Psalm 107 Commentary2018-01-13T13:14:58+00:00

Biblical Commentary
(Bible study)

Psalm 107

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Psalm 107 Biblical Commentary:

CONTEXT:

Psalm 107 has much in common with Psalms 105 and 106.  It calls those whom Yahweh has redeemed (or saved) to praise or thank (Hebrew: yadah) Yahweh, for he is good and his loving kindness endures forever.

The psalmist then speaks of some of the adversities from which Yahweh has delivered his people.  He tells of Yahweh:

  • Providing guidance, food, and water for Israel in their wilderness journey (vv. 4-9).
  • Bringing sinners “out of darkness and the shadow of death” (vv. 10-16).
  • Saving fools who had been disobedient (vv. 17-22).
  • Saving people from great storms at sea (vv. 23-32).
  • Turning rivers into deserts for the wicked, but turning deserts into rivers for those in need (vv. 33-38).
  • Helping the needy, but pouring contempt on princes (vv. 39-42).

He ends the psalm with the observation that the “wise will pay attention to these things” (v. 43).

PSALM 107:1-3.  GIVE THANKS TO YAHWEH, FOR HE IS GOOD

1 Give thanks to Yahweh,
for he is good,
for his loving kindness endures forever.

2 Let the redeemed by Yahweh say so,
whom he has redeemed from the hand of the adversary,

3 And gathered out of the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.

“Give thanks (Hebrew: yadah) to Yahweh” (v. 1a).  The word yadah means to praise or to give thanks.  In this verse, the psalmist calls people to give Yahweh his due––to acknowledge the blessings they have received from him and the many ways that he has saved them.

“for he is good” (Hebrew: tob) (v. 1b).  The first time we encountered this word tob was in the creation account.  “God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (tob) (Genesis 1:31).  We won’t stray far from the mark if we say that “good” in that account meant pleasing, proper, and as it should be.  So also, the psalmist tells us that the God who did the work of creation is also good, proper, and as he should be.

“for his loving kindness (Hebrew: hesed) endures forever” (v. 1c).  One of the principal marks of Yahweh’s goodness is the enduring nature of his loving kindness.  Some say that Yahweh obligated himself to give persistent love to Israel when he made a covenant with Abram (Genesis 12:1-3)––and that is true.  But more to the point, Yahweh’s nature is to love––and to express that love in acts of kindness.  In this understanding, when Yahweh established the covenant with Israel, he simply obligated himself to that to which his nature had already obligated him.

The word hesed has a rich variety of meanings––kindness, lovingkindness, mercy, goodness, faithfulness, or love.  Each of these meanings indicate a kindly and positive attitude toward the beloved.

“Let the redeemed (Hebrew: ga’al) by Yahweh say so,
whom he has redeemed from the hand of the adversary” (v. 2).  The word ga’al was used for making a payment to free a prisoner or to restore land to its proper owner.

When used as it is in this verse, ga’al has much the same meaning as delivered or saved.  The psalmist is calling those whom Yahweh has delivered from the hands of their enemies to acknowledge Yahweh’s role in their salvation.

“And gathered out of the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south” (v. 3).  We tend to think of Israel as a cohesive group of people assembled in one place.  However, Israel suffered two exiles:

  • The Assyrians sacked the Northern Kingdom of Israel (as opposed to the Southern Kingdom of Judah) in 722 B.C., killing many Israelites but taking some as prisoners. While we don’t know their fate, it seems likely that some survived and moved elsewhere over time.
  • Babylonia destroyed Jerusalem in 587 B.C., killing many of its inhabitants and taking the rest to Babylonia, where they lived in exile for fifty years. During that period, many children were born––people who had never seen Jerusalem. When Yahweh raised up Cyrus as King of Persia to allow the exiles to return to Jerusalem, some people stayed in Babylonia, and presumably dispersed throughout the region.
  • A considerable number of Jews resided in Egypt in the centuries before Jesus’ birth. During his lifetime, Jews from “every nation under heaven” gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover (Acts 2:5-13). The Apostle Paul established churches in a number of Gentile cities, most of which had active Jewish synagogues.
  • Also, Gentiles from many nations became proselytes, adopting the Jewish faith as their own.

While we can’t know exactly what the psalmist had in mind with this verse, it seems likely that he is celebrating the fact that Jerusalem remained the center of the Jewish universe––and Jews from many other places made pilgrimages there to worship as they had opportunity.

