A Meditation on Psalm 107

Kevin J Youngblood

33 He turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground,

34 a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the evil of its inhabitants.

35 He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water.

36 And there he lets the hungry dwell, and they establish a city to live in;

37 they sow fields and plant vineyards and get a fruitful yield.

38 By his blessing they multiply greatly, and he does not let their livestock diminish.

39 When they are diminished and brought low through oppression, evil, and sorrow,

40 he pours contempt on princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes;

but he raises up the needy out of affliction and makes their families like flocks.

42 The upright see it and are glad, and all wickedness shuts its mouth.

43 Whoever is wise, let him attend to these things; let them consider the steadfast love of the Lord.

(Psalm 107:33-43)

I find that it makes more sense to read certain portions of Scripture backwards. Such is the case with Psalm 107:33-43. Beginning at the end, we find an invitation to the wise to give careful consideration to what the psalmist has just said in vv. 33-43. Apparently, what precedes requires above average wisdom to grasp and understand. Altogether, the preceding observations and affirmations are labeled “the merciful acts of YHWH” (חַֽסְדֵ֥י יְהוָֽה)

Of course, YHWH’s loving, merciful acts are deeply mysterious and even sages must devote their lives and all of their mental energies to probe them. On the other hand, when one reads what precedes, it seems simple if not simplistic. In fact, it sounds suspiciously like mechanical retribution: whatsoever a person sows, that is exactly what that person will reap. The wicked will see their land dry up under them while the hungry and oppressed will see their slums and ghettos transformed into paradise.

The wise know better than this. We’ve been observing the world for a long time and we know that it does not even operate according to the strict dictates of karma much less the continual balancing of the scales of an almighty, all righteous judge. Furthermore, it seems patently ridiculous to refer to the transformation of the wicked person’s land into a waste as an example of YHWH’s mercy and love; justice, maybe but not mercy and love.

The truly wise, however, also know that appearances are often deceiving, that there is more going on in this world than meets the eye, and that justice, whether human or divine, moves painfully slowly. Indeed, it does take extraordinary wisdom to see beneath the superficial injustices of this world to the deeper, wiser, and more enduring justice of God – a justice that is never without its twin – divine mercy. By referring to the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the innocent as “superficial injustices” I by no means wish to belittle their significance, their pain, or their impropriety. Rather, I mean to suggest that by comparison to the eschatological and eternal just mercy of God they appear fleeting, and in the light of God’s end game they fade into RELATIVE insignificance. As the apostle Paul says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” From this perspective, then, it may also be possible to see that YHWH’s disciplinary actions against the wicked are also a species of his mercy – a severe mercy to be sure but mercy nonetheless, especially considering that these are designed to alert them to the danger of their spiritual condition and spare them an even worse fate.

Perhaps that is the reason why Psalm 107:33-43 makes more sense when read backwards. The wise have learned to read reality backwards, from the ultimate conclusion that God has promised and towards which he is shepherding history to the present frustratingly unjust circumstances in which we find ourselves. It is interesting that Hebrew, from an English point of view, is read backwards: right-to-left, rather than left-to-right. One wonders if providence, like Hebrew, must similarly be read backwards before it makes any sense.


Teach me to read backwards. Keep your end game always within my line of sight. In fact, make it the lens through which I view everything. May I never give up on your just mercy no matter how long it takes to see its full effects realized in creation. Lord Jesus, you endured the cross because you could see beyond its superficial pain and injustice to the ultimate outcome God would bring through it, and could bring only through it. Thank you for making possible and modeling a human perception that sees beyond the superficial, that reads backwards and help me to follow your example. Holy Spirit, grant me the patience required to await your just mercy. Sustain me in the midst and mess of the injustices of this world. Enable me to bear them with grace, hope, and love while mitigating as many of them as possible for both myself and others.