Dreadful distresses

Fools because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted. Their soul abhorreth all manner of meat; and they draw near to the gates of death. Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he saveth them out of their distresses. He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions. Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and declare his works with rejoicing. Psalm 107:17-22

God speaks to us in our present trials. God gives us instruction we have to hear. The lessons He would teach us are necessary for us. This text directs our attention to the reason behind the dreadful distresses we face in life, but also unfolds the wonderful solution to those dreadful distresses.

The horrible reality

Psalm 107:17-20 speaks of a horrible reality, of dreadful distresses. Psalm 107, from the opening verse, is a call to praise, a call to “give thanks unto the Lord, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.” But it is also a recognition of the sad reality that not only does the world not bow before Him as the God who must be worshiped and praised, but that also we His people do not give thanks to Him as we ought.

So the history of Israel is recounted in the Psalm, a history at the same time wonderful and yet very sad. It was wonderful in revealing the Lord’s merciful dealings with His people, His faithfulness to them, the wonder­ful works by which He revealed Himself as the God who alone saves His people, all the while pointing them to their Savior, the Messiah who was to come. But it was a sad history for the spiritual blindness of so many in Israel, the hardness of heart, the rejection of God’s Word and the failure to thank and praise Him even in the face of His wonderful works. And so throughout the Psalm is found the lament, “Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!”

The Lord repeatedly brought chastisement upon His people, and revealed His wrath in the world that rejected Him. Those chastisements of His people moved them to cry unto Him in their trouble, “and he delivered them out of their distresses.” That is the wonderful gospel of salvation—Jehovah, the unchangeably faithful covenant God, delivering His people out of their distresses.

But, in verses 17-22 of Psalm 107, we are immediately called to face our dreadful distresses. We are called to face those distresses in order that we might be brought to the thankfulness God requires of us, and that we might declare His wonderful works with rejoicing (v. 22).

We live in a world starkly reminded of death and cha­os. We who are Christ’s interpret these events in the light of Revelation 6 and many other passages of Holy Scripture. That hand of the holy God, directing the four horses and their riders, including the one named Death, unfolds the signs that Christ is on the way, returning to execute judgment in the earth and to deliver His people. The human race is alarmed. Many who listen to the fearmongering of the news media are in a panic.

But we who are the children of God, redeemed by Christ, and who therefore look for our Lord’s return, also realize that God speaks in the present distresses. Shall we hear Him?

The text would have us see the dreadfulness of our distresses. Listen: “Fools because of their transgres­sion, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted. Their soul abhorreth all manner of meat; and they draw near unto the gates of death.” The terms used in verse 18 are graphic. The affliction described has brought the person to the gates of death. He feels as if his lungs are in a vice being tightened. There is no joy evident, only misery.

Verse 18 shows that this affliction is also character­ized by a loss of appetite. In fact, they cannot stand the sight or smell of food. So desperate is their condition that “they draw near unto the gates of death,” a healthy color being replaced by the pale color of one no lon­ger getting the necessary oxygen, the very organs of the body beginning to fail. The situation by all appearanc­es is hopeless. And the picture, you well understand, is one of the dreadful effects of sin.

The dreadful reason

The text itself brings out the dreadful reason for this horrible reality that we also observe and that affects every one of us. Affliction, these dreadful distresses, are consequences of transgression and of iniquities! The word transgression speaks of rebellion, deliberately going against what God has shown as His will for us and His way with us.

God, the eternal I AM, created us to praise Him. In His own good pleasure He even formed a people set apart unto Himself. He provided for them their every need daily. He protected them. He revealed His good­ness to them beyond what they ever would dare ask or think. He performed many wonderful works, reveal­ing that He alone is God. In everything He pointed to Christ, the One who would come to save them. He gave every reason for His people to thank Him, to praise Him, to live to His glory. He came down to their level to speak to them. He gave them His Word.

Now consider the history recounted in this Psalm. Repeatedly the children of Israel, the church, held the counsel of the Most High in contempt. They did not want His Word. They refused to live to His glory. They took for granted everything He gave them, even lived as if He owed them. And that rebellion against the liv­ing God came to expression in a multitude of iniquities. Man has become an offender, guilty of crimes against the eternal I AM. Guilt has consequences. That is what is described here as the reason for the horrible reality of our dreadful distresses.

Notice as well how those bearing these dreadful dis­tresses are described—fools: “Fools because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are af­flicted.” God Himself describes them as fools because in the pathway they have chosen and in the way of their iniquities they are afflicted. The emphasis, you see, is not on God’s execution of justice—though that is cer­tainly expressed. But the emphasis is on the fact that fools bring upon themselves their dreadful distresses. That is why they are called fools. They embrace that which destroys them!

