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Psalm 107:10-16 Salvation Unto Us Has Come (Part 2)

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, April 12, 2022

The second rescue of the Psalm is that of prisoners in chains.

10 Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom,
  prisoners suffering in iron chains,
11 for they had rebelled against the words of God
  and despised the counsel of the Most High.
12 So he subjected them to bitter labor;
  they stumbled, and there was no one to help.

Here we are told about prisoners in “the deepest gloom.” The “deepest gloom” is the same term as “the shadow of death” in Psalm 23:4; Job 38:17; and Isaiah 9:2. The image seems to be that the looming presence of death, a darkness even causing fog or mist to intensify, overtakes the speaker; it is death’s inescapable presence that is present and approaching fast. Such a prisoner would be on death row, with no hope of reprieve, release, or escape.

If we try to take this scene as corresponding to the west compass point (see verse 3), a natural thought is that it could be a description of Israel’s bondage in Egypt. When Israel first sent his sons to Egypt for help, people were begging to become the slaves of Pharaoh in exchange for food enough to live on. “Buy us and our land in exchange for food,” they said, “and we with our land will be in bondage to Pharaoh” (Genesis 47:19). But we must pay special attention to the words, “They had rebelled against the words of God and despised the counsel of the Most High.” Israel did not become enslaved in Egypt on account of their sins, but in order to be rescued from a famine and on account of the sinful cruelty of the Egyptians and a Pharaoh “who did not know about Joseph” (Exodus 1:8).

One individual Israelite who was made captive to the west was Samson. Blinded and bound with iron shackles, Samson was forced to turn a millwheel in Gaza, west of Israel (Judges 16:21). Samson had indeed forgotten the word of God and the vow his mother made before he was born, and was captured because of it. His rescue was not an earthly rescue, for he died killing his Philistine captors (Judges 16:3).

Perhaps there is another possibility: The phrase “words of God” (‘imrey-el) occurs in the Old Testament only here and in the oracles of Balaam the pagan prophet (Numbers 24:4, 24:16), so the context could outside of Israel’s national history, and this passage might recall something other than an oppression and captivity of the Israelites. This part of the Psalm could be about the Gentiles, those who were not part of the chosen people but whom God still had a heart to save. The Messiah was prophesied to be both “a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles” (Isaiah 42:6). This is a reminder that one’s family heritage is not a factor in salvation, for only faith saves (Romans 4:16; Ephesians 2:8-9). The covenant (Isaiah 42) is not the old covenant of Mount Sinai, but the one that is at the same time older and newer. It is older because it is the Abrahamitic Covenant, the covenant of grace, but it is also newer because it is new with regard to its kind (material), not its time. This is the covenant of the conversion of the heart to faith and the forgiveness of sins through the Lord’s Servant, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. This is a theme that runs throughout Isaiah like a fresh spring breeze: Isaiah 42:1-7, 49:1-9, 52:13-53:12, 55:4-5, 61:1-3, and other passages. The Gentiles stumbled into sin on account of the sins of their forefathers like Ham and Canaan (Genesis 9:22) and they became tribes such as the wicked Amorites (1 Chronicles 1:13; 2 Kings 21:11) and arrogant Jebusites (1 Chronicles 1:14; Judges 19:11-12). But God still sent salvation to the Gentiles, and called them through the ministry of Paul (Acts 18:6). God loves because God is loving, not because we deserve his love.

13 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
  and he saved them from their distress.
14 He brought them out of darkness and the deepest gloom
  and broke away their chains.
15 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
  and his wonderful deeds for men,
16 for he breaks down gates of bronze
  and cuts through bars of iron.  (NIV ‘78)

Jew or Gentile, the Lord hears the cries of those who believe in him. These verses can be taken as a fulfillment of the promise in Isaiah 45:2, “I will go before you and will level the mountains; I will break down gates of bronze and cut through bars of iron.” This would be a testimony of the Lord’s work through Cyrus to defeat the Babylonians, but Cyrus prefigures Christ, who is helped by the God the Father at every turn for our rescue. Christ broke down the gates of hell and the bars of our prison of death to bring us home to him in heaven. He defeated every enemy on our behalf, and we are his people, the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand (Psalm 95:7).

Who but God alone can rescue anyone from the “deepest gloom,” the shadow of impending death? Christ has burst open the grave, defeated death, and overcome the power of sin over mankind. The certainty of Christ’s victory overwhelms and overcomes every doubt and every grief.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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