"Oh, That Men Would Give Thanks to the LORD" (Psalm 107) November 29-30
The repeated refrain of Psalm 107, which begins Book V of the Psalter, expresses a desire for people to thank God for His repeated mercy and deliverance in rescuing them from their troubles. With this psalm, Book V in fact opens on much the same note as the previous book closes. Indeed, the first words of Psalm 107 are the same as the first words of Psalm 106—taken from David's psalm in 1 Chronicles 16 (wording further emphasized in Psalm 136).
As the Zondervan NIV Study Bible comments in its introductory note on Psalm 107: "In its recitational style the psalm is closely related to Ps 104-106, and in its language to Ps 105-106. For that reason it has been seriously proposed that with these last two psalms it forms a trilogy from the same author. Whether or not this is so, its affinity with the preceding psalms strongly suggests that it was associated with them before the insertion of a Book division between Ps 106 and 107 and that it was intended to conclude the little series, Ps 104-107 [or perhaps 103-107 since 103 introduces the theme of God's benefits, including the satisfaction of His people with good (103:5; 107:9)]. Its recital of God's 'wonderful deeds for men' (v. 8)—which climaxes Ps 105-106—balances the recital of his many wise works in creation (see 104:2-26) and his benevolent care over the animal world (see 104:27-30). The editors may have inserted a Book division between Ps 106 and 107 with a view to a fivefold division of the Psalter"—that is, to parallel the Pentateuch in the scriptural reading cycle.
Verses 2-3 mentions the redeemed of God gathered from enemy captivity in foreign lands. A hint as to what captivity is intended is perhaps found in verse 16, which says that God "has broken the gates of bronze, and cut the bars of iron in two." Very similar language is found in Isaiah 45:1-2, which describes the fall of Babylon to the Persian emperor Cyrus: "Thus says the LORD says to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held—to subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings, to open before him the double doors, so that the gates will not be shut: I will go before you...I will break in pieces the gates of bronze and cut the bars of iron" (Isaiah 45:1-2). Thus Psalm 107:16 points to a fulfillment of this passage. God in fact used Cyrus to issue the first decree allowing the Jewish captives in Babylon to return to Judea.
Verses 4-7 describe the Israelite exiles as having wandered in desolation without enough to eat and drink, with God at last giving them a city to dwell in. This probably refers not to resettlement in Jerusalem (which was not a rescue from severe circumstances) but rather to the Jews eventually settling down in Babylonian communities following their initial deportation. Thus the wording of "go to" rather than "come to" a city (verse 7).
It should be observed that there is also a greater spiritual reality here too—as John the Baptist was later commissioned with words taken from this psalm to show God's people the way out of spiritual imprisonment (compare verse 10; Luke 1:79), evidently through his message of God's Kingdom and call for repentance.
Among other trials the psalmist alludes to are dangers at sea while conducting maritime commerce (Psalm 107:23-30)—demonstrating that the psalm does not exclusively concern returning exiles. "No problem is too great for God. This psalm imagines the worse calamities a Jew could think of: homelessness and starvation (verses 4-5), imprisonment (10-12), self-inflicted disease (17-18), and—the ultimate—imminent shipwreck (23-27). Since Israel was landlocked, few Jews had experienced turbulent seas, and thus dreaded them. In all these cases, God was able to rescue those who called for his help" (Zondervan New Student Bible, note on verse 27). When tempest-tossed sailors are at their wits' end, they cry out to God and He delivers them, bringing them to safe havens (verses 27-30). As Psalm 89:9 states: "He calms the storm, so that its waves are still."
God is sovereign. In response to wickedness, He can turn fruitful land into barren land (verses 33-34). In showing mercy to the poor and their families, He can turn wilderness into desirable acreage for vineyards, cattle and harvests (verses 35-38). Those who are righteous understand that God punishes wickedness through oppression, affliction and sorrow (verses 33, 39-40) and "sets the poor on high" (verse 41). Wonderfully, as part of God's great benefits, His involvement in man's affairs is ultimately for a great purpose—that "they will understand the lovingkindness [hesed, faithful love] of the LORD" (verse 43). That is certainly cause for thanksgiving.