If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 107 as we begin our journey through the fifth book of the Psalms together. This psalm, that begins the fifth book of the Psalter, is a call for the redeemed to give thanks. The context is the return of the people of God from exile and you see that in the very first words. The Lord has redeemed them from trouble and done what? “Gathered them in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.” This is a psalm sung on the occasion of the return of the children of Israel from exile.
Now this psalm is not the only psalm that addresses the issue of thanksgiving. Many, many psalms address the importance of gratitude and thankfulness in the believer's life. In fact, the psalms teach us both that we are to be thankful and how we are to be thankful. Now this is important because thankfulness, gratitude, is not something which is second nature to us as fallen humans. We are prone, we are tempted, to ingratitude, and even as believers, redeemed and renewed in Christ, we have a constant battle to fight with ingratitude. Why? Because some of us struggle with entitlement and presumption. You know it's interesting, five hundred years ago, had trouble surrounded people influenced by Christendom, I think their instinct would have been to say, “What have we done wrong that these troubles have happened to us?” In our day and time, if troubles encompass you, the problem becomes God's. “God, how could You allow this to happen to me? This calls into question Your very existence.” We live in a day of entitlement and presumption. We presume that we are entitled to constant blessing and so we assume it and do not thank God for it.
We also are in a battle with ingratitude because of our own temperaments and circumstances and experiences. Perhaps you are even tonight sitting on the pew in the midst of experiences and circumstances in your life that are not conducive to gratitude. In fact, the circumstances of your life may be challenging you in deep and profound ways and unsettling you in your trust in God. And if your gratitude is tied to those circumstances and experiences, it will be fleeting indeed. Well, this psalm supplies us an unchanging basis for our gratitude. And it finds that unchanging basis for our gratitude in the goodness, love, and loyalty of the Lord — in His nature and in His actions and specifically in His covenant love and loyalty. The final words of the psalm call us to think about God's covenant love and loyalty to us.
Now as we look through the psalm together, you’re going to see a series of pictures beginning in verse 4 and running all the way to verse 32. Each of the pictures begins with the word, “some.” You’ll see that work in verse 4, verse 10, verse 17, and verse 23. Each of the pictures describes people in different circumstances — wandering, in prison, sick, and storm-tossed. These are not pictures of people in different kinds of conditions. These are a series of pictures about the same reality. These are pictures of what it is like to be in exile, of what it is like to be under the suffering of sin, and what it is like for God to redeem you out of that bondage or captivity.
Notice also as we read through the psalm together tonight there are repeated refrains calling us to give thanks to the Lord for His steadfast love. The first one you see in the very first verse. But notice especially verses 8, 15, 21, and 31. What is interesting is each of these is in the second to last sentence in the specific picture section. In other words, in those four pictures of what it's like to be wandering or imprisoned or sick or storm-tossed because of God's judgment on sin and what it's like to be redeemed out of that situation, in the second to last sentence in each of those sections there is a repeated phrase calling on us to give thanks to the Lord for His steadfast love. And then of course the psalm ends in verse 43 with another one of those refrains.
If I could outline the psalm for you before we read it so that you can follow along with the reading more closely, I would outline it in three parts. If you look at verses 1 to 3, they give us an exhortation; it's an exhortation to thanksgiving. Then if you look at verses 4 to 32, there you see the four pictures of God's redemption and those four pictures are: verses 4 to 9 — wandering; verses 10 to 16 — imprisonment; verses 17 to 22 — sickness; verses 23 to 32 — being storm-tossed. And then finally the third part of the psalm is in verses 33 to 43 where there are two pictures or two foundations of our gratitude to God provided. And they are: verses 33 to 42 — the sovereignty of God's providence, and verse 43 — God's covenant love.
So having outlined the passage for you and given just a brief introduction to it, let's look to God in prayer and ask for His blessing on our reading and hearing of His Word.
