Psalm 107
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges


Psalms 107-150

This Psalm is a call to thanksgiving addressed to the returned exiles, and enforced by various instances of Jehovah’s goodness to men in the manifold perils of life.

i. Introduction (Psalm 107:1-3). The prayer of Psalm 106:47 has been answered. Israel has been ransomed from captivity, and brought back from the lands of exile to its own land. The Psalmist calls upon “Jehovah’s redeemed ones” to unite in offering to Him the thanksgiving which was contemplated (Psalm 106:47 c, d) as the object of their restoration.

ii. A scries of four pictures follows (Psalm 107:4-32) vividly representing the goodness of Jehovah in delivering men from the extremity of trouble and danger in answer to their prayers. Each strophe is symmetrically constructed. First there is a description of the sufferers’ plight; then their cry for help and its answer; then a call to thanksgiving, supplemented in Psalm 107:9; Psalm 107:16 by the reason for it, in Psalm 107:22; Psalm 107:32 by an amplification of the appeal. The double refrain with its variations (Psalm 107:6-9; Psalms 13-16; Psalms 19-22; Psalms 28-32) is strikingly effective.

1. Travellers through the desert who have lost their way and are on the point of perishing from hunger and thirst are guided to an inhabited city (Psalm 107:4-9).

2. Prisoners in the dungeon, or exiles who are like prisoners, suffering the punishment of their transgressions, are released (Psalm 107:10-16).

3. Sick men, whose sickness is a chastisement for their sin, are restored to health (Psalm 107:17-22).

4. Sailors, all but wrecked in a terrific storm, are brought safe to their destination (Psalm 107:23-32).

iii. Here the structure and subject change. The refrains disappear, and in place of the vivid pictures of life we have the Psalmist’s reflections on the vicissitudes in the fortunes of countries and of men regarded as a proof of the providential government of the world.

1. Jehovah smites a fruitful land with barrenness for the wickedness of its inhabitants, and transforms a wilderness into a fertile home for the poor and needy (Psalm 107:33-38).

2. If they are oppressed He defends them, and confounds their oppressors, to the joy of the righteous, and the discomfiture of the wicked (Psalm 107:39-42).

iv. The Psalm ends with an exhortation to mark and ponder such facts as these which are proofs of Jehovah’s lovingkindness (Psalm 107:43).

The connexion of the central part of the Psalm with the introduction requires some further consideration. The pictures which it contains are scenes from real life, chosen to illustrate God’s goodness in answering men’s prayers in circumstances of trial and suffering, and to enforce the duty of thanksgiving. But since the Psalm opens with an exhortation to the returned exiles, it can hardly be doubted that they are meant to see in these pictures not only general proofs of God’s goodness, but illustrations of their own experience. Israel had been on the point of perishing in the great desert of the world. It had been imprisoned for its transgressions in the gloomy dungeon of exile, and had lain there crushed and hopeless. It had been sick unto death through its own sin. It had been all but swallowed up in the vast sea of the nations. The scenes are at once fact and figure; scenes from life, yet intended to represent Israel’s experience. This is especially clear in Psalm 107:10-16, where some touches are obviously national not personal.

The unity of the Psalm has been called in question. It has been suggested that Psalm 107:1-3 are an introduction, prefixed to a Psalm of more general import, in order to adapt it for liturgical use: and again that Psalm 107:33-43 are an appendix, attached to the original Psalm by a later and inferior poet. The suggestion is plausible but unnecessary. The connexion between the introduction and the main part of the Psalm is intelligible, and the main part of the Psalm is suitable to the circumstances of the returned exiles; while the latter part, if (to our taste) somewhat inferior in form and vigour, offers consolation and encouragement to them in view of the vicissitudes of fortune to which they had been or were likely to be exposed. It has moreover links of connexion in style and language with the earlier part: Psalm 107:36 for example refers back to Psalm 107:4-5 : and the dependence on Job and Isaiah 40-66, which is a marked feature of the earlier part, is even more noticeable here. It is however curious that Psalm 107:23-28; Psalm 107:40 are to be marked, according to Massoretic tradition, with ‘inverted nûns’ [i.e. the letter n, נ], which are supposed to be the equivalent of brackets, and to mark some dislocation of the text or uncertainty in regard to it. Why Psalm 107:23-28 should be so marked is not obvious, but it is not improbable that Psalm 107:39-40 should be transposed. See Ginsburg, Introd. to Heb. Bible, pp. 341 ff.

