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Deeper Commentary

Psa 107:1

Book V-
Although this begins a new book, this Psalm appears to follow on from Ps. 106, which concludes with the exiled psalmist thanking God in the past tense for having delivered His people from exile. But we must understand that this doesn't mean that this is a Psalm of praise once the exiles had returned; for Ps. 106 is an appeal for God's grace to be shown in restoring the exiles. What is yet future is spoken of as having happened; it is a statement of faith in the deliverance which the faithful believe will happen. Ps. 107 is similar; it praises God in the past tense for the deliverance and reestablishment of His Kingdom in Judah which the [few] faithful exiles were praying and hoping for, in accordance with the restoration prophecies. And those prophecies are often alluded to in this Psalm.

Give thanks to Yahweh, for He is good, for His grace endures forever-
His eternal grace is the theme of Ps. 106:45. Psalm 107 continues the praise of this grace, and on that basis, expresses confidence that the restored Kingdom would indeed come about. People are invited to thank God for it as if it has happened- as an expression of faith in the final fulfilment of the restoration prophecies.

Psa 107:2

Let the redeemed by Yahweh say so-
This is appealing to the restoration prophecies about the exiles being redeemed from captivity and returning to Zion (Is. 62:12; 35:9,10; 51:10,11; 63:4).

Whom He has redeemed from the hand of the adversary-
Just as God had historically redeemed His people from "trouble", so He would from the "adversary" of Babylon / Persia (s.w. :6). But the problem was that the exiles were comfortable in their exile, as the book of Esther demonstrates; and didn't perceive their environment as their "adversary".

Psa 107:3

and gathered out of the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south-
This was what had been prayed for in Ps. 106:47, and was according to the restoration prophecies (Jer. 32:37; Ez. 20:34 etc.). The tragedy was that the exiles didn't want to return. The ten tribes assimilated into the lands of their exile, and the peoples of Judah preferred to stay where they were, for the most part. Only a small percentage of the Jewish exiles returned. The regathering from all points of the compass also didn't really happen; these things have been reinterpreted and reapplied, so that they will come true in essence but not in literal detail. The clear fulfilment is in the gathering of willing Gentile converts from all points of the compass to the spiritual Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem.

Psa 107:4

They wandered in the wilderness in a desert way, they found no city to live in-
The idea is that as God's people were preserved through the wilderness journey, so would the exiles be. But most didn't even start the journey. And so these things have been reapplied and reinterpreted. Therefore the LXX of this phrase is quoted about the Christian believers in Heb. 13:14. We too are on a wilderness journey after our Red Sea baptism, and find no place we can call home in that journey. Our place of rest and settling down isn’t in this life, but in the Kingdom which is to come at Christ’s return. The implication could be that Israel wanted to settle in the wilderness. They didn’t want to return to Egypt (although they did at times), they didn’t really desire the unknown promised land… so, they wanted to just settle down there in the wilderness. And so it can be with us. We can be happy with the way to the Kingdom, it can be that the social aspect of the Christian life suites us… we are content with it, and yet it can be that for all that, we lack a real sense of direction towards the Kingdom. We are going some place. The Christian life is but a path leading towards an end, and the end destination is the Kingdom. If we believe surely that we will be there, we will live lives which reflect this sense of concrete direction and aim.

Perhaps we can infer from this that Israel in the wilderness initially wanted to return to Egypt, and yet it is also true that they sought for a city to live in whilst in the wilderness. They wanted to just stay there in the wilderness. They didn’t want to return to Egypt, they didn’t really desire the unknown promised land…so, they wanted to just settle there in the wilderness. And so it can be with us. We can be happy with the way to the Kingdom, it can be that the social aspect of the Christian life suites us… we are content with it, and yet it can be that for all that, we lack a real sense of direction towards the Kingdom. We are going some place. The Christian life is but a path leading towards an end, and the end destination is the Kingdom. If we believe surely that we will be there, we will live lives which reflect this sense of concrete direction and aim.

Psa 107:5

Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them-
Israel in the wilderness were made to suffer hunger so that they would come to realize that man doesn't live by bread alone, but by the words of God which went forth to create manna for them (Dt. 8:3). Their soul "fainted" in that they refused to perceive this. And so it was with the complaints of the exiles. Their experiences were intended to bring them to God.

