If there is one lesson that the psalmist would like for us to take away from this particular psalm, it is the desire that men would learn how to praise God for His goodness. This is a lesson we must learn regardless. And it must follow from this that—either from the difficulty of the lesson or the sluggishness of the students—this is not an easy thing to accomplish. We consider some of the central aspects of this difficulty shortly.
“O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: For his mercy endureth for ever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, Whom he hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy . . .” (Psalm 107:1–43)
Summary of the Text:
The mercy of God is forever, and so we thank Him (v. 1). The redeemed of the Lord should talk about it (v. 2). The redeemed of the Lord have been gathered from every direction (v. 3). They were out in the wilderness, and had no city (v. 4). They were faint, and cried to the Lord, who delivered them (vv. 5-6), and led them into their city of habitation (v. 7). This is a nice summary of the founding of Israel.
Oh, that men would learn how to praise God for His goodness (v. 8). He fills the hungry soul with that goodness (v. 9). His goodness even extends to sinners who are in affliction as a consequence of their own stupid fault (vv. 10-12). When they cry out, He hears them (vv. 13-14).
The point is repeated. Oh, that men would praise God for His goodness (v. 15). He has broken down their prison bars (v. 16), the chains that fools have forged out of their own iniquities (v. 17). God breaks those. They are in a bad enough way to abhor food, and are near death. They finally cry to God, and He delivers them (vv. 18-20).
A third time! Oh, that men would praise God for His goodness (v. 21). Let them sacrifice to Him, and declare His works (v. 22). Sailors see the works of God (vv. 23-24). The winds and waves testify by going up to heaven, and down to the depths (vv. 25-26). The men stagger on deck like drunkards, and cry out to God, and He stills the storm (vv. 27-29), and they are glad when He brings them into their haven (v. 30). God is the one who does this marvelous thing, and this is the backdrop to the disciples’ astonishment when the Lord speaks to the wind and waves, and they obey Him? What is their response when He does that? Who is this (Mark 4:41)?
The refrain comes a fourth time. Oh, that men would praise God for His goodness (v. 31). Praise Him in the congregation, as we are doing here (v. 32). Praise Him for His work in raising up and throwing down. He dries up rivers and springs (v. 33), and makes a fruitful land desolate (v. 34)—and does so on account of the wickedness there (v. 34). He can go in the other way as well. He turns the wilderness into a lake, and dry ground into springs (v. 35). He gathers in the hungry, and gives them a city for habitation (v. 36). He gives them fields and vineyards, overflowing with bounty (v. 37). He grants them increase, and will not let their cattle decrease (v. 38). God is the Lord of prosperity, and the Lord of the lack of it.
But there is another turn (v. 39), and the people are brought into affliction. Then He heaps contempt on princes, and throws them out (v. 40). And He sets the poor man in a high place (v. 41), and gives him abundance. The righteous see and understand this pattern, and they rejoice in it (v. 42). Iniquity is shut down and finally shuts up (v. 42).
Do you want to be wise? The one who is wise will observe these things, and these are those who understand the lovingkindness (hesed) of the Lord in everything (v. 43). This is what we must learn to take away.
Affliction from the Outside:
We live in a world where hard things happen. Hard things happen to losers and wretches, and hard things happen to saints and sweet people. If we set ourselves up as the judges on the sidelines, we are going to reveal just how ignorant we are. We are going to look at life as though it were a gigantic vending machine, and we are going to take note of who gets their product and who does not. When a nice person does not, when bad things happen to good people, we rail at Heaven as though some kind of injustice were going down.
Or, in order to protect our false assumption, we simply declare that the nice person must actually have been a sinner. Job’s three comforters simply assumed that he must have done something to deserve what he got (Job 2:11). The disciples wanted to know who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind (John 9:2). Jesus rebuked the so-called wisdom that said that the men crushed by the tower of Siloam were worse than others, or the men that Pilate had killed while they were sacrificing (Luke 13:1-5). The point Scripture makes is not that it is impossible to read the circumstance, but that it is easy to read it wrongly. Reading it wrongly is the problem.
Viewed From Within:
The hinge of all faithful living is this truth, found in both Habakkuk and Romans (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 1:17). The just shall live by faith. And faith knows how to take the affliction apart, and how to examine it from the inside.
“For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4–5).
When you look at a blessing from the outside, how can you tell whether it is a Deuteronomic blessing or not? Maybe you are the rich fool in the parable, on the verge of building yourself some bigger barns (Luke 12:18). But then there is this . . .
“Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine” (Prov. 3:9–10).
So we are to walk by faith, and not by sight. We are not supposed to figure out whether something is a blessing, and then, having done our due diligence by sniffing at God’s kindness suspiciously, thanking Him for it. No. Our thanksgiving is what makes it one thing or the other. This is applies to thanksgiving for simple blessings, and for the forgiveness that comes with forfeited blessings, but where the blessing comes anyhow. It applies also (and especially) to the blessings that come to us camouflaged. It is there that we really must walk by faith.
Christ the Heart of Every Blessing:
Christ is the heart of every blessing, and His presence is what makes it a blessing. Christ is at the heart of every affliction, and His presence is what makes that affliction into a long haul blessing. “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18).
“Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20).