Four Pictures of Sin and Salvation | Psalm 107
Brian Hedges | May 6, 2020
Thanks for joining us tonight for this message.
I suppose that every believer when they first come to Christ experienced something of the joy of discovery as they began to dig into the Scriptures for themselves. I grew up as a Christian, or in a Christian home, became a Christian probably in my teenage years, but I well remember the days when I first began to really dig into Scripture and study it on my own. One psalm in particular stands out in my memory. I think I was about 20 years old when this psalm just kind of came to life for me. It’s Psalm 107, and tonight I want to look at this psalm with you.
It’s a wonderful psalm; it’s actually a long psalm, 43 verses, so instead of reading it all the way through from beginning to end, we’re just going to walk through it together, and I’ll just begin by reading the first three verses, then giving you a little bit of a context for this psalm and what it has to teach us. Let’s read it, Psalm 107:1-3.
It says, “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.”
Stop right there. This is a psalm that, of course, calls us to praise, calls us to worship. It calls us to give thanks to the Lord for his goodness and for his steadfast love; that’s the word for the covenant love, the saving love, the mercy, the lovingkindness of God. It’s a psalm that was probably written after the period of Israel’s exile, and perhaps envisions the exiles coming back to Jerusalem, being rescued from these different places, from east and west and north and south.
But it’s a psalm that also teaches us the different ways in which God rescues his people. It does so in a very striking and memorable way. It’s a psalm that gives us a number of word pictures. In fact, as we read through the psalm you’re going to see that there are four very distinct word pictures, metaphors, portraits, really, of salvation, portraits of redemption. The psalmist is saying, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble,” and he gives us four windows into trouble and the redemption that God gives to those who are in trouble.
So I just want to walk through this psalm by showing you these four different word pictures and kind of asking question, What do each one of these teach us about sin and salvation? Let’s take each one of these in turn.
1. Rescue for the Wandering
The first is the paragraph in verses 4-9, and I want you to see rescue for the wandering from verses 4-9. Let’s just begin with verses 4 and 5.
It says, “Some wandered in desert wastes, finding no way to a city to dwell in; hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them.”
The picture here is one of wanderers, of pilgrims, of exiles on a journey. Here are sojourners in a strange land. They’re on a quest of looking for a city, but they’ve lost their way. They’ve lost their direction.
And they’re thirsty. Notice it says that they’re in “desert wastes.” Think of a trackless, barren wasteland, a desert, the scorching heat. Think of travelers who are in this kind of desperate situation. They have no city and they have no source of water. This is a picture that the psalmist gives us, of people who are in great distress.
Then notice verse 6. It says, “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.” As we work through this psalm, you’re going to see that the wording in that verse is repeated four times in this psalm, and in each one of the cases it’s the people who are in this desperate situation, who are turning to the Lord, who are crying to the Lord; and then we see how the answers and he begins to reverse the situation.
Here are people who are wandering in the desert, they’re on the question, they’re thirsty, they can’t find their way to the city. They cry out to the Lord in their distress, and the Lord delivers them. Then pick up in verse 7.
It says, “He led them by a straight way till they reached a city to dwell in. Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.”
Okay, so here’s the first stanza of this psalm, the first word picture, the picture of rescue for the wandering. Here the psalmist is portraying sin as being lost, as being thirsty, and salvation he portrays as God leading us to a city and satisfying our thirst.
One of my favorite movies of all time is the 1959 film Ben-Hur. It was directed by William Wyler; it actually one best picture in 1959. It stars Charleton Heston, and it is, of course, based on the 1880 novel by Lew Wallace, which is considered by some people the most influential Christian book from the 19th century. It’s a story of two men, Judah Ben-Hur, who is Jewish; and his childhood friend, who is now grown up, a Roman who is named Messala. These two boys grew up together, and now they’re both grown. Judah Ben-Hur is a Jewish prince, Messala is a Roman soldier, he is a tribune in the Roman armies.
Messala asks Ben-Hur to do something for him. He wants him to betray his fellow countrymen, especially the zealots, the nationalists, those who are conspiring against Rome; and Judah refuses to do that.
So Messala, angry with his childhood friend, captures him, and sends him off to the galleys to serve in the galleys of these Roman warships. So Judah Ben-Hur is now a prisoner.
There are a couple of scenes that connect together in this film that have always struck me. As Judah Ben-Hur is being marched in chains with other prisoners to the Roman galleys, they come through the little village of Nazareth. Ben-Hur is almost dying of thirst, he’s so thirsty, and the soldiers and centurions are cruel to him. But there’s a carpenter there in Nazareth. You only see him from the back of his head, but you see this carpenter, who offers Judah Ben-Hur a drink of water, shows compassion on him.
