Psalm 107

We find ourselves being very comforted and encouraged by the fact that just as is true for physical seafarers and sailors—as they must at times sail the high seas, and can literally become paralyzed by fear by the storms which they are facing—so too for you and me: spiritual sailors and sea-farers, if you will, who must at times pass through the storms of life.  We too must learn to personally, and passionately, and persistently cry out to the God who alone is able to bring us once again safely into harbor, thereby bringing great honor, glory, and praise to his most high and holy Name.  For…we are going to find that this is surely his way in the storm.

Occasionally I listen to a sermon or two during the week via the internet.  This particular sermon, entitled “His Way in the Storm,” was preached by Rev. Rich Kuiken at the Pompton Plains Reformed Bible Church (URC) in New Jersey.  The text under consideration was Psalm 107, a Scripture that has since become one of my favorites.

Psalm 107 is a song of thanksgiving to God for his faithfulness, recounting the deliverance of his people from a variety of trials and tribulations.  The key theme of the psalm is “steadfast love of the Lord.”  Recurring several times throughout the text, two refrains point the reader back to this theme:

Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress. (vv. 6, 13, 19, 28 ESV)

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man! (vv. 8, 15, 21, 31)

I’ve always found that psalms with refrains like this drive the message home powerfully for me.  Some of my favorite psalms with refrains are 57 (“Be exalted, O God, above the heavens!”) and 99 (“Holy is he!”).  Similarly, Psalm 107 has become a very personal reminder for me as I encounter the storms of life and look for God’s way in them.

Although neither time nor space permits us to look extensively at all six settings of Psalm 107 in the Psalter Hymnal, I’d like to at least give a brief overview of the various versifications.

212, “Praise the Lord, for He Is Good”
213, “Rebels, Who Had Dared to Show”
214, “Men Who Walk in Folly’s Way”
215, “They That Traffic on the Sea”
216, “Springs and Streams No Longer Bless”

These five songs form a complete versification of Psalm 107, originally appearing in the 1912 Psalter in much the same form.  The meter of the poetry (7.7.7.7.7.7.) makes the settings compatible with many familiar hymn tunes, like TOPLADY (“Rock of Ages”) and DIX (“For the Beauty of the Earth”).  The tunes used here in the Psalter Hymnal are fairly easy to learn and sing, although BREAD OF HEAVEN (216) has some unexpected intervals and ROSEFIELD (215) has a tendency to run along at a rather quick clip.  Overall, though, these tunes are solid and easily sung.

The texts for numbers 212-216 tend to be poetic paraphrases rather than literal settings.  Unfortunately, the eloquent language tends to cloud the original meaning of the psalm rather than enhancing it.  Consider, for instance, the versification of Psalm 107:10-12.  The ESV text reads like this:

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.

In this passage we clearly see three ideas: (1) Some men rebelled against God; (2) God inflicted punishment on these rebels; and (3) as a result, they endured affliction and sat in the very shadow of death.  Now consider v. 1 of Psalter Hymnal number 213:

(1) Rebels, who had dared to show
Proud contempt of God Most High,
Bound in iron and in woe,
Shades of death and darkness nigh,
Humbled low with toil and pain,
Fell, and looked for help in vain.

With regard to the three ideas contained in the Scripture passage, this versification leaves much to be desired.  (1) The text acknowledges the rebellion of these men, but it doesn’t specify that their rebellion is against the words of God and the counsel of the Most High—an important detail, in my opinion.  (2) There is no indication that the suffering of these men was directly inflicted by God as punishment for their rebellion.  (3)  The fate of the rebels is only included at the end of the stanza, where we are told simply that they “fell”—and again, no direct connection between sin and consequence is made.  Yes, the basic Biblical message is preserved, but the content of the psalm is sadly muddied by this versification.  Although I can’t contend that these settings are Scripturally inaccurate, it’s a shame that they form the only complete versification of Psalm 107 in the Psalter Hymnal.

217, “O Praise the Lord, for He Is Good”

This versification is significantly better than numbers 212-216, but unfortunately, it only treats vv. 1-9 of the psalm.  Still, the text is fairly solid (though paraphrased), and the tune, GOSHEN, is very fitting.  The German melodies of the Psalter Hymnal, like this one, are often some of the most suitable and well-composed tunes in our repertoire.  If you’re looking to sing a rendition of Psalm 107, this is an excellent choice, even for an unfamiliar congregation.

After listening to that sermon by Rev. Kuiken, I grew to appreciate Psalm 107 so much that I even made an attempt at a new versification of it based on the ESV text.  The result was a fifteen-stanza setting in 10.10.10.10.10.10. meter, to be sung to the tune YORKSHIRE (Psalter Hymnal number 346).  For your interest, I leave you with a few stanzas from this setting of my own.  If God so wills, maybe it will even be used in worship someday.  But for now, through the stormy seas of life, I need to keep reading Psalm 107—because, like the psalmist, my attention needs to be focused and re-focused on the steadfast love of the Lord.

(3) O let them thank the Lord and give him praise,
For he has shown his wondrous works and ways!
To sons of men he gives his steadfast love;
Let them sing praises to the Lord above!
For he has satisfied the longing soul,
With good things he has made the hungry whole.

(7) Some, too, were foolish through their sinful ways,
Loathing their food, they soon would end their days.
Yet cried they to the Lord for saving power,
And he delivered them that very hour.
To heal them and restore, his word he gave;
Them from destruction God the Lord did save.

(15) “Unto the Lord give thanks, for good is he;
His steadfast love is to eternity,”
Let those he has redeemed from trouble say,
Whom he has gathered in from every way.
Whoe’er is wise, then on this let him dwell;
The steadfast love of God consider well!

–MRK

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