George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 5

Psalm 107

1. Structure

Sandwiched between a one-verse introduction and a one-verse conclusion come six paragraphs about how God brings hardship and also blessing into men’s lives.

Mortal sickness
Storm at sea
Adversity in climate and agriculture
Oppression, affliction, sorrow, and wandering

The first four sections each have an elaborate double refrain:

Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses (vv. 6, 13, 19, 28).
Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works unto the children of men (vv. 8, 15, 21, 31).

These “frame” the four key verses (actually five: vv. 7, 14, 20, 29/30) wherein are given God’s actions in response to man’s cries for help.

The last two main sections have no counterparts to (a) or (b). So to balance out the arrangement, (a) should recur after vv. 34 and 40, and (b) after vv. 37 (or 38?) and 41. This would serve to “frame” vv. 35-37 (or 35-38?) and v. 41 — which would conform to the other “framed” verses in giving God’s responses to the prayers of men in distress.

2. Patterns

The four “framed” verses (actually five) present a lovely picture, when aligned by themselves, of God’s provisions for man’s salvation:

And he led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation (v. 7).
He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder (v. 14).
He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions (v. 20).
He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven (vv. 29/30).

All four of these ideas are combined in a single verse in the Song of Moses:

“Thou in thy mercy hast led forth (#2) the people which thou hast redeemed (#3): thou hast guided (#4) them in thy strength unto thy holy habitation (#1)” (Exod. 15:13).

3. Links with Isaiah

Psalm 107
The redeemed
11:12; 35:9,10; 43:1; 44:22,23; 51:11; 59:20; 62:12; 63:4
11:11-16; 43:5,6; 49:12
Hungry and thirsty
He led them
35:8-10; 48:17; 49:11; 55:12; 63:13,14
Filleth the hungry
Sit in darkness...iron (captivity)
9:2,3,6,7; 42:7; 49:9
They rebelled... against the counsel
5:19; 14:26; 43:13; 63:10
None to help
41:28; 59:16; 63:5
Darkness... shadow of death
9:2; 42:16; 49:9; 60:1-3

Brake bands asunder
Gates of brass
Gates of death
He sent his word
Declare with rejoicing
19:14; 29:9
Exalt him
12:4; 25:1
Rivers into wilderness
19:5-10; 34:9,10; 42:15; 44:26,27; 50:2
Fruitful land into barrenness
Wilderness into water-springs
41:17-19; 35:6,7; 43:19,20; 44:3-5; 58:11
A city for habitation
58:12; 61:4
Sow fields
Families like a flock
Righteous shall rejoice

4. Links with Job

Psalm 107
Wander in wilderness
They fell down... stooped
Shadow of death
3:5; 10:21,22; 15:22,30; 19:8

Bound in affliction and iron
Their soul abhorreth all manner of meat, and they draw near unto the gates of death
33:19-22; 38:17
Delivered them from their destructions
His wonders
Stagger like a drunken man
The wilderness into standing water
Brought low
Contempt upon princes

Cause to wander in the wilderness
The poor... set on high
5:11; 42:10-12

Families like a flock
The righteous rejoice; iniquity
5:15,16; 22:19

There are several close parallels of idea between Psalm 107 and Job 12:14a, 15a, 17-21, and 22-25.

5. Theme

All kinds of affliction and trial come upon men through their weakness, folly, or sin (or even through the inscrutable purposes of God: vv. 33,34; 106:26). Their best endeavors are too puny for them ever to achieve their own salvation. But when they abandon efforts to save themselves and call upon God for salvation, then He hears and helps them. Let men learn from such experiences and glorify God in their thankfulness (vv. 6,8, etc.). Verse 42 is a good summary: These experiences shut the mouths of God’s critics and open the mouths of saved sinners in praise and prayer.

6. Historical background

The plentiful links with Isaiah (Par. 3) strongly suggest reference to that period, and even that Isaiah himself was the author. Some of the details fit this hypothesis excellently.

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy. This is the unique deliverance from Assyrian captivity of the considerable body of prisoners marched away during the course of Sennacherib’s campaign. Thanks to the angel of the Lord (Isa. 37:36), these were hastily given their freedom and were home again in a matter of months (see Psa. 81, Par. 4, references).
And gathered them out of the lands, from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south. Besides the captives taken away, there were also numerous refugees who must have fled in all directions, especially to Egypt.
They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way. All of those uprooted from their homes would have a desperately trying time of it (v. 5), even in their eager homecoming.
For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness. If it were not for the extraordinary fertility of the Year of Jubilee (Isa. 37:30,31; cp. 35:8,9; 40:3), vast numbers of these struggling travelers would have died along the way.
Such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. This quotes Isa. 9:2, which is probably about the overrunning of the northern tribes by Tiglath-pileser III and the ensuing captivity from that area (2 Kings 15:29). These also would unexpectedly find their early freedom after the Assyrian destruction at Jerusalem. The idea of “the lost ten tribes” is a myth. Only a small fraction of them were taken away, and most of those returned within a few years.
Because they rebelled against the words of God. A very apt description of the spiritually low condition of Israel.
He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder. After the Exodus, such a sudden and unexpected change of fortune as this verse describes happened only at the time suggested (see note on v. 10). By contrast, at the time of Cyrus the Jews were comfortably settled in Babylon (Jer. 29:4-7) and did not suffer the oppression described here.
For he hath broken the gates of brass, and cut the bars of iron in sunder. This is Isa. 45:2:

“I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron.”

