as of the way which leads to it. The way is painful; but consider why you are called to tread it. Remember the end of it all.
2. Ever seek the Divine guidance. God goes before; follow, trust Him.—W. M., in The Pulpit Analyst.
THE AFFLICTED CAPTIVES AND THEIR GLORIOUS EMANCIPATOR
We have in these verses—
I. The picture of a painful captivity. “Such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron.” The Poet represents the captivity as characterised by—
1. Distress. They “sit in darkness.” The dark prison-house is an emblem of misery. To the patriotic and pious Jews the Babylonian Captivity was a source of much trouble and distress.
2. Apprehension. “In the shadow of death.” Death seemed to stand fully disclosed to their view, and to cast his chilling and fearful shadow upon them. The captives, in their distress, were as men constantly menaced by death.
3. Painful restriction. “Bound in affliction and iron.” The captives were not literally bound thus; but their distress seemed to them like that of the man who is held in iron fetters.
The most terrible captivity is moral—the bondage of sin. The wicked man is in darkness; the beauties of the spiritual universe—of Oruth, righteousness, love,—he sees not. “The second death” projects its dread shadow over him. He is the slave of sinful appetites, habits, and passions; is “holden with the cords of his sins.” Physical captivity is a calamity; moral captivity is a crime. Death will terminate the former; it has no power to affect the latter. The man who dies in sin enters eternity a manacled slave.
II. The reason of this painful captivity. “Because they rebelled against the words of God, and contemned the counsel of the Most High.” “The words of God” are His commands delivered unto them in His law, and by His servants the prophets. “The counsel of the Most High” is the advice which was given to them by the prophets of the Lord. Their painful captivity was the result of their wilful disobedience. The Poet in this verse exhibits sin in two aspects—
1. Sin in its guilt. It is rebellion against the authority of the greatest and holiest Being—the Supreme Being.
2. Sin in its folly. It is the rejection of the counsel of the wisest and kindest Being. “God will command nothing which He would not advise, and which it would not be wisdom to obey.”
III. The design of this painful captivity. “He brought down their heart with labour; they fell down, and there was none to help.” Their heart had proudly risen up in rebellion against God and contempt of His counsel, and their captivity was designed by its sufferings to subdue their pride. עָמָל here rendered “labour,” signifies also affliction, trouble. God sought to humble them for them sins, to show them their own helplessness, and that their strength and succour were in Him alone. Afflictions are teachers. The man who is not altogether foolish, when visited by them, will strive to ascertain and appropriate the lessons which they have to impart.
IV. The deliverance from this painful captivity—
1. Was effected in answer to prayer. “Then they cried unto the Lord,” &c (See remarks on Psalms 107:6.)
2. Was effected by the Lord. “HE brought them out,” &c. “HE hath broken the gates,” &c. In the deliverance of the Jews from Babylon, the hand of the Lord was clearly displayed. Our Lord proclaims liberty to the captives of evil, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound by sin. There is no power in the universe, but that of God in Christ Jesus, that can emancipate the slaves of sin.
3. Was gloriously complete. “He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder. He hath broken the gates of brass, and cut the bars of iron in sunder.” The delivery was as great as the distress. “ ‘The gates of brass’ refer probably to Babylon; and the idea is that their deliverance had been as if the brazen gates of that great city had been broken down to give them free egress from their captivity.” (Comp. Isaiah 45:2.) The Poet mentions three features of their deliverance, which taken together strikingly exhibit its completeness. Their fetters were riven asunder, they were brought out of their cold and gloomy prison, and the city gates were broken down, so that they could go forth entirely from the land of their captivity.
4. Demanded grateful acknowledgment. “Oh, that men would praise the Lord,” &c. (See remarks on Psalms 107:6.)
CONCLUSION.—This subject has a practical and urgent application to all moral captives, all slaves of sin. Yours is a bondage far more terrible than that of Israel in Babylon. But from bondage such as yours Jesus Christ is the great and glorious Emancipator. From your dark prison-house cry unto Him for deliverance, and you shall speedily walk forth a free man in the bright universe of God.
HUMAN SICKNESS AND DIVINE HEALING
I. Human sickness. It is here set forth—
1. In its cause. “Fools because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities are afflicted.” Perowne’s translation is better: “Foolish men, because of the way of their transgression and because of their iniquities, bring affliction upon themselves.” The chief ideas here are two:
(1) Wickedness is folly. The transgressor is a “fool.” The foolishness is not intellectual, but moral. The wicked are “fools” because of the moral infatuation of their conduct; they despise counsel; they are heedless of warning; they betray their own interests; they will only be brought to reason by chastisement.
