Praise The Lord Who Changes Things

A Study of Psalm 107


At the conclusion of my recent trip to Israel, my spirits collapsed. Whether fatigue, homesickness, or nagging worries, I felt lonely and blue. I sat down at the desk in the hotel, grabbed my Bible, and opened it somewhat at random. I turned to Psalm 107, and I read it, studied it, analyzed it, and went to bed with a sense of peace. I rested in the Lord because of this Psalm.

The verse that encouraged me is number 6: Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.

I wasn’t actually facing trouble or distress as such, but I did feel a little troubled and distressed, and this verse calmed my nerves. What’s more, I found this verse is repeated again word-for-word in verses 13, 19, and 28. 

The next morning I read it again, and the phrase that stood out to me was in verse 16, which tells us that God can cut through bars of iron.

On the way home, I continued to study and analyze this Psalm, and I had a lot of pencil marks in my Bible by the time I returned. I saw how organized it is, how purposeful it is. On my first day back home, I found my favorite commentary on the Psalms, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, and this stood out: “[This] hymn of praise ascribes to the Lord the ability to change things.”

The Lord has the power to change things. He can change our lives, our attitudes, and our circumstances. God can change things. And that’s the theme of Psalm 107. So let’s study it together and I hope it encourages you as much as it has me.

The Background of Psalm 107

The words “Book V” occur at the heading on top of Psalm 107. The book of Psalms wasn’t written or compiled all at once. It developed over time, and it specifically developed in five stages. When you read through the book of Psalms, you see these clearly. 

  • On the very first page of the Psalms, even before you read Psalm 1, you will see the words Book 1. In my opinion, this was original to King David. He was a musician and a worshiper who was preparing for the building of the temple. He wanted his people to worship, and so he wrote many psalms and hymns and spiritual songs for them. He or his musical director selected 41 and published them as a hymnbook. 
  • Book 2 includes Psalm 42 through 72, and I suspect it was compiled by Solomon or his worship leader, drawing on unpublished hymns by David and others, including Solomon. 
  • Book 3 goes from Psalm 72 to 89, and it was compiled after the destruction of Jerusalem. 
  • Book 4 goes from Psalm 90 to 106, and is very triumphant and liturgical. 
  • And then we come to Psalm 107 through 150, and this is Book 5.

This is important because it indicates these were the latest and last of the Psalms, compiled perhaps by Ezra the Scribe or his worship leaders after the Jews had returned from exile.

Here’s the story in summary: The Lord established the nation of Israel as a channel through which the Messiah would come into the world. But in the days of the Old Testament kings, the people rebelled against God, neglected Him, disobeyed Him, and lived in vile wickedness. So the Lord let the Babylonian Empire subdue and conquer the nation of Judah in 587 B.C. The temple was destroyed, the city of Jerusalem was destroyed, and the survivors were exiled. But the Persian Empire arose, and King Cyrus issued a decree allowing the Jews to return to Jerusalem. The temple was rebuilt, and Ezra the Scribe came from Babylon to restore worship and biblical knowledge to the land.

We call this the post-exilic period, and that’s when this Book V was compiled. All of that is important because the opening Psalm in Book V—this Psalm 107—is all about the exiles returning from Babylon and from their points of dispersion back to Jerusalem. They have been redeemed, rescued, and they are full of triumphant joy.

God has changed things for them, and they are full of thanksgiving. Think of the many times God has changed your outlook, your attitude, your circumstances, your life. This is a psalm of praise to the God who changes things.

The Theme of Psalm 107 (verses 1-3)

The first verses give us the theme:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—
    those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
those he gathered from the lands,
    from east and west, from north and south.

