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YEAR B: LENT 4
March 18, 2012
Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22


Psalm 107 is a good example of a community psalm of thanksgiving. In the main part of the psalm (vv. 4-32) it surveys four different groups of people which have found themselves in difficult circumstances and been delivered by the Lord. Some have been innocently drawn into danger. Others have experienced it as a result of their own waywardness. A set of repeated refrains as well as the same structure connects the passages on the four groups. In vv. 33-38 the psalm states that the Lord is the one who controls creation, and who does good and brings evil in judgment. The psalm ends with the Lord’s people expressing their trust that he can restore them when they again find themselves in dire straits and calls the Lord’s people to rejoice in his deliverance, to consider ‘these things’ and the Lord’s faithful acts.

The selection of verses from the psalm for today focuses on the introduction (vv. 1-3) and the third group delivered by the Lord (vv. 17-22). Verses 1-3 call for the ‘redeemed’ to give thanks for God’s everlasting faithfulness. These redeemed have been gathered from the four corners of the world. This reference to the redeemed coming from all corners of the earth could suggest that the psalm was set in the post-exilic period when a number of people returned from exile to their homeland.

The third section, vv. 17-22, concerns the ‘sick’ although the Hebrew could also be translated as ‘fools’. The Hebrew adjective is used frequently in Proverbs and generally indicates someone of morally questionable behaviour (e.g. Prov. 1.7; 14.9; 15.5 etc.). However, the reference is commonly interpreted as referring to illness because of the lack of appetite, being close to death, and the Lord healing them. The link between the affliction and the people’s iniquities is clear in the psalm and was not impossible in ancient Israelite thought, although we may not entertain such connections so easily now. The reference to loathing ‘any kind of food’ (v. 18) is what suggests the connection with Num. 21:4-9 although we should note that in the psalm the loathing of food could be a symptom of the people’s affliction. In Numbers, the loathing is deliberate and the cause of the affliction not a product of it. Such differences, however, do not always deter the lectionary writers from making connections. But we should be careful not to gloss over it too quickly. At the end of the section, as for each of the other three, all humanity is said to be the intended recipient of the Lord’s deliverance (see vv. 8, 15, 21, 31).

The psalm concludes with a statement that God is the one who controls creation (vv. 33-38). This ought not to be missed even though it is beyond the designated reading for today. It makes the chief point of the psalm. God can turn prosperity (rivers, pools, and fruitfulness) into places of sterility because of sin (vv. 33-34), but God can also reverse that (vv. 35-38) turning the desert place into a spring or place of harvest, a home for the hungry mentioned in vv. 4-9. The psalm concludes with an assertion that God can deliver his people when they are low (vv. 39-41), and a closing injunction for the upright to rejoice in this and for those who are wise to consider ‘these things’ and God’s faithful acts. Verses 33-38 constitute a statement of God’s absolute power over nature and history. However, by speaking about God’s power to turn deserts into places of fertility after telling of his power to turn places of fertility into deserts, the point is made that even God’s acts of redemption can overcome his judgment. This is also part of the message of Num. 12:4-9.

In this psalm thanksgiving is the response of those who recognize the goodness and ‘steadfast love’ of God (v. 1). God’s own nature is what gives rise to praise in thanksgiving. It is not that God is simply good to those who praise him. Thanksgiving arises after deliverance from many types of situations. It is an incentive to those who are faithful to maintain their prayer. The past and its acts of deliverance constitute a cause for hope for the future.
 

Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship:

The initial verses of the psalm would make a clear call to worship either said by the one leading or responsively with the congregation:

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
    for his steadfast love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the LORD say so,
    those he redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands,
    from the east and from the west,
    from the north and from the south.
Some of the later verses of the psalm if adapted would serve well as an introduction to the declaration of forgiveness after confession:
He turns rivers into a desert,
    springs of water into thirsty ground,
He turns a desert into pools of water,
    a parched land into springs of water.
And there he lets the hungry live …
    Christ’s words are indeed food
    for the hungry in a parched land:
    ‘Your sins are forgiven.’
    Thanks be to God.
The final verse of the psalm (‘Let those who are wise give heed to these things, and consider the steadfast love of the LORD’) could well serve as a theme for the week.

Old Testament Reading: Numbers 21:4-9

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