(2) Wickedness leads to sickness. The Psalmist expressively indicates that the suffering was selfproduced; the sufferers had brought it upon themselves. Many physical afflictions are the direct result of sin. Gluttony and drunkenness lead to untold sickness and suffering. All suffering results from sin. Abolish moral evil, and physical evil would soon be utterly unknown.
2. In its effect. “Their soul abhorreth all manner of meat, and they draw near unto the gates of death.” The Psalmist describes the sufferer as loathing food, turning from it in disgust, and drawing near to death. Sheol, the realm of death, he represents as a city which is entered through gates. And the sufferer is solemnly near to those gates; in a little while, unless relief be imparted to him, he will have passed through them for ever.
II. Divine healing. This the Poet exhibits as—
1. Effected in answer to prayer. “Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble,” &c. (See remarks on Psalms 107:6.) “Prayer is a salve for every sore.”
2. Effected with supreme ease. “He sent His word and healed them.” Perowne detects here “the first glimmering of St. John’s doctrine of the agency of the personal Word. The Word by which the heavens were made (Psalms 33:6) is seen to be not merely the expression of God’s will, but His messenger mediating between Himself and His creatures.” At the command of the Lord diseases flee. He has but to utter His word, and the result is achieved. Doubtless many have been “lifted up from the gates of death” by God in answer to prayer. And in all cases of restoration from sickness to health, “whatever means may be used, the healing power comes from God, and is under His control.”
3. Demanding grateful acknowledgment. “Oh that men would praise the Lord for His goodness,” &c. (See remarks on Psalms 107:8.)
CONCLUSION.—This sketch of human disease and Divine healing may fairly be regarded as a parable of sin and salvation.
1. Sin produces an awful deterioration in human nature, and, “when it is finished, bringeth forth death.”
2. The Lord is the almighty and all-merciful Saviour from sin.
3. Prayer is the condition of deliverance from sin. “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” “Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near.”
DISTRESSED SEAMEN AND THE SOVEREIGN OF THE SEA
This “is the most highly finished, the most thoroughly poetical, of each of the four pictures of human peril and deliverance. It is painted as a landsman would paint it, but yet only as one who had him-self been in ‘perils of waters’ could paint the storm—the waves running mountains high, on which the tiny craft seemed a plaything, the helplessness of human skill, the gladness of the calm, the safe refuge in the haven.”—Perowne. Notice—
I. God’s sovereignty over the sea. “He commandeth and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.” Again: “He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.” The force and fury of the storm are not blind, irresponsible, reckless things. They are not merely the outworking of natural laws. Behind the laws there is the Lawgiver. Behind the force of the winds and waves there is the Force of all forces—the great God. The old Hebrew poets and prophets spake literal truth when they represented the ocean as entirely under the sway of Jehovah.
“Who lifts up on high
The ocean’s maddening waves, tremendous sight?
Or bids them sleep along the feeble sands!
“Tis God alone.”—Pollok.
To regard God as the Ruler of the sea It—
1. Philosophic. It is unsatisfactory to tell me that certain laws, or forces of Nature, or certain combinations of her elements, are the cause of storms and calms. But it is thoroughly reasonable to attribute them to the Creator and Lord of Nature, a Being of infinite wisdom and almighty power.
2. Scriptural. The Bible ascribes all the phenomena of Nature to the agency of the Divine Being.
3. Assuring. It is some satisfaction to know that the furious elements are not governed by blind laws or stonyhearted fate, but by the wise and holy God. When the angry ocean engulfs hundreds of human beings, much sorrow and distressing mystery are the result. Yet the sorrow and distress would be far greater if, in the dreadful storm, we beheld only the work of mere laws or relentless fate. But God is wise, and strong, and kind. We know His will is good. We bow reverently before the mystery, and wait for more light. It is assuring to know that our Father rules the winds and waves.
II. Man’s impotency when the sea rebels against him. “They mount up to the heaven,” &c. (Psalms 107:26-27). Man has great power over the sea. He employs it in his service. To a great extent he can control it even in its angry moods. In its depths he hides the medium of communication with far distant lands. He can navigate it in almost all weathers. Yet there are limits to man’s power over the sea, and when he attains these limits, his impotence is complete. There is a “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no farther,” and when man has reached that boundary, if he attempt to advance beyond, the sea will whelm him.
How great is man! See how he curbs the elements and employs them in his service.