Notice the first two words: Give thanks! There is nothing that helps us psychologically in a crisis or in any confusion like stopping to discover how we can thank God, even in the moment. I want to suggest something if you need a personal Bible study aimed at building up your morals. Take a colored pencil and begin reading through the book of Psalms. There are 150 Psalms, but if you take three of them a day you can complete this study in about six weeks. Read each Psalm carefully, looking for anytime you see the words thank, thanks, thanksgiving, thankful, or grateful. Color those verses. You may want to make a list of them. You’ll find about thirty verses all together. These thanksgiving verses begin in Psalm 7 and go to Psalm 147. Then you can take those verses and systematize them. For example, some of them point out the things for which we’re thankful. Other verses tell us how to express our thanksgiving. And so on.

If you still need some encouragement, or if the book of Psalms is too big for you to tackle at first, you can do the same thing with the book of Colossians. You’ll find that pouring yourself into a study like this will have a powerful influence over your personality, over your feelings and attitudes and worship. 

That’s how Psalm 107 starts out: O give thanks to the Lord.

Why? For three reasons: He is good. He is loving. And He is eternal: Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Verse 2 says: Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.

I grew up hearing this verse quoted very often at church. In the old translations, it says, “Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.” We sometimes had testimony services on Sunday nights in which Preacher Floyd said, “Does anyone have a testimony tonight? Has the Lord done something in your life? Let the redeemed of the Lord say so.”

And people always began standing up and sharing.

But in Psalm 107 notice to whom the invitation is given: Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story—those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south.

This is a scene in the partially rebuilt Jerusalem. The Second Temple, as small as it seemed compared to the original temple of Solomon, was standing in its place. Sacrifices were again being offered in the courtyards. Worshippers were gathering. The exiles had returned from their banishment and from their expulsion. Young Jewish children were running in the streets, and Jewish customs were once again shaping the Holy Land. People had returned from the east and west, from the north and south. This is a testimony service in the days of Ezra among the remnant that had returned from exile. They had been redeemed!

And so have we!

Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!

Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb!

Redeemed by His infinite mercy,

His child and forever I am.

1. Refugees Who Were Redeemed (verses 4-9)

Let the redeemed of the Lord say so! And now, four different groups are going to sing of their redemption. The first are those who had been in refugee camps but were now back home. Look at verse 4:

Some wandered in desert wastelands,
    finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty,
    and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
    to a city where they could settle.
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
for he satisfies the thirsty
    and fills the hungry with good things.

2. Prisoners Who Were Redeemed (verses 10-16)

The second group had been imprisoned by the Babylonians. They weren’t just in refugee camps; they were in Babylonian prisons and jails. Look at verses 10-16, and notice the same structure, the same literary formula is used:

10 Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness,
    prisoners suffering in iron chains,
11 because they rebelled against God’s commands
    and despised the plans of the Most High.
12 So he subjected them to bitter labor;
    they stumbled, and there was no one to help.
13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress.
14 He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness,
    and broke away their chains.
15 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind,
16 for he breaks down gates of bronze
    and cuts through bars of iron.

3. The Sick Who Were Redeemed (verses 17-22)

The third group had been sick, suffering from all kinds of ailments, illnesses, diseases, and afflictions. Verse 17 says:

17 Some became fools through their rebellious ways
    and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.
18 They loathed all food
    and drew near the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he saved them from their distress.
20 He sent out his word and healed them;
    he rescued them from the grave.
21 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind.
22 Let them sacrifice thank offerings
    and tell of his works with songs of joy.

4. The Mariners Who Were Redeemed (verses 23-32)

The fourth group had been sent away from Israel on Babylonian ships to distant lands. Verse 23 says:

23 Some went out on the sea in ships;
    they were merchants on the mighty waters.
24 They saw the works of the Lord,
    his wonderful deeds in the deep.
25 For he spoke and stirred up a tempest
    that lifted high the waves.
26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths;
    in their peril their courage melted away.
27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards;
    they were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he brought them out of their distress.

He stilled the storm to a whisper;
    the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 They were glad when it grew calm,
    and he guided them to their desired haven.
31 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love
    and his wonderful deeds for mankind.
32 Let them exalt him in the assembly of the people
    and praise him in the council of the elders.