Contrary to most of the expositors — followed uncritically by too many Christadelphians — this chapter is not about Cyrus, but about the deliverance from the Assyrians in the days of Hezekiah, and secondarily (and most importantly) about Christ himself. Through misreading Isa. 44:28 and 45:1 as being prophetic of the Medo-Persian ruler, many have committed themselves, unwisely and unnecessarily, to the modern critic’s best “evidence” for a “Second” — or post-exilic — Isaiah. This ought not to have been. (See H.A. Whittaker, Isaiah, pp. 393-412 for an excellent analysis of Isaiah 45, and a satisfying solution of the “Cyrus” problem. For further detail along the same general lines, see J.W. Thirtle, Old Testament Problems, pp. 244-264.)
He sent his word, and healed them seems to be a plain reference to Isaiah’s commission to tell the stricken king of certain recovery and the addition of 15 years to his life (2 Kings 20:4,5). Even the plural pronouns are not inappropriate, for Hezekiah was intended to be seen as the sin-bearing representative of his nation, as Isa. 52:13—53:12 clearly shows. It was Hezekiah who first bore the griefs of a threatened nation, who was first stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. It was Hezekiah who was first brought to face death at an early age — “cut off from the land of the living” (53:8; 38:10-12). And it was Hezekiah who first “prolonged his days” (though only for fifteen years) and “saw his seed” Manasseh, who would follow him upon the throne. By his knowledge and steadfast faith before the twin enemies — death and the Assyrian — Hezekiah mediated for the righteous remnant before the throne of God, bolstered their faith in the promised deliverance, and (so we might say) “justified [or healed] many” (53:11) by his worthy example.
These verses appear to be an expansion of Psa. 48:7: “Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind.” This detail, coming in the middle of a psalm about the destruction of the Assyrian army, suggests that that mighty judgment was accompanied by a devastating whirlwind of the Lord (Psalms Studies, Psa. 48, Par. 2).
Here are other aspects of the diverse experiences of Isaiah’s time.
He turneth rivers into a wilderness, and the watersprings into dry ground; a fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein. The hard discipline of God’s retribution, followed (in vv. 35-38) by a sequence of redeeming blessings, out of pity for the people’s sufferings and in response to their pathetic prayers. The blessings of fruitfulness of the Year of Jubilee are clearly alluded to (2 Kings 19:29; Isa. 60:3,4; Psa. 96:12, notes).
And there he maketh the hungry to dwell, that they may prepare a city for habitation. Isa. 61:4 describes the necessary feverish activity when the captives and refugees came home again:

“And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations.”

{The last phrase should be seen as (1) hyperbole, or (2) awaiting absolute fulfillment in the Last Days.}
Again, they are minished and brought low through oppression, affliction, and sorrow. He poureth contempt upon princes, and causeth them to wander in the wilderness, where there is no way. Another look back at the trials for Israel of the Assyrian invasion. Princes of Judah, fleeing for their lives from the advancing hordes (Isa. 30:15-17), lose their way and wander in the desert.
Yet setteth he the poor on high from affliction, and maketh him families like a flock. The poor man, Hezekiah, is lifted up out of his personal affliction, and is promised the family which he had hoped for but (due to his disabling illness?) had not as yet known.

7. Other details

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy. The response to the prayer of Psa. 106:46,47.
They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way. Away from God, a man is necessarily in a “wilderness” of his own making and also “adrift” in his thinking (s.w. Psa. 95:10: “err”).
They cried unto the Lord in their trouble. This is precisely what God wants (Psa. 106:44).
And he led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation. This, with v. 6, quotes Num. 20:16:

“And when we cried unto the Lord, he heard our voice, and sent an angel, and hath brought us forth out of Egypt: and, behold, we are in Kadesh, a city in the uttermost of thy border.”

A city of habitation is “a city to dwell in” (RSV) or “to live in” (NEB). The city is certainly Jerusalem, whether it be understood literally or figuratively — as the “city” which is at once a “Bride” and the church (Gal. 4:26; Eph. 2:20; Heb. 11:10,16; 12:22,23; Rev. 21 and 22).
He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder.