The Psalm plainly belongs to the post-exilic period, but to what part of it is uncertain. Its tone however would seem to point to the restoration being still comparatively recent.

Notwithstanding the division of the books, it is closely related to the preceding Psalms. Psalms 105, 106, 107 may be said to form a trilogy. Psalms 105 celebrates God’s goodness in the choice of Israel and the deliverance from Egypt: Psalms 106 is a confession of Israel’s obstinate rebellion against God’s purpose for it: Psalms 107 is a call to thanksgiving for its restoration from exile. They refer, broadly speaking, to three successive periods of the national history. The first contains the fulfilment of the promise, “He gave them the lands of the nations” (Psalm 105:44): the second contains the warning that “He would scatter them in the lands” (Psalm 106:27); the third relates the restoration, “He gathered them out of the lands” (Psalm 107:3). The refrain of Psalm 107:6; Psalm 107:13; Psalm 107:19; Psalm 107:28 is an echo of Psalm 106:44 : with Psalm 107:2 cp. Psalm 106:10; with Psalm 107:11 cp. Psalm 106:13; Psalm 106:33; Psalm 106:43; with Psalm 107:20 cp. Psalm 105:19.

O give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.
1, 2. The Psalm begins, like Psalms 106, with the regular liturgical doxology. This “the redeemed of Jehovah” are called to recite (Psalm 107:2) in grateful acknowledgement of His mercy and in fulfilment of Jeremiah’s prophecy (Psalm 33:11) that there should again be heard in Jerusalem “the voice of them that say, Give thanks to Jehovah of hosts, for Jehovah is good, for his mercy endureth for ever.” Cp. Psalm 118:1-4.

the redeemed of the Lord] The phrase is taken from Isaiah 62:12 (cp. Isaiah 35:9-10; Isaiah 51:10-11; Isaiah 63:4), and clearly denotes the Israelites who had been released from exile in Babylon and elsewhere, and brought home to Jerusalem.

from the hand of the enemy] Rather, from the clutch (lit. hand) of adversity. Cp. the use of the same word in Psalm 107:6 &c. (A.V. trouble).

1–3. An invitation to the returned exiles to join in grateful confession of Jehovah’s lovingkindness.

Let the redeemed of the LORD say so, whom he hath redeemed 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.
3. gathered them out of the lands] In accordance with many a prophetic promise (Jeremiah 32:37; Ezekiel 20:34; &c.); cp. the prayer of Psalm 106:47.

from the east &c.] “From the four quarters of the earth,” Isaiah 11:12; Isaiah 43:5-6. Israelites from many lands doubtless returned to join the newly-founded community in Jerusalem.

from the south] Heb. from the sea, which according to general usage means the west. The Targ. explains it to mean ‘the southern sea,’ the Arabian gulf or the Indian ocean; possibly it may denote the southern part of the Mediterranean, washing the shore of Egypt: but on the whole it seems most probable that the Psalmist borrowed the phrase “from the north and from the sea” from Isaiah 49:12, and does not strictly enumerate the points of the compass. ‘The sea’ or ‘west’ there denotes the islands and coasts of the Mediterranean (Isaiah 11:11). A slight change of the text, yâmîn for yâm, would give the usual word for south (Psalm 89:12), but the text is supported by the Versions.

They wandered in the wilderness in a solitary way; they found no city to dwell in.
4. They wandered &c.] The subject of the verb is to be supplied, according to a common Hebrew idiom, from the verb itself. We might paraphrase the words ‘There were travellers who had lost their way in the desert.’ The absence of any expressed subject has led some commentators to connect Psalm 107:2-3 with Psalm 107:4. But this ruins the symmetry of the Psalm. If Psalm 107:1-3 are regarded as a general introduction, each stanza will begin with a description of the plight of the sufferers whose deliverance is subsequently described.

in a solitary way] R.V. in a desert way. But the phrase is a questionable one; and it is preferable to follow the LXX[61] and Syr. in reading, They wandered in the wilderness, in the desert; the way to a city of habitation they found not.

[61] ὁδὸν πόλεως κατοικητηρίου οὐχ εὖρον, אc.a. ART Vg.: the singular reading of א ὁδὸν πόλιν printed in Swete’s edition (B is here wanting) may however be held to support the Mass. text, if ὁδόν is transferred to the previous line.

no city to dwell in] Lit. no city of habitation, a phrase peculiar to this Psalms , vv7, 36; no inhabited city where they might obtain food and shelter.

