The more immediate point drawn from Psalm 107 is this: The LORD’s love is a providential love by which he directs the affairs of humanity. He will not allow the human bent toward self-destruction to have its final way, and so in his love he directs men and women back towards him—even if by way of the purgatorial path.
Psalm 107 is a song celebrating the steadfast love of the LORD: “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” This love is experienced by God’s people after a particular historical pattern; one that deserves some reflection if for no other reason than the corrective it provides to the banal triumphalism that pervades so much of American evangelical celebration of the love of God in song.
Psalm 107 forms the final part of what was originally read as a kind of three-part epic, rehearsing the Israelite history from Exodus through Exile. The phrase in verse 3—“[whom he has] gathered in from the lands”—notably answers the previous psalm 106:47: “Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations…,” indicating that the two are supposed to be read sequentially. Psalm 106, similarly, follows on from Psalm 105. After rehearsing the salvation of the LORD in the exodus event, 105:44 declares that God gave them the lands of the nations, “that they might keep his statutes.” Psalm 106 opens menacingly: “Remember me, O LORD, when you show favor to your people… Both we and our fathers have sinned.” (vv. 5-6).
Together, then, these three psalms form a trilogy, describing the Jews’ liberation from Egypt and entrance into their promised land (Ps. 105); the Jews’ rebellion and exile from their land (Ps. 106); and God’s covenant love and rescue of his people from exile (Ps. 107). This trilogy provides the Christian a wonderful place to mentally camp-out, as it were, and contemplate the history of God’s salvific work amongst his people; for it is our history as well.
The Sovereign Love of God
In order to set the backdrop against which the love of God comes to the fore, the majority of Psalm 107 (vv. 4-32) is taken up with the various ways the exiled people experienced their exile.
“Some wandered in deserts wastes, finding no city to dwell in” (v. 4) These wanderers, precisely because of their wandering, were unable to meet their basic needs. Cities emerged in large part in response to the harshness and unpredictability of the wilds. There were places where people gathered together and worked together to stave off the wilds, the dangers, the deprivations of the wilderness. To make it on one’s own as a wanderer, a pioneer, was most difficult, and most simply could not.
These wanderers had no city, no community. They suffered the deprivation of those basic necessities of life to such a degree that they were ready to give up, to let death make its final mark on their sinewy bodies. “Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, And he delivered them from the distress” (v. 6).
The Lord’s delivery led them to a city, a refuge, a place of safety and abundance. They had longed in their souls, and God had satisfied them. “For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things” (v. 9). And so, “let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love” (v. 8). Hospitably, God gathers in the wanderers and nourishes their desperate souls.
“Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons…” (v. 10). These prisoners were not unjustly condemned. They had rebelled against God, they had “spurned the counsel of the Most High” (v. 11). For this reason they were punished with prison camps. They were made to work hard labor, the psalm says; their hearts were bowed low (v. 12).
Their rebellion against God was an indication that they had elevated themselves in pride. The Lord justly brings the proud low.