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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Psalms 107

 

 

Verse 1

PSALMS 107

BOOK V (PSALMS 107-150)

This book has forty-four psalms, a number of which appear to be of late date. Dummelow noted that, "The contents, here and there, give appropriate hints as to the date in some instances."[1] For example, Psalms 107:10-16 refers to the years of captivity, as does Psalms 137. Some, but not all, of the psalms in this book are alleged to be liturgical. Psalms 108, for example, is made up of Psalms 57:7-11 as united with Psalms 60:5-12, "Which was obviously complied for liturgical purposes."[2] Fifteen of the psalms in this section are ascribed to David.

PSALM 107

ISRAEL RESTORED FROM CAPTIVITY TO CANAAN

We have paid little attention in this commentary to the theory that the Five Books of Psalms, in some way, are similar to the Five Books of Moses (The Pentateuch). Nevertheless, Delitzsch's comparison of Book Five to Deuteronomy is of interest.

"At the beginning of Deuteronomy, Israel stood on the threshold of the Land of Promise, after the two and one half tribes had settled themselves on the east of Jordan; so here, at the beginning of this Fifth Book of Psalms, we see Israel restored to the soil of its fatherland.

"There it was Israel redeemed out of Egypt; here it is Israel redeemed out of Exile. There Moses admonished the people to obey the Law of Jehovah; here the psalmist calls upon Israel to show gratitude toward God who has redeemed them from exile and distress and death."[3]SIZE>

Delitzsch was of the opinion that Psalms 104; Psalms 105 and Psalms 107, each of which is almost the same length, were all written by the same author, developing one continuous theme. "These three anonymous psalms form a trilogy in the strictest sense."[4]

(1) Psalms 104 derives its material from the history of creation; (2) Psalms 105 takes its material from the history of Israel; and (3) Psalms 107 takes its presentation from the times of the restoration from Exile.

The organization of this psalm appears to be: (1) announcement of the theme (Psalms 107:1-3); (2) the metaphor of the perils of travel (Psalms 107:4-9); (3) the metaphor of release from prison (Psalms 107:10-16); (4) the metaphor of recovery from sickness (Psalms 107:17-22); (5) the metaphor of escape from a dangerous voyage at sea (Psalms 107:23-32); (6) a general statement of God's gracious mercies (Psalms 107:33-43).

Rhodes described this psalms as, "A litany of thanksgiving by four groups of redeemed pilgrims: (a) desert travelers; (b) prisoners; (c) sick men; and (d) seafarers."[5] However, we fail to find four different groups of people in this psalm. The psalm evidently concerns God's people, especially with regard to their deliverance from Babylonian captivity.

As Leupold observed, "The first three verses announce the theme, namely, the Restoration of Israel from Babylon. It would seem more than strange that the psalmist would then begin to thank God for all manner of other deliverances."[6]

The restoration of Israel from Babylon is almost incredibly wonderful. There is nothing that remotely resembles it in the whole history of mankind. Putting that unique restoration of Israel to Canaan in the same class with such things as recovering from sickness, getting lost in a desert, getting out of jail, or surviving a dangerous sea-voyage appears to us as an intellectual impossibility.

To us, therefore, these four deliverances are best understood as metaphors of what had so gloriously happened to Israel.

Psalms 107:1-3

ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE THEME

"O Give thanks unto Jehovah for he is good;

For his lovingkindness endureth forever.

Let the redeemed of Jehovah say so,

Whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the adversary,

And gathered out of the lands,

From the east and from the west,

From the north and from the south."

"Whom he hath redeemed ... and gathered" (Psalms 107:2-3), These verses announce the theme of the psalm, namely, the deliverance from the captivity in Babylon, and the gathering of Israel from all the lands whither the people of God had been scattered. This marvelous event included two principal things (i) "redemption" from the adversary (Babylon), and (ii) "gathering," that is, the return of Israel to Canaan.

