Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
prisoners in affliction and in irons,
for they had rebelled against the words of God,
and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;
they fell down, with none to help.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
and burst their bonds apart.
Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
For he shatters the doors of bronze
and cuts in two the bars of iron.
(Psalm 107:10-16 ESV)
Some people have been delivered by God from things that are illegal—things that are criminal. The Psalmist has in mind in this passage someone who is sitting in the darkness in the shadow of death—prisoners in affliction and irons. We see someone who has been imprisoned because he has broken the law, whether man’s or God’s, and for it he is paying with his life. Their sin against God has landed them in chains.
It is important for us to remember that when we commit a sin it is ultimately against God. Now there are times when we have to pay for those sins with some type of criminal punishment. If you drive over the speed limit and the trooper pulls you over you are going to pay the government for your sins. If you kill someone you are going to pay our society for your sin. You are going to sit in jail behind iron bars. You are going to be incarcerated maybe for the rest of your life. Ultimately, however, our sin is against God.
The good news for us is that our God is big enough to deliver people from things that are illegal. He delivers people from things that are criminal. I think it is interesting that he refers to them as not only sitting in darkness but also as being in the shadow of death. It is interesting that those who commit crimes in our society, those who do things illegal, are most often those people who live in constant fear of their own life. They fear that someone, because of their illegal activities, is going to take their life. Many fear that the victims of their crimes will seek retribution for what they have done. They have to think that they may die because of their criminal activities.
The Psalmist thinks about those people here. He thinks about those people who have lived lives that are very unpleasing to God. They have committed terrible crimes that have led to their incarceration. However, God is not powerless and can bring them out. God is able to deliver them from that sin and deliver them into a relationship with Him.
In verse thirteen, as they sat there their hearts bowed down and no one help, verse twelve says they cry out to the LORD in their trouble and He delivered them from their distress. It is amazing that God delivers them and He destroys their bonds. He shatters doors of bronze and He cuts in two the bars of iron. God is able to deliver criminals from their sin. How sad it is that those of us in the church have no desire to see these people delivered.
I sat down a couple of months ago after watching news of someone dying on death row and I began reading the last words of those condemned to die. The state of Texas keeps a record of the final meal and last words of every inmate who is put to death. They make it available where the public can go and read it. I read the final statements of dozens of the executed—so many of them defiant until the last moment. So many admitted to what they had done and were proud of it even to the moment where a needle was plunged into their arm causing a sleep from which they would never awaken. However, there were some, when you read what they spoke that used those final words to ask families for forgiveness. Some even used this time to proclaim that their life belonged to the Lord. I do not know enough about any of them to go back and say that they were genuine in this or if this was just something they said. They may have wanted to feel better with their conscience in their last moment of life.
How interesting, though, to think that because there are people who are concerned and go into our prisons and our jails sharing the gospel with those who have been so terribly afflicted by sin there can be hope. That though there are some who have committed the most heinous crimes and are about to pay for it with their life to our society there can be redemption. In that moment they can have the calm assurance of knowing that their sin has been taken off their life and has been placed on Christ. The most wretched sinner can know that God has looked on them and through Christ has forgiven them of their sin. How great a Savior we have that He is willing to look to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death and offer them forgiveness—to exclaim to them that “today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43).