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Monday, July 22nd, 2024
the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 147

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & PsalmsHengstenberg's Commentary


Psalms 147

The peculiar object of this song of praise and thanksgiving are the acts of kindness which the Lord had just imparted to his people. Other proofs, however, of the glory of God were also drawn into the circle of praise, because the particular receives its proper elucidation only from its connection with the whole, the soul also rising to its right elevation only when it comes to contemplate the great whole.

The Psalm consists of two decades. The one, divided by five, is contained in Psalms 147:2-11. The second is formed by the three verses of the introduction and conclusion, Psalms 147:1, and Psalms 147:19-20, and by a strophe of seven verses, divided by three and four, Psalms 147:12-18. Jah and Jehovah occur seven times.

The historical circumstances which the Psalm presents are the following:—the people are gathered from the dispersion, Psalms 147:2; Jerusalem is built, Psalms 147:2; fortified and secured against all hostile assaults, Psalms 147:13-14. Against the supposition of its belonging to the time of the Maccabees, though Psalms 147:13-14, even by themselves considered; could hardly be explained from 1Ma_13:10 , the connection in which the fortification of Jerusalem stands here with the gathering of the people from their dispersion, is at all events decisive. Such a connection only existed in the time of Nehemiah (already Grotius: optime congruit in tempora Nehemiae): the leading of God, which began with the bringing back of the people, and which is brought into notice here only at the beginning, but does not form a part of the circumstances that properly gave rise to the Psalm, as represented in Psalms 147:12-14, reached its conclusion in the erection of the walls under Nehemiah (the city had first to be built by him again, comp. Nehemiah 2:5, where Nehemiah said to Artaxerxes: “Send me to Judah, to the city of the sepulchres of my fathers, that I may build it.”) In the time of the Maccabees, the return from the exile lay much too far back for being drawn within the circle of this song. We therefore need not fall back on the general grounds, which decide against the composition of any Psalms in the time of the Maccabees. [Note: Let ver. 2 and ver. 13 and 14 of this Psalm be compared with Jesus Sir_49:13 : “Nehemias, whose renown is great, who raised up for us the walls that were fallen down, and set up the gates and the bars, and raised up our ruins again;”—a passage which plainly seems to allude to ver. 13 of the Psalm.]

Verse 1

Ver. 1. Halleluiah; for it is good to sing praise to our God, because he is lovely, praise is becoming. Three commencements of Psalms are here intentionally brought together. The first member rests on Psalms 92:1, the beginning of the second on Psalms 135:3, “Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good, sing praise to his name, for he is lovely” (comp. on the loveliness of the Lord at Psalms 27:4), and the last words are from Psalms 33:1, “Rejoice ye righteous in the Lord, to the upright becomes praise.” The explanation: because this (the singing) lovely, praise is comely, overlooks the second original passage, cuts up in an unseemly manner the second member, and supposes that the second כו is co-ordinate with the first—a supposition about which one must be very cautious. זמרה inf. Pi. with ה parag.; זמר to celebrate in song, as in Psalms 7:17.

Verses 1-20

Psalms 147-150

That the four following Psalms constitute one whole, is clear from the Halleluiah at the beginning and the close of each of them, by which they also connect themselves with the close of the preceding cycle; from their entirely joyful tone without any background of lamentation in contradistinction to all the other Psalms belonging to the period after the exile, a tone to which the Psalms before us were directed, both from their position and their whole character and contents; from the peculiar combination of the praise of God in nature, with the praise of his grace toward his people; finally, from the circumstance of their being throughout pervaded by a reference to a great salvation, which restores Israel.

The starting point shines out with the utmost clearness in Psalms 147, which opens the cycle. The establishment of Jerusalem and its security toward what is without, appears there as the occasion. In Psalms 148:14, it is the elevation of the people and the invigoration of their courage. In Psalms 149 we are told of a great salvation, which the Lord grants to his people. This Psalm and the following one proclaim their destination to be sung on the occasion of a great festival of thanksgiving and joy in the temple.

All these references find their explanation when it is understood that the Psalms in question were composed for the consecration of the walls under Nehemiah, of which Neh. treats in Nehemiah 12. What Jerusalem was before Nehemiah—an open, thinly inhabited village, exposed to all manner of insults from the neighbouring people—and how much Judah owed of its greatness to the favour obtained through his interposition, has already been set forth at length in my Christol. Th. ii., s. 524, ss. Supposing, then, that these Psalms belong to the age of Nehemiah, we can easily understand how the tone of lamentation should at once disappear from them, which through all the earlier post-exile Psalms intermingles even with the joy; here again the people show themselves right glad of their existence. The connection of the point displayed in Psalms 148, the invigoration of the courage of the people and the elevation of their state, with the erection of walls mentioned in Psalms 147, is rendered plain by Nehemiah 1:3: “The remnant are in great affliction and reproach, and the wall of Jerusalem is broken through, and its gates are burnt with fire;” where their “being in great affliction and reproach;” and “the walls being broken through and the gates burned,” stand to each other in the relation of effect and cause—comp. also Nehemiah 2:17, where the building of the walls of Jerusalem, and their being no longer in reproach, are placed in causal connection; then also ch. Nehemiah 6:15-16, where the completion of the building of the walls is represented as to its effect on the surrounding people: “And the wall was finished—and when all our enemies heard thereof, all the heathen, which were around us, were afraid, and their courage failed them, for they perceived that this work was of God.”