Psa 107:6

Then they cried to Yahweh in their trouble and He delivered them out of their distresses-
Just as God had historically redeemed His people from "trouble", so He would from the "adversary" of Babylon / Persia (s.w. :2). But the problem was that the exiles were comfortable in their exile, as the book of Esther demonstrates; and didn't perceive their environment as their "adversary".

Psa 107:7

He led them also by a straight way, that they might go to a city to live in-
The same word as in :4; the "way" the Israelites were led through the desert after the exodus could have corresponded to how the exiles were led from Babylon back to Zion. But although God gave Israel a straight way, it took them 38 years of wandering. For they didn't use the potential He gave them. And so it was with the exiles, and with many attempted journeys towards God's Kingdom. Likewise Ezra prayed for a "straight way" from exile to Zion (s.w. Ezra 8:21). But although it was provided, few of the exiles wanted to even begin the way. Their journey from Babylon to Zion was "that they might go to a city to live in", as if Babylon was not in fact a city they could live in. But sadly, many of the exiles preferred it to Zion. "A straight way" is a phrase used more frequently of walking before God in a "right way" (1 Sam. 12:23 and very often). The "way" back to Zion was not just a physical journey, but a walking in God's ways. And the Biblical historians of the 'restoration' indicate that this was not the path which the returning exiles walked in. The intention was that the exiles would enter the new covenant and "be caused to walk in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble" (Jer. 31:9). But the exiles who returned did stumble (Mal. 2:8). The potential spiritual strength to keep them in the way was not used. Potentially, the cherubim which departed from Zion in Ezekiel's vision would have returned with "straight feet" (Ez. 1:7). The way back was plain and clear, with every blessing along it. But the exiles preferred Babylon. And so these things are reapplied to the new Israel, who are to walk in a straight way towards God's restored Kingdom (Heb. 12:13). See on :40.

Psa 107:8

Let them praise Yahweh for His grace, for His wonderful works to the children of men!-
This was the intended picture of the joy of the returned, restored exiles. But they didn't perceive their sinfulness nor His grace, and so their praise was not at all so ecstatic as envisaged here. "His grace", His unending forgiveness and patient desire to save, was to be perceived as His greatest "work". This ultimately came to full articulation in the death of His Son.

Psa 107:9

For He satisfies the longing soul, He fills the hungry soul with good-
"Satisfying... with good" quotes the restoration prophecy of Jer. 31:14 (s.w.). This Psalm is an expression of faith in the fulfilment of the restoration prophecies; but it was not yet fulfilled. Those "longing" for grace and true spiritual restoration (:8) would be given it. But finally this 'filling' was to be through the Lord Jesus. And therefore Mary quoted this verse about how she had been filled with good things (Lk. 1:53); but Zacharias quoted the next verse, :10, shortly afterwards (Lk. 1:79). Surely Mary had gotten him thinking in the same paths as she did. Our spirituality can influence others positively, consciously and unconsciously. This is why it’s important to mix in spiritual company.

Psa 107:10

Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron-
This alludes to how Joseph in Egypt was bound in iron (Ps. 105:18 s.w.), and Israel in Egypt are similarly described. The situation of the exiles in Babylon was not so physically awful. But they were expected to perceive that the opulence of Babylon was in fact "darkness and the shadow of death" (s.w. Is. 9:2; Jer. 13:16). Because they didn't perceive that, the good news of exodus and deliverance from that wasn't so attractive to them. And so it is with people today. See on :14.

Psa 107:11

because they rebelled against the words of God, and condemned the counsel of the Most High-
This is one of a number of Biblical verses which suggest that we as it were stand in judgment upon God when we encounter His word. He overcomes every claim that His word is untrue and therefore He is condemned (Rom. 3:4). That we mere humans should judge God the judge of all is an arresting concept; but this is what we are in effect doing when we consider His claims, His promises of saving us which are throughout His word.

