In September of 1620 a band of 102 men, women and children who were seeking religious freedom left the shores of England to sail to the New World called America. Sixty-five days later they arrived at Cape Cod, but not before four of them had died. After another month of searching for a suitable place to winter their ship they settled at Plymouth. By the time Spring had come, half of them had died due to sickness and deprivation.
In the fall of the next year, after a successful harvest, the remaining Pilgrims celebrated a three-day feast as an expression of praise and thanksgiving to God for His faithfulness and grace to them. This celebration is the foundation of the annual Thanksgiving holiday that we now celebrate on the 4th Thursday of November.
William Bradford, a Separatist Pastor who became the second Governor of Plymouth, kept a journal that recounts the founding of the Plymouth Plantation. In one passage he writes:
May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: “Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and he heard their voice and looked on their adversity,” . . . “Let them therefore praise the Lord, because he is good: and his mercies endure forever.” “Yes, let them which have been redeemed of the Lord, shew how he hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor. When they wandered in the desert wilderness out of the way, and found no city to dwell in, both hungry and thirst, their soul was overwhelmed in them. Let them confess before the Lord his loving kindness and his wonderful works before the sons of men.” (from ch. 9, Of Plymouth Plantation; cited in Boice, 864).
Bradford quotes from Psalm 107 finding it to be helpful in offering thanks to God for His goodness and mercy. Colonial life in these United States of America was rocked in the cradle of thanksgiving to the Lord. And that thanksgiving was instructed and guided by the Word of God.
That is an appropriate model for Christians living in America today. Psalm 107 remains a helpful guide in our giving thanks to the Lord. The first three verses announce the theme of thankfulness.
1 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! 2 Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom he has redeemed from trouble 3 and gathered in from the lands, from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.
God’s people should always give thanks to Him for His covenant love. That is the recurring theme in this psalm. His “steadfast love,” as the ESV renders it, is that beautiful Hebrew word, “hesed.” It is used over 250 times in the Old Testament and speaks of the special, covenant faithfulness and favor that the Lord shows to the people to whom He has pledged Himself. We could call it, His saving love.
After calling for us to offer thanks to the Lord for the grace of His covenant faithfulness, the psalmist goes on to describe four scenes that typify the experiences of God’s people. Each of the scenes concludes with an additional call to “thank the Lord for his steadfast love.”
That is the appropriate response for those who have been rescued after being lost, (vv. 4-9), those who have been released after being imprisoned, (vv. 10-16), those who have been healed from serious sickness—even if that sickness has been self-inflicted (vv.17-22), and those who have been delivered from danger that they experienced in the normal course of fulfilling their duties (vv. 23-32).
Each of these scenarios provides occasion for the children of God to ‘thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of men” (8, 15, 21, 31). Together they assure us that God’s redeeming, covenant love will guide us through every circumstance and situation we can face. God’s people are always under our Father’s watchful, loving eye. Because of this we ought to be full of thanksgiving for His steadfast love
After giving these four scenes and reminding us of how God has supplied grace to His people in various difficulties of life, the psalmist concludes with ten descriptive verses on God’s unmitigated sovereignty followed by the closing exhortation in v. 43, “Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.”
It is through considering the steadfast love of the Lord for us that our heart will be stirred to give thanks. He rescues the lost, sets the prisoners free, heals the sick and delivers from danger. But this psalm includes another repeated statement in each of those scenes that teaches us how God does this. In vv. 6, 13, 19, 28, after each description of desperation, we read: “Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress.”
God rescues His children through the prayers of His children. Are you facing trials today? Pray! Do you have a need? Pray! Are you in trouble? Pray! Christian, God is ready and willing to help you but He has determined that He will do so in answer to your prayers. So, “cry out to the Lord in your trouble, and He will deliver you from your distress.” Maybe not in the way that you anticipate. Maybe not in the exact way that you request. But you can be sure that He will answer you in a way that provides ample ground for you to praise & thank Him the rest of your life.