Well, Ben-Hur is sent to the galley ships, and there he serves. In an amazing reversal of fortunes, he rescues a Roman general, he’s then adopted into this man’s family, he becomes wealthy again; and years later, now consumed with a desire to find his lost mother and sister and consumed with a desire for vengeance on Messala, who had sold him into slavery, he goes back to Judea looking for his opportunity for vengeance.
By this time he’s become a charioteer, and of course the most famous scene in the film Ben-Hur is the chariot race, as Ben-Hur faces off against his old friend Messala, who is also riding a chariot in the race. He wins, and Messala tragically dies, but in his dying breath he tells Judah that he will find his mother and sister in the leper colony.
So this is where he’s come to in his life. He has sought for vengeance and he’s had it, he’s seen his old friend and now his enemy, his nemesis, he’s seen his downfall, but it’s hollow, it’s empty. His mother and his sister are in a leper colony, and his life just seems completely empty.
Someone then comes and tells him about Jesus. This is right at the apex of Jesus’s ministry, it’s right near the end. As they tell Judah Ben-Hur about Jesus, he remembers the compassion of the carpenter from Nazareth, and this is what he says. He says, “When the Romans were marching me to the galleys, thirst had nearly killed me. A man gave me water to drink and I went on living. I should have done better if I had poured it into the sand. I am thirsty still.”
It’s a poignant confession, in that moment in the film, that his quest for revenge, everything that he’s lived for for all these years, has left him empty. He’s still thirsty, he’s still unsatisfied, he’s still looking for answers, and he only finds it at the very end of the film, when he finally experiences forgiveness through Jesus Christ.
It’s a wonderful story that pictures for us what so many people experience in their lives, that they’re living for something, but they feel lost, they feel thirsty. They’re wanderers in the desert, and what they need is rescue. They need God to work in their lives, to direct them, to lead them, to guide them, and to satisfy their longing souls. That’s not what this psalm portrays for us in this first picture: rescue for the wandering.
2. Freedom for the Captives
Here’s the second picture, in verses 10-16. The picture now is freedom for the captives. The scene shifts. Now it’s not wanderers in a desert, it’s prisoners who are in bondage. Look at verses 10-12.
It says, “Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in affliction and in irons, for they had rebelled against the words of God and spurned the counsel of the Most High. So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor; they fell down, with none to help.”
Very clearly, this is a picture of people who are in captivity because of their sin. It’s because of their rebellion. It again portrays sin and the need for redemption in terms of slavery, in terms of bondage, in terms of the kinds of troubles that come into people’s lives because of their bondage to sin.
Maybe the best illustration of this is St. Augustine. I quote Augustine often, and for good reason. Augustine’s Confessions was one of the most important books ever written in Christian history. He basically invented the genre of spiritual autobiography as he described with painstaking honesty his descent into depravity and sin, and especially into sexual addiction and immorality, and how it was only through Christ that he experienced freedom.
There’s a place in Confessions where Augustine describes his sin in terms of a chain that he had forged himself, with many links. Listen to what he says. He says, “It was no iron chain imposed by anyone else that fettered me, but the iron of my own will. The enemy had my power of willing in his clutches, and from it had forged a chain to bind me. The truth is that disordered lust springs from a perverted will. When lust is pandered to, a habit is formed; when habit is not checked, it hardens into compulsion. These were like interlinking rings, forming what I have described as a chain, and my harsh servitude used it to keep me under duress.”
He describes these different links in the chain: disordered lust, perverted will, habit hardening into compulsion. You know what that is? That’s a description of every addiction that anyone has ever experienced. It’s a description of sin that binds us when our will, disordered in the wrong direction, perverted, headed in the wrong direction, disorders our desires, distorts our desires, and leads into habits that enslave us. Well, that’s what was going on for the captives in this psalm. This is what sin does to us.
Then look at verse 13. You see this verse that’s exactly like verse 6. It says, “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.” Then it describes how God brings about salvation. It says, “He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death and burst their bonds apart.” Isn’t that a beautiful picture? You just see the chains breaking apart.
Then verses 15-16 calls them to give thanks to the Lord. “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! For he shatters the doors of bronze and cuts in two the bars of iron.”
So, here the picture is sin as slavery and salvation as liberation, as being set free from our bondage. It reminds me of those great words of Charles Wesley in his hymn,
“He breaks the power of cancelled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me!”
3. Healing for the Afflicted
Here’s the third picture. We’ve seen two, but here’s a third in verses 17-22, and now it’s a picture of sickness. It’s healing for the afflicted. We’ve seen rescue for the wandering, freedom for the captives, now healing for the afflicted. Look at verses 17-18 as you get the scene.
