This psalm is a community hymn of praise — giving thanks to God for saving them from harm. In the story that our passage focuses on today, there is a group of people who were at sea when a terrible storm came up and put them in danger.
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Psalm 107 offers us four beautiful pictures of what God’s presence and work in our lives looks like. If I were going to teach this text, I think I would divide my group into four smaller groups and have each group look at one of the images in more detail. I would invite them to report about the image and make some connections to their own lives.
As we consider the focal image today in verses 23-32 it is helpful for us to understand more clearly how the Ancients understood the sea. It really was a place of danger for them. Because they did not understand the world the way we do, they believed that they were completely surrounded by water. It came from above and it surrounded the dry land on which they lived. They believed that the sky held back the water, as did the land. They also knew that often times, when a storm came up on the water while people were in a boat, it became an incredibly desperate and frightful situation. Theologically, they believed that the water was part of the chaos that God held back when creating the world.
When the psalmist uses the image of a storm on the sea, all of the people hearing it for the first time would immediately connect with the fear that came with that. Scripture makes a great deal of use of images as it tries to explain or help us understand something about God.
If I were teaching this text I would try to get my group to develop some updated images of what God is like in a creative image. I might ask something like, “What situations today instill fear in most people and what would it look like in that moment to be saved or rescued?”
Nikki’s Video Script
This week, we are considering Palm 107. The particular verses we are focusing on are 1-3 and 23-32, but I want to encourage you to read through verses 4-22 also. Together, these verses provide for us a larger picture that can help us to think more broadly about God’s unending and redeeming love for all of us.
As always, we need to understand our text in its context. This psalm is a community hymn of praise. The use of plural pronouns and repetition of languages leads us to believe that it was likely used in a corporate setting in which praises and thanksgiving were recited.
Also, the psalm address the Israelites after they have been saved from 49 years of exile in Babylon. The way the author does this is by telling four stories of four different group of people who have been saved by God. It is likely, these stories are meant to represent all the people who have been saved by God in some manner.
Verses 4-9 tell the story of a group of wanderers who were lost in the desert and finally make it to the place they were going. Verses 10-16, tell the story of prisoners who are set free. Verses 17-22, tell of “sick” persons who are healed. And finally, in our focus passage, verses 23-32, we are told about a group of sailors who are saved from shipwreck.
Each story follows a particular pattern. First there is a description of the concern or distress. Next there is an appeal to God for help. Third the circumstances of their delivery are given, and finally there is an expression of thanks.
In the story that our passage focuses on today, there is a group of people who were at sea when a terrible storm came up and put them in danger. In ancient Israel, the sea carries all kinds of symbolism because it was largely unknown to most people. It represented for the chaos, the unknown, danger and even death. And so in this story, we see the mighty hand of God sweeping in, calming the chaos and uncertainty and saving these sailors from certain death.
The psalmist is telling different stories to assure the people that God’s love will come through – that God’s love keeps God concerned for them and with a desire to save them from frightening and harrowing experiences.
We are invited by the psalmist to do what each group in these stories have done. When we find ourselves lost, trapped, or drowning – either from outside circumstances or because of a hell of our own making, we must cry out to God. We must name to God what we fear and what we need. We must ask for help. And then, when the help comes, we must also proclaim for all to hear how it is that God has reached out to help us. As we do, we encourage others to cry out for help as well.
How wonderful it is to have a God we can call on in times of distress. But I find myself wondering about those who do call out, but the help they are seeking never comes. What about those who are in need, but never seem to find the help they desperately want. We can all cry out to God, but we must also remain sensitive to the idea that God may also by crying back to us to be the answer to someone else’s cry. When we have the resources and the means, we can be the one used by God to rescue those who are still lost, and sick, and in danger.