The "most high God" could suggest that they believed in many gods, but in their desperate moments, recognized Yahweh as the "most high" of them all. And this was why they ultimately rebelled against Yahweh's words, probably a reference specifically to the words of the covenant. Let us remember that Israel carried the tabernacle of their god Remphan through the desert as well as that of Yahweh.

Psa 107:12

Therefore He brought down their heart with labour, they fell down-
"Fell down" is the word translated "feeble": "There was not one feeble person among His tribes" (Ps. 105:37), but prior to this the Israelites had indeed been "feeble" before their Egyptian captors (s.w. Ps. 107:12). This means that the feeble were made strong; and this was exactly the promise to the exiles, that they who were "feeble" in Babylonian exile would be strengthened so that they could  leave Babylon and be restored to the land (s.w. Is. 35:3). The word for "feeble" is often translated "cast down" and is used of how Judah had been at the time of their exile into Babylon (Jer. 6:21; 8:12; 18:15; Lam. 1:14; Hos. 5:5 and often). But they would be led out of Babylon in a straight way and without stumbling / being feeble (s.w. Jer. 31:9); the "feeble" would be strengthened (Zech. 12:8 s.w.). Yet when they returned to the land, they were "feeble" (s.w. Neh. 4:10 "decayed"; Mal. 2:8 "stumbled"). The potential strengthening wasn't used by them. 

And there was none to help-
"None to help" is the phrase used in prophecy of the Lord's crucifixion in Ps. 22:11 "Don’t be far from me, for trouble is near; for there is none else to help". The same words are used for how Israel and the exiles were under persecution with none to help apart from God (Lam. 1:7). The paradox was that God saved His people through the Lord Jesus exactly because they had "none to help" (Is. 63:5 s.w.). But He Himself had to go through that experience of having none to help (Ps. 22:11). Their salvation was achieved through His being their total representative.

Psa 107:13

Then they cried to Yahweh in their trouble, and He saved them out of their distresses-
Although the allusion may be to the Red Sea deliverance, the plural "distresses" suggests that this 'crying to Yahweh' occurred many times. And the identical phrase is a key phrase in the Judges record (Jud. 3:9,15; 6:6,7; 10:10). The Judges record has been alluded to in Ps. 106:40-42 as a parade example of God's saving grace to Israel. The grace of it all was that each time, God said 'this is the last time', and Israel responded later 'Yes, but please, just this once, have mercy on us just once more'. And this went on many times. Each time God showed them special grace. Time and again they were saved by Yahweh's "saviours", the judges, who looked ahead to Yehoshua, 'Yah's salvation', in the Lord Jesus. But the raising up of these saviours was by grace alone.

Psa 107:14

He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death and broke their bonds in sunder-
The deliverance from Egypt could have been replicated in deliverance from Babylon. But the difference was that the Jews were not being abused in Babylon; rather were they being ensnared by the soft life. And they didn't want to perceive that they were in a spiritual prison, despite its opulence in secular terms. Most of the exiles spurned this great salvation. And yet it will be fulfilled for God's new Israel in their redemption from death and the grave. "The land of darkness and the shadow of death" refers so often to the grave (Job 10:21). Egypt and Babylon were figuratively the land of death; but the prophecies of the deliverance of God's people from them will come ultimately true in our redemption from death through the resurrection of the body to eternal life in the restored Kingdom of God on earth.

Psa 107:15

Let them praise Yahweh for His grace, for His wonderful works to the children of men!-
The salvation of Israel historically was by grace alone; for when they cried to Him in desperation, their faith and repentance was hardly very deep because they immediately returned to their own ways once they were rescued. And yet given this pattern of grace, the psalmist can confidently exhort Judah and the exiles to again pray and throw themselves upon this grace; but they must perceive it as grace, and make it real and permanent. His "wonderful works" were not so much in His material saving of them, but in the amazing grace He showed to them.

Psa 107:16

For He has broken the gates of brass and cut through bars of iron-
This seems to allude to the famed gates and bars of Babylon, and is imagining the fulfilment of Is. 45:2. But Babylon didn't fall as potentially envisaged in the prophets; for Judah didn't repent, and Cyrus who was to break the gates didn't live up to his potential. Therefore the gates weren't broken or cut; a different scenario played out when the Medes took Babylon.

