Some became fools through their rebellious ways
and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.
They loathed all food
and drew near the gates of death.
Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he saved them from their distress.
He sent out his word and healed them;
he rescued them from the grave.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind.
Let them sacrifice thank-offerings
and tell of his works with songs of joy.
Some went out on the sea in ships;
they were merchants on the mighty waters.
They saw the works of the Lord,
his wonderful deeds in the deep.
For he spoke and stirred up a tempest
that lifted high the waves.
They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
in their peril their courage melted away.
They reeled and staggered like drunkards;
they were at their wits’ end.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he brought them out of their distress.
He stilled the storm to a whisper;
the waves of the sea were hushed.
They were glad when it grew calm,
and he guided them to their desired haven.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind.
Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people
and praise him in the council of the elders.
He turned rivers into a desert,
flowing springs into thirsty ground,
and fruitful land into a salt waste,
because of the wickedness of those who lived there.
He turned the desert into pools of water
and the parched ground into flowing springs;
there he brought the hungry to live,
and they founded a city where they could settle.
They sowed fields and planted vineyards
that yielded a fruitful harvest;
he blessed them, and their numbers greatly increased,
and he did not let their herds diminish.
Then their numbers decreased, and they were humbled
by oppression, calamity and sorrow;
he who pours contempt on nobles
made them wander in a trackless waste.
But he lifted the needy out of their affliction
and increased their families like flocks.
The upright see and rejoice,
but all the wicked shut their mouths.
Let the one who is wise heed these things(Ps. 107:17-43 NIV)
and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord.
In v17-22 the Psalmist refers to those who have been afflicted by illness. Rebellion against God is foolishness. Their rebellious ways had developed into a rebellious habit. In this case God had punished His people by giving them ill health. Not all ill health can be put down to God’s punishment. Think of Job who lost his health and it was clear that it was not because of sin. But in this case God is chastising His people by giving them an illness. They were so ill that they couldn’t eat any food, and they gradually became weaker approaching near to death.
They lifted up their voice and cried to the Lord for deliverance and mercy, and the Lord heard their cry and responded by saving them from their distress. The word went out from the Lord, and just as the word of the Lord brought forth the original creation, so His word brings the people back from the gates of death, rescuing them from the grave. Again the Psalmist links the possibility of deliverance with the fact of God’s unfailing love (hesed). God does mighty and wonderful deeds for His people. We ought to make sure that our prayers are full of thanksgiving. We should speak often of the Lord and what He has done, and sing God’s praise with songs of joy.
In v23-32 the Psalmist turns his attention to another group of people, namely those who went out to sea. The Psalmist has explored different circumstances where people find themselves in need of God. The basis of crying out for deliverance is always the same, as the Psalmist teaches us in the repeated references to the unfailing covenant love of the Lord. The merchants on the sea are able to witness the works of the Lord as they sail through the mighty waters. The sea has been created by God and is always under God’s control. The Lord speaks and the tempest stirs up the sea. The waves are lifted up to the heavens and plunged down to the depths of the sea. I remember having to design a pontoon to keep afloat a large cage which was used as a salmon farm in the Irish sea. I knew the weight of the cage and was able to calculate the buoyancy that was required and the number of pontoon floats that were needed. I wanted to see the salmon farm in action which required a journey about half a mile from the shore. For the men who attended the salmon farm twice a day this was no problem. They kitted me out in waders, a raincoat and lifejacket and off we went. It wasn’t stormy but for someone like me who wasn’t used to being at sea, the water was quite choppy. It was quite a large inflatable rib that we were in, but the sea could do with it whatever it wanted. When we rode the crest of the wave, I would lose sight of the salmon farm and when we plunged into the trough of the wave, we again lost sight of everything, the shore and the salmon farm. When we reached the farm, one of the men demonstrated how to leave the boat and get onto the walkway round the circumference of the salmon farm. Basically, you had to time your jump, when the boat was halfway between the crest and trough. ‘Don’t worry,’ they said, ‘if you fall in, we’ll get you out.’ That was a mild day at sea, but it was enough experience for me. I have seen videos of lifeboats at sea in a gale-force storm and the power of the sea is awesome. In the Psalm, when God calls the storm that causes these seafaring men to lose their courage and to reel and stagger like drunk men, it must have been a dreadful experience. The Psalmist says that they were at their wits’ end. It reminds us of the story of Jonah. Sadly, it is often only when we at our wits’ end that we cry out to God for help. In their trouble they cried out to God and He brought them out of their distress. The storm was stilled to a whisper and the waves of the sea were stilled, and the sailors were glad when calm prevailed. In Mark’s Gospel chapter 4 Jesus suggested that they take a boat to the other side. Mark tells us that they took Him. It was Jesus’ idea, but they were the fishermen and they took over. Jesus might know theology, miracles and ethical sayings, but they were the expert sailors – time for them to shine! So, Jesus, not being needed by the fishermen, did the polite thing, and went to sleep in the back of the boat. A storm arose and the fishermen were out of their depth. They pleaded with Jesus to intervene saying, ‘don’t you care if we drown?’ Tested in the area of their own competence they learned the lesson that they need Jesus. The Psalmist tells of the Lord taking them safely to their desired haven. Again, the Psalmist encourages them to give thanks for the Lord’s unfailing covenant love. God’s covenant love reaches into every area of our lives. We should speak of the Lord and tell others what the Lord has done for us.
The Psalmist has been giving examples of the Lord’s intervention to help those who are in different kinds of distress. In v33-42 the Psalmist gives further reasons to praise the Lord. The Lord is to be praised because He has the power to change things. For those who were wicked, he turned their rivers into a desert. Flowing water springs were changed to thirsty grounds and fruitful land into a salt waste. When we see what the Lord does to the land, how important it is that we realise that it is God who gives us our daily bread. Because so many of us live in the town or city we are a number of steps removed from experiencing how food is made, and we can easily forget that it is the Lord who sends the sun and the rain and causes the crops to grow. I once was told that it wasn’t relevant for the church to sing the hymn, ‘We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land.’ That comment taught me that if someone thinks like that then we need to sing that hymn more often, so that we realise that it is God who provides our food.
It is equally true that the Lord does the opposite, He turns deserts into pools of water, and land that has been parched by the sun into flowing springs. The Lord brings the hungry into His pasture so that they can settle, sow fields and plant vineyards. The Lord blessed the people and they increased in numbers and their herds of animals also increased in number.
The Lord gives and the Lord takes, blessed is the name of the Lord. He causes numbers to decrease and he humbled the people by oppression, calamity and sorrow. God can do this because God is God. The nobles rise through the ranks and walk the corridors of power and become proud of their power and position. The Lord poured contempt on their position and made them wander in the wasteland. God lifted those who were needy out of their affliction and increased their numbers. Those who are upright in heart rejoice when they see what God has done. God silences the mouth of the wicked and the proud.
The final verse appeals to everyone to pay attention to what the Lord has done and to be wise in the decisions that they make, giving heed to the great covenant love of the Lord.
Lord there are none so blind as those who do not want to see. Forgive us Lord for being slow to learn, for venturing out even to do the simplest thing, but doing it without reference to You. Lord You have the right to elevate us or reduce us. Help us to realise that when we are in need, even when we are responsible for placing ourselves in need, we should appeal to Your covenant love. Lord hear our prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.