“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.”
(Charles Wesley)
Brass is used symbolically in Scripture of what is firm, strong, and lasting (Mic. 4:13; Jer. 1:18; 15:20; Dan. 2:35). It is also a symbol of stubbornness (Isa. 48:4; Jer. 6:28; Ezek. 22:18).
And are at their wit’s end. The NEB translates this, rather loosely but well: “And their seamanship was all in vain.”
The elders: Rev. 4:4; 11:16; 14:3; 19:4.
There is much figurative truth here for later days. He turneth rivers into a wilderness describes Israel’s spiritual blessedness becoming an arid waste (Jer. 12:4). A fruitful land into barrenness recalls the judgments upon Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:25) (cp. the force of 1 Kings 17:7). Verse 35 then goes on to picture the richness of gospel blessings on the Gentiles: He turneth the wilderness into a standing water, and dry ground into watersprings.
He poureth contempt upon princes, and causeth them to wander in the wilderness, where there is no way. Figurative meaning again?
Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the Lord. The prophecy of Hosea closes on just such a note as this:

“Who is wise, and he shall understand these things? prudent, and he shall know them? for the ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall walk in them: but the transgressors shall fall therein” (14:9).

8. Messianic reference

All the numerous New Testament contacts with Psalm 107 cluster round the ministry of Jesus and the preaching of the gospel thereafter.

The picture of the storm at sea (vv. 23-27) is almost repeated in Matthew 8:23-27 (cp. Mark 4:35-41; Luke 8:22-25) and in Matthew 14:24-36 (cp. Mark 6:45-56; John 6:15-21). John’s version of this second occasion echoes the words: He bringeth them unto their desired haven (v. 30; John 6:21).

Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainteth in them (v. 5) simply begs to be linked with: Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness (Matt. 5:6; cp. Luke 6:21,25), and with the two miraculous feedings of the multitudes (a. Matt. 14:13-21; Mark 6:30-46; Luke 9:10-17; John 6:1-15; and b. Matt. 15:32-39; Mark 8:1-10). The song of Mary anticipated this (Luke 1:53) with its quotation of v. 9: He satisfieth the longing soul and filleth the hungry with goodness.

Here also is foretold Israel’s “rejecting of the counsel of God against themselves” (v. 11; Luke 7:30). The logical outcome of this — the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles — is anticipated: first, in the symbolic miracle of the healing of the centurion’s servant (Luke 7:1-10; cp. v. 10 here: such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death; and Luke 1:79). Literally and figuratively this was a rescue from the gates of death (v. 18; Matt. 16:18). Even the detail of this healing — the spoken word of Jesus, and not his personal coming to the sick man — is here in v. 20: He sent his word and healed them (the plural pronoun is used because of the symbolism of the Gentiles). (And so, in the more general sense, God sent His “Word... made flesh” into the world to heal men: John 1:9-12.)

Also, the great inference Jesus bade men make — i.e., that the Gentiles would be called to the same hope of the gospel as Jews — is expressed in the words of this psalm: Gathered... out of the lands, from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south (v. 3; Luke 13:28,29; Matt. 8:11,12). The original promise to Abraham was that, in looking northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward, all the land which he saw would belong to him and to his seed for an everlasting possession (Gen. 13:14-17; cp. 28:14). But Jesus, in his saying (Luke 13:29; Matt. 8:11), reversed the process. Rather than the borders of the Promised Land being extended outward in all directions, the subjects of the coming kingdom are pictured as coming inward from all points of the compass, to sit down with their “father” Abraham in that kingdom. Which of course amounts to the same thing in the end: universal dominion and inheritance for Abraham and his spiritual seed, in a kingdom centered in Jerusalem!

With a lovely figure of speech, this same theme is developed even further: He turneth the wilderness into a standing water, and dry ground into watersprings. And there he maketh the hungry to dwell, that they may prepare a city of habitation (vv. 35,36). (It is certainly fitting that “Zion” is derived from a Hebrew root meaning dry!) Thus, like their spiritual forefather, Abraham’s spiritual seed “look for a city which hath foundations” (Heb. 11:10). The blessing of Abraham is given to them richly: He blesseth them also, so that they are multiplied greatly (v. 38; cp. Gen. 12:2; 13:16; 15:5; 22:17; 28:14).

The parables of Jesus positively demand that verse 37 be read as a prophecy of the preaching of the gospel: They sow the fields, and plant vineyards (Matt. 13:3-9, 18-23, 31,32; Mark 4:3-20; Luke 8:5-15).

In another figure, the wilderness wherein there is no way (v. 40; cp. v. 4) becomes what the early church triumphantly called The Way (Acts 8:31; 9:2; 18:25,26; 19:9,23; 22:4; cp. John 14:6; 16:13; Heb. 9:8; 10:20). Walking in this “Way”, the church sacrifices the sacrifices of thanksgiving (v. 22; Heb. 13:15), and the righteous rejoice, and all iniquity shall stop her mouth (v. 42; Rom. 3:19).

Truly, this psalm is another “Gospel” of Jesus Christ.

Other New Testament details:

They found no city to dwell in suggests also Heb. 13:14: “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.” Though there is no such city now, there will be one in the future. God is preparing for His people a city to dwell in (v. 7 here; Heb. 11:13-16).
So he bringeth them unto their desired haven. Was Paul reluctant to forsake The Fair Havens (s.w. in LXX) so soon and in such a dangerous situation, because he believed that God had providentially brought them to such a place (Acts 27:8-10)?
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