"Let the redeemed of Jehovah say so" (Psalms 107:2). No Christian has the right to remain silent with regard to the salvation that has been conferred upon him through the gospel of Christ. Satan has tried to foster a social campaign to the effect that it is "impolite to speak of religion." God's saints need to be vocal about their redemption. If it was required of ancient Israel that they should extol the wonders of God's delivering them from Babylon, is it not equally binding upon the New Israel to proclaim the wonders of "salvation in Jesus Christ?"

METAPHOR OF THE WEARY TRAVELER


Verse 4

"They wandered in the wilderness in a desert way;

They found no city of habitation.

Hungry and thirsty,

Their soul fainted in them.

Then they cried unto Jehovah in their trouble,

And he delivered them out of their distresses,

And led them also by a straight way,

That they might go to a city of habitation.

Oh that men would praise Jehovah for his lovingkindness,

And for his wonderful works to the children of men!

For he satisfieth the longing soul,

And the hungry soul he filleth with good."

"They wandered ... in a desert way ... found no city" (Psalms 107:4). The antecedent of the pronoun `they' is the "redeemed" and "gathered" of Psalms 107:2-3, namely, the Children of Israel whom God returned to Canaan from Babylon.

As Barnes noted, "These verses are a reference to the redeemed of the Lord, as having wandered, ... been hungry and thirsty, etc."[7]

"Then they cried unto Jehovah in their trouble" (Psalms 107:6). These words are a refrain which is repeated in Psalms 107:13,19,28. The continued worship of Jehovah on the part of the captives, and their constant prayers for God's relief of their distress are memorialized in this refrain as one of the factors in their deliverance.

"And he delivered them out of their distresses" (Psalms 107:6). This is part of the refrain, An amazing feature of this psalm is that there is a double refrain, separated in each usage of it by a single declaration.

"He led them also by a straight way, that they might go to a city of habitation" (Psalms 107:7). This is the declaration that stands between the two refrains, being essentially a statement that God answered their prayers.

"Oh that men would praise Jehovah, etc." (Psalms 107:8). This is the second refrain which occurs again in Psalms 107:15,21,31. It is a repeated call for men to honor the lovingkindness of God and his wonderful works on behalf of the children of men by praising him.

"For he satisfieth the longing soul, and the hungry soul he filleth with good" (Psalms 107:9). This might be paraphrased as, "God answers prayers." This reminds us of the words of the Savior who said, "Blessed are they that do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled" (Matthew 5:6).


Verse 10

METAPHOR OF A PEOPLE IMPRISONED

"Such as sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,

Being found in affliction and iron,

Because they rebelled against the words of God,

And contemned the counsel of the Most High:

Therefore he brought down their heart with labor;

They fell down, and there was none to help.

Then they cried unto Jehovah in their trouble,

And he saved them out of their distresses.

He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,

And brake their bonds in sunder.

Oh that men would praise Jehovah for his lovingkindness,

And for his wonderful works to the children of men!

For he hath broken the gates of brass,

And cut the bars of iron in sunder."

These verses are a metaphor of the way it was with Israel in Babylon. "When Israel was in Babylon, its sojourn there was like the experience of a man shut up in prison, wrapped in darkness and gloom, and unable to free himself."[8]

There are a number of things in this paragraph which forbid its application to any other group than Israel. Note the reason for the imprisonment mentioned here (Psalms 107:11).

"They rebelled against the words of God" (Psalms 107:11). No court on earth, in that era, would have made such a reason the basis of imprisonment; but Israel's captivity in Babylon was directly and solely related to their rebellion against the Word of God (Zechariah 1:4).

"He hath broken the gates of brass" (Psalms 107:16). Leupold and other scholars speak of "bronze prison doors"[9] in this passage; but it is not the "doors" of some jail which are indicated here. Jails never had, nor do they need, "bronze doors." What is mentioned here are the famed 100 Bronze gates of the City of Babylon, especially those over the Euphrates river. When the Medo-Persians took Babylon, the river was diverted out of its normal channel; and the soldiers of the enemy marched unharmed under the bronze gates.