4–9. First example of Jehovah’s lovingkindness to men: the deliverance of travellers who had lost their way in the desert and were on the point of perishing, doubtless a common experience. Cp. Job 6:18-20.

Hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them.
5. fainted] Was fainting within them; the imperfect tense graphically pictures their plight.

Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them out of their distresses.
6. The words for trouble (better, strait) and distresses are coupled together in Job 15:24.

And he led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation.
7. And he guided them in a straight way,

That they might go to a city of habitation.

Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!
8. Let them give thanks to Jehovah for his lovingkindness,

And for his wonderful works to the sons of men.

The A.V. obliterates the connexion of the refrain with the doxology of Psalm 107:1, and gives it a wrong turn by generalising its exhortation (‘Oh that men would praise the Lord’). Here and again in Psalm 107:15; Psalm 107:21; Psalm 107:31, the subject of the verb is the men whose deliverance has just been described.

For he satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.
9. Because he satisfied the longing soul,

And the hungry soul he filled with good.

The words refer to the particular case of those who were perishing with hunger and thirst, and do not, primarily at any rate, express a general truth, as the A.V. suggests. The language is derived from Jeremiah 31:25; Isaiah 29:8 (A.V. ‘his soul hath appetite’); Psalm 58:10-11; and Luke 1:53 is a reminiscence of this verse.

Such as sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron;
10. Such as sit &c.] Those that sat. The darkness of the dungeon—ancient prisons were usually unlighted vaults—is a figure for misery, especially the misery of captivity and exile. Cp. Isaiah 9:2; Isaiah 42:7; Isaiah 49:9; Micah 7:8.

the shadow of death] Or, deathly gloom. Cp. Psalm 23:4; Psalm 44:19.

being bound &c.] A reminiscence of Job 36:8, “If they be bound in fetters, and be taken in the cords of affliction.” The whole context, treating of the remedial discipline of affliction, should be compared. Cp. also Psalm 105:18, “Whose feet they afflicted,” and “iron” = fetters.

10–16. A second example of Divine goodness, in the liberation of prisoners, or captives languishing in the dungeon of exile in punishment for their rebellion against God. The Targ. interprets the passage of Zedekiah and the nobles of Judah in captivity at Babylon.

Because they rebelled against the words of God, and contemned the counsel of the most High:
11. Their suffering was the punishment of sin. Cp. Psalm 107:17; Psalm 107:34. They resisted the commands of God (Psalm 106:7; Psalm 106:33; Psalm 106:43); and blasphemously doubted or despised the wisdom and the goodness of His purposes for them. Cp. Proverbs 1:30; Isaiah 5:24; and for general illustration, 2 Chronicles 36:16.

Therefore he brought down their heart with labour; they fell down, and there was none to help.
12. So that he subdued their heart with travail. Cp. Psalm 106:42.

they fell down] Lit. they stumbled; figuratively as in Psalm 105:37 (note); Isaiah 3:8 (A.V. is ruined).

Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses.
He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder.
Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!
15. Let them give thanks to Jehovah for his lovingkindness,

And for his wonderful works to the sons of men.

For he hath broken the gates of brass, and cut the bars of iron in sunder.
16. The prophecy of Isaiah 45:2 has been fulfilled. The land of exile was represented as a vast and strong fortress-prison.

Fools because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted.
17. Fools] Many commentators think that some word is needed to express the plight of those whose restoration is to be described, and

conjecture that we should read sick (חולים) instead of fools (אולים). This emendation gives a good parallelism:—Those who are sick by reason of their course of transgression, and bring affliction on themselves by their iniquities. But the change is unnecessary. The poet looks behind the sickness to the sin which was its cause. Folly denotes moral perversity, not mere weakness or ignorance; it leads to ruin. It is the opposite of wisdom, which leads to life. Cp. Proverbs 1:7, &c.; Job 5:3. Sickness is commonly regarded in the O.T. as the consequence and punishment of sin. Cp. Psalm 38:5. That sickness is not necessarily a proof of sin was one of the great lessons taught in the Book of Job.

their transgression] Lit. the way of their transgression, implying persistence in evil courses.

are afflicted] The form of the verb conveys the meaning, bring affliction on themselves.

17–22. A third example of Divine goodness, in the restoration of those who have been punished with sickness for their sins, based upon Job 33:19-26.

Their soul abhorreth all manner of meat; and they draw near unto the gates of death.
18. Their soul loatheth all manner of food,

And they draw nigh unto the gates of death.

Cp. Psalm 9:13; Psalm 88:3.

