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The Psalmist exhorteth the redeemed, in praising God, to observe his manifold providence over travellers, over captives, over sick men, over seamen, and in divers varieties of life.
THIS psalm, according to some, was composed by David; and if so, it seems chiefly to relate to the deliverance of the Israelites out of Egypt. But, according to others, it was made by some devout person presently after their return from the Babylonish captivity. Hence the Psalmist takes occasion to magnify God's merciful providence over other men, of any other nation as well as that of the Jews, when they addressed themselves to him in their several calamities. It was a song in parts, one verse occurring four times, to be sung by the chorus. See more on the 8th verse. The fifth book of the Psalms, according to the Hebrew division, begins here. There are those who understand this psalm as referring to the faithful believers, gathered out of all lands, and brought to that continuing city, (Hebrews 13:14.) which they were still seeking amid the various dangers and difficulties whereto mortals are exposed; which dangers and difficulties are here in several instances represented, and urged as reasons for praising him now, from a sense of that goodness which guides and conducts the faithful through them all to that city where they may dwell and abide for ever. See Psalms 107:4. Some of the descriptions in this psalm are remarkably elegant and sublime.
Psalms 107:2-3. Let the redeemed, &c.— Though these verses seem more immediately to refer to the return of the Jews from Babylon; yet the next has a more immediate reference to the deliverance out of Egypt: but it is most probable that the latter expressions are only metaphorical; for it is very common with the Hebrew poets to take their ideas from the past transactions related in their history. See Bishop Lowth's eighth Lecture.
Psalms 107:4. No city to dwell in— No city of habitation; or abiding city.
Psalms 107:8. Oh that men would praise the Lord, &c.— Let them acknowledge to the Lord his mercy, and his wonderful works, &c. Mudge, and so in the following intercalary verses. Dr. Hammond remarks very properly, that this is a psalm of answering, or parts, to be sung alternately; having a double burden or intercalary verse oft recurring. See Psalms 107:6; Psalms 107:13, &c. This is apparent upon the most transient view of it. We may suppose one side of the choir to have begun with the first of the parts, and then the other side to have taken the second, and so on. The 9th verse evidently belongs to the first part; for the 10th begins quite another subject. This the Targum confirms, supposing the psalm to have been written before the captivity, but to have been a prophesy of it; and it paraphrases the 9th verse as spoken of the children of Israel at large; but the 10th as spoken of Zedekiah, thus; "Of Zedekiah and the princes of Israel, he prophesied and said, Zedekiah and the princes of Israel, who dwelt in darkness and the shadow of death," &c. It is observable, that after each of the intercalary verses one is added, expressive of deliverance or praise. I would further observe, that if the psalm be supposed to be made with a view to the alternate response of one side of the choir to the other, then it may be considered as if it was written exactly after the method of the ancient pastorals; where, be the subject of their verse what it will, each swain endeavours to excel the other; and one may perceive their thoughts and expressions gradually to rise upon each other; and I think we may from hence discover a manifest beauty in the composition of this divine pastoral. We will suppose then, that the author composed it for the use of his brethren the Jews, when in the joy of their hearts they were assembled after their return from their captivity. At such a time, what theme could be so proper for the subject of his poem, as the manifest goodness of Almighty God? The first performers therefore invite the whole nation to praise God for this; a great instance of it, being their late deliverance and return from captivity. At Psa 107:10 the other side take the subject, and rightly observe, that the return of their great men, who were actually in chains, was a more remarkable instance of God's mercy to them, than the return of the people in general, who were only dispersed, as we may suppose, up and down the open country. Then the first performers beautifully compare this unexpected deliverance to that which God sometimes vouchsafes to the languishing dying man, when he recals, as it were, the sentence of death, and restores him to his former vigour. The others again compare it, with still greater strength and expression, to God's delivering the affrighted mariner from all the dreadful horrors of the ungovernable and arbitrary ocean. But the first, still resolved to outdo the rest, recur to that series of wonderful works which God had vouchsafed to their nation, Psa 107:32 and of which they had so lately had a convincing proof. Wherefore at last, as in a common chorus, they all conclude with exhorting each other to a serious consideration of these things, and to make a proper return to Almighty God for them. No doubt the composition of this psalm is admirable throughout; and the descriptive part of it adds, at least, its share of beauty to the whole: but what is most to be admired is the conciseness, and withal the expressiveness of the diction, which strikes our imagination with inimitable elegance. The weary and bewildered traveller, the miserable captive in the hideous dungeon, the sick and dying man, the seaman foundering in a storm—are described in so affecting a manner, that they far exceed any thing of the kind, though never so much laboured. See Lowth's 29th Prelection.