It says, “Some were fools through their sinful ways.” Once again, you’re seeing that the condition they’re in is because of their sin. “And because of their iniquities suffered affliction.” Look at verse 18. “They loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death.”
That’s a picture of someone who’s sick. They’ve lost their appetite. They loathe food, and they’re drawing near to the gates of death. This is someone who is suffering from a wasting disease that is completely taking away their strength, their vitality, their health. Maybe they’re fighting an infection, but they’re dying. They’re drawing near to the gates of death.
One of my favorite preachers and teachers of the 20th century was Martyn Lloyd-Jones, another person I quote often. Many of you will probably know that before Martyn Lloyd-Jones was a pastor and preacher, even before he was a Christian, he was actually a medical doctor. It’s always been interesting to me how, as someone with a background in medicine, how he would often illustrate in his sermons truth by looking back to medicine.
In his sermon on this passage, Lloyd-Jones talks about how there are certain obvious laws of health which, if we want to be healthy, we must observe. He talks about all the obvious things: diet, the balance of solids and liquids and the right kind of food and the right amount, not eating too much, not eating too little, or it will make you ill. He talks about rest and sleep, and how if we don’t get enough rest we have a nervous breakdown; if we sleep too much, we end up lethargic and dull. The importance of exercise—all of these things. He says these are essentially natural laws of health which, if we want to be healthy, we have to obey.
There is, of course, a counterpart to the spiritual life. The people in this part of the psalm are people who are suffering a breakdown spiritually because they have transgressed against these laws of spiritual health.
Lloyd-Jones says, “This people suffer in their physical health if they break the laws of physical health; so if they do not conform to the laws and the arrangements that God has made for a total life as a spiritual being, that choice will lead to unhappiness, misery, affliction, and trouble.”
How often is that true in our lives, that we don’t pay attention to our spiritual health, to our spiritual wellbeing, the health of our souls? The result is that we lose our vitality, we are emaciated, we are ill, we are sick in our hearts. We are drawing near to the gates of death. That’s the condition.
Look at verse 19. “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.” Again, it’s a picture of God’s redemption for sinners, sin being portrayed as sickness, and redemption, salvation, portrayed as healing. Look at verse 20. You see how it is that God heals. “He sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.”
How does God heal us? He heals us with his word. He heals us with the gospel. He sends us the message of good news, the message of salvation. “He healed them with his word, delivered from their destruction.” Look at verse 21. “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving and tell of his deeds in songs of joy.”
Again, remember the theme of this psalm. “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” Praise the Lord, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; thank him and praise him for his steadfast love. We’re seeing examples of how God’s steadfast love works in our lives to rescue us, to redeem us from these different conditions. Really, it’s just the condition of sin portrayed in these different ways.
4. The Stilling of the Storm
There’s one more picture. You see this in verses 23-32. This time it is the stilling of the storm. Pick up in verse 23.
“Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the great waters. They saw the deeds of the Lord, his wondrous works in the deep. For he commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their evil plight. They reeled and staggered like drunken men and were at their wits’ end.”
Did any of you ever see that film (this was maybe ten or 15 years ago) called The Perfect Storm? I remember when I saw that movie (I don’t remember who was in it; maybe George Clooney), and the waves in that film just looked like mountains, and here’s this tiny little ship caught in the storm. That’s the picture that you have here. Waves like mountains, and these sailors that are in the deep are absolutely overwhelmed by the waves and the billows in this storm.
Once again, it’s a picture of sin. It’s a picture of our lives outside of Christ, as the waves and billows, the storms of life, and the storms of guilt and of judgment, the depths that we experience, overwhelm us.
What do they do? Look at verse 28. Once again you see this refrain, almost, through the psalm, this verse that appears over and over again. “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.”
In verse 29 you see the salvation. If sin here is depicted as being in the depths, overwhelmed with these waves, overwhelmed in the storms, salvation is depicted as God coming as the storm stiller. You see it in verse 29. “He made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. Then they were glad that the waters were quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven.” It’s rescue, as God calms the storm, as the waters that were like these mountains are now calm and still and flat, and they’re able to sail back home to their desired haven.
Verses 31-32 then call them to give thanks to the Lord. “Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! Let them extol him in the congregation of the people and praise him in the assembly of the elders.”
There you have it, four pictures: rescue for the wandering, freedom for the captives, healing for the diseased, and the stilling of the storm. These are four pictures of sin and of salvation that the psalmist gives us in order to call us to give testimony to God’s redemptive work in our lives. “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” It’s a call to praise the Lord.
There’s one more stanza in the psalm, and this stanza focuses on God himself, and it really shows us that God is the God of great reversals, he’s the God who reverses things, he changes things; and he is a God of redemption. Look at these verses 33-43. You see the reversals.
