TEXT: Psalm 107:10-16; Luke 1:76-79; 4:17-21
“There were those who dwelt in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in misery and chains, because they had rebelled against the words of God…” (Psalm 107:10-11a)
I’ve talked to people who felt that desperate, who were that desperate. And also people who felt like they deserved it, like God wouldn’t want them, they’d said and done too much. Maybe you even know something about that yourself.
We are looking at Psalm 107 and its claim that God is good, God is faithfully merciful and compassionate, and God is still involved in the lives of people like you and me. Psalm 107 began with that refrain which is then followed by a series of stanzas, each having a different theme of how God is involved in our lives. Last week we saw that God offers water and help to the thirsty and needy soul. This week we see that God sees and offers freedom for those captive to sin and to a range of earthly circumstances. God does not turn away, but intentionally moves toward desperate people. And Jesus takes up that purpose whole-heartedly in his own ministry and mission. That’s good news!
Freedom for a New Generation (Psalm 107)
As we’ve seen in past weeks, Psalm 107 has in primary focus the experience of the people of Israel in the period of the Exile. They literally knew what it was to be prisoners in darkness and in chains. (v. 10) And their situation was directly a consequence of rebelling against the words of God. (v.11) They had disobeyed the scriptures and turned from the path laid out for them. And they were dealing with the difficult consequences. As with last week, there is a ‘then’ in verse 13, but generations had passed. Perhaps it was only after their hearts became humbled with labor and the lack of earthly help. (v.12)
Nonetheless, they eventually “cried out to the Lord” and God saved them. The second half of this stanza (vv.14-16) systematically undoes each of the points of desperation and trouble described in the first half. The Lord “brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death and broke their bands apart.” (v.14) Again in v. 16, “He has shattered gates of bronze and cut bars of iron asunder.” I am also reminded of the 23rd Psalm which says “Even though I walk through the shadow of death, you are with me.” (v.4) Even before we cry out, God is there!
Their captivity was both literal chains and emotional/spiritual darkness and shadow. And though their situation was a result of disobedience and unfaithfulness, God did not abandon them, but saw, listened, and delivered them.
This deliverance was not something new they had to discover. It was the central and foundational part of their identity. In other words, they knew better, but had gone their own way. The generations before them had also known captivity and slavery in Egypt and God had sent Moses to deliver them from those chains and shadows. This was the heart of the story of Israel, re-enacted and re-told every year at Passover. But perhaps they had stopped telling the story or listening to it in earnest. What I appreciate is that God isn’t an I-told-you-so God, but comes to us again and again with mercy, compassion, and deliverance. That’s HESED.
Freedom for All Generations (Luke 1, 4)
I chose two short readings from the Gospel of Luke to go with this portion of Psalm 107. The first reading is from Luke 1 and is Zacharias the priest prophesying over his newborn son. Zacharias was married to Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, and they had also experienced a miraculous birth. They were old and unable to have children and an angel-messenger had come to Zacharias to tell him of the birth of his own child. And indeed, he and Elizabeth did have a baby and they named him John. He would grow up to be John the Baptist and announce the coming of the Messiah in Jesus’ day. I chose this because in describing the work John would do, Zacharias quotes Psalm 107. John would grow up to be a prophet of the Most High to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah. Look at the several parts of that:
John’s ministry was “to give [God’s] people the knowledge of salvation by the forgiveness of their sins…” (v.77)
Then in vv.78-79, “because of the tender mercy of our God” (sounds like God’s HESED to me!) the “Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death…”
Do you recognize that last part from Psalm 107? This connects the Messiah (Jesus) to God’s delivering work in the time of Exile. Just as God delivered his people then, Jesus would do as well. God’s deliverance in Psalm 107 was for a new generation of Israel. Jesus’ deliverance would be for all generations to come who would turn to him in faith and trust.
Secondly, I chose Luke 4 and the account of Jesus reading from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth. There Jesus publicly claimed his own mission and identified himself as God’s anointed one, the Messiah. He read from Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
Because He anointed me to preach the Gospel (Good News) to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable Year of the Lord. (vv.18-19)
And then Jesus said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (v.21)
It’s all important and descriptive of Jesus’ mission and ministry, but did you hear the specific overlaps with Psalm 107? “Release to the captives… set free those who are oppressed.” God is still interested in bringing people out of darkness and the shadow of death. God is still interested in breaking apart the things that bind and imprison us!
Your Story, Your Song
What is your story, your song? Is there something in this stanza of Psalm 107 that you identify with? Have you experienced a literal, emotional, or spiritual captivity or darkness? Have you cried out to the Lord? It may be that you are still waiting for an answer. Take heart that God hears, that even in the shadow of death, “thou art with me.” (Ps 23:4)
If you are currently dealing with this kind of situation, I’d commend today’s scriptures to you. Read them again when you get home. Pray through and meditate on them. As with the other stanzas, this one also calls back to the refrain. Verse 15 says “Let them give thanks to the Lord for His lovingkindness (HESED)” reminding us of where this Psalm started. God is good, God is faithful, and God is involved with people like you and me. I pray this day that you will know the love of God in the ways you need it most! Amen.
Some Music Used
- Every Promise of Your Word
- Great Are You, Lord
- Salvation’s Song
- Softly and Tenderly
- King of Kings
- No Longer Slaves to Fear
- Postlude: Softly and Tenderly – Rick Bean, piano