Psa 107:17

Fools are afflicted because of their disobedience and because of their iniquities-
This is as close as we get to an admission of sin; a confession of iniquity, disobedience and foolishness, and an acceptance of the consequences ['affliction']. The "afflictions" of David are presented as a pattern for those of the exiles (Ps. 132:1). They too denied their sin initially and struggled to accept its consequences; but David's path of repentance and restoration was to be theirs. But for the most part they refused to follow this. LXX "He helped them out of the way of their iniquity" hints at the psychological help from the Holy Spirit which was available potentially, just as it is for the new Israel who wish to leave Babylon for Zion.

Psa 107:18

Their soul abhors every kind of food, they draw near to the gates of death-
This seems to be one of a number of allusions to Job (here to Job 33:20), whose book would have been one of the early scriptures available to David and the psalmist who has used David's earlier psalm here. Drawing near to the gates of death was how David felt (Ps. 9:13; 88:3).

Psa 107:19

Then they cry to Yahweh in their trouble, He saves them out of their distresses-
The cry to Yahweh is made at the point of death (:18). The exiles failed to perceive that they were facing spiritual death in Babylon. For they were popular and prosperous there, and were not at all at knife point as they had been in Egypt. And therefore they failed to cry to Yahweh for deliverance as they should have done.

Psa 107:20

He sends His word and heals them, and delivers them from their graves-
This repeats the promise of the revived dry bones in Ez. 37; the exiles were to be as it were resurrected from their graves. This was the potential degree of revival possible for the exiles. It was prefigured in the "word" sent to Hezekiah to heal him of his sickness (2 Kings 20:4; Is. 38:4).

Psa 107:21

Let them praise Yahweh for His grace, for His wonderful works to the children of men!-
The exiles are bidden praise God ahead of time for His grace, as if it had already been experienced. This is the essence of faith, to see things from God's perspective, believing and feeling at the point of asking that we receive what we have requested (Mk. 11:24).

Psa 107:22

Let them offer the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare His works with singing-
This Psalm may well have been used in the temple services, and at this point there was an invitation to the community to join in the singing. The exiles had no temple, priesthood or altar; they are being invited to understand that the essence of sacrifice is not the blood of animals, but the words and thoughts of God's people.

Psa 107:23

Those who go down to the sea in ships, who do business in great waters-
The Psalm envisages God's prophetic word of restoration as coming gloriously true, and the thanksgiving offered was to be as sailors might thank their God after a deliverance from certain death in a storm. The allusion is to the restoration prophecy of Is. 42:10, which the psalmist praises as if it has been fulfilled. The "great" or "many waters" (AV) refer to the many nations, who for all their apparent power were to be stilled by God in a moment to prepare the way for His restored Kingdom.

Psa 107:24

these see Yahweh’s works, and His wonders in the deep-
Just as God did wonders in "the deep" of the Red Sea, so He in fact had done upon "many waters" (:23 AV). See on :23. "The deep" refers to the literal bottom of the sea. The waves of the surface water were imagined to be caused by monsters of evil who were in the "depths" of the sea. The sea was seen as mysterious and the abode of the forces of evil. These ideas are deconstructed here. God is all powerful; there is no 'Satan' being which is a source of radical evil, outside of God's control. Even if such things were believed in, Yahweh was able to do His wonders in the very lair of these supposed beings.

Psa 107:25

For He commands, and raises the stormy wind which lifts up its waves-
The storm waves arise not because of any monster of evil, but at God's command. The Hebrew words for "wind" and "spirit" are the same; and God makes His Angels winds / spirits (Ps. 104:4). The seas represent the nations, from whom the exiles had been saved. Their storm against God's people had been raised up at God's command, operationalized through the Angels.

Psa 107:26

They mount up to the sky; they go down again to the depths. Their soul melts away because of trouble-
The salvation of Jonah in a similar storm represented that of the exiles, if they were willing to perceive it. But the exiles didn't want to accept that the opulence of Babylon was in fact a storm amongst the seas of nations which was driving them to cry to Yahweh for deliverance (:27). The deliverance of the disciples from storms was clearly a fulfilment of this kind of language about danger at sea, desperate cries to God, and then sudden calm. But the significance of the connection is that the exiles had precluded the possibility of salvation from the "seas" of the Gentile world at their time; and so these things were reapplied to the Lord Jesus and His people.

