Matins: Psalm 107:1-32

31 August 2008 at :00 am

Through August, at Matins, I have been speaking about the psalm the choir has sung that morning. This morning we heard most of psalm 107, a wonderful psalm of praise. So what can the verses of psalm 107 mean for us as we hear them this morning?

The part of the psalm that we heard divides into four sections with a chorus after each section. The first verse of the psalm sets the tone very clearly: 'O give thanks unto the Lord, for he is gracious: and his mercy endureth for ever.' This is a psalm of praise to God, which calls on all the people in the assembly who have experienced the mercy of God to join in giving thanks to him. It was probably composed for some great feast in the temple when Jews who had come many miles from east and west and north and south had gathered to celebrate the wonderful things God had done for them: 'Let them give thanks whom the Lord hath redeemed : and delivered from the hand of the enemy. And gathered them out of the lands, from the east and from the west: from the north and from the south.' The psalm goes on to describe four kinds of trouble that human beings fall into and how God brings us through them. At the end of each description comes the chorus: 'O that men would therefore praise the Lord for his goodness: and declare the wonders that he doeth for the children of men!' Each time this chorus is repeated it is accompanied by a phrase which describes how the people cried to God in their trouble and a phrase which tells how God saved the people from this particular sort of trouble. So, the first sort of trouble is getting lost in the wilderness and becoming faint with hunger. We are told, 'They cried to the Lord in their trouble.' Then comes the chorus: 'O that men would therefore praise the Lord for his goodness : and declare the wonders that he doeth for the children of men! For he satisfieth the empty soul : and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.' The second sort of trouble is being taken captive. God is to be praised 'For he hath broken the gates of brass : and smitten the bars of iron in sunder.' The third sort of trouble is serious illness. God is to be praisedfor 'He sent his word, and healed them : and they were saved from their destruction.' The fourth sort of distress is a storm at sea and the danger of shipwreck. God is to be praised, 'For he maketh the storm to cease : so that the waves thereof are still.'

There may be some of us who can take this in a very personal sense. You may have had experience of being either literally or metaphorically lost, of praying to God, and being shown the path to take. You may have had the experience of being literally or metaphorically in prison, or taken hostage, and having been brought through a terrible ordeal with God's support and help; you may have endured serious illness and joyfully come back to health, giving thanks to God for his healing; you may have been literally or metaphorically in some terrible storm and brought to a place of calm and safety by God. It may be that out of our own experience, gathered here this morning with others who have had similar experiences, we can say: 'Let them give thanks whom the Lord hath redeemed : and delivered from the hand of the enemy; And gathered them out of the lands, from the east and from the west : from the north and from the south.'

Or it may be that you read this psalm more in terms of the experience of the Church: here we join others here in praising God because, as well as the wonderful things he does in the lives of individuals, he brings the Church through periods when we wander in the wilderness and need to be 'led forth by the right way'; he brings us together through darkness and the shadow of death; he gives healing within and through the church (which is why we keep a prayer list of all those in need of healing); God enables the Church to come through the most terrible storms of persecution (which is why we pray for the Christians of Orissa in India who are begging for our prayers today). And at this moment we shall doubtless want to pray for all those in the path of hurricane Gustav.

Or it may be that we read the psalm for what it tells us about Jesus. For instance, the description of the storm on the Lake of Galilee (Mark 4:35-41), when the disciples were so afraid in their little boat that they thought they were going to die, seems to have been very much influenced by this psalm. Jesus is asleep in the boat and they wake him up, asking whether he is bothered about the danger they are in. He gets up, rebukes the wind and the waves, and there is a great calm. He does exactly what we are told in this psalm that God does. The psalm tells us how God acts, and the Gospel tells us that Jesus acts in exactly this way.

The psalms must have been very important for Jesus' understanding of his own ministry. We are told that in the wilderness he was hungry and thirsty. We know that he cried to the Lord in his trouble and, after the battle with the tempter, the Lord led him forth in the right way. In the wilderness he discovered painfully what was the right way for him and he followed it faithfully all the way to Jerusalem.

These are some of the ways that we as Christians might read this psalm. I want to finish, though, with a reminder that this psalm is a Jewish hymn. It was written to be chanted in the Temple, on some great feast when people had come from east and west, north and south to praise God. So, let me divide the congregation into those in the west (two parts) the north and the south, and let me suggest that each group speaks about one of the sorts of experience in the psalm, and then we all join in the chorus. I guess this is how the psalm might have been chanted in the temple, with groups of people bearing witness to the different sorts of wonderful things that God has done. So we can all say together verses 1-3; then those in the north say verses 4-7; then we all join in 8-9; then the first group of those in the west say verses 10-14; then we all join in 15-16; then the second group of those in the west say 17-20; then we all join in 21-22; those in the south say 23-30; and we finish together with 31-32:

O GIVE thanks unto the Lord, for he is gracious : and his mercy endureth for ever.
2. Let them give thanks whom the Lord hath redeemed : and delivered from the hand of the enemy;
3. And gathered them out of the lands, from the east and from the west : from the north and from the south.

4. They went astray in the wilderness out of the way : and found no city to dwell in;
5. Hungry and thirsty : their soul fainted in them.
6. So they cried unto the Lord in their trouble : and he delivered them from their distress.
7. He led them forth by the right way : that they might go to the city where they dwelt.
8. O that men would therefore praise the Lord for his goodness : and declare the wonders that he doeth for the children of men!
9. For he satisfieth the empty soul : and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.

10. Such as sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death : being fast bound in misery and iron ;
11. Because they rebelled against the words of the Lord : and lightly regarded the counsel of the most Highest;
12. He also brought down their heart through heaviness : they fell down, and there was none to help them.
13. So when they cried unto the Lord in their trouble : he delivered them out of their distress.
14. For he brought them out of darkness, and out of the shadow of death : and brake their bonds in sunder.
15. O that men would therefore praise the Lord for his goodness : and declare the wonders that he doeth for the children of men!
16. For he hath broken the gates of brass : and smitten the bars of iron in sunder.

17. Foolish men are plagued for their offence : and because of their wickedness.
18. Their soul abhorred all manner of meat : and they were even hard at death's door.
19. So when they cried unto the Lord in their trouble : he delivered them out of their distress.
20. He sent his word, and healed them : and they were saved from their destruction.
21. O that men would therefore praise the Lord for his goodness : and declare the wonders that he doeth for the children of men!
22. That they would offer unto him the sacrifice of thanksgiving : and tell out his works with gladness!

23. They that go down to the sea in ships : and occupy their business in great waters;
24. These men see the works of the Lord : and his wonders in the deep.
25. For at his word the stormy wind ariseth : which lifteth up the waves thereof.
26. They are carried up to the heaven, and down again to the deep : their soul melteth away because of the trouble.
27. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man : and are at their wits' end.
28. So when they cry unto the Lord in their trouble : he delivereth them out of their distress.
29. For he maketh the storm to cease : so that the waves thereof are still.
30. Then are they glad, because they are at rest : and so he bringeth them unto the haven where they would be.
31. O that men would therefore praise the Lord for his goodness : and declare the wonders that he doeth for the children of men!
32. That they would exalt him also in the congregation of the people : and praise him in the seat of the elders!

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son : and to the Holy Ghost; as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen

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