How insignificant is man! See how the stormy waves sport with him, buffet him, engulf him. When the ocean speaks in thunder, and surges in might and fury, men’s souls are “melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end.”
But even when impotent and defeated by the warring elements, man is greater than they; for he is conscious of his impotence and defeat, while they know not of their triumph.
III. Man’s resource when the sea rebels against him. “Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble.” In the storm, when Jonah was fleeing from Joppa to Tarshish, “the mariners were afraid, and cried every man unto his god.” In the storm on the sea of Galilee, when the disciples of Christ thought they were perishing, they cried, “Lord, save us: we perish.” Even the professed atheist ceases the insane boast of atheism and cries to God for mercy in the storm when hope of deliverance by mere human skill is gone. In a heavy storm, when wreck seemed inevitable, the captain of a ship inquired anxiously—“Is there a praying man on board?” But no one responded. He inquired again. And eventually it was found that there was a person on board, who had formerly been a Wesleyan, but who had cast away his confidence. “Can you pray?” said the captain to him. “I could once, sir,” he tremblingly replied, “but I have left off praying.” “Try again,” said the captain. And all the crew bowed down to that Almighty Being
“Who rides upon the stormy sky,
And calms the roaring seas;”
whilst the poor backslider tried to pray, and did pray, fervently, powerfully, and successfully; for the storm subsided and the vessel was preserved.
How affecting, in the wreck of the London, to find the people gathering round the Rev. Mr. Draper, and in prayer to God learning how to sink into the deep, not with the wild shriek of despair, or the heartless indifference of stoicism, or the atheistic excitement of epicureanism, but with the calm heroism of Christian faith! Prayer to God is the resource of imperilled mariners. That men thus cry to God in their trouble, as by an instinct of their being, suggests—
1. The absurdity of atheism. Atheism is a contradiction of the consciousness of man as man.
2. The reality of prayer. The existence of the instinct which leads men to cry unto the Lord in their distresses, suggests that there is some One who hears prayer, that the utterance of petition is not in vain.
But is it only when you are at your wit’s end that you cry unto God? Do you ignore Him when “the south wind blows softly,” yet cry unto Him when the wild tempest raves? Is such conduct worthy of you? What right have you to expect that He whom you seek only when you are in trouble will answer your selfish cry?
IV. God’s answer to man’s cry. “He bringeth them out of their distresses,” &c. Sometimes this is true literally. The heathen mariners on their voyage to Tarshish in the storm, with their dim lights as to religion, cried earnestly to their gods, and the true God directed them as to how they should proceed so as to secure the allaying of the storm. The disciples of the Lord Jesus cried to Him in the tempest, and He hushed it into peace. We could cite numerous instances of modern times, in which earnest prayer in the storm has been followed by a calm. But God does not always literally allay the storm, and save from it those who cry unto Him. He, however, calms the inward tempest, so that the waves of anxiety and terror are still. He did so in those on board the London, who sank in the act of worship. If He does not avert the calamity in answer to the prayer of the imperilled, He nerves them for the calamity, in their case takes away the sting and evil of it, and makes it the occasion of blessing to them. In answer to the cry of “those in peril on the sea,” God does not always bring the ship into the desired haven; but “He bringeth them unto their desired haven,”—that calm haven where no storm raves, but all is peaceful, serene, and blessed.
V. Man’s obligation for God’s interposition. “Oh, that men would praise the Lord for His goodness,” &c. (See remarks on Psalms 107:8.)
“The character of the Psalm,” says Perowne, “changes at this point. We have no longer distinct pictures as before: the beautiful double refrain is dropped, the language is harsher and more abrupt. Instead of fresh examples of deliverance from peril, and thanksgiving for God’s mercies, we have now instances of God’s providential government of the world exhibited in two series of contrasts. The first of these is contained in Psalms 107:33-39, and expresses a double change—the. fruitful well-watered land smitten, like the rich plain of Sodom, with desolation, and changed into a salt-marsh; and anon, the wilderness crowned with cities, like Tadmor (of which Pliny says, vasto ambitu arenis includit agros), and made fertile to produce corn and wine. The second is contained in Psalms 107:40-41, and expresses the change in the fortunes of man (as the last series did those of countries)—viz., how the poor and the humble are raised, and the rich and the proud overthrown.”
Here are three chief points for consideration:—
I. Revolutions in countries. Psalms 107:33-39. Here is—
1. A picture of a fertile land reduced to barrenness. “He turneth rivers into a wilderness,” &c. (Psalms 107:33-34).
(1) This change was effected by God. “HE turneth,” &c. He can dry up rivers, and make the fruitful plain a salt waste or sandy desert.
