Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south. – Psalm 107:1-31
The Thanksgiving season started all the way back in October here on the American continent. In Canada, they celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October (which the United States celebrates as Columbus Day), while in the USA it is celebrated the last Thursday of November. It is a season of remembrance in certain Christian traditions, including the Anglican and Lutheran believers, with All Hallows Eve on October 31st and All Saints Day on November 1st also being celebrated during this period. It is a wonderful season which culminates in the celebration of the Incarnation of the Son of God and His Birth on December 25th.
Interestingly, there are two Thanksgiving celebrations that occurred long before the first Pilgrim Thanksgiving in the Americas. On June 30, 15642—I have read June 28th but have no source—“the French [Huguenot] explorer Rene Goulaine de Laudonnière called for a feast to celebrate the establishment of Fort Caroline atop the St. Johns Bluff, near present-day Jacksonville,”3 Florida. A year later, a Roman Catholic “Spanish explorer Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles arrived on the coast of Florida. He came ashore on September 8, 1565, naming the land on which he stepped “St. Augustine” in honor of the saint on whose feast day, Aug. 28, the land was sighted.”4 On that day he and his fellow explorers held a feast of Thanksgiving.
It is a wonderful season, and they are wonderful traditions. I, for one, am quite thankful for 2016. It has been a year of abundant blessing. This August marked the one year anniversary in my full-time position, where I am able to minister to the needs of adults who have autism or mental retardation, after almost two and a half years of unemployment or underemployment. God has been so very good to me in my time of need, and His provision by His providence. I have a loving family, and my brother’s family has expanded by the birth of Ainsley, my new niece. I am also quite thankful for my beautiful, wise, and loving wife, having married in February of this year. I am thankful for the rough patches where we are truly learn about each other and, through those struggles, are learning to shed our selfishness and be purposeful in loving each other. I am also thankful for King Jesus and His death on the cross, by which I am redeemed from my sins. We have much to be thankful for and much to remember, even if we ourselves don’t think we do.
Psalm 107, our immediate text, is the last of a three psalm series, which culminates in a thanksgiving for Israel’s deliverance most likely from the Babylonian Exile5, more precisely written as “[a] liturgical expression of thanksgiving.”6 Before we dive into the selected text, to get a broader picture of Psalm 107, it would do you, the reader, well to read Psalm 105 through 107, we will also examine each psalm briefly in the form of a summary before we dive into Psalm 107.
To summarize the two previous psalms for the context in Psalm 107, Psalm 105 is a praise and thanksgiving to God for the remembrance of His covenant with Abraham and to his posterity, as it is written in verses 7-11. The psalmist continues with the story of Israel’s journey to Egypt to avoid the famine. They eventual suffer subjugation at the hands of Egypt’s Pharaoh. God, hearing their cries and remembering His covenant, delivers Israel from the hands of Pharaoh and his army. God then leads her in the wilderness and provides provision. The psalmist ends with God handing the nations over to Israel for conquest and instructing His saved people in how to live in verses 43-45. The final verse concluding with God being praised.
Psalm 106 follows with the multiple failings of Israel and finally the chastisement of Israel. Her first sin was forgetting the LORD and all His wonderful works written in verses 11-13. She then sought after idols in verse 28 and even sacrificed her children to idols and foreign gods in verses 37-39. So God in His anger chastised them, which can be seen in verses 40-41: “Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against his people, and he abhorred his heritage; he gave them into the hand of the nations so that those who hated them ruled over them.” The psalm ends with Israel praising God, for He remembered His everlasting covenant with the patriarch Abraham, and in His remembrance, He had pity on Israel, after she was humbled and cried out to God.