PSALM 107:4-9.  HE DELIVERED THEM

4 They wandered in the wilderness in a desert way.
They found no city to live in.

5 Hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted in them.

6 Then they cried to Yahweh in their trouble,
and he delivered them out of their distresses,

7 he led them also by a straight way,
that they might go to a city to live in.

8 Let them praise Yahweh for his loving kindness,
for his wonderful works to the children of men!

9 For he satisfies the longing soul.
He fills the hungry soul with good.

“They wandered in the wilderness in a desert way.
They found no city to live in.
Hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted in them” (vv. 4-5).  Verses 4-9 refer to Israel’s wilderness wanderings.  For forty years, they lived in the desert rather than in cities.  They grumbled to Moses about their hunger (Exodus 16:2-3).  They grumbled because they had no water––or because their water was bitter (Exodus 15:22-24).

“Then they cried to Yahweh in their trouble,
and he delivered them out of their distresses,
he led them also by a straight way,
that they might go to a city to live in” (vv. 6-7).  When there was no food, Yahweh gave them manna (Exodus 16:4ff).  When their water was bitter, Yahweh enabled Moses to make it sweet (Exodus 15:25).  At the end of their wilderness wanderings, Yahweh led them into the Promised Land, where Jerusalem became their great city.

“Let them praise Yahweh for his loving kindness,
for his wonderful works to the children of men!
For he satisfies the longing soul.
He fills the hungry soul with good” (vv. 8-9).  So the psalmist calls them to praise Yahweh––to acknowledge that he has met their needs.

PSALM 107:10-16.  YAHWEH SAVES REPENTANT REBELS

10 Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
being bound in affliction and iron,

11 because they rebelled against the words of God,
and condemned the counsel of the Most High.

12 Therefore he brought down their heart with labor.
They fell down, and there was none to help.

13 Then they cried to Yahweh in their trouble,
and he saved them out of their distresses.

14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
and broke their bonds in sunder.

15 Let them praise Yahweh for his loving kindness,
for his wonderful works to the children of men!

16 For he has broken the gates of brass,
and cut through bars of iron.

While these verses are not included in the lectionary reading, the preacher needs to be aware of them.  They tell of Yahweh delivering repentant rebels.

PSALM 107:17-22.  YAHWEH SAVES REPENTANT FOOLS

17 Fools are afflicted because of their disobedience,
and because of their iniquities.

18 Their soul abhors all kinds of food.
They draw near to the gates of death.

19 Then they cry to Yahweh in their trouble,
he saves them out of their distresses.

20 He sends his word, and heals them,
and delivers them from their graves.

21 Let them praise Yahweh for his loving kindness,
for his wonderful works to the children of men!

22 Let them offer the sacrifices of thanksgiving,
and declare his works with singing.

“Fools (Hebrew: ewiyl) are afflicted because of their disobedience (Hebrew: pesa derek),
and because of their iniquities (Hebrew: ‘awon).
Their soul abhors all kinds of food.
They draw near to the gates of death” (vv. 17-18).

The word ewiyl (fools) means foolish, and refers to people who despise wisdom and morality.  The psalmist amplifies by telling us that the fools have been disobedient and have committed iniquities.

The word pesa means transgression or rebellion, and derek means path or way.  The phrase (pesa derek) that is translated disobedience here refers to people following a rebellious path.

The word ‘awon (iniquity) is one of several Hebrew words for sin.  It represents a particularly evil kind of sin.

The psalmist goes on to say that the foolish abhor food, which seems strange.  Our bodies are designed to make us uncomfortable when we haven’t had sufficient food, and severe hunger causes severe distress.

But we see people who have given themselves so completely to alcohol or drugs or other dysfunctional behaviors that they show little interest in food.  People with eating disorders such as anorexia sometimes starve to death, even though they had adequate food available to them.

“Then they cry to Yahweh in their trouble,
he saves them out of their distresses” (v. 19).  We would expect that verses 19-20 would tell of the destruction that Yahweh visited on the foolish people.  However, the opposite is true.  They tell of Yahweh saving foolish people from the mess they have made of their lives.

