Hunger and thirst are bad enough no matter who or where you are. But on top of that, Psalm 107 places a group of hungry and thirsty characters in the wilderness, in a desert waste. Dirt and dead grass as far as the eye can see. There is no town on the horizon, no refuge. One by one, these weary characters are fainting out of consciousness. The body has no energy left, no more strength to carry on. What is there even to carry on toward? Psalm 107 even tells us a few other heartbreaking stories like this. Thirsty wanderers lost in a desert waste. Prisoners, slaves even, shackled with iron and forced into indentured servitude. Sickness, almost to the point of death (while the desert wanderers want nothing more than some food and water, these sick ones can’t keep any food down to begin with). There are sailors, out on the mighty waters, confronted by the scariest storm they’ve ever encountered.
But these stories are more like scripts, to be reimagined and acted out in a thousand different theaters. The desert wanderers are of course the Israelites themselves, stuck in a desert waste for forty whole years, going hungry and thirsty. Played out in a different theater by some different actors, these desert wanderers number something like 5,000, who have followed Jesus a little further into the wilderness than they meant to. Or played out yet again, these wanderers are among us everywhere we go, lost in a desert of addiction, abuse, grief or anxiety. Families and churches are filled with lost people. How many of us are lost in one kind of desert waste or another and anxiously waiting for rescue?
Then these wanderers make the right move at the right time. In all four scripts, they (frantically) pray. “Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble,” the poem says. Maybe at first we want to push our way through the wilderness. But the story we find ourselves in really needs us to reach a point where we give up the idea that rescue lies within our own strength and resolve. And so the story makes its definitive twist. “Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.” Psalm 107 shows us a clear pattern: trouble, prayer, rescue. The gospel according to Psalm 107 is that the rescue is real. There is one who hears the cries of those who are lost and hungry and in trouble.
The poem calls us into gratitude by pointing us to the “steadfast love” of God. We call it steadfast love because it’s a love that is often tested but never breaks. It is the steadfast love that “endures forever,” the poem says. His is a love that doesn’t shake when there’s a gust of wind. It’s a love that can’t be scared off or convinced that we are a lost cause. The steadfast, enduring love of God is more than enough to bring wanderers out of the wilderness. How could we not praise and give thanks?
Like the wanderers of Psalm 107, we are being faithfully drawn into a glad dependance on the love of God. We know there is no life without it, and we won’t bother imagining that there is. It doesn’t bother us to be dependent in this way, just the opposite. The constant reminders of our own smallness and limitations just bring that much more gratitude and praise out of us. Psalm 107 alternates constantly back and forth from “help” to “thank you.” Let’s pray like that.