Read Psalm 107.
Everyone loves a good plot twist—that unexpected moment in a novel or a film when a mystery is revealed, something unexpected happens, and the impossible suddenly becomes possible. Psalm 107 is a celebration of the plot twists in redemption history. It’s a psalm of reversal and renewal, a song about the Lord’s kindness to lost and broken people: “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever” (v. 1).
In four stanzas, the psalmist describe various states of hardship and God’s glorious reversal for those who cry out to Him: the lost are found (vv. 4–9); prisoners are set free (vv. 10–16); the rebellious in heart are healed (vv. 17–22); and those tossed about by storms are rescued from their peril (vv. 23–32).
The psalmist himself is even living through one of these reversals. The people of Judah had been taken into exile, removed from the promised land because they had polluted it with their sin. But God, in His mercy, allowed the people to return some seventy years later. The psalmist is either a part of this historic return from exile or is witnessing the return with his own eyes. He sings of “those [God] gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south” (v. 3).
If you know a little geography, you know that Babylon—part of the Persian Empire at the time of the return—is not “east and west,… north and south” from the territory of Judah. The people traveling home to the promised land would have made a trek from the northeast. The psalmist, it seems, is thinking of a bigger reversal, one that the prophets had spoken of.
Isaiah records these words from the Lord: “Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 43:5–6). The sons and daughters in view are those of Israel, Judah’s sister nation to the north.
More than a century before the people of Judah were taken into exile by the Babylonians, the Assyrians invaded Israel and scattered her people all over the known world. This was not like the exile the people of Judah experienced. The people of Israel were now spread so thin that they lost their identity. They married people from other nations, worshiped other gods, and most forgot who they were supposed to be. Even today, it’s not uncommon to hear the people of the northern kingdom described as the lost tribes of Israel.
But God never forgot the people of Israel; they weren’t “lost” to Him. The Lord promised to bring them home, even though such a task would seem like an attempt at putting flour back in the bag after combining it with other ingredients to make cake batter.
If the people of Israel could not be separated from the nations where they sojourned, then God would bring all the nations into the fold. That is why Jesus promised, “People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:29). This great ingathering began to happen at Pentecost. Jews from all over the world had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the festival, and there they heard Peter proclaim the gospel (Acts 2:1–41). They received the truth and came home to the Lord.
When they went back to their particular spots on the globe, they told others about Jesus, and more people came home. And that was just the start. Soon, the apostles and early missionaries were traveling all over the Roman world, proclaiming the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ to both Jews and Gentiles, bringing more people home to God. This work continued from generation to generation, down through the centuries, and is still being done today. One day soon it will be completed, and there will be “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” in a posture of worship (Revelation 7:9).
This is the story we find ourselves caught up in. Its twists and turns are more powerful than anything the greatest author could write. They would hardly be believable if you and I weren’t a part of the great reversal taking place in our world, if we hadn’t seen with our own eyes how God can change a life. “The upright see and rejoice, but all the wicked shut their mouths” (Psalm 107:42).