Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures for ever.
Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story –
those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
those he gathered from the lands,
from east and west, from north and south.
The fifth and final book of the Psalms (107–150) begins by repeating the call from the end of the previous book to give thanks to YHWH for his goodness and for his enduring love (Psalm 106:1; 107:1). The song invites those that God has redeemed to tell their story and to tell it out loud. The immediate context of the Psalm is probably the return from exile in Babylon. Far from their homeland, their country defeated and the Temple in ruins, the exiles must have thought that it was the end of the road, that it was all over. As a people they had been as good as dead but the God who had called creation out of nothing had made a way where there was no way, had raised them to life when they had fallen, seemingly never to rise again (Isaiah 49, Ezekiel 37).
The whole of Scripture is a witness to those that God has rescued, telling the story of that rescue, and when God’s people gather to worship it is testimony to that same salvation story. The Psalmist picks up four specific case studies: those who are lost and are desperate for food (vv. 4–9), those who are imprisoned, chained up in the deepest dungeon (vv. 10–16), those who are struck down by illness and are at death’s door (vv. 17–22) and those who are caught on the raging seas facing the prospect of an imminent one-way journey to ‘Davy Jones’ locker’ (vv. 23–32).
The fourth of those scenarios – the storm at sea – is echoed in Jesus stilling of the storm (Matthew 8:23–27, Mark 4:35–41, Luke 8:22–25). The Gospel writers make the bold claim that the storm-stilling God of the Psalms is none other than Jesus, the joiner from Nazareth.
In each and every one of those crises, the Psalmist records that those who were in trouble cried out to YHWH (vv. 6, 13, 19, 28), even though some of them might not have expected God’s help because they had rebelled against YHWH and had brought suffering upon themselves through the choices they had made (vv. 11, 17).
There’s a good chance that none of us will actually find ourselves wandering in the wilderness, incarcerated in a deep dungeon, sick to the point of death (okay, that one might well be probable) or fearing for our lives at sea, but we will certainly all face times when our resources are not enough and we need God to intervene. Some of us may be in that situation now. The Psalm is an encouragement that when we turn to God, however desperate our situation, however culpable we might be, that God will listen to us in our distress and he will answer.
The New Testament teaches that the great crisis of our lives, whether we know it or not, is that we are all alienated from the God who loves us, that we are enslaved by the destroying powers of sin and death and that our future is bleak. That’s the bad news. The good news is that when we were in such a state that God reached out to us – not even waiting for us to cry out, but reaching out to us while we were dead in our trespasses and sins and raising us to new life in his Son, Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:1–6).
Paul, in that passage, goes on to tell the Ephesians how they are to live in the light of God’s rescue and how they are to do good works that reflect God’s character and purpose (Ephesians 2:10). This echoes the Psalmist’s theme that those who have experienced God’s salvation are to give thanks to God for his unfailing love and for all that he has done for the humanity that he loves (vv. 9, 15, 21, 31).