Psalm 107 is strongly associated with seafarers due to the references to the sea and sailing (vv23-32).
Some went out on the sea in ships;
they were merchants on the mighty waters.
They saw the works of the Lord,
his wonderful deeds in the deep.Psalm 107:23
The Psalm talks of how, in that dangerous and unpredictable marine environment, God’s protection is experienced and known. So it is no surprise that those with strong connections to the sea find this psalm helpful and reassuring.
The marine setting is further expressed by the fact that this psalm is subtly based around the four points of the compass, it is a cardinal psalm. This is introduced with a reference to those God has,
gathered out of the lands from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the southPsalm 107:3
(although ‘south’ should almost certainly have been translated ‘sea’, the Hebrew word for south and sea differ by only one letter but the sea was never to the South for the people of Israel, so this is probably a copyist’s error).
The rest of this psalm is covertly structured around the dangers that come at God’s people associated with the four cardinal points of the compass –
- The dangers of the desert wastes to the East (vv4-9),
- The dangers of the darkness of the setting sun in the West (vv10-16),
- The dangers of the pagan nations to the North (vv17-22),
- and the dangers of the sea (South) (vv23-32).
But whilst this psalm reprises the actual history of the people of Israel, it is also the story of every follower of God – the same dangers, associated with the four compass points, are encountered by us all.
The dangers to the East – of life in the desert – were very familiar to the people of Israel from the time of the Exodus when they wandered in the desert for 40 years. Figuratively it speaks of times of being in need, of having limited resources, of facing challenging circumstances, of times when we are spiritually or physically exposed and fragile.
The dangers to the West speak of the direction of the setting sun. In Hebrew culture this always conveyed the idea of night, of times of gloom and darkness, of moments when hope is in short supply.
The dangers to the North speak of the pagan nations who so often threatened Israel. Sometimes that threat was military, but most often is what the danger of their idolatrous religion infecting the nation. That is why the image of sickness is used. It was from the nations to the North that Israel was always tempted into worshipping other gods, such as Baal. This placing of something other than God at the centre of their lives – which is what idolatry is – is described as having physical consequences, making them ill and sick and near to death. When you place something other than God at the centre of your life it poisons everything.
The danger of the sea (South) – in Jewish culture the sea was always feared as a primeval place where God was felt to be less in control, and it was more the domain of demons and chaos. As such the Jewish people had an aversion to the sea. Such was their dislike that when King Solomon established a navy, he had to do a deal with the King of the Phoenicians to get sailors to man his ships. So, the danger of the sea speaks of evil forces assailing the follower of God.
Each cardinal point represents a danger for the people of God and the psalm treats each in turn where a repeating pattern is seen.
- God’s people get into trouble. Sometimes because of their failure – ‘they went astray, they rebelled, they were foolish’ – and sometimes because they were simply doing something with an inherent risk factor – ‘they went out on the sea in ships’.
- They then experience suffering of some kind and find themselves in mortal peril.
- They cry out to God.
- God delivers them.
- Each time they learn something new about the depth of God’s love for them and the power he has to save them.
- The people of God are called to respond in praise and worship.
So the overall message of this psalm is – whatever danger you face, and however you got there, if you turn to God in repentance and faith and you will experience his salvation, you will learn something more about God’s love for you and his power to help, and your response should be a life of praise and worship.
So I wonder where each of us find ourselves today?
Do you know yourself to be in relationship with God, a relationship made possible by the blood of Jesus? Do you know that whatever direction danger comes at you, and for whatever reason, God will be there for you, he will help you, save you, because he loves you?
Or maybe one of the ‘four directions of danger’ is particularly significant for you today.
- The danger to the East – the desert – being in need, aware of limited resources, of challenging circumstances.
- The danger to the West – a time of darkness, of gloom and of misery when hope is in short supply.
- The danger to the North – Has God has slipped from his rightful place at the centre of our lives and we are feeling the consequences of that in a general malaise.
- The danger of the sea (South) – The inherent riskiness of life has manifested ourselves and we feel out of control in a hostile world.
Wherever we find ourselves today we are invited to turn to God, to set right anything that needs sorting and to ask for God’s help and rescue.
And when God moves we are then invited to respond to him in praise and worship.