But Yahweh doesn’t save all foolish people.  Yahweh saves them when they cry out to him, pleading for relief––for forgiveness.  Yahweh saves them when they repent.  We have seen that happen when a foolish person repents.  We have seen people whose lives have been transformed when they sought God’s help.

I read about an alcoholic who got religion and quit drinking.  His friends teased him about his newfound faith, saying, “You don’t really believe that Jesus turned water into wine, do you?”  He answered, I don’t know if Jesus turned water into wine––but I do know that, in my house, he turned beer into furniture.”

“He sends his word, and heals them” (v. 20a).  God’s word is powerful.  God’s word cannot be held by prison walls.  It cannot be tamed by chains.  It penetrates our hearts, and breaks the bonds our enemies would impose on us.

In the creation, “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3).  By his word, God created an expanse, gathered the waters together in one place, brought forth vegetation, put lights in the sky, and created animals and humans (Genesis 1:6-27).  Now the psalmist says that God sends his powerful word to heal people who have been foolish but have cried to Yahweh for help.

“and delivers them from their graves” (Hebrew: sehit) (v. 20b).  The word sehit means a pit or a trap––something designed to bring a person down––to trap and destroy him.

  • But Yahweh brought Joseph up from the pit in which his brothers had determined to abandon him (Genesis 37:12-28). The next time Joseph saw his brothers, he was the second most powerful person in Egypt, and his brothers came to him soliciting food.
  • Jeremiah’s enemies threw him into a cistern to die there, but Yahweh sent Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian, to rescue him (Jeremiah 37-38).
  • Satan tried to trap Jesus at the wilderness temptation––and sought to render Jesus a final defeat at the cross––but Jesus emerged from the tomb in which he had been laid, and now reigns from his throne in the heavens.

“Let them praise Yahweh for his loving kindness,
for his wonderful works to the children of men!” (v. 21).  It is only natural for fools redeemed by Yahweh to praise him for his loving kindness and his wonderful works––and it is quite appropriate for the psalmist to call them to do so.

“Let them offer the sacrifices of thanksgiving,
and declare his works with singing” (Hebrew: rinnah) (v. 22).  Now the psalmist gets more specific.  Those whom Yahweh has redeemed should praise him with sacrifices of thanksgiving and joyful songs.

“Let them offer the sacrifices of thanksgiving” (v. 22a).  Thank offerings involved the sacrifice of an ox, sheep, or goat, which was to be eaten in full the same day (Leviticus 22:29-30).  They also required an offering of unleavened cakes, wafers, and flour mixed with oil (Leviticus 7:11-15).  The people were to offer thank offerings to express their thanks for blessings received.  They could also offer freewill offerings to express a more general sense of thankfulness to God.

“and declare his works with singing” (Hebrew: rinnah) (v. 22).  The word rinnah means more than just singing.  To convey the full meaning of rinnah, we need to add an adjective, such as glad or joyful.  The psalmist is calling these redeemed former fools to raise the roof with their joyful songs––to sing gladly and noisily––without restraint.

The psalms speak often of thanksgiving, both corporate thanksgiving (30:4; 35:18; 95:1-3; 97:12; 100; 105:1-3; 107:1-3; 111:1; 118:1-2; 136) and individual thanksgiving (7:17; 26:7; 28:7; 50:23; 69:30; 86:12-13; 109:30; 118:1-2).

The prophets also acknowledged blessings received and thanksgiving given (Isaiah 12:1-4; 51:3; Jeremiah 30:18-19; Daniel 2:23).

Jesus gave thanks  (Matthew 15:36; 26:27; Mark 14:23; Luke 22:17-19; John 6:11, 23; 1 Corinthians 11:24).  Paul emphasized thanksgiving (1 Corinthians 14:16; 2 Corinthians 9:11-12; Philippians 4:6; 1 Thessalonians 3:9).

PSALM 107:23-32.  YAHWEH SAVES THOSE WHO GO TO SEA IN SHIPS

23 Those who go down to the sea in ships,
who do business in great waters;

24 These see Yahweh’s works,
and his wonders in the deep.

25 For he commands, and raises the stormy wind,
which lifts up its waves.

26 They mount up to the sky; they go down again to the depths.
Their soul melts away because of trouble.

27 They reel back and forth, and stagger like a drunken man,
and are at their wits’ end.

28 Then they cry to Yahweh in their trouble,
and he brings them out of their distress.

29 He makes the storm a calm,
so that its waves are still.

30 Then they are glad because it is calm,
so he brings them to their desired haven.

31 Let them praise Yahweh for his loving kindness,
for his wonderful works for the children of men!

32 Let them exalt him also in the assembly of the people,
and praise him in the seat of the elders.

“Those who go down to the sea in ships,
who do business in great waters.
These see Yahweh’s works,
and his wonders in the deep” (v. 23-24).  In the psalmist’s day, ships were small and made of wood instead of steel.  They were much more vulnerable to storms and other hazards than modern steel ships.

