The lovingkindness of God

It has been said that the Psalms are the hymn book of ancient Israel and the words are the lyrics sung in worship by God’s people. Some are shouts of joy and praise, others songs of lament. This psalm tells the story of Israel and is a testimony to our God, our Redeemer. It is a song not about those that had it ‘all together’, as we would say, but rather it is about God’s rescue of the needy. We will find their story is our story too!

The Psalmist exhorts the people to recall what unites them, that is, the characteristics that are common among God’s people: it’s not their holiness, their accomplishments or the conquering of sin in their own strength. The common characteristic is the thing that we don’t often enjoy discussing, much less ‘making a song about’: we are united by our common heritage, the heritage of sin, and the need of constant forgiveness.

Here in the opening two verses, the Psalmist tells us that we are the redeemed, and God is our Redeemer and it is this that is also our common characteristic! All too often as children of God, we want to project an image of having it ‘all together’; that we are self-sufficient, minimising our need of the grace of God. We hide our weakness and need. But for what reason? For appearance sake? But when we search our hearts and when the Scriptures force us to see ourselves for who we really are, we are reminded that our sins are exposed before our God and He has redeemed us with the precious blood of His Son – and continues to deliver us! We are the redeemed, the ones with a story to tell! It is a story of who we really are and how we have been in dire straits, with no way of rescuing ourselves; a story that recounts, not how we toughed it out, but the mercy of our Redeemer that endures forever (v1).

The Psalm ends by noting that its content is:

  1. a truth that the righteous see and rejoice in (v42), and
  2. a thought the wise observe (nrsv “give heed to”) and understand (v43).
    What is it then that the righteous see and the wise understand? It is the “lovingkindness of Yahweh”. This is the chesed (kheh-sed) of God, a noun which means lovingkindness, steadfast love, grace, mercy and goodness. The chesed of God then, or as the rsv consistently translates the word, “steadfast love”, is His loving faithfulness to His covenant people which “endures forever” (v1).

The four cameos of our lives

Psalm 107 consists of four vivid word pictures or cameos. From verses 4–32 there are repeated refrains as well as the same structure which connects the passages:

  • pictures of distress v4–5,10–12,17–18, 23–27
  • calls to God v6,13,19,28
  • deliverance v7,14,20,29–30
  • a summons to praise v8,15,21,31
  • a summary of deliverance or response v9,16,22,32.
    So we have before us four pictures, not of glory, but four pictures of various kinds of people God has redeemed. We have:
  1. wanderers, lost in their dissatisfaction
  2. guilty ones, in prison for their sin
  3. sick ones, afflicted due to the attraction of sin
  4. fearful ones, tossed about unable to change circumstances.
    As we consider these categories, the proper response is not to think of someone else who needs to hear this or to see others in these word pictures. This is the story of your life and my life! But ultimately this Psalm is not about you or me, nor of any of God’s children through the ages. It is about our great Redeemer Who redeems and continues to redeem His people. So if we feel we have slipped to an unredeemable position because of sins, or cannot possibly deal with circumstances we find ourselves in, these four word-pictures offer an assurance that the redeeming, unchanging, steadfast love of our God can deal with every circumstance (whether spiritual or earthly) we might find ourselves in! They are an answer to prayer (v6,13,19,28)! More often than not we are brought to our lowest point before we realise we cannot rescue ourselves and that it is to God we need to turn for help.

This Psalm highlights our condition for one simple purpose: not that we just understand the “steadfast love” of our Redeemer, but that we glorify and give Him the praise. We note that the phrases, “O give thanks” (v1), “Let the redeemed … say so” (v2), and a call, “Oh that men would praise the Lord” in (v8,15,21,31), imply that some would go on their way unthankful after having been delivered. But neither is it about covering up for appearances’ sake! The exhortation of this Psalm is opposite to these responses, for the intention is to tell everybody about the lovingkindness of our God!

Our testimony, as in the case of Israel, is not to wallow or ‘glory’ in our sins or the depths of despair, but to ‘boast’ in our great Redeemer. We must see ourselves in these examples of dire straits and deliverance. It is the steadfast love of God that we are to praise.

So what then are these pictures of need and deliverance?

1. The wanderers (v4–9)

“Some lost their way in desert wastes; they found no road to a city to live in” (neb). The search for a city was about security, contentment. They were lost and could not find their way. They could not find that contentment, yet they continued to wander.

It is the same with our wandering and seeking satisfaction from the world around us, that is, security from investments, a better lifestyle, or just wanting to experience what life has to offer. Whatever it is, if we seek those things for our satisfaction we will be left thirsty, hungry and discontented. The Scriptures are clear. Contentment will not be found in anything in this life because it is temporal.

As these wanderers realised the folly of their ways, they cried out to God and He delivered them (v6). If they were wandering aimlessly, the answer of the Redeemer was “to (lead) them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation” (v7).

Note the nrsv, “He led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town.” God does not promise ease and comfort but that He will walk the path with us. He has promised He will never leave us nor forsake us. How else are we to understand Psalm 23: “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” Why, because God is with us leading us. All we have to do is trust in Him and let Him lead!!

The story of the wanderer is in the past tense, yet here in verse 9, the work of our Redeemer is in the present – He satisfies the thirsty, and fills the hungry. Our Lord gave his life not only to bring us to his fold, but also to keep us satisfied and filled. He said, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh unto me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst” (John 6:35). If we commit ourselves to him, we shall find the only things that bring true contentment. With many of us it takes almost a life time to realise it!

