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August 1, 2010
Psalm 107:1-9, 43

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 first group delivered by the Lord (vv. 4-9). 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 first section, vv. 4-9, concerns those who ‘wandered in desert wastes’, in the wilderness, hungry and thirsty. They could find no way of their own to an inhabited city (v. 4). No reason is given for their situation but Yahweh responds to their cry. The stanza ends with a call for those rescued to give thanks because Yahweh satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry. The two adjectives ‘thirsty’ and ‘hungry’ appear both in v. 5 and v. 9 at the start and end of the stanza. However, they are repeated in reverse order (hungry-thirsty : thirsty-hungry) creating a nice inclusio for the stanza. This has the effect of focusing attention on the central statement in v. 7: ‘he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town’. This stands in contrast to the people’s own inability to finds a way to an inhabited town in v. 4. The stanza could apply to the exile but is also mindful of the exodus. In these terms it echoes many passages from Isaiah 40-55.

Contrast and reversal are at the heart of the psalm’s message. Not only are those lost in desert wastes brought to an inhabited town with their thirst and hunger alleviated,   but in later stanzas we hear of prisoners released (vv. 10-16), the sick made well (vv. 17-22) and those terrified in stormy seas brought to a safe haven (vv. 23-32).

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 evident already in the four stanzas. 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: Hosea 11:1-11

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