Our heavenly Father, we acknowledge tonight that we need a lesson in gratitude. You have saved us, You have adopted us, You have forgiven us, and You have blessed us beyond our imagination. And yet as we walk in this sin-sick world and as we continue to feel the misery that is inseparably connected to sin, even if it is not our own personal sin, we still experience that misery of sin in this fallen world. We are tempted to ingratitude and we need both exhortation and encouragement and reason for thanksgiving to be supplied to us, and You are so kind to do just that in Your Word. You know exactly the condition of our heart;, You know exactly the temptations in our lives; You know exactly the burdens of our soul; You know exactly the doubts of our minds. O Lord, speak to us by Your Word tonight. Speak a seasonable word, a timely word, a needed word into each of our hearts. You know what Your people need. We need You and we need Your Word for we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Speak Lord, Your servants listen. In Jesus' name, amen.
Hear the word of the living God:
“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom He has redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in. Let them thank the LORD for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of men! For He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul He fills with good things.
Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High. So He bowed their hearts down with hard labor; they fell down, with none to help. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and burst their bonds apart. Let them thank the LORD for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of men! For He shatters the doors of bronze and cuts in two the bars of iron.
Some were fools through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress. He sent out His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction. Let them thank the LORD for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of men! And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of His deeds in songs of joy!
Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the LORD, His wondrous works in the deep. For He commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits’ end. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and He brought them to their desired haven. Let them thank the LORD for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of men! Let them extol Him in the congregation of the people, and praise Him in the assembly of the elders.
He turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground, a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the evil of its inhabitants. He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water. And there He lets the hungry dwell, and they establish a city to live in; they sow fields and plant vineyards and get a fruitful yield. By His blessing they multiply greatly, and He does not let their livestock diminish.
When they are diminished and brought low through oppression, evil, and sorrow, He pours contempt on princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes; but He raises up the needy out of affliction and makes their families like flocks. The upright see it and are glad, and all wickedness shuts its mouth.
Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
This afternoon I was reading as many different news accounts as I could of a remarkable reunion. When they were sixteen and six, respectively, a Romanian Jewish brother and sister were separated as the Nazis rolled into their hometown. She went off with her older sister to Soviet Estonia and assumed that her mother and father and other siblings had been killed in the Holocaust. Sixty-five years later, in the Jewish Museum of the Holocaust, some family members were doing research to see if they could find out what had happened to the siblings. And they discovered that this woman, now in her seventies, had a brother still living in Canada. She was living in Israel, he was in Canada, and they arranged for them to have a phone call for her to speak to her brother, who she had thought long dead with her family, for the first time in sixty-five years. And then, a foundation arranged for them to be brought together and see one another for the first time. For a long time, all they could do was kiss and hug one another and to say how much they loved one another and how wonderful it was to be united again. Interestingly though, in every news account that I read of this story, there was no mention that either the brother or the sister thanked God for this reunion. Now perhaps they did and it simply was expunged from the news account, but it set me thinking that even in remarkable reunions like that one, we are tempted to be ungrateful for what the Lord has done for us.
AN EXHORTATION TO THANKSGIVING
And of course this psalm is set in the context of a remarkable reunion. The people of God, because of their sin, have been spread all over the Mediterranean world. And God, in His kindness, at the end of His judgment, has now brought back a remnant into the land and into Jerusalem. And in that very context, the psalmist is concerned to say to people, who you would think because of their experience would be primed for thankfulness, “Remember to be thankful! Remember to be grateful! We should give thanks to the Lord!” And so this psalm begins with an exhortation to gratitude, an exhortation to thankfulness. It's God calling on all His people to give thanks and that exhortation of course bases that thanksgiving not in circumstances but in God's character and in God's deeds. He is the God of steadfast love and He is the God who has redeemed. And because of those two things, His people are to give thanks. And so this exhortation of thanksgiving is followed by four pictures of what it is like to be sent into exile for sin and to be redeemed out of exile by God's mercy and grace. And I want to look at those with you for just a few minutes tonight as we supply our own hearts reasons to give thanks to God. And as we look at each of these pictures tonight, I would like to ask you to keep your hymn books close by as well because it struck me as I was looking at this passage over the last couple of weeks, how many of the lyrics of our hymns are based on the themes that are recorded, not of course just in this psalm, but in psalms like it throughout the Old Testament.