2. The guilty (v10–16)

Verse 10 describes this affliction. These ones were guilty of sin and hence ‘imprisoned’; they sat in darkness, in the deepest gloom as prisoners suffering in iron chains. Not only were they in great stress but in great danger as well – in danger of eternal death, “in the shadow of death”.

Verse 11 shows the cause of this affliction. They “despised the counsel of the Most High” (niv). They thought they didn’t need it or would be better without it. The purpose of this affliction was to humble them, to bring them to their lowest point, to cast down every proud thought and cause them to turn to God for help, help which formerly they neglected (v12).

Sin places all of us in bondage, a place where we have landed through rebelling against the Word of God. It afflicts us with misery and can wreck our lives. How often the steadfast love of God has protected us from the results of our wrong choices we may never know; but sometimes, God allows us to experience the bitter bondage we have brought upon ourselves. Then we learn that on our own we cannot break free. The “gates of bronze” or “bars of iron” have closed over us (v16). How does the Redeemer rescue us from the imprisonment of our own sin? He breaks our chains and the gates of our prison (v14,16). Our greatest difficulties are to Him as nothing! We need to believe that nothing is impossible with God and that He will respond to our calls for mercy through His Son. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, we have an high priest who is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, because he was in all points tempted like us. So he encourages us to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we might obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:15–16). We have to take courage whatever our dire straights are, and sincere prayer is the first step.

3. Those sick because of sin (v17–22)

Sin can begin to seem normal after a while. Some had become so hardened by their sin that right seemed wrong and wrong seemed right. That is the meaning of “fool”. It is not someone who is unknowing, but is in fact the opposite. Sin makes us into fools, always. Note how in verse 11, “rebelled” reflects stubbornness and wilfulness (v17). A fool is one who knows better, yet pursues the dangerous course anyway.

We can spurn the counsel of the Lord. Sin can deceive us so that we begin to believe the voices in our head that promote the ‘thinking of the flesh’. Then we may blame God and justify our foolishness. Sin can take hold of us. We may struggle against our particular sin all our life, and the consequences can seem insurmountable. Have you ever felt that way? How then does our Redeemer respond? The answer – His Word can heal us (v20)!!

God hears our cries and sends not words of judgment, but words of healing (v20). It does not matter how far we have strayed from His Word. The return of the Word into our lives brings the very source that can enable us to conquer the ‘thinking of the flesh’. How can the Word heal? Nothing can separate us from the love of God, “nor anything else in all creation” (Rom 8:39 nrsv, niv). That is, not even the sin that so easily besets us because that steadfast love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord, endureth forever – and we have to believe that!

4. The fearful (v23–32)

Lastly, others are fearful and overwhelmed. They see their helplessness in the face of challenge and are brought to their lowest point. They feel powerless to change their circumstances. Sea-faring is a perfect picture of our experience in life, for whilst we are busy going about our daily business, ‘out of a clear blue sky’ comes the storm that upsets our calculations! It takes us out of our comfort zone and leaves us helpless! Verse 25 tells us that God brings storms into our life. One commentator writes: “every storm is a summons as it were to trust in God … not a chance happening!!” Life seems to spin out of control, and we are fearful, we lose courage!! What are we to do in these circumstances?

There is a saying, ‘Let those that would learn to pray go to sea’! But we might add, ‘let those that will go to sea learn to pray … and accustom themselves to pray, that they may come with more boldness to the throne of grace when they’re in trouble’!

So how did God deliver? The hand that raised the storm will calm it and deliver us to safety (v29,30). Rest assured that God will always respond when we cry out to Him in faith! He will bring us to our “desired haven”. When we cry out to our Father His hand takes control over circumstances. He takes them away or turns them around; at other times He gives us the faith to endure the present trials. His answer to prayer comes, but not necessarily straight away! What we have to understand is that our “desired haven” as this Psalm calls it, may not be found here in this life, but in the future, in His rest, even the Kingdom.

I have not hid Thy lovingkindness

It is interesting to note that verses 22 and 32 are summaries calling for a response to the chesed of God. Well, consider Psalm 40, a Psalm of David who pleaded for the chesed of God to preserve him (v11). Why? Firstly, because he was powerless to change circumstances he found himself in, and secondly, because his sins had taken hold of his life (v12). In fact he admitted this when he cried unto God; he had to wait patiently for deliverance. When it came, he acknowledged that it was God Who delivered him; that gave David cause to praise and trust in Him (v1–3). It is the same response as in Psalm 107, “I have not concealed thy loving kindness [chesed] and thy truth from the great congregation (v10)”. Why does the spirit of Psalm 107 call upon us to speak of the steadfast love of God? – because there may be a brother or sister sitting in the next row who is dealing with the difficulties we once experienced and may benefit from our story of deliverance!

What we see in this Psalm is a very clear picture of the character of our Father. He is a gracious and loving God, Who delights in redeeming His people and we are part of this great company of the redeemed down through the ages. We don’t have it ‘all together’. We are not ‘the accomplished’, nor the self-righteous but the redeemed, the “righteous” of verse 42, who are saved sinners. And every time we proclaim our deliverance we are praising God for His steadfast love. “Yahweh is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy [chesed] … He hath not dealt with us after our sins; nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is His mercy [chesed] toward them that fear him” (Psa 103).

As we partake of bread and wine, “let us come boldly unto throne of grace” seeking forgiveness and courage to go forward in faith, acknowledging the greatness and the steadfast love of our God, our Redeemer.