Now looking to Psalm 107, starting with it as a whole. It is a corporate or liturgical call, as opposed to an individual expression of thanksgiving. Nevertheless, as with many psalms written for corporate use, it can still be used as an individual expression of thanks. There is an expression of the general thankfulness and trust that God’s people are to have regardless of their circumstance. The Puritan Baptist minister John Gill writes about verse 3, in reference to the psalmist writing about troubled people being redeemed, “this [section of the psalm] is generally thought to concern all mankind, and its view to assert a general providence which attends all, in whatsoever condition and circumstance; and to encourage men in their distresses to cry unto the Lord.”7 From verses 4 to 43, which will be addressed in posts to soon follow, are summarized in verses 2-3, the psalm has four basic stanzas which repeat the premise of various troubles, redemption, and then thanksgiving. That is why this psalm is called “The Pilgrim’s Psalm”8 because “anyone who knows anything about the Pilgrims is aware, Psalm 107…aptly describes the many dangers, toils, and snares they experienced prior to, during and after their courageous crossing of the Atlantic Ocean”9 They recognized this too as they quoted this psalm when they landed at and founded Plymouth Colony.10 In spite of all the experiences of suffering the psalmist, like the Pilgrims, turn to God and start in an unusual way.
Verse 1 states, “Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” God is good! Think about that. Here the psalmist is starting this psalm with praise to God for being God. He is good! He is merciful! The Puritan Presbyterian Matthew Henry says about the beginning of this Psalm:
“A general call to all to give thanks to God, v. 1. Let all that sing this psalm, or pray over it, set themselves herein to give thanks to the Lord; and those that have not any special matter for praise may furnish themselves with matter enough from God’s universal goodness. In the fountain he is good; in the streams his mercy endures for ever and never fails.”11
I draw breath, and I am His. God has provided me this moment in which I can praise Him. The psalmist is about to talk about troubles, and struggles, and failings of the people of God which has caused much suffering, and about the redemption they received. Rather than starting with himself, or with the nation of Israel, or the Pilgrims starting with themselves and the things they received, the psalmist starts by praising God, in particular praising His character. In essence, what is being said is: God is GOOD; therefore, He deserves my praise. The same can be said about the rest of the verse: God’s steadfast love endures without ceasing; therefore, He deserves my praise. God, by virtue of who He is, His very nature, no matter where we are or what our situation is, we need to be content in Him who created us and to praise Him with thanksgiving.
The psalmist continues with verses 2-3, “Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.” Here is a reference to the post-exile return of Israel to the land. Now, after we have praised and thanked God for who He is, the psalmist starts with a new reason to praise God. He has redeemed them from troubles and brought them home. John Gill, while disagreeing with the thesis that this psalm is about the return from the Babylonian exile, gives further New Testament application of these verses:
“It best suits with the gathering of the redeemed in effectual vocation, and particularly the calling of the Gentiles in Gospel times…The elect of God are gathered in consequence of being redeemed, [Zechariah 10:8] they are gathered out of the world, and from among the men of it; they are gathered to Christ, and by him; they are gathered into his churches, and to communion with them, and to a participation of all privileges and ordinances: and this is usually done by the ministration of the Gospel, which is sent into all the world for this purpose; and a distinguishing blessing of grace it is to be gathered out from the rest of the world, and favoured with such rich mercies.”12
God in His Goodness is to be praised. God in His mercies is also to be praised. He has redeemed and made known to us in His Word and by His Spirit the things of God. In his epistle, the Early Church Father Barnabas writes,13 “Therefore we ought to be deeply grateful to the Lord, because He has both made known to us things that are past, and hath given us wisdom concerning things present, and hath not left us without understanding in regard to things which are to come.”14 As winter bears down on us, and the holiday season will soon be over. Then the doldrums of snow, wind and biting cold will be with us. Let us in this holiday season, and even after it, praise God, and be thankful for His Sovereignty and His provision.
Oh, by the way, happy belated Thanksgiving!
Feature Art: Jennie Augusta Brownscombe, Thanksgiving at Plymouth (1925)
1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
5 James Montgomery Boice, An Expositional Commentary: Psalms Volume 3, Psalms 107 – 150 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 864.
6 John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Psalms (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 544.
7 John Gill, An Exposition of the Old Testament, vol. 4, The Baptist Commentary Series (London: Mathews and Leigh, 1810), 167.
8 Boice, 863-864.
9 Boice, 864.
10 Boice, 846.
11 Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994), 899.
12 Gill, 168.
13 Barnabas writes in reference to Isaiah 53:5 & 7, the source of our redemption, and the object of our praise.
14 Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., “The Epistle of Barnabas,” in The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, vol. 1, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 139.
© 2016, Joshua Morrison