For the archaism of P.B.V. ‘hard at death’s door,’ cp. note on Psalm 63:8.

Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he saveth them out of their distresses.
He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.
20. He sent &c.] R.V. sendeth … healeth … delivereth. Jehovah’s word is here almost personified as a delivering angel. It is His messenger (Psalm 147:15; Psalm 147:18), which performs His will (Isaiah 55:11; cp. Psalm 9:8). It is His instrument in His dealings with men (Psalm 105:19) as well as in the work of creation (Psalm 33:6). Such passages prepare the way for the use in the Targums of the periphrasis ‘the Word of Jehovah’ (Mçmrâ or Dibbûrâ) for Jehovah in His intercourse with men; and for the fuller revelation of the personal Word, the Logos (John 1:1). In connexion with this thought, it should be noted that in Job 33:23 the restoration of the sick man to health of mind and body is attributed to the intervention of “an angel, an interpreter” (or mediator).

from their destructions] Lit. pitfalls (Lamentations 4:20); the graves into which they had all but fallen. Cp. Job 33:18; Job 33:22; Job 33:24; Job 33:28; Psalm 103:4.

Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!
21, 22. Let them give thanks to Jehovah for his lovingkindness,

And for his wonderful works to the sons of men:

And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,

And tell of his works with glad singing.

Here and in Psalm 107:32 the call to thanksgiving is amplified, instead of a reason for it being assigned as in Psalm 107:9; Psalm 107:16. Cp. Jeremiah 33:11.

And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing.
They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
23. They that go down to the sea] Or, go down on the sea; the sea being apparently below the land. Cp. Isaiah 42:10, and the somewhat different use of ‘go down’ in Jonah 1:3.

that do business in great waters] As merchants and traders, traversing the open sea, and not merely making coasting voyages.

23–32. A fourth example of Jehovah’s goodness, in the deliverance of sailors caught in a storm. The Targ.[62] refers it to the voyage of Jonah, and some expressions suggest that Jonah 1, 2 may have been in the poet’s mind; but the reference is quite general. Addison (Spectator, No. 489) comments on the sublimity of the Psalmist’s description of the storm.

[62] Ed. Lagarde. The text in Walton’s Polyglott does not contain the gloss.

These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep.
24. These see &c.] These men have seen. Jehovah’s works are the storm, viewed as an evidence of His sovereignty over the elements: His wonders (or wonderful works, as in Psalm 107:8 &c.) are His miraculous interposition to still the storm and rescue the sailors.

For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.
25. For he commandeth &c.] For he spake, and raised &c. Cp. Psalm 105:31; Psalm 105:34; Genesis 1:3 &c. The P.B.V., For at his word the stormy wind ariseth follows the LXX (Vulg.) and Jer. in presuming a different vocalisation of the Heb. consonants, which may possibly be right.

They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.
26. They mount up] The sailors, not the waves, as is clear from the next line. Cp. Verg. Aen. III. 564,

Tollimur in caelum curvato gurgite, et idem

Subducta ad Manis imos desedimus unda.

their soul &c.] Their soul melteth in evil plight.

They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end.
27. and are at their wit’s end] Lit. all their wisdom is swallowed up, or perhaps as in Psalm 55:9, is confounded. Their skill in navigation entirely fails them. Cp. Isaiah 19:3. A striking parallel to the whole passage is to be found in Ovid, Tristia, l. 2. 19 ff.

Me miserum, quanti montes volvuntur aquarum!

Iam iam tacturos sidera summa putes.

Quantae diducto subsidunt aequore valles!

Iam iam tacturas Tartara nigra putes.

Rector in incerto est, nec quid fugiatve petatve

Invenit. Ambiguis ars stupet ipsa malis.

Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.
28. Kay quotes a Basque proverb, “Let him who knows not how to pray go to sea.”

he bringeth them &c.] Cp. Psalm 25:17.

He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.
Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.
30. because they be quiet] Because the waves are calmed. Cp. Jonah 1:11.

unto their desired haven] Lit. the haven, or possibly, the mart, of their desire. The word mâchôz, which occurs here only, is rendered harbour by the Ancient Versions, but in the Talmud it means town. The destination of the sailors, where they intend to dispose of their wares, is obviously meant. The R.V. has wisely restored Coverdale’s musical phrase, the haven where they would be.

Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!
31. Let them give thanks to Jehovah for his lovingkindness,

And for his wonderful works to the sons of men:

Let them exalt him also in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders.
32. Yea, let them exalt him in the assembly of the people,

And praise him in the session of the elders.

