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the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 147

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



The scholars are somewhat perplexed about the unity of this psalm. The Septuagint (LXX) makes a separate psalm out of Psalms 147:12-20; Yates found, “Three psalms (Psalms 147:1-6; Psalms 147:7-11; and Psalms 147:12-20) compressed into one, “(F1) as did also Briggs and Ballard. However, as Allen, a very recent scholar pointed out, “There are patterns running through the psalm which point to its unity.”(F2) This writer finds no difficulty whatever in receiving the psalm, as it stands, as a perfect unity. Delitzsch pointed out that there is a progression in the psalm throughout, “Both in respect of the building of the walls (Psalms 147:2; Psalms 147:13), and in respect of the circumstances of the weather.”(F3) This falls little short of being a guarantee that the psalm is a unity.

The author, of course, is unknown; but the occasion has been quite reasonably supposed to have been, “The autumn feast of Tabernacles, in view of the reference to the harvest (Psalms 147:14), and to the Law (Psalms 147:19).”(F4) Delitzsch also supported this view, accepting the interpretation of Psalms 147:13 as a reference to, “The dedication of the walls in the times of Nehemiah.”(F5) He also stated, “That the composition of this psalm in the times of Nehemiah is acknowledged by the most diverse parties.”(F6)

Rawlinson gave the year 445 B.C. as the “time when the walls and gates of Jerusalem were built following the exile.”(F7) If we are correct in associating this psalm with the time of building the walls and gates, then the date of 397 B.C., as alleged by Ballard,(F8) is in error by about half a century.

“The threefold summons to praise or thanksgiving (Psalms 147:1; Psalms 147:7 and Psalms 147:12) reveals the structure of the psalm.”(F9) We shall follow this paragraphing and use the paragraph headings suggested by Briggs.

Verses 1-6


Briggs’ summary: This is a summons to the congregation to praise Yahweh for his goodness and sweetness in rebuilding Jerusalem and restoring her people (Psalms 147:1-3). Though he numbers and names the stars as their sovereign Lord, He interposes on behalf of his afflicted people against their enemies (Psalms 147:4-6).(F10)

“Praise ye Jehovah; For it is good to sing praises unto our God; For it is pleasant, and praise is comely. For Jehovah doth build up Jerusalem; He gathereth together the outcasts of Israel. He healeth the broken in heart, And bindeth up their wounds. He counteth the number of the stars; And calleth them all by their names. Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite. Jehovah upholdeth the meek: He bringeth the wicked down to the ground.”

“Praise ye Jehovah” Note that a similar invitation to praise God initiates each of the three divisions.

“The Lord doth build up Jerusalem” Miller made a very important observation regarding the verb tenses in this psalm, pointing out that, with the exceptions of Psalms 147:13, and Psalms 147:20 a, “The verbs here should be translated by the English present tense.”(F11) This means that, “The psalmist is vividly describing actions taking place at the very time he writes.”(F12)

The chronology of the events described here is as follows:

“The rebuilding of Jerusalem after the captivity required more than ninety years, from B.C. 538 till B.C. 445. First, the temple was built (B.C. 538-515); then the city; and finally the walls and the gates (B.C. 445). The exiles returned gradually - some under Zerubbabel (B.C. 538); some with Ezra (B.C. 457); others, doubtless, with Nehemiah, in B.C. 445; and again in B.C. 434.”(F13)

“He gathereth together the outcasts of Israel” How do we know that this language refers to the return of the exiles from Babylon? As Barnes pointed out, “It is in such language that the prophets predicted their return.”(F14) As Isaiah stated it, “He (God) shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah” (Isaiah 11:12).

“He counteth the stars… calleth them by names” “According to ancient ideas, to name a thing was to call it into existence.”(F15) Therefore, this reveals God as the Creator of the stars, countering the heathen notion that the stars were gods exercising baleful influence upon men. The language here is suggestive of that in Isaiah 40:26.