The “great waters” of the psalmist’s experience would have been the Mediterranean Sea, a small body of water compared with the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans.  Nevertheless, sailors had a healthy respect for its ability to turn rogue at any time.  Jonah experienced the fury of the Mediterranean (and God) when he decided to flee from the presence of the Lord instead of obeying God’s order to warn Nineveh of its impending destruction (Jonah 1).  People envisioned the great sea as the home of frightening sea monsters.

But they didn’t have to resort to tales of sea monsters to be impressed by the power of the sea.  They had seen more than they liked of “Yahweh’s works and his wonders in the deep.”  They had seen winds that threatened to capsize their boats––and waves that towered above the tops of their masts.  They had seen great fish––fish so large that fishermen could be not take them for food––and whose presence posed a threat to the  fishermen’s boats.

For he commands (Hebrew: ‘amar), and raises the stormy wind,
which lifts up its waves.
They mount up to the sky; they go down again to the depths.
Their soul melts away because of trouble.
They reel back and forth, and stagger like a drunken man,
and are at their wits’ end.
Then they cry to Yahweh in their trouble,
and he brings them out of their distress” (vv. 25-28). The word ‘amar (translated “commands” here) means to say or speak.  God didn’t have to command the wind and the wave.  His words are powerful, so he had only to speak them to produce the desired effect (see also the comments on v. 20a above).

No one who has ever survived a storm at sea wants to be reminded of the experience.  On one occasion, I ignored small boat warnings to take my new 16 foot (5 meter) boat into the Chesapeake Bay.  A real sailor would have scoffed at my fear, because the winds were mild by oceanic standards and waves were quite small.  Nevertheless, I was profoundly impressed––and not at all certain that I would make it back home.

Large ships are not immune.  In 1944, Admiral Halsey led Task Force 38 into a typhoon.  The high winds and waves sank three destroyers and damaged other ships, resulting in 790 deaths.  Admiral Nimitz (Halsey’s superior officer), commented that that the typhoon’s impact “represented a more crippling blow to the Third Fleet than it might be expected to suffer in anything less than a major action.”

A short list of recent fatal storm-related shipwrecks would include:

  • SS Edmund Fitzgerald (1977) 29 fatalities (the entire crew)
  • MS Estonia (1994) 852 fatalities
  • MV Le Joola (2002) 1863 fatalities
  • MV Levina 1 (2007) 52 fatalities, 3 missing.

“He makes the storm a calm,
so that its waves are still.
Then they are glad because it is calm,

so he brings them to their desired haven” (vv. 29-30).  The one who creates a storm can also calm it.  Mark tells of Jesus stilling a storm on the Sea of Galilee by rebuking the wind and saying, “Peace, be still!”––inspiring great awe among his disciples  (Mark 4:35-41).

“Let them praise Yahweh for his loving kindness,
for his wonderful works for the children of men!” (v. 31). Again, the natural response to being saved is to “praise Yahweh for his loving kindness.

“Let them exalt him also in the assembly of the people” (v. 32a). This is a call to public praise in a communal worship setting––the temple or synagogue––in the Christian era, the church.

“and praise him in the seat of the elders” (v. 32).  Elders in that setting were governing authorities, leaders, men respected for their wisdom.  They would be responsible for making decisions that would affect the community––to include upholding justice.  So the psalmist is calling his readers to praise God in the presence of powerful people.

PSALM 107:33-37.  YAHWEH MAKES THE HUNGRY LIVE

33 He turns rivers into a desert,
water springs into a thirsty ground,

34 and a fruitful land into a salt waste,
for the wickedness of those who dwell in it.

35 He turns a desert into a pool of water,
and a dry land into water springs.

36 There he makes the hungry live,
that they may prepare a city to live in,

37 sow fields, plant vineyards,
and reap the fruits of increase.