Let them publicly declare His praises in the temple and in the forum, where the congregation is assembled for worship (Psalm 22:22; Psalm 22:25), and where the rulers of the people sit in council.

He turneth rivers into a wilderness, and the watersprings into dry ground;
33. He turneth] He hath turned. The verbs in Psalm 107:33-41 should be translated by the past tense, as referring to facts of experience, not merely to general truths. The Targ. refers Psalm 107:33-34 to the drought in the time of Joel.

into dry ground] R.V. into a thirsty ground. Psalm 107:33 a is from Isaiah 50:2; with 33 b cp. Isaiah 35:7 : Psalm 107:35 is from Isaiah 41:18.

33–38. Fertile lands are smitten with barrenness for the wickedness of their inhabitants: barren lands are transformed into a fruitful home for the poor and needy.

33–43. The style of the Psalm changes, and its subject becomes more general. The refrain disappears, and instead of examples of God’s goodness in delivering various classes of men, we have proofs of His providential government of the world in the vicissitudes of countries and peoples.

A fruitful land into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein.
34. barrenness] A salt desert (Jeremiah 17:6) like Sodom and Gomorrha, Deuteronomy 29:23.

He turneth the wilderness into a standing water, and dry ground into watersprings.
35. He hath turned a wilderness into a pool of water, and a dry land into watersprings:

And there he maketh the hungry to dwell, that they may prepare a city for habitation;
36. And there he hath made the hungry to dwell,

And they have founded an inhabited city,

And sow the fields, and plant vineyards, which may yield fruits of increase.
37. And sowed fields and planted vineyards,

Which yielded fruitful produce.

With Psalm 107:36 cp. Psalm 107:4-5. In Psalm 107:37 the R.V. and get them fruits is possible, but not in accordance with the general usage of the phrase.

He blesseth them also, so that they are multiplied greatly; and suffereth not their cattle to decrease.
38. In this and the preceding verse there may be an allusion to Leviticus 26:20; Leviticus 26:22.

Again, they are minished and brought low through oppression, affliction, and sorrow.
39. And when they were diminished and brought low,

Through oppression, evil, and sorrow,

39–42. Though trouble may come, Jehovah scatters their oppressors and defends them, to the joy of the righteous and the chagrin of the wicked.

He poureth contempt upon princes, and causeth them to wander in the wilderness, where there is no way.
40. “He poureth contempt upon princes,

And maketh them wander in a wayless waste,”

Yet setteth he the poor on high from affliction, and maketh him families like a flock.
41. And he set the needy on high from affliction,

And made him families like a flock.

There is no change of subject. The Psalmist is following the fortunes of those whom Jehovah has blessed with prosperity. Temporary reverses may happen to them, but He will not fail them in their need. Psalm 107:39 is virtually the protasis to Psalm 107:40, and the construction of Psalm 107:40 is somewhat awkward, because it is a verbatim quotation from Job 12:21 a, 24 b, which the Psalmist has adopted without alteration. The princes are any tyrannous oppressors; God humbles their pride and confounds their counsels. The Psalmist probably has in mind the troubles of the returned exiles, and intends his words to encourage their faith. [The construction would however be simplified by placing Psalm 107:40 before Psalm 107:39 (see above p. 638), thus: He poureth contempt upon princes … and they are diminished and brought low … and he setteth &c. He humbles the proud and exalts the humble.]

like a flock] i.e. numerous. Cp. Job 21:11; Ezekiel 36:37-38.

The P.B.V. of Psalm 107:40, “Though he suffer them to be evil intreated through tyrants, and let them wander out of the way in the wilderness,” comes from Coverdale, who derived it apparently from the Zürich Bible[63] (Introd. p. lxxiii). The Heb. however cannot bear this meaning.

[63] So er sy lasst durch die tyrannen beraubet und geschediget werden: so er sy durch die öden ort, da kein weg ist, härumb fürt.

The righteous shall see it, and rejoice: and all iniquity shall stop her mouth.
42. The upright see and are glad;

And all unrighteousness stoppeth her mouth.

All mockery of Israel and blasphemy of Israel’s God are silenced. Cp. Psalm 115:2. The first line is from Job 22:19; the second from Job 5:16.

Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the LORD.
43. Whoso is wise, let him observe these things,

And let them consider the lovingkindnesses of Jehovah.

Cp. Hosea 14:9. In such examples as these the wise man will discern the methods of Jehovah’s providential dealings with men.

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