Psalms 107:13 and Psalms 107:15 repeat the refrains discussed under Psalms 107:6 and Psalms 107:8. The utility of this double refrain, it appears to us, is that it emphasizes the unity of what is discussed here. It is not a discussion of several kinds of God's deliverances, but of the One Great Deliverance of Israel from Babylon.

"He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death" (Psalms 107:14). This is the declaration that stands between the double refrains. The importance of this is the revelation of the Deliverer. The antecedent of "He" in this passage is Almighty God Himself; and that is utterly inconsistent with the notion that the release of a group of pilgrims from some earthly jail is meant. God made no practice whatever of emptying earthly jails, but He did deliver Israel from captivity in Babylon.


Verse 17

THE METAPHOR OF FOLLY AND SIN-SICKNESS

"Fools because of their transgression,

And because of their iniquities, are afflicted.

Their soul abhorreth all manner of food;

And they draw near unto the gates of death.

Then they cry unto Jehovah in their trouble,

And he saveth them out of their distresses.

He sendeth his word and healeth them,

And delivereth them from their destructions.

Oh that men would praise Jehovah for his lovingkindness,

And for his wonderful works to the children of men!

And let them offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving,

And declare his works with singing."

The first word, "fools," is the key to this paragraph. The "sickness" here referred to is a moral and ethical sickness resulting from the consummate wickedness of the Chosen People which led to God's consigning them to captivity.

"Fools" (Psalms 107:17). "This refers not to intellectual feebleness, but to moral perversity. All sin is folly; and nothing is so insane as to do wrong."[10]

The metaphor here is that of a sick person, Israel being the patient, but the emphasis is not upon the nature of the sickness; "It is upon the cause of it, which is sin."[11] A sick man compared to one in health is an apt figure indeed of the weak, captive, humiliated, suffering Israel as contrasted with the 600,000 fighting men that came out of Egypt. "The propriety of this comparison can scarcely be questioned."[12]

Psalms 107:19,21 are another recurrence of the double refrain as in Psalms 107:6 and Psalms 107:8; Psalms 107:13 and Psalms 107:15, and in Psalms 107:28 and Psalms 107:31. Also, there is the declaration that stands between them.

"He sendeth his word and healeth them, and delivereth them from their destructions" (Psalms 107:20). This is the declaration mentioned above. Not that God's Word was designed to cure them from some disease, but for the purpose of saving the people from being destroyed in Babylon.

"And let them offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and declare his works with singing." The great factor in these stanzas is that of sin. "These stanzas define sin as disobedience (Psalms 107:11,17) and show its temporal (Psalms 107:10), personal (Psalms 107:12) and eternal (Psalms 107:18) results."[13] The offering of sacrifice, as commanded here, is related to this, "Because only in connection with redemption from sin does the psalm enjoin sacrifice."[14] In the New Testament, we are told what such a sacrifice is. "It is the fruit of our lips which make confession to his name" (Hebrews 13:15); also our sacrifices are called the "calves of our lips" (Hosea 14:2).


Verse 23

THE METAPHOR OF THE DANGEROUS SEA-VOYAGE

The fourth metaphorical description of Israel's rescue from captivity presents it as a near-fatal ocean voyage from which disaster God rescued them.

"They that go down to the sea in ships,

That do business in great waters;

These see the works of Jehovah,

And his wonders in the deep.

For he commandeth and raiseth the stormy wind,

Which lifteth up the waves thereof.

They mount up to the heavens, they go down again to the depths:

Their soul melteth away because of trouble.

They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man.

And are at their wits end.

Then they cry unto Jehovah in their trouble,

And he bringeth them out of their distresses.

He maketh the storm a calm,

So that the waves thereof are still.

Then are they glad because they are quiet;

So he bringeth them unto their desired haven.

Oh that men would praise Jehovah for his lovingkindness,

And for his wonderful works to the children of men!

Let them exalt him also in the assembly of the people,

And praise him in the seat of the elders."