Psalms 107:11. Because they rebelled— Mudge reads this and the next verse in a parenthesis: (Because they had rebelled, &c. Psalms 107:12. And so he hath brought down their heart with pain; they are fallen without a helper.) Psalms 107:13. Yet when they cry unto the Lord, &c.
Psalms 107:17. Fools because of their transgression— The foolish, who depart from his way, and are brought low by their iniquities.—Ver. 18. Whose soul loatheth all manner of food, and who draw near to the gates of death.—Ver. 19. When these cry unto the Lord, &c. Green. The reader will observe throughout the whole translation of this psalm, a very irregular interchange of tenses; which it may be sufficient to have noted once, and to add, that in general the verbs should be translated in the present tense.
Psalms 107:26. &c. They mount up, &c.— There cannot be conceived any thing more poetical or sublime, than this description of a storm at sea; a subject on which the most celebrated poets have employed their pens. It would be a pleasing task, if the nature or limits of our work allowed it, to compare this description of the Psalmist's with those of ancient and modern writers. But we are denied this agreeable task; and shall only add, that those who will make the comparison will find how much superior are the ideas and expressions of the sacred poet, to those of uninspired writers. Instead of, are at their wit's end, some translators read, and all their skill [namely, in sailing] faileth them.
Psalms 107:29. He maketh the storm a calm— He maketh the storm to stand in silence. Mudge.
Psalms 107:32. The people—and—elders— The people are here opposed to the elders, and both together signify the whole assembly or congregation; for, among the Jews, the doctors, the rulers of the synagogue, and the elders, had a distinct apartment from the people; and, the service being much in antiphone or response, part was spoken by those who officiated in the seat of the elders, and part by the multitude of the people at large, who answered amen, at least, at their giving thanks.
Psalms 107:39. Again, they are minished and brought low— Whereas the others are diminished and brought low, by drought, suffering, and sorrow. The others mean those referred to in the 33rd and 34th verses.
Psalms 107:40. He poureth contempt upon princes— This and the two following verses contain an opposition which seems to point to Pharaoh and the children of Israel. Pharaoh was brought to shame, and made to wander in תהו tohu, an idea compounded of waste, confusion, and darkness; for such was his case when God turned the dark side of the cloud upon him in the pursuit, and the Israelites came off triumphantly, marching in flocks like sheep.
Dr. Delaney is of opinion, that from the 33rd verse David refers to the change wrought in the barren desart of Hareth, by the blessing of God upon his own and his companion's industry. It is a plain description, says he, of his own case, and such as can suit no other; and it is all spoken in the style of an experienced man: and indeed, if this were not so evident from the nature of the thing, his manner of introducing this reflection sufficiently shews that it related to himself. He observes, that God maketh a fruitful land barren, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein. Again, says he, He maketh the wilderness a standing water, &c. The nature of the antithesis plainly shews, that as God, for the sins of men, makes a fruitful land barren, so for their piety and righteousness, he turns barrenness into culture. But, the case being notoriously his own, he carefully forbore the least hint of piety or righteousness, lest he should be thought to vaunt of his own merits. And as to his ascribing all this to the agency of God, no man who considers the piety of his style will, for that reason, think it necessary to preclude the interposition of second causes, or human agency. Idleness, with regard to honest industry, is ordinarily the effect of vicious habits; and therefore it is no wonder if Canaan was, from the days of its ancient inhabitants, in the condition of the sluggard's vineyard, overrun with thorns and thistles; especially considering the desolations consequent to the ensuing and almost incessant wars. The Canaanites who inhabited the land before the days of Joshua were, without doubt, the wickedest and most abandoned race of mortals upon the face of the earth! And I believe it will be allowed, that all mankind are idle and negligent of culture, in proportion to their wickedness. Industry, and the honest arts of life, have a natural force to abate and restrain the unruly appetites and evil tendencies of the mind; whereas idleness lets them all loose, and indulges their excesses. Now idleness, in this view, and indeed in every view, is great guilt; and we know that briars and thorns are, in a great measure, the fruits of God's original curse upon guilt: and therefore God may, with great propriety, be said to make a fruitful land barren, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein. On the other hand, industry (I mean in things honest) is virtuous: And therefore when by this industry, exerted in hope, and in an humble dependance upon God for a blessing upon it, a barren land is made fruitful, God, without whose influence no industry can avail, may, in the style of a man truly religious, very probably be said to do all this, because the means are of his appointment, and the end the effect of his influence. This reasoning best accounts both for this psalm, and for that vast number of wilds and forests which protected David in the days of Saul; and at the same time makes it credible, that a man of so active, so improving, and so generous a spirit as David was, who chose, as all wise men would, to live independent, and would not suffer his men to injure his neighbours, or allow them in wickedness, (Psalms 101:4.) took this occasion to employ them in culture, and subsist them by it, and took pleasure in the employment.