“His understanding is infinite… Jehovah upholdeth the meek” The stars, of course, are to men innumerable; and the infinity, omnipotence, and omniscience of God are brought to mind in such a declaration as we have in Psalms 147:4, but the real point of this is that, although God’s greatness is so incomprehensibly above mankind, he nevertheless upholds and supports Israel against her enemies, as stated in Briggs’ summary, above.

Verses 7-11


Briggs’ summary: The congregation is summoned to sing and play to Him who sends the rain upon the earth for the service of man (Psalms 147:7-8), who provideth for the animals, but especially delights in those that fear Him (Psalms 147:9-11).(F16)

“Sing unto Jehovah with thanksgiving; Sing praises upon the harp unto our God, Who covereth the heavens with clouds, Who prepareth rain for the earth, Who maketh grass to grow upon the mountains, Who giveth to the beast his food, And to the young ravens which cry. He delighteth not in the strength of the horse: He taketh no pleasure in the legs of man. Jehovah taketh pleasure in them that fear him, In those that hope in his lovingkindness.”

“Sing unto Jehovah, etc.” This, as in all three divisions is the introduction.

“Clouds… rain… grass to grow upon the mountains” The picture here is that of the beginning of the rainy season. In the long hot periods of Palestine, all of the vegetation tends to dry up and become brown; and nothing could be more welcome to people suffering from such arid heat than the appearance of clouds and the prospect of rain, after which the grass will flourish even on the high hills.

“He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens that cry” In Psalms 145, we commented on the wonder of God’s feeding his entire creation for countless centuries, maintaining them perpetually upon the earth. See comment there.

“He delighteth not in the strength of the horse: he taketh no pleasure in the legs of a man” These clauses are parallel, presenting the same thought in different words. The question that Leupold raised regarding this is, “How could God be impressed with the strength of a horse? God created him!”(F17)

Furthermore, for the same reason, God is not impressed either with the strong leg of a man nor the beautiful leg of a woman. He made both! The big lesson here concerns men and their abilities.

“Not only hath the Lord no pleasure in any man’s legs, but not in any man’s brains, nor in any man’s wit, nor in any man’s tongue, regardless of how eloquent, nor in any man’s wealth, no matter how great; but, “The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him.”(F18)

Rhodes’ comment on this is also true: “God does not delight in the physical strength of either animal or man; he takes pleasure in those who respond to him in reverence and hope.”(F19)

Briggs applied this verse as a reference to, “The chief means of gaining victory”(F20) over enemies, which in those times was usually won by strong horses and strong men. Delitzsch gave the meaning here as, “The strength of the horse and muscular power are of no avail when God wills to destroy a man.”(F21)

Verses 12-20


Briggs’ summary: Jerusalem is summoned to laud Yahweh, who hath restored her prosperity (Psalms 147:12-14), whose word governs snow and frost and hail (Psalms 147:15-17). His word at the same time directs winds and waters, and gives to Israel a Law, thereby distinguishing them from other nations (Psalms 147:18-20).(F22)

“Praise Jehovah, O Jerusalem; Praise thy God, O Zion. For he hath strengthened the bars of thy gates; He hath blessed thy children within thee. He maketh peace in thy borders; He filleth thee with the finest of wheat. He Sendeth out his commandment upon earth; His word runneth very swiftly. He giveth snow like wool; He scattereth the hoar-frost like ashes. He casteth forth his ice like morsels: Who can stand before his cold? He sendeth out his word and melteth them: He causeth his wind to blow, and the waters flow. He showeth his word unto Jacob, His statutes and his ordinances unto Israel. He hath not dealt so with any nation; And as for his ordinances, they have not known them. Praise ye Jehovah.”

“Praise Jehovah, O Jerusalem; Praise thy God, O Zion” “Once more the call goes forth to the church on the soil of the land of promise assembled round about Jerusalem.”(F23) Again, this call to praise God marks the beginning of the third and final division.