As Leupold suggested, "The ship about to be lost at sea here is Israel, that is, their ship of state, an expression which is like our current usage of it when men say, `the ship of state is threatened.'"[15] Leupold further elaborated this comparison.

"The storm of the Captivity had swept over the nation; all seemed lost. The threatening billows could have destroyed the nation forever."[16]

This paragraph is much like the previous three. The danger is stated; the people cry for Jehovah's help (the first refrain); and there is a somewhat longer declaration before the second refrain.

THE LONGER DECLARATION

"He maketh the storm a calm ... they (those on the ship) are glad because they (the waves) are quiet ... He brings them unto their desired haven" (Psalms 107:29-30). God's bringing them to "their desired haven," is a reference to his returning them to Jerusalem.

"Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people ... the seat of the elders" (Psalms 107:32). This is not a picture of sailors, having escaped a storm, praising God in a group, but it is a picture of Restored Israel praising God in the public assemblies in Jerusalem, the seat of the elders.

THE LAST ELEVEN VERSES

Addis declared that, "These verses have no strict connection with the preceding,"[17] and also assigned them to another author. However McCaw, it appears to us, has a much better understanding of their meaning.

"The purpose of these two remaining stanzas is to reduce the illustrative material of the psalm to a statement of principle, namely that the Lord is both steadfast and loving to his redeemed."[18]
The RSV divides the rest of this psalm into two stanzas of six verses in the first and five in the second. In both of these, there appears a contrast between the wicked and the upright as evidenced by God's dealings with them.


Verse 33

"He that turneth rivers into a wilderness,

And watersprings into a thirsty ground;

A fruitful land into a salt desert,

For the wickedness of them that dwell therein.

He turneth a wilderness into a pool of water,

And a dry land into water springs.

And there he maketh the hungry to dwell,

That they may prepare a city of habitation,

And sow fields, and plant vineyards,

And get them fruits of increase.

He blesseth them also, so that they are multiplied greatly;

And he suffereth not their cattle to decrease."

"Rivers into a wilderness ... springs into a thirsty ground for their wickedness" (Psalms 107:33-34). "Some of these verses have historical allusions that refer back to earlier verses in the psalm; so that the entire psalm is a unity, composed by one author."[19]

Dahood applied the first two verses here to the Canaanites who were displaced by Israel's settlement in Canaan, because of the sinfulness of the Canaanites. "This is a metaphor of Israel's exchanging the desert (wilderness) for the land flowing with milk and honey."[20]

"There he maketh the hungry to dwell" (Psalms 107:36). "The hungry here are the Israelites, that same word being applied to them also in Psalms 107:5,9, pointing to the unity of authorship."[21]

This whole paragraph praises God for his blessing of Israel in the Promised Land.


Verse 39

"Again they are diminished and bowed down

Through oppression, trouble and sorrow.

He poureth contempt upon princes,

And causeth them to wander in the waste, where there is no way.

Yet setteth he the needy on high from affliction,

And maketh him families like a flock.

The upright shall see it, and be glad;

And all iniquity shall stop her mouth.

Whoso is wise will give heed to these things;

And they will consider the lovingkindness of Jehovah."

"Again they are diminished and bowed down" (Psalms 107:39). Israel is still the subject here, and the reference is to their oppression in Babylon. In all of the changing fortunes of God's People, the psalmist is making the point that God is the ruler; he chooses the changes for men; he prospers them when they obey him and diminishes them when they become wicked.

When the Lord's people suffer oppression, it is evil princes (or rulers) who have the ascendancy; but God will surely punish them. "Psalms 107:39 here presupposes wickedness on the part of God's people; but the Lord does not abandon them utterly and finally"[22]

"The upright shall see it, and be glad" (Psalms 107:42). Those who seek to obey God will conform their lives in a pattern that always takes account of the will of God. This will stop the mouths of the gainsayers.

"Whoso is wise will give heed to these things; and they will consider the lovingkindness of Jehovah" (Psalms 107:43).

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 107:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/psalms-107.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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Thursday, September 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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