FOUR PICTURES OF GOD'S REDEMPTION
So the first picture you see is this one in verses 4 to 9. It's a picture of restoration from isolation and deliverance from desolation. It's a picture of our being saved from wandering. Derek Kidner calls is, “wanderer's retrieved.” “Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. They cried to the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way until they reached a city to dwell in.” And so wandering is a picture of the judgment upon them for sin and His leading them into a city to dwell in is a picture of His grace to them in redemption. And when we hear that we hear the words of the Hebrews about how the Lord was leading Abraham to a city which had foundations whose architect and builder was God. From wandering to a city with foundations — and that's a picture here in Psalm 107. But we hear this kind of picture of the wandering of sin even in our hymnody.
One of my favorite hymns is “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” and you remember how the last stanza goes? “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it; prone to leave the God I love. Here's my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for Thy courts above.” That's language that's pulled right out of Psalm 107 and psalms just like it. So the wanderer is retrieved. That's one picture of the return from the exile and it's to prompt in us, what? Thanksgiving, because we all know our tendency, our propensity to wander. And God, in His kindness, has kept us from wandering to our own destruction.
And then there's this second picture and you see it in verses 10 to 16. And it's a picture of redemption as liberation, of being saved from the prison pit. This week, the children are going to be studying the story of Joseph and part of the story of Joseph has Joseph being thrown down into a pit. That was a typical way people were imprisoned in the ancient near east. In fact, this passage, verses 10 to 16, has those very allusions. Notice — “Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High. So He bowed their hearts down with hard labor; they fell down, with none to help.” – perhaps a pit, a picture of being cast into one of those pits. “Then they cried in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress. He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and burst their bonds apart.” So it's a picture of being saved out of the prison pit. It's a picture, as Derek Kidner says, “of prisoners being released.”
And so many of our great hymns pick up on that theme. Turn with me to 455. Some of you know it by heart, but look especially at the fourth stanza. “Long my imprisoned spirit lay fast bound in sin and nature's night; thine eye diffused a quickening ray; I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; my chains fell off, my heart was free; I rose, went forth, and followed thee.” The picture of being in the dungeon of sin, and it's the picture that comes right out of Psalm 107.
Then if you look with me at verses 17 to 21, we see a third picture and it's a picture of salvation from sickness, the Lord healing us from our sickness. And again, Derek Kidner calls it, “the sick restored.” So you have, “the wanderers retrieved,” and “the prisoners released,” and “the sick restored,” in verses 17 to 22. “Some were fools through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities suffered affliction; they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress. He sent out His word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction. Let them thank the LORD for His steadfast love.”
And again, we think of hymns like 688. Turn with me there. In the fourth and final stanza of “Have Thine Own Way, Lord!” — or the third stanza of “Have Thine Own Way,” we read, “Wounded and weary, help me, I pray! Power, all power, surely is thine! Touch me and heal me, Savior divine!” And then if you turn back with me to number 468, and these are just examples — I'm sure you have your own favorite hymns that you could add to these, picking up on these themes and pictures — but here is one place where it is done, 468, “My Faith Has Found a Resting Place.” Look at the fourth stanza. “My great Physician heals the sick, the lost He came to save; for me His precious blood He shed, for me His life He gave.” And so the picture of restoration from exile is done in terms of healing from sickness there.
And then in verses 22 to 32, the picture is of being saved from overwhelming waters. And again, Derek Kidner calls this, “the storm-tossed rescue.” So you have “the wanderers retrieved,” “the prisoners released,” “the sick restored,” and “the storm-tossed rescued.” It's a picture of people out on a little sailing vessel up against enormous waves. It's a picture of smallness against the greatness of the obstacles and context, and so, saved out of mighty waters. “Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters; they saw the deeds of the LORD, His wondrous works in the deep. For He commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight; they reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits’ end.” In other words, they were at the end of their own competency's ability to deal with the situation that they were in with regard to the greatness of the storm in which they found themselves. And so they what? Verse 28 – “cried to the LORD in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed.” And of course you hear in that the echo of Jesus’ deeds on the Sea of Galilee where He speaks quietness to the wind.