“He turns rivers into a desert,
water springs into a thirsty ground,
and a fruitful land into a salt waste,
for the wickedness of those who dwell in it.
He turns a desert into a pool of water,
and a dry land into water springs” (vv. 33-35).  Water is essential to life.  People need water to drink, and also need water for growing crops and livestock and washing.

The Israelites regarded plentiful water as a blessing from God––and its absence as a curse.  Both understandings are reflected in these verses.  God turns rivers into deserts for the wicked, but also turns deserts into pools and springs of water for the righteous.

“There he makes the hungry live,
that they may prepare a city to live in,
sow fields, plant vineyards,
and reap the fruits of increase” (vv. 36-37). In the places where Yahweh provides water, the hungry can find food.  They can build cities.  They can sow and reap and prosper.

PSALM 107:38-42.  YAHWEH HELPS THE NEEDY, BUT DESPISES PRINCES

38 He blesses them also, so that they are multiplied greatly.
He doesn’t allow their livestock to decrease.

39 Again, they are diminished and bowed down
through oppression, trouble, and sorrow.

40 He pours contempt on princes,
and causes them to wander in a trackless waste.

41 Yet he lifts the needy out of their affliction,
and increases their families like a flock.

42 The upright will see it, and be glad.
All the wicked will shut their mouths.

These verses are not in the lectionary reading, but are in keeping with that which the psalmist has already said.

PSALM 107:43.  WHOEVER IS WISE

43 Whoever is wise will pay attention to these things.
They will consider the loving kindnesses of Yahweh.

“Whoever is wise will pay attention to these things.
They will consider the loving kindnesses of Yahweh” (v. 43).  Wisdom requires facing facts.  The psalmist has outlined the facts that Yahweh has the power to bless the righteous and to punish the unrighteous.  A wise person will take that into account and adjust his/her behavior to reap blessings instead of curses.  A wise person will take into account that Yahweh is a God of love, who seeks to bless instead of curse.  A wise person will seek the blessing and avoid the curse.

SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

COMMENTARIES:

Anderson, A.A., The New Century Bible Commentary: Psalms 73-150 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972)

Broyles, Craig C., New International Biblical Commentary: Psalms (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999

Brueggemann, Walter, The Message of the Psalms A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1984)

Clifford, Richard J., Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 73-150 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003)

DeClaisse-Walford, Nancy; Jacobson, Rolf A.; Tanner, Beth Laneel, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament:  The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids:  Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014)

Gower, Ralph, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987)

Kidner, Derek, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 73-150, Vol. 14b (Downers Grove, Illinois:  Inter-Varsity Press, 1973)

Limburg, James, Westminster Bible Companion: Psalms (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000

Mays, James Luther, Interpretation: Psalms (Louisville: John Knox, 1994)

McCann, J. Clinton, Jr., The New Interpreter’s Bible: The Book of Psalms, Vol. 4 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996)

Ross, Allen P., A Commentary on the Psalms, 90-150, Vol. 3  (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2016)

Tate, Marvin E., Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 51-100 (Dallas: Word Books, 1990)

Waltner, James H., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Psalms (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 2006)

DICTIONARIES, ENCYCLOPEDIAS & LEXICONS:

Baker, Warren (ed.), The Complete WordStudy Old Testament (Chattanooga; AMG Publishers, 1994)

Baker, Warren and Carpenter, Eugene, The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: Old Testament (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2003)

Bromiley, Geoffrey (General Editor), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979-1988)

Brown, Francis; Driver, S.R.; and Briggs, Charles A., The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1906, 2004)

Doniach, N.S. and Kahane, Ahuvia, The Oxford English-Hebrew Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1998)

Fohrer, Georg, Hebrew & Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament (SCM Press, 2012)

Freedman, David Noel (ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, 6 vol. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007)

Freedman, David Noel (Ed.), Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000)

Mounce, William D., (ed.), Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 2006)

Renn, Stephen D., Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words: Word Studies for Key English Bible Words Based on the Hebrew and Greek Texts (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2005)

Richards, Lawrence O., Encyclopedia of Bible Words (Zondervan, 1985, 1991)

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob (ed.), The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 5 vol.  (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006-2009)

VanGemeren, Willem A. (General Editor), New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, 5 vol., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997)

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