Let the redeemed of the Lord say this—those he redeemed from
the hand of the foe, those he gathered from the lands, from east
and west, from north and south. Some wandered in desert
wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle.
They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he
delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way
to a city where they could settle. Let them give thanks to the
Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, for
he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.
After the miraculous escape through the Red Sea, the Jewish people found themselves in a desert with little to sustain them. They wandered there for forty years before Joshua led them across the Jordan River into the land that Abraham had been promised generations before.
On another level, this psalm applies to everyday experience because it reveals the universal pattern of human suffering and deliverance. All wander in a spiritual desert as long as they live apart from God. In this condition, men and women lack the spiritual provisions that would sustain them; it does not take long for thirst and hunger to drain us of hope and bring us to a point where our strength begins to ebb away. Often it is when we face extreme circumstances that we turn to God for help. Elsewhere it says, “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life” (Psalm 138:7) and “call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you and you will honor me” (Psalm 50:15).
The recurring pattern is one of danger, of hopelessness, of a desperate call for help, and of divine deliverance. It is when we are spared that we realize that we could not have survived on our own. Yet at the same time we often forget God’s amazing grace and return to our wanton ways by not giving thanks “to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men…”
—Eric Kampmann, Signposts