But again, this picture finds its way into our hymnody regularly. Turn with me to number 601. In number 601 in the first stanza we sing, “Jesus, Savior, pilot me over life's tempestuous sea unknown waves before me roll, hiding rock and treacherous shoal; chart and compass come from thee: Jesus, Savior, pilot me.” And again, if you turn back to number 498, “Jesus! What a Friend for Sinners!” and you look especially at stanzas 2 and 3 — “Jesus! what a strength in weakness! Let me hide myself in Him; tempted tried, and sometimes failing, He, my strength, my victory wins. Jesus! what a help in sorrow! While the billows o’er me roll, even when my heart is breaking, He my comfort, helps my soul.” And then the fourth stanza — “Jesus! what a guide and keeper! While the tempest still is high, storms about me, night o’er takes me, He, my pilot hears my cry.”
All of us, who are believers in Christ, can relate to these pictures in our own experiences. We know what it's like to feel isolated and to wander, that this world is not our home. We know what it's like to feel imprisoned by our sin. We know what it's like to feel sick unto death in our sin, or to be storm-tossed on the raging waves of life. And all four of these pictures are pictures of what God has done for the children of Israel, bringing them out of their exile — exile brought on by their own sin — and by His mercy, bringing them back home safe. And they’re to prompt what? They’re to prompt gratitude. The pictures are there to prompt our thanksgiving to God.
THE BASIS OF OUR GRATITUDE TO GOD
And the psalm ends pointing us to the two things that provide the sure and secure basis of our gratitude to God. The first you see in verses 33 to 42 and it's simply this — God's sovereign providence. And I wonder as you read through it tonight or heard it read tonight, if you thought of the songs of Hannah and Mary, because so many of the themes from these verses show up again in Hannah's song and in Mary's song. God provides for His people. He is in control in every event of their lives. Every event of our lives does not in itself call forth thanksgiving and gratitude because many of the events of our lives are brutal. There may be people here tonight, for instance, who have suffered abuse and betrayal and deeds that are so wicked done to your person that we tremble to speak about them in public or even in private in a conversation to a friend. Those things, in and of themselves, do not prompt thanksgiving, but knowing that God works all things for good to those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose, knowing the sovereign providence of God, gives us something to anchor ourselves in gratitude that is non-circumstantial.
And then of course the psalm ends with this exhortation — “Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the LORD.” It's an exhortation for us to think about the covenant love and loyalty and faithfulness of God to us. You see, God's providence and God's love do not change. Our circumstances change, our experiences change, our responses to those circumstances and experiences change, and those experiences can even make us to change emotionally and physiologically. Our brains can change under the duress of life, but God's providence, His purpose for good, and His person, His character, His love, these things do not change and therefore, the believer can be grateful at all times that He will force even the most wicked acts against us, even the most disappointing circumstances, to do His bidding for our good because He loves us and He is faithful. And that is why the psalmist says, “If you are wise, you will consider the steadfast love of the Lord.” I don't know what you’re struggling with in gratitude tonight, but this psalm begins you down the path again to be able to give thanks to the Lord, no matter where you are.
O God, You know the hearts of Your people and You know what we need. You know the struggles of the souls to force through our throats a perfunctory expression of thanks when our hearts do not feel it. You know the temptation that resides to be ungrateful — to either expect or demand Your blessings and good circumstances and to take them for granted, or to, like the elder brother, view You as a stingy God who is tight with His blessings. Heavenly Father, save us from these things. Open up our eyes so that our hearts might see Your special love and Your wondrous works of providence and redemption so that we might give thanks unto the Lord because You are good, knowing that Your steadfast love endures forever. We ask all these things in Jesus' name. Amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing? Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, through Jesus Christ our Lord, until the day break and the shadows flee away. Amen.