It is important in our present calamities to under­stand this too. Men have always struggled with the concept of suffering. How can God allow suffering? That is really the wrong question. The question is: Why do men and women willingly choose a pathway the con­sequences of which are death? God says, love Me. And we have chosen our own way, a way of transgression, of rebellion. The most hardened criminal knows there are consequences for his actions. Romans 2 tells us that every person has the works of the law written in his or her heart. Their consciences bear witness that there are consequences to wrongdoing. Why is there suffering in the world? The Bible’s answer is direct: We have brought it upon ourselves. “Fools because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted.”

Fallen human beings hate to be confronted with that. We all like to point the finger, find someone else to blame. We do not like to face our own rebellion against God. We despise being called fools. Should someone stand before you and call you a fool, you would like to punch him in the mouth. The same rebellion of our hearts comes to expression against God when He ex­poses us for what He sees in us. We all think we know better than God. We think we can circumvent God’s way and sin without consequences. Fools we are.

Should we be surprised if God shows Himself as God alone in the execution of His judgment throughout the world? Who is praising Him for His goodness and for His wonderful works to the children of men? How many in the whole human race are worshiping Him and glorifying Him and walking in His ways? How many rather are not walking in open rebellion against Him? How many infants have been sacrificed on the altar to the goddess of abortion rights? Human beings, formed by God in the womb, His wonderful handiwork, murdered by the millions! And shall there be no conse­quences? The creation ordinance of marriage, between one man and one woman until death parts them—that ordinance established by God in perfection; the call­ing God gives husbands and wives to serve one another faithfully—and should there be no consequences when men and women shake their fists at God and reject that holy ordinance of marriage for their own self-serving purposes and pleasures?

The calling to praise the Lord for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men, which requires us to consider His goodness and to study His wonderful works—what have we done with that call­ing? The Word that He has given us, the opportunity to worship Him that we have so taken for granted—how have we responded? “Because they rebelled against the words of God, and contemned the counsel of the most High: Therefore he brought down their heart with la­bour; they fell down, and there was none to help” (vv. 11-12). Are we receiving the Word with thankful hearts, humbling ourselves before the face of God in true re­pentance and faith?

Suffering in any form is not a matter of fate. Trou­ble—even in churches—is not a matter of fate. Our troubles are self-inflicted. That’s the text. It is a power­ful indictment of us. Are you able to hear it?

The folly of sin must be faced. The call to repentance must be heard. There must be a turning from sin. Sin is subtle. We see sin as promising good things and fun times. Who sets out deliberately to afflict himself? We say, “I am doing what is best for me; I enjoy this; I’m only having fun, not hurting anyone.” Sin always robs us. It promises and never delivers. Sin comes to us as the best friend we could possibly have in this world, and then inflicts us with despair. It’s like alcohol be­ing abused. A man says, “It makes me feel good. It stimulates me.” But alcohol is a depressant. Rather than stimulate you and enlighten your understanding, it robs you of clear thinking and removes the control your mind has over your sinful nature, leading to devastating results. Such is sin. It has robbed us of innocence and removed our peace.

The wonderful deliverance

But listen now to the rest of the text. Revealed here is a wonderful deliverance, deliverance from our folly, from our transgression and iniquities, from the bondage into which we have fallen. God mercifully sets before us that deliverance in verses 19 and 20: “Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he saveth them out of their distresses. He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destruction.”

The great Physician is present! We need to notice that. “Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble.” He did not enter because they cried. He is present. They cry because they have been given an awareness that He is near. The Holy One stands in the midst, the great and glorious God who is God alone! He has given life. Whenever a person truly cries unto God, God has given that person life, enabling him or her to cry unto Him. You do not need to teach your children how to cry. It’s the first thing a newborn does, the first expression of life. And the cry noted here is clearly a cry of desper­ation from a lost sinner. It’s a cry of repentance, of sorrow—not for the affliction, but for the horrible real­ity of the dreadfulness of our distresses, for being fools who have rebelled against God and who have grievously sinned against Him. It’s the pouring out of one’s heart before Him who alone can deliver.

“And he saveth them out of their distresses.” How He does that immediately follows in verse 20: “He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions.” He sends the gospel, the gospel of Jesus Christ, who alone removes our guilt, who washes away the poison of sin that had brought us into such distresses, who gives life, relationships, joy and peace. The faithful I AM, Jehovah, sends the incarnate Word, powerful to save. He heals, making us new creatures!

So we hear the call of verses 21 and 22: “Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men! And let them sacrifice the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and de­clare his works with rejoicing.”

Let us offer our praise to Him with thankful hearts and with lives that are consecrated to serving Him. And as we declare His works with rejoicing, may others join us in the joy of our deliverance.