For this post, I wrote a bit of a Christmas meditation. For next week, I'm planning a Year in Review post. Merry Christmas to all of my readers.
Psalm 107 may not seem to fit very well with the occasion of Christmas, but read on and hopefully things will become clear:
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good!
His faithful love endures forever.
Has the Lord redeemed you? Then speak out!
Tell others he has redeemed you from your enemies.
For he has gathered the exiles from many lands,
from east and west,
from north and south.
Some wandered in the wilderness,
lost and homeless.
Hungry and thirsty,
they nearly died.
“Lord, help!” they cried in their trouble,
and he rescued them from their distress.
He led them straight to safety,
to a city where they could live.
Let them praise the Lord for his great love
and for the wonderful things he has done for them.
For he satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things.
He changes rivers into deserts,
and springs of water into dry, thirsty land.
He turns the fruitful land into salty wastelands,
because of the wickedness of those who live there.
But he also turns deserts into pools of water,
the dry land into springs of water.
He brings the hungry to settle there
and to build their cities.
They sow their fields, plant their vineyards,
and harvest their bumper crops.
How he blesses them!
They raise large families there,
and their herds of livestock increase.
When they decrease in number and become impoverished
through oppression, trouble, and sorrow,
the Lord pours contempt on their princes,
causing them to wander in trackless wastelands.
But he rescues the poor from trouble
and increases their families like flocks of sheep.
The godly will see these things and be glad,
while the wicked are struck silent.
Those who are wise will take all this to heart;
they will see in our history the faithful love of the Lord.
The theme expressed in this Psalm of God lifting up the lowly and needy while bringing down proud oppressors finds a definite echo in Mary's Song (thus the Christmas connection):
“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.
His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
He has brought down princes from their thrones
and exalted the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away with empty hands.
He has helped his servant Israel
and remembered to be merciful.
For he made this promise to our ancestors,
to Abraham and his children forever.”
Hannah's Song expresses similar sentiments:
“My heart rejoices in the Lord!
The Lord has made me strong.
Now I have an answer for my enemies;
I rejoice because you rescued me.
No one is holy like the Lord!
There is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.
“Stop acting so proud and haughty!
Don’t speak with such arrogance!
For the Lord is a God who knows what you have done;
He will judge your actions.
The bow of the mighty is now broken,
and those who stumbled are now strong.
Those who were well fed are now starving,
and those who were starving are now full.
The childless woman now has seven children,
and the woman with many children wastes away.
The Lord gives both death and life;
He brings some down to the grave but raises others up.
The Lord makes some poor and others rich;
He brings some down and lifts others up.
He lifts the poor from the dust
and the needy from the garbage dump.
He sets them among princes,
placing them in seats of honor.
For all the earth is the Lord’s,
and he has set the world in order.
“He will protect his faithful ones,
but the wicked will disappear in darkness.
No one will succeed by strength alone.
Those who fight against the Lord will be shattered.
He thunders against them from heaven;
the Lord judges throughout the earth.
He gives power to his king;
He increases the strength of his anointed one.”
I really appreciate Psalm 107, specifically, with all of its water imagery. Regular readers of this blog will recognize that as a recurring topic of interest for me.
The people of the Ancient Near East would have been no strangers to watching rivers change into deserts. Some examples can be found in a book I reviewed earlier this year. Another example (later than Biblical times, but in the same region and involving an empire that likely would have been familiar to the Psalmist) is the case of the Ma'rib Dam (mentioned briefly in this post). The dam was built by the Sabaean empire (of the famed Queen of Sheba, probably). Its collapse—after standing for over a millenium—was a significant waypoint in the decline of the area, after the Sabaean empire was displaced by new conquerers.
A more recent example of a place becoming a salty wasteland is the Aral Sea. Similarly, Timbuktu (strategically located on trans-Sahara trade routes) is another place that has declined from its former prosperity, although not nearly as dramatically as the other places mentioned. (On a totally unrelated note, Gold in Timbuktu is one of my favourite songs by K'naan).
To return to the Christmas theme, Bethlehem 2 millenia ago would have been a dusty backwater, but from it came the Living Water.