Theme: An Example from History
In this week’s lessons, we are reminded of the need to trust the Lord for his deliverance from our struggles, and to praise him for his goodness and mercy.
Scripture: Psalm 107:33-43
John Newton was a Puritan. He was also a Pilgrim in one sense, though he lived a hundred years after the Pilgrims we talked about in last week’s studies. In the third stanza of his best-known hymn, “Amazing Grace,” he has given us words that are a summary of the Pilgrim’s experience as well as an outline of the Pilgrim’s psalm:
Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.
In the first two parts of Psalm 107,,the introduction (vv. 1-3) and the overview of the diverse deliverances of the people of God (vv. 4-32), we have followed the first half of that stanza. We have seen how God delivers his people from the many dangers, toils and snares of this life—specifically from wandering in desert lands, wasting away in prison, perishing because of acute illnesses, and from perils at sea. Now we are to see how he also brings us home, anchoring our souls in a safe harbor at last. The text says, “He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs; there he brought the hungry to live, and they founded a city where they could settle. They sowed fields and planted vineyards that yielded a fruitful harvest; he blessed them, and their numbers greatly increased, and he did not let their herds diminish.”
The Swiss psychiatrist Paul Tournier has written a book titled A Place to Be, which claims that a place to belong, a home, is what we all desire. He says that we long for it all our lives and are restless until we find it. Psalm 107 tells us that God provides just such a home for his people. We have a home in God here, indeed a home enriched by our having Christian brothers and sisters. Even more important, we have the promise of a happy, eternal heavenly home hereafter.
Since we have been talking about the Pilgrims we might as well begin by observing that this is what they found literally. They had been dispossessed of their homes in England. They had left their temporary homes in Holland. While making their perilous three-month crossing of the Atlantic Ocean they were without a home; even the Mayflower did not belong to them. But when they reached the shores of Massachusetts Bay and came ashore at what came to be called Plymouth Colony, they had a home of their own at last. During that first desperate winter they constructed rustic shelters for themselves and thus established the first permanent English settlement in North America.
It was a hard first winter. William Bradford, in his classic journal of those days and that settlement, Of Plymouth Plantation: 1620-1647, called it “the starving time.” Half of the original one hundred two settlers died due to their lack of food and much serious illness. But in the spring the few healthy men planted crops, the sick recovered and that fall they gathered in their first harvest.
What American does not know the story of that harvest and the first Thanksgiving? Bradford tells of an abundance of fish and wild game that were added to the harvest celebration that November. But it is not from Bradford that we learn the details of that thanksgiving celebration. They are found in a letter written by Edward Winslow to a friend in England in December 1621. Winslow tells of a three-day feast attended not only by the Pilgrims but also by the local Indians, the great chief Massasoit himself arriving for the feast with ninety men.1
Well might these hearty survivors have said, “Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men” (vv. 8, 15, 21, 31) for “there he brought the hungry to live, and they founded a city where they could settle” (v. 36). We also should be able to thank the Lord for great and similar blessings always.
1William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647 (New York: The Modern Library, 1952), p. 90, footnote 8.
What actions of God have we seen in the first half of the psalm?
According to psychiatrist Tournier, what do we all desire? How is this provided by God?
How did the Pilgrims respond to the profound loss of life in the first winter? Why were they able to thank God?
How have you responded to severe trial in your life? How deeply rooted in God is your faith?
Has there been a time in your life when you were hungry? When you longed for a home? How did God answer you?
Key Point: We have a home in God here, indeed a home enriched by our having Christian brothers and sisters.
For Further Study: The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is still offering James Boice’s careful study of the entire Psalter. Order your copy of this three-volume set, and take 25% off the regular price.