Psa 107:27

They reel back and forth and stagger like a drunken man, all their wisdom disappears-
Salvation from the storm of the Gentile seas was not by human wisdom. There was no way out from death in the storm. They were driven to a point where they had to cry to Yahweh (:28). But the exiles were not materially driven to such a point. God in His kindness and mercy to them in exile didn't allow them to be maltreated. And yet the result was that the desperate cry for deliverance wasn't elicited from the majority.

Psa 107:28

Then they cry to Yahweh in their trouble and He brings them out of their distress-
See on :27. This phrase is a refrain throughout the Psalm (:6,13,19,28).  God would have brought the exiles out of the spiritual distress of the captivity; but the majority preferred to remain, and the few who did return did so, it seems, motivated by what land and homes they could carve out for themselves. So this redemption from distress was spurned by the exiles, and is reapplied to the great salvation offered now in the Lord Jesus. The day of "distress" was that of their judgment for their sins by the Babylonian invasion (s.w. Zeph. 1:15). But God would bring them out of that consequence for sin. That was the psalmist's hope and confidence. But the tragedy was that the exiles didn't want to know.

Psa 107:29

He makes the storm a calm, so that its waves are still-
This may mean that the ideal intention was that the nations where God's people were exiled would repent and also accept Yahweh. They would then be still and at peace with Him. But this didn't happen at the time as envisaged. Therefore the image of still seas after storm is used of how things shall finally be at the last day (Rev. 15:2).

Psa 107:30

Then they are glad because it is calm, and so He brings them to their desired haven-
See on Ps. 106:24. The idea of God stilling a storm and getting terrified sailors immediately to their port clearly had fulfilment in how Christ stilled the storm on the lake of Galilee (Jn. 6:18-21). This doesn’t mean that He is God Himself, but rather that Old Testament statements about God were fulfilled in His Son, who manifested the Father to perfection. But the significance of the connection is that the exiles had precluded the possibility of salvation from the "seas" of the Gentile world at their time; and so these things were reapplied to the Lord Jesus and His people.

Psa 107:31

Let them praise Yahweh for His grace, for His wonderful works for the children of men!-
This phrase is a refrain throughout the Psalm. See notes on :8,15,21,31.

Psa 107:32

Let them exalt Him also in the gathering of the people, and praise Him in the seat of the elders-
Note the parallel between elders and the assembly / gathering of the general congregation. All alike were to be awed by God's grace. Likewise Acts 15:22 parallels the elders and the whole congregation: “The apostles and elders with the whole church” agreed a solution. It wasn’t a top down decision imposed upon the congregation. They all participated.

Psa 107:33

He turns rivers into a desert, water springs into a thirsty ground-
This continues the allusions to the restoration prophecies. The restored Kingdom of God could have come at the restoration, complete with a Messiah figure. But it was precluded by the failures of the various potential Messiahs like Zerubbabel, and by the impenitence of the exiles.

Psa 107:34

and a fruitful land into a salt waste because of the wickedness of those who dwell in it-
The envisaged restitution was to be a radical inversion of all things. It was Babylon which was to be turned into a salt waste. The prophecies of her fall speak of supernatural Divine judgment ruining the land surrounding Babylon, akin to the scale and nature of Sodom's destruction. But this didn't happen. Babylon didn't fall suddenly, as envisaged; the prophetic scenario was reapplied and recalculated to the fall of the latter day Babylon in Rev. 18, which alludes to all those prophecies of Babylon's fall which didn't come about as potentially possible at the time.

Ez. 47:11 likewise envisaged some places in the restored Zion as being still "a salt waste". But the exiles didn't rebuild Zion according to the commandments in Ez. 40-48 and so this didn't come about as it then could have done.