“He hath strengthened the bars of thy gates” As Miller noted, we have the past tense here, indicating that the gates of the holy city are in place and that the bars have been strengthened. Note the progress evident in the psalm. In Psalms 147:2 the building was in progress; here the walls are completed, the gates erected, and the bars strengthened. The security of ancient cities was sealed by the heavy bars of wood, reinforced with metal strips, locked into metal brackets embedded within the masonry of the walls. The “strengthening” mentioned here probably refers to the fastening of the long strips of heavy metal to the wooden bars. A number of men were required to lift these “bars” into position when the city was secured at nightfall.

“He hath blessed thy children within thee” The placement of these mighty “bars” brought an added security to Jerusalem. During the these mighty “bars” brought an added security to Jerusalem. During the near-century long work of rebuilding Jerusalem, there was a feeling of insecurity on the part of the chosen people, surrounded as they were by many enemies. “Praise God! He had allowed the achievement of a new measure of their peace and security.”

“He maketh peace in thy borders; he fiileth thee with the finest of wheat” McCaw pointed out that God had granted Israel a fourfold blessing, “Security (Psalms 147:13 a), numbers (Psalms 147:13 b), peace (Psalms 147:14 a), and provision (Psalms 147:14 b).”(F24) But over and above such material blessings, the chosen people were covered and protected by the loving favor of God Himself, who contrary to every worldly expectation, and despite the long bitter record of the human race that denied even the possibility of such a thing, God had indeed returned a whole nation from captivity, re-established them in Zion, rebuilt their city, erected new walls around it, and strengthened the bars of the gates!

“He maketh peace in thy borders” This is an historical illustration of one of the oldest principles of national security, that of `peace through strength.’ “The completion of the walls and gates of Jerusalem brought an end to the troubles caused by Sanballat, Tobiah and Geshem, and established peace and tranquility in Israel.”(F25)

What an incredible tragedy is it that when God came to visit Israel in the Person of the Dayspring from on High, that Israel not only hated him, but achieved his execution on a Roman cross by the pagan Gentiles!

Psalms 147:15-18 emphasize THE CAUSE of all the wonders that have encompassed Israel. What is that? It is the Word of God!

“He sendeth out his commandment… His word runneth very swiftly… He sendeth out his word… He showeth his word unto Jacob… His statutes and ordinances (he showeth) unto Israel” “The word dominates this entire section. The word here spoken of (Psalms 147:19) is the written word, that is, the Pentateuch.”(F26) In the previous reference (Psalms 147:15) `the word’ sent out upon the earth is that which, hurled the suns in space, said, “Let there be light,” and gathered the seas into one place.’

“Snow like wool… hoar-frost like ashes… ice like morsels… cold” “These various forms of cold are compared respectively to wool for whiteness, to ashes (or dust) for quantity, and to morsels for comparatively large hailstones. These things are mentioned here not merely as specimens of the divine sovereignty over nature; but because they were unusual in Palestine.”(F27)

Allen criticized Psalms 147:17. “The size of the hailstones is exuberantly extolled with some hyperbole.”(F28) Hyperbole, of course, means exaggeration for the sake of emphasis; but there is no exaggeration here. Even if a morsel should be understood as a very large biscuit, there is no exaggeration. This writer has measured and photographed hailstones over three and one half inches in diameter. Furthermore, Delitzsch here took the word morsels to mean crumbs or fragments and suggested the meaning as “sleet.”(F29)

“He showeth his word unto Jacob” Great indeed was the Word of God revealed to Jacob and recorded for all men in the Old Testament. However, that law was altogether a temporary device, “Because of transgressions, it was added until the seed should come (Christ) to whom the promise hath been made” (Galatians 3:19). In the present dispensation of God’s grace, the word of Christ (the New Testament) takes precedence over everything in the Law of Moses. It is not Moses’ law that shall judge men and angels at the last day. Jesus said, “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my word, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I spake, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). “Praise ye Jehovah” (Psalms 147:20 b). This, of course, is the terminal `Hallelujah.’ Delitzsch assures us that, “This Hallelujah does not exult over the fact that other nations are not acquainted with any such divine law, but over the fact that Israel is put into the possession of such a law.”(F30) However, what if some Israelites still had the spirit of Jonah? Then the comment would not be correct.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 147". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/psalms-147.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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