“He turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground, a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the evil of its inhabitants.” Now, in each one of those cases you’re seeing the Lord turn something good and flourishing into something barren. He turns rivers into a desert, he turns fruitful land into a salty waste. It’s showing us that God in his judgment can reverse good fortunes and turn them into bad.
Verse 35 shows it the other way around. “He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water, and there he lets the hungry dwell, and they establish a city to live in. They sow fields and plant vineyards and get a fruitful yield. By his blessing they multiply greatly, and he does not let their livestock diminish. When they are diminished and brought low through oppression, evil, and sorrow, he pours contempt on princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes; but he raises up the needy out of affliction and makes their families like flocks. The upright see it and are glad, and all wickedness shuts its mouth.”
God is a God of great reversals. He brings judgment and he brings salvation. Both of those are described in those ten verses.
Then verse 43 is the final verse of the psalm, and listen to what it says. “Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.”
Once again, it’s a call to think about God’s steadfast love, his covenant love, and how he shows that covenant love in bringing salvation to the needy, in bringing redemption to those who are lost.
It is good for us to think of these things. “Whoever is wise,” the psalmist says, “let him attend to these things.” We need to meditate on how God has brought redemption into our own lives.
Of course, as New Testament Christians, we can’t read a psalm like this without thinking about Christ and how Christ is the fulfillment of all these images. In Christ we see all these pictures of redemption.
Think about Christ on the cross. What did he say? What was one of those seven sayings on the cross? He said, “I thirst.” Christ languished in thirst on the cross so that he could offer to us the fountain of living waters.
We see Christ on the cross, who his bound and actually nailed to the cross. He takes the place of a prisoner, he draws near to the gates of death. Why? So that we can be freed, so that we could be liberated, so that we could be healed.
We see Christ, who is afflicted in our place so that we could be restored to life, and we see Christ as the great storm-stiller, who literally stilled the storm and calmed the waves in the boat with his disciples, but he also figuratively was cast into the waves and the billows of judgment in our place, so that we could experience the peace of God in our hearts and lives. In all these different ways, Christ fulfills the images of this psalm and is the great Redeemer.
There’s a wonderful hymn that I love, and it’s a hymn that captures some of the images that are used in this psalm. I don’t think it was based on this psalm, but some of the images that are used find its way into this hymn. I want to end with this. It really is a hymn of invitation, and I hope that as you hear these words you will consider it as an invitation to you to come to the Savior, and if you are a Christian to reflect on what he has done for you and if you’re one of the redeemed of the Lord to tell others about it. Here are the words.
“Come, ye sinners, poor and needy,
Weak and wounded, sick and sore;
Jesus ready stands to save you,
Full of pity, love, and power.”
There’s the picture of sin as sickness and Jesus as the physician who can save you. Here’s the second verse:
“Come, ye thirsty, come and welcome;
God’s free bounty glorify;
True belief and true repentance,
Every grace that brings you nigh.”
Do you find yourself thirsty? Nothing in this world can satisfy, but Christ can satisfy. Come to him.
“Come, ye weary, heavy laden,
Lost and ruined by the fall;
If you tarry till you’re better,
You will never come at all.”
Here’s the final verse:
“Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness he requireth
Is to feel your need of him.”
That verse is saying, Don’t wait until you’re better. Don’t think that you’re going to be able to make yourself better and rescue yourself. If you find yourself lost in this trackless waste, this wilderness, this world, if you find yourself bound in fetters of sin; if you will confess that you are sick and diseased in your heart and in your soul, that you need to be healed; if you’re overwhelmed with the waves and the billows of life, there’s nothing you can do to rescue yourself. What you can do is go to Jesus.
“Let not conscience make you linger,
Nor of fitness fondly dream;
All the fitness he requireth
Is to feel your need of him.”
Do you need Jesus? If you feel your need of him, then go to him today, and he will redeem you. Let’s pray.
Gracious and merciful God, we thank you for the beauty and the magnitude of this psalm and all that it shows us about your steadfast love. Even as we’ve just kind of scratched the surface of it tonight, it’s enough to show us pictures of our own condition, of our sin, of our need for salvation, and it’s enough to encourage us to turn to you in our distress, to cry out to you for help, and to believe that in your faithful, steadfast love you rescue those who call out to you for grace. So we do that right now.
We pray, Lord, for the fullness of salvation and redemption in our own lives and in the lives of friends, our neighbors, our loved ones. Lord, I pray for any who tonight will hear and respond to this message for the first time, that tonight would be the time for salvation and restoration, that today would be the day of salvation in their lives, that they would find that you are a gracious and a merciful God through your Son, Jesus Christ. So thank you for your grace and thank you for your word. We pray this in Jesus’ name and for his sake, Amen.