Psa 107:35

He turns a desert into a pool of water, and a dry land into water springs-
This kind of radical inversion of all things, socially and also in the natural creation, was to be the hallmark of the restored Kingdom of God. But the deserts weren't transformed when the exiles returned, and the restoration prophets record how they suffered terribly with drought, disease, pests, famine and poor harvests. What could have been just didn't come about- at that time. It has all been reinterpreted with reference to the restoration of the Kingdom of God at the return of the Lord Jesus.

Psa 107:36

There He makes the hungry live, that they may prepare a city to live in-
The picture of the returned exiles arriving hungry but preparing Zion their city, with the waste areas made miraculously fertile (:35), enjoying great harvests and mushrooming livestock (:37,38) just didn't happen. They returned in weak faith, seeking only their own personal advantage, and therefore they suffered terribly with drought, disease, pests, famine and poor harvests. And most didn't want to "prepare a city", to rebuild Zion; they were prepared to leave it broken down whilst they built their own houses and farmsteads, as Haggai laments.

Psa 107:37

sow fields, plant vineyards, and reap the fruits of increase-
The psalmist was rejoicing in faith the restoration prophecies which spoke of these things (Is. 65:21; Jer. 31:5) would surely come true. But they didn't come true at the pathetically small 'restoration' which occurred. See on :36. The famine was so severe that the returned exiles had to mortgage their vineyards and fields just to get food to eat (Neh. 5:3-5).

Psa 107:38

He blesses them also, so that they are multiplied greatly; He doesn’t allow their livestock to decrease-
The language of blessing and 'multiplying greatly' is all that of the promises to Abraham (Gen. 17:2,8). Those promises are the basis of the new covenant, which was offered to the exiles because they had broken the old covenant. But they refused the offer, and instead kept trying to keep parts of the old covenant. And so the exiles who returned didn't experience this great multiplication of blessing which was potentially possible. 'Multiplication' is repeatedly a theme of the restoration prophecies (Jer. 30:19; Ez. 36:11,29 etc.).

Psa 107:39

Again, they are diminished and bowed down through oppression, trouble, and sorrow- "Bowed down" is the word used of how in repentance over Bathsheba, David was "bowed down greatly" (Ps. 38:6). The word can mean 'to humble'; and this is the required response to sin. David was representative of Israel in their sinfulness; they were intended to follow his path of penitence. If the exiles had done so, then they would have been restored as he was; but they didn't.

Psa 107:40

He pours contempt on princes, and causes them to wander in a trackless waste-
This is what could have happened to the leaders of Babylon. As it happened, the princes of Babylon were largely onside with the Medes when they took the city, and only Belshazzar was slain. They could have suffered the condemnation of Israel, wandering in the desert- in contrast to the way that the exiles potentially had been given a "straight" path back to Zion, and could have had a straight path through the wilderness to Canaan when they first left Egypt. See on :7. Condemnation is here pictured as wandering without a "way"; the condemnation of the wicked at the last day will likewise be a reflection of their aimless lives, for all their talk of career paths and milestones of achievement.

Psa 107:41

Yet He lifts the needy out of their affliction, and increases their families like a flock-
AV "maketh him families". The Israelites were likewise set in families when they left Egypt (Ps. 68:6). The allusion is to how Israel in Egypt were saved through uniting in family units around the Passover lamb. Those without families were set together with families, and were delivered as families. And God was willing to repeat the Exodus deliverance for the captives in Babylon / Persia. But just as people effectively spurn family life today, and dislike the discipline of life in a church family, so they will find the condemnation process to be so unbearably lonely.

Psa 107:42

The upright will see it, and be glad. All the wicked will shut their mouths-
The idiom of shutting the mouth could imply that they accept the rightness of God's ways and their wrongness. For the intention of the judgment upon Babylon was always ultimately that they should repent, and join with repentant Judah in forming a new multiethnic people of God in the land.

Psa 107:43

Whoever is wise will pay attention to these things; they will reflect upon the graces of Yahweh-
This may be an intensive plural, for the great singular grace of Yahweh. Although the psalmist speaks in the past tense for what he believes will be the fulfilment of the restoration prophecies, he accepts that the fulfilment will be conditional upon perceiving God's grace and accepting it in faith. For the most part, the exiles didn't do this, and so the invitation was given to a new people of God.