Theme: A Pattern of Hard Times and Blessing
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
Yesterday we read of the Pilgrims’ abundant first harvest in their new home and their three-day thanksgiving celebration. But there is another side to this story, and it is that the good times were succeeded by hard times again. As far as the Pilgrims were concerned, there was anxiety over divisions caused by people who arrived at the colony from other places, distress at being cheated by ship captains who had hoped to profit at the Pilgrims’ expense, and fear of war with more distant Indian tribes. And, of course, the crops sometimes also failed or did poorly, and sicknesses returned.
Have you noticed how Psalm 107 acknowledges this pattern? It is not talking about the Pilgrims, of course, but it tells how in other cases God gave a fruitful harvest and increased the numbers of the people and their livestock but then also allowed the harvests of these same people to fail and their numbers to decrease. In fact, it repeats this cycle twice in the last section: hard times (vv. 33, 34), blessing (vv. 35-38), hard times again (vv. 39, 40), and blessing again (vv. 41, 42).
At this point there is such an abrupt change in tone, and even (to some extent) in subject matter, that some of the more liberal writers imagine the psalm to have been put together from two otherwise unrelated poems. And it is true, the tone does change! The first half of the psalm has been rejoicing in the deliverances accomplished by God and has been calling on the people who have been delivered to praise and thank God for it. The final section reflects in a distant, settled way on God’s sovereign workings by which the people of God are sometimes lifted up and prospered, and sometimes brought low. In the first few verses it does this by images, noting how God “turned rivers into a desert” (v. 33) and “the desert into pools of water” (v. 35), “fruitful land into a salt waste” and “parched ground into flowing springs” (vv. 33, 35). As far as the people were concerned, the psalm says, “he blessed them, and their numbers increased,” but also that “their numbers decreased, and they were humbled by oppression, calamity and sorrow” (vv. 38, 39).
Does this mean that the two parts of the psalm are from different hands then? Or from different sources? No. It is only the case of the psalmist’s honesty, depth, and spiritual sensitivity being greater than our own. For he is acknowledging that not everything the people of God experience can be described as a deliverance and be received with utter joy. Life has its pain and tragedies, even for Christians. Yet in spite of them, God can and should be praised for his wisdom and great goodness, as the Pilgrims did.
How can we do this? It is because the people of God are able to see his wise, loving and sovereign hand even in their hardships, which is why the psalm ends with a humble acknowledgment of God’s sovereignty over all things and all circumstances. It is a reminder that even the bad things of life are in God’s hands. The late Lutheran commentator H. C. Leupold calls this the psalm’s important general truth: “The up’s and down’s, the success and the failure, the prosperity and calamity in the lives of individuals nations are entirely in the control of and brought about by the will of the Almighty. None are brought low or raised on high unless he wills it.”1
1H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), pp. 760, 761.
What images does the psalmist use to show God’s sovereign workings?
Why does the psalm end the way it does?
For what reason should Christians praise God in the midst of difficult circumstances?
Prayer: Ask God’s help to see life’s trials through his eyes so you are better able to trust him.
Application: Praise God for the wisdom and goodness he has shown you.
Key Point: Life has its pain and tragedies, even for Christians. Yet in spite of them, God can and should be praised for his wisdom and great goodness…Even the bad things of life are in God’s hands.