The psalmist, having given God the glory of the providential reliefs granted to persons in distress, here gives him the glory of the revolutions of providence, and the surprising changes it sometimes makes in the affairs of the children of men.
I. He gives some instances of these revolutions.
1. Fruitful countries are made barren and barren countries are made fruitful. Much of the comfort of this life depends upon the soil in which our lot is cast. Now, (1.) The sin of man has often marred the fruitfulness of the soil and made it unserviceable, Ps. 107:33, 34. Land watered with rivers is sometimes turned into a wilderness, and that which had been full of water-springs now has not so much as water-streams; it is turned into dry and sandy ground, that has not consistency and moisture enough to produce any thing valuable. Many a fruitful land is turned into saltness, not so much from natural causes as from the just judgment of God, who thus punished the wickedness of those that dwell therein; as the vale of Sodom became a salt sea. Note, If the land be bad, it is because the inhabitants are so. Justly is the ground made unfruitful to those that bring not forth fruit unto God, but serve Baal with their corn and wine. (2.) The goodness of God has often mended the barrenness of the soil, and turned a wilderness, a land o drought, into water-springs, Ps. 107:35. The land of Canaan, which was once the glory of all lands for fruitfulness, is said to be, at this day, a fruitless, useless, worthless spot of ground, as was foretold, Deut. 29:23. This land of ours, which formerly was much of it an uncultivated desert, is now full of all good things, and more abundant honour is given to that part which lacked. Let the plantations in America, and the colonies settled there, compared with the desolations of many countries in Asia and Europe, that formerly were famous, expound this.
2. Necessitous families are raised and enriched, while prosperous families are impoverished and go to decay. If we look broad in the world, (1.) We see many greatly increasing whose beginning was small, and whose ancestors were mean and made no figure, Ps. 107:36-38. Those that were hungry are made to dwell in fruitful lands; there they take root, and gain a settlement, and prepare a city for habitation for themselves and theirs after them. Providence puts good land under their hands, and they build upon it. Cities took rise from rising families. But as lands, will not serve for men without lodgings, and therefore they must prepare a city of habitation, so lodgings, though ever so convenient, will not serve without lands, and therefore they must sow the fields, and plant vineyards (Ps. 107:37), for the king himself is served of the field. And yet the fields, though favoured with water-springs, will not yield fruits of increase, unless they be sown, nor will vineyards be had, unless they be planted; man’s industry must attend God’s blessing, and then God’s blessing will crown man’s industry. The fruitfulness of the soil should engage, for it does encourage, diligence; and, ordinarily, the hand of the diligent, by the blessing of God, makes rich, Ps. 107:38. He blesses them also, so that they are, in a little time, multiplied greatly, and he diminishes not their cattle. As in the beginning, so still it is, by the blessing of God, that the earth and all the creatures increase and multiply (Gen. 1:22), and we depend upon God for the increase of the cattle as well as for the increase of the ground. Cattle would decrease many ways if God should permit it, and men would soon suffer by it. (2.) We see many that have thus suddenly risen as suddenly sunk and brought to nothing (Ps. 107:39): Again they are diminished and brought low by adverse providences, and end their days as low as they began them; or their families after them lose as fast a they got, and scatter what they heaped together. Note, Worldly wealth is an uncertain thing, and often those that are filled with it, ere they are aware, grow so secure and sensual with it that, ere they are aware, they lose it again. Hence it is called deceitful riches and the mammon of unrighteousness. God has many ways of making men poor; he can do it by oppression, affliction, and sorrow, as he tempted Job and brought him low.
3. Those that were high and great in the world are abased, and those that were mean and despicable are advanced to honour, Ps. 107:40, 41. We have seen, (1.) Princes dethroned and reduced to straits. He pours contempt upon them, even among those that have idolized them. Those that exalt themselves God will abase, and, in order thereunto, will infatuate: He makes them to wander in the wilderness, where there is no way. He baffles those counsels by which they thought to support themselves, and their own power and pomp, and drives them headlong, so that they know not what course to steer, nor what measures to take. We met with this before, Job 12:24, 25. (2.) Those of low degree advanced to the posts of honour (Ps. 107:41): Yet setteth he the poor on high, raiseth from the dust to the throne of glory, 1 Sam. 2:8; Ps. 113:7, 8. Those that were afflicted and trampled on are not only delivered, but set on high out of the reach of their troubles, above their enemies, and have dominion over those to whom they had been in subjection. That which adds to their honour, and strengthens them in their elevation, is the multitude of their children: He maketh him families like a flock of sheep, so numerous, so useful, so sociable with one another, and so meek and peaceable. He that sent them meat sent them mouths. Happy is the man that has his quiver filled with arrows, for he shall boldly speak with the enemy in the gate, Ps. 127:5. God is to be acknowledged both in setting up families and in building them up. Let not princes be envied, nor the poor despised, for God has many ways of changing the condition of both.
II. He makes some improvement of these remarks; such surprising turns as these are of use, 1. For the solacing of saints. They observe these dispensations with pleasure (Ps. 107:42): The righteous shall see it and rejoice in the glorifying of God’s attributes and the manifesting of his dominion over the children of men. It is a great comfort to a good man to see how God manages the children of men, as the potter does the clay, so as to serve his own purposes by them, to see despised virtue advanced and impious pride brought low to the dust, to see it evinced beyond dispute that verily there is a God that judges in the earth. 2. For the silencing of sinners: All iniquity shall stop her mouth; it shall be a full conviction of the folly of atheists, and of those that deny the divine providence; and, forasmuch as practical atheism is at the bottom of all sin, it shall in effect stop the mouth of all iniquity. When sinners see how their punishment answers to their sin, and how justly God deals with them in taking away from them those gifts of his which they had abused, they shall not have one word to say for themselves; for God will be justified, he will be clear. 3. For the satisfying of all concerning the divine goodness (Ps. 107:43): Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, these various dispensations of divine providence, even they shall understand the lovingkindness of the Lord. Here is, (1.) A desirable end proposed, and that is, rightly to understand the loving kindness of the Lord. It is of great use to us, in religion, to be fully assured of God’s goodness, to be experimentally acquainted and duly affected with it, that his lovingkindness may be before our eyes, Ps. 26:3. (2.) A proper means prescribed for attaining this end, and that is a due observance of God’s providence. We must lay up these things, mind them, and keep them in mind, Luke 2:19. (3.) A commendation of the use of this means as an instance of true wisdom: Whoso is wise, let him by this both prove his wisdom and improve it. A prudent observance of the providences of God will contribute very much to the accomplishing of a good Christian.