(2) This change was effected by God by reason of the wickedness of its inhabitants. “For the wickedness of them that dwell therein.” There is an allusion here to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, and the change of “the plain well watered everywhere, as the garden of the Lord,” into a salt sea and a salt soil on which nothing grows. “If the land be bad, it is because the inhabitants are so.”
2. A picture of a barren land made fertile. (Psalms 107:35-38.) The 35th verse is taken from Isaiah 41:18. The arid wilderness is transformed into a well-watered country, the barren desert into a scene of fruitfulness and beauty; where solitude reigned, a populous city is found; and where no life was, both human and animal life increases and multiplies. This transformation is brought about by—
(1) The labour of man. “They prepare a city for habitation; and sow the fields, and plant vineyards, which may yield fruits of increase.” Labour is an eternal and immutable condition of prosperity both for individuals and for communities.
(2) The blessing of God. The Divine blessing precedes and prepares for human labour. “He turneth the wilderness into a standing water,” &c. The Divine blessing succeeds and crowns human labour. “He blesseth them also, so that they are multiplied,” &c. Some expositors have connected these verses with certain historical events; but, as Perowne points out, “the language employed is far too general to be limited to one event. It describes what frequently has occurred. The histories of Mexico and of Holland might furnish examples of such a contrast.” Matthew Henry says: “The land of Canaan, which was once the glory of all lands for fruitfulness, is said to be at this day a fruitless, useless, worthless spot of ground, as was foretold (Deuteronomy 29:23). This land of ours, which formerly was much of it an uncultivated desert, is now full of all good things.”
3. A reminder that the temporal prosperity of communities is inconstant and uncertain. “Again, they are minished and brought low through oppression, affliction, and sorrow.”
(1) The most prosperous communities are not exempt from calamities.
(2) The most prosperous communities are sometimes brought low by calamities. Barnes: “God so deals with the race as in the best manner to secure the recognition of Himself;—not always sending prosperity, lest men should regard it as a thing of course, and forget that it comes from Him;—and not making the course of life uniformly that of disappointment and sorrow, lest they should feel that there is no God presiding over human affairs. He visits now with prosperity, and now with adversity;—now with success and now with reverses, showing that His agency is constant, and that men are wholly dependent on Him.” Matthew Henry: “Worldly wealth is an uncertain thing, and often those that are filled with it, ere they are aware, grow so secure and sensual with it that, ere they are aware, they lose it again.”
II. Revolutions in human life. Here is—
1. The humiliation of the highest. “He poureth contempt upon princes, and causeth them to wander in the wilderness where there is no way.” If men of exalted rank do evil and dishonour God He will bring them down from their elevation, make them to be scorned of men, and reduce them to helpless embarrassment. “He bringeth the princes to nothing, He maketh the judges of the earth as vanity.”
2. The exaltation of the lowest. “Yet setteth He the poor on high from affliction, and maketh him families like a flock.” God exalts the poor above their enemies, and out of the reach of their troubles. He raises them from suffering and adversity into joy and prosperity. He blesses them with large increase in their families,—“maketh families like a flock,” a figure denoting a great multitude. Amongst the Hebrews large families were accounted a blessing. Over all these revolutions God presides. “His kingdom ruleth over all.” “God is to be acknowledged,” says Matthew Henry, “both in setting up families and in building them up. Let not princes be envied, nor the poor despised, for God has ways of changing the condition of both.”
III. The salutary impression of such revolutions. The Psalmist represents the result as threefold.
1. To the righteous, joy. “The righteous shall see it and rejoice.” The manifestation of God’s righteous government of the world is a source of gladness to the upright.
2. To the wicked, silence. “All iniquity shall stop her mouth.” “The Divine dealings shall be manifestly so just, and so worthy of universal approval, that even though the wicked are disposed to complain against God, they will be able to find nothing which will justify them in such complaints.”—Barnes.
3. To the thoughtful, increased acquaintance with God. “Whoso is wise and will observe these things, even they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord.”
(1) In the revolutions in human history there is a manifestation of the goodness of God. His rule is beneficent.
(2) This manifestation of the goodness of God is perceived only by the attentive observer of those revolutions. The significance of God’s works and ways cannot be discovered by a glance, or by the superficial observer. But he who will consider them attentively and reverently, shall find in them sufficient reason for intelligent and hearty confidence in Him.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 107". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19