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, This psalm opens like the foregoing with a thanksgiving to God, and suggests the same arguments for it, drawn from the goodness and mercy of God. We have here,
1. The state of the persons spoken of; they lie under the power of their enemies; dispersed, and outcast; wandering without a settled abode; suffering the deeper want; hungry and thirsty, and their soul fainting for want of nourishment: to such sore distresses the dearest children of God are sometimes reduced; and this is an emblem also of the state of the righteous themselves, before the redemption of Jesus is embraced by them; they are enslaved by their sins, outcasts from God's favour, and can find no true rest for their souls in this disordered world; convinced of their misery and guilt, their soul is parched and ready to perish, nor can any thing quench their intolerable thirst, but the blood and merits of Jesus Christ.
2. What methods they took. They cried unto the Lord in their trouble, who alone is able to deliver, and to whom the miserable and guilty sinner may fly, and find mercy and grace to help in time of need; for none ever sought his face in vain.
3. What relief they found. He delivered them out of their distresses; recovered them from their wanderings, and restored them to a peaceable abode. Thus shall the poor bewildered sinner who cries to God be led by the hand of his grace to Jesus his Saviour; find him the way, the truth, and the life; and, if persevering in the ways of holiness, be by him conducted to an eternal mansion of undisturbed repose in glory.
4. What thanks they are bound to render. O that men, converted souls, who experience such mercy from God, would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for the wonderful works shewn to themselves, and to the children of men in the like state of distress.
2nd, God despiseth not the sighing of the prisoners.
1. Their misery is described; shut up in dark and dismal dungeons, loaded with heavy irons, their souls afflicted, and the shadow of death extended over them. Such is man by nature, sunk in ignorance, dwelling in the shadow of spiritual death, bound in the fetters of corruption, and sitting down impotent to break the bands, or escape from the house of his prison.
2. The cause of this suffering is their sin, wilful rebellion against evident commands, and neglect of the fairest warnings. God leaves not himself any where without witness; but peculiarly inexcusable are those who sin against the light of his revealed will, and reject a preached gospel.
3. By his afflictive providence God made their proud spirit bend; conscious of the desperateness of their state, they fell at his feet; unless he save, they perish. Thus, by affliction and deep conviction of sin, does God break the proud spirit of fallen man, yielding to conviction; and then, as a lost and self-despairing sinner, he leads the penitent to the feet of Jesus, out of whom there is no salvation.
4. In their distress they cried unto the Lord, as their only refuge and help, and he delivered them from their distress; he broke their bands, opened their prison-doors, and brought them to behold the light of the day, and from the shadow of death restored them to life and liberty. From chains of iron thus to be released, how great the blessing? but how much more invaluable the redemption of our souls, when Jesus, at our prayer, plucked us from the belly of hell, loosed the bonds of corruption, rescued us from death eternal, and brought us forth to the glorious life and liberty of the sons of God. For this transcendant grace, bless the Lord, O my soul!
5. Every rescued captive is bound to ascribe glory to his great deliverer, and to praise his name; and the redeemed and saved sinner will not fail to render this tribute of his gratitude, and with delight to proclaim what God hath done for his soul to the children of men, that they may come and partake of the same goodness.
3rdly, In sickness also God's mercy is proved, in answer to the prayer of the afflicted. We have,
1. Their dangerous situation. Through the power of disease their appetite fails, medicine is vain, and death hovers on their eyelids, ready to close them for ever in the dust.
2. The cause of their sickness is sin; that opened the door to Death, with all his train of evils, and we have only our own folly and wickedness to blame for all the bitter pangs that we feel. Note; (1.) Every suffering of our bodies should remind us of, and humble us for the sin of our souls. (2.) However wise sinners may conceit themselves, in casting off the restraints of God's law, and indulging their passions, they will be found at the last the most wretched fools.
