O give thanks to the Lord, for the Lord is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those God redeemed from trouble …
Psalm 107 celebrates surprising reversals.
Those who wandered in desert wastes found a straight way…
Prisoners who were bowed down in darkness were rescued from the gloom and found their bonds broken…
The sick who were near the gates of death were healed and made whole…
The ones who were tossed upon chaotic seas experienced the peace of still waters…
These inversions and reversals of crisis and disaster weave a bright thread through the tapestry of Israel’s life. The surprises of grace remind Israel that God is a God who hears and acts.
This tradition is an ancient one.
This week we consider the surprising reversal in Joseph’s story.
At the very beginning of the Exodus story, the I Am Who spoke from the bush that burned but was not consumed told Moses: “I have seen the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them…”
This God is a God who hears and acts.
The exultant song of Hannah celebrated her pregnancy after years of barrenness:
The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength… The barren has borne seven, but she who has many children is forlorn. The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes…
Mary’s Magnificat continues this tradition celebrating reversals:
The Lord has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty…
Psalm 107 repeats in every refrain: “They cried to the Lord in their trouble…”and God delivered, God saved, God brought them to a safe place.
As Dr. Toni Craven says in her excellent work, The Book of Psalms: “Trust is born of a people’s remembered experience of being heard, delivered and sustained by a power independent of human control and larger than human understanding.”
God is a God who hears and acts.
Not because any of us deserve. But solely because of “God’s steadfast love that endures forever.”
This lovely phrase, “steadfast love,” is large and deep. The Hebrew word hesed (or chesed) comes into English in a variety of ways because the Hebrew meaning is so multivalent. The Hebrew writers chose a word that conveys a complex of meaning and we modern readers read into the English translation multifaceted understandings.
Mercy. Kindness. Goodness. Favor. Love.
Lovingkindness. Covenant Faithfulness.
Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works…
Psalm 107 sings like the song of those who have endured chaos, despair and disorientation. This celebration is not naive or simple. It is praise offered from the other side of the abyss. Thanksgiving offered with full knowledge of the grace that has redeemed impossibility and transformed it into ever new possibilities.
Let the redeemed of the LORD say so…
Toni Craven, The Book of Psalms (Liturgical Press, 1992) page 78.