We can’t read this particular paragraph without thinking of how our Lord Jesus calmed the storms of Galilee with His words, “Peace, be still.” This is also the passage that strengthened the Pilgrim Fathers on the Mayflower when they ran into a terrible storm on the Atlantic. 

Later, William Bradford, the leader of the Mayflower group and the Governor of the Plymouth Colony, announced the celebration of the first Thanksgiving service by citing Psalm 107.

Here in Psalm 107, I’m sure you see the formula. This is our formula for worship. We find ourselves in trouble, but we cry out to the Lord in our distress and He changes things. And we give thanks to Him for His unfailing love, for His wonderful deeds toward us.

I want to go back and read a few verses again so you can see the pattern:

Some wandered in desert wastelands… Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress… Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind.

Some sat in darkness… … Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress… Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind.

Some suffered afflictions… Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress… Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind.

Some went out on the sea in ships… Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress… Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind.

When were you in distress and you cried out to God in trouble? He changed things. Let us give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds to mankind. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so! Let them tell their stories.

The Lesson in It All (Verses 33-43)

The last stanza of this song tells us how the Lord can bring distress when we disobey, and how He can redeem our circumstances when we do trust and obey Him.

33 He turned rivers into a desert,
    flowing springs into thirsty ground,
34 and fruitful land into a salt waste,
    because of the wickedness of those who lived there.
35 He turned the desert into pools of water
    and the parched ground into flowing springs;
36 there he brought the hungry to live,
    and they founded a city where they could settle.
37 They sowed fields and planted vineyards
    that yielded a fruitful harvest;
38 he blessed them, and their numbers greatly increased,
    and he did not let their herds diminish.

39 Then their numbers decreased, and they were humbled
    by oppression, calamity and sorrow;
40 he who pours contempt on nobles
    made them wander in a trackless waste.

41 But he lifted the needy out of their affliction
    and increased their families like flocks.
42 The upright see and rejoice,
    but all the wicked shut their mouths.

As I went over this during my trip to Israel, this is what I wrote in my notes: “The reversals of life are reversed through repentance and revival.” If you have had some reversals in life, trust God to reverse the reversals as you turn everything over to Him in faith and obedience.

The final verse says:

43 Let the one who is wise heed these things
    and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord.


I’ve often read about the great Chicago fire of 1871. It figures prominently in the stories of men like evangelist D. L. Moody and hymn-writer Horatio Spafford, who wrote, “It is Well With My Soul.” But I did not know that in that same period and even on that same night other fires broke out in other cities in the Midwest because of frightful weather patterns.

One of those fires engulfed the small town of Peshtigo, Wisconsin. The fire erupted so suddenly it sounded like an explosion that woke the entire town and, within a single hour, incinerated everything. Residents fled to the Peshtigo River, which was a chilling 60 degrees. The air was so filled with smoke that breathing was difficult and a terrible burning sensation filled the eyes. One spectator said: “A thousand deafening noises rose in the air together. The neighing of horses, falling of chimneys, crashing of uprooted trees, roaring and whistling of the wind, crackling of fire as it ran with lightning-like rapidity from house to house — all sounds (except the) human voice. People seemed stricken dumb by terror. They jostled each other without exchanging looks, words, or counsel. The silence of the tomb reigned among the living; nature alone lifted up its voice.”

Eight hundred people died in the fire, making it the deadliest fire in American history.

When the fires had passed, the ashes cooled, and people could go back and look at what was left, they found that almost nothing survived except a Bible, which was found near the town drugstore. It had been petrified by the flames, and it was open to Psalm 107.

It was a message to them that even in hard-to-comprehend times, God can be trusted to redeem us, to help us, and to save us from our distress. The Lord has changed things on your behalf, and He will do so again and again. And even when something in our life turns to ashes, in the middle of it all we can read:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
    his love endures forever.

 Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story.

Let’s praise the Lord who changes things!