3. God at their cry rescues them from the jaws of death, raises them from the bed of languishing, rebukes the disease, and, by his word, restores their lost health and strength again. Note; (1.) Is any sick? let him pray. Prayer can do more than medicine. (2.) Sin is the sickness of the soul; but when Jesus by his word and Spirit speaks to the heart, he heals our spiritual maladies, breaks the power of corruption, restores our souls to the life of grace below, and has provided for the faithful soul the eternal life of glory above. Great Physician, let me daily feel thy healing power!
4. Gratitude is the bounden duty of those whose life through mercy is restored. Let them acknowledge the goodness of God which they have tasted, and shew forth his praises, not only with thankful lips, but by devoting to his glory the days he hath prolonged; rejoicing in his salvation, and publishing to his praise the wonders of his grace.
4thly, The mariners who plough the main, dwelling in the midst of dangers, and daily beholding God's wonders in the deep, have peculiar obligations lying upon them to bless and praise him for the preservations they experience.
1. Their dangers are great and imminent. At God's command the stormy winds rush from their hollow caverns, and with tremendous roar raise up the foaming billows. Mounting the dreadful steep, the vessel seems to climb the skies: then, rushing down the horrid precipice, appears sunk within a watery grave. The affrighted seamen, unable to keep their feet, stagger on the deck; and, no longer able to guide the ship, give her up to the winds and waves, ready to abandon themselves to despair. How prepared to die ought they to be, who are in deaths so often!
2. They cry unto God. How can they do otherwise, when death in this most tremendous form stands ghastly in their view! Then instant help appears: he who "rides on the whirlwind, and directs the storm," checks with a word its fury: the winds are hushed, the waves subside, and, like a molten looking-glass, not a dimple ruffles the surface of the late troubled ocean. Note; (1.) A seaman, above all others, should be a man of faith and prayer. (2.) He who bids the stormy waves be still, and they obey him, can as easily speak peace to the tempestuous soul, and calm the distresses of the despairing sinner.
3. With delight and joy the mariner beholds the danger past, and now, the wished-for haven in view, expects rest from all his toils. Thus, after tossing long on life's tempestuous ocean, the faithful soul, at death's approach, descries the happy shore, and enters the fair haven of eternal rest, where it would be.
4. For such wondrous deliverance and distinguished goodness, how can we but adore the hand that saves us, and, in the great congregation, offer up our thanksgivings, the expression of our lively gratitude, and the encouragement for others in the like distress to call upon the God who heareth prayer.
5thly, Various and surprising are the changes which God worketh in the earth.
1. He makes the fruitful land barren for the iniquity of its inhabitants, turning the rivers into a wilderness. Again, when his blessings rest on some favoured people, the wilderness changes its face, and blossoms as the rose. Plenty there satisfies the hungry, and the rising city affords a safe abode to the inhabitants. The vineyards spring, the corn flourishes, and the vintage and harvest crown the happy year. Their families multiply under the divine blessing, and their flocks and herds greatly increase. On the other hand, when he turns the current of his favour back again, they wither and decay; oppressed, afflicted, and groaning under their sorrows, their numbers and strength decrease, till they become as a beacon on a hill. Thus, when princes abuse their divinely delegated power, he, by whom kings reign, pours contempt upon them, and hurls them from the throne; and, fallen from their high estate, compels them to wander destitute and bewildered in the trackless wilderness; while by his providence he sometimes raises the poor from the dunghill, sets them on high, crowns them with dignity, blesses them with a numerous family, and puts all affliction far away from them. In all which dispensations we may admire and adore the justice and power of God. Note; (1.) Sinners are the plague of the earth; for their sakes the land mourneth, while the righteous procure perpetual blessings on their abode. (2.) If we be providentially exalted or brought low, increased or diminished, let us see and acknowledge through the whole the hand of God.
2. The effects which these changes will produce. The righteous shall see it, and rejoice; happy to behold the humble exalted, the crest of pride fallen, and God glorified in his providential dispensations: and all iniquity shall stop her mouth; the sinner, confounded, shall be forced to lay his mouth in the dust, and own the righteous judgment. Whoso is wise, or, with an interrogation, Who is wise? let them shew it by an attentive and persevering regard to these ways of providence, and observe these things, to profit thereby; and then they shall understand the loving-kindness of the Lord, see it in all his dispensations, and experience it to the present and eternal welfare of their faithful souls.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 107". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12