On the supposition of that being the occasion we can also understand the warlike tone, which meets us in Psalms 149. It was at the building of the walls that Judah again, for the first time after the Babylonian catastrophe and with good success, drew the sword against the heathen. At the same time this Psalm throws light on the origin of reports among the heathen, such as those mentioned in Nehemiah 6, Nehemiah 7.

With Psalms 146 the prayer of the Levites in Nehemiah 9:6, remarkably coincides: “Thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all that is therein, the sea and all that is therein; and thou preservest all, and the host of heaven worships thee.” With Psalms 147:19, comp. Nehemiah 9:13-14, Nehemiah 10:29. With Nehemiah 12:27: “And at the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem they sought the Levites from all places, and brought them to Jerusalem, to keep the dedication in gladness with thanksgiving, with singing, with cymbals, harps, and psalteries,” comp. Psalms 147:7, Psalms 150, where all the three instruments are mentioned. Also with Nehemiah 12:35 and Nehemiah 12:41, according to which at the feast of dedication the trumpets were blown by the priests, comp. Psalms 150:3. The joyful and exulting tone of the four Psalms finds its commentary in Nehemiah 12:43, “And they offered on that day great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God had given them great joy, and also the women and children rejoiced themselves, so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off.”

Verses 2-6

Ver. 2. The Lord builds Jerusalem, gathers the scattered of Israel. Ver. 3. He, who heals those that are broken in heart, and binds up their pains. Ver. 4. He determines the number of the stars, he names them all by name. Ver. 5. Great is our Lord and rich in power, and incomprehensible is his understanding. Ver. 6. The Lord lifts up the meek, and brings down the wicked to the ground.

The Psalmist begins, in Psalms 147:2, immediately with his proper subject, what the Lord had done to his church, The second member rests upon Isaiah 11:12, Isaiah 56:8. What the prophet had foretold of the then still far off dispersion, and of the gathering out of it, which was still farther off, now stands fulfilled before their eyes; comp. Psalms 107:3. At the close of the salvation-period, as it began with the deliverance from exile, and ended with the setting up of the walls under Nehemiah, the whole of the salvation wrought for the people of God passed before the thankful soul.

On Psalms 147:3 comp. Psalms 34:18, Psalms 103:3, Isaiah 61:1. What is spoken apparently in quite general terms receives its limitation to the people of the Lord by its connection with what precedes, on which it already formally leans. The pains are spiritual wounds.

In Psalms 147:4, the Psalmist turns from the consideration of the work of God on earth to heaven, so that God might be more clearly recognised in the former, that the thanks given to him might be the more cordial, and the hope of his future salvation might be more deeply rooted. That the Psalmist has properly and alone to do with that which the Lord had accomplished for his people, and what they had further to expect from him, is evident alone from the way and manner, in which here, what refers to the power of God in nature, is compassed round by that which arises from his relation to his people. מנה stands here as in Genesis 13:16, Numbers 23:10 (see my work on, Balaam, p. 91 ss.), Isaiah 65:12, in the original sig. of determining, which is demanded by the ספר , that excludes the sig. of numbering. Still, however, the discourse is not here of the determination of the number of the stars before their creation, but of the numbering of those that have been made, which, according to Genesis 15:5, alluded to here, lies beyond the province of the human mind. Beside the numbering stands the naming, which presupposes an intimate acquaintance with the peculiar properties of each star, of which the name is the reflex. The original foundation of the whole passage is in Isaiah 40:26, “Who brings out, numbers their host, calls them all by names, on account of the fulness of his power, and because he is mighty in strength, not one is missing.” As there allusion is made to the Lord’s relation to the stars for the purpose of consoling his afflicted people—comp. Isaiah 40:27, “Why sayest thou, O Jacob, my way is hid from the Lord,” &c.—so here it is mentioned with the view of raising the spirit of thanksgiving among the redeemed.

On Psalms 147:5, comp. besides Isaiah 40:26, also Isaiah 40:28, “unsearchable is his understanding.” The understanding of God comes here into consideration so far, as in consequence of it he ever has at command an infinite fulness of ways and means for helping his own.

Verses 7-11

Ver. 7. Answer to the Lord with a song of praise, play to our God on the psaltery. Ver. 8. Who covers the heaven with clouds, who prepares rain for the earth, who makes grass to grow on the mountains. Ver. 9. Who gives to the beast his fodder, to the young ravens that cry. Ver. 10. He has not delight in the strength of the horse, nor pleasure in the legs of a man. Ver. 11. The Lord has pleasure in those that fear him, those who wait on his mercy.

All here is spoken in celebration of the Lord’s mercy, which manifests itself thus also in respect of his church. But she roams, in seeking for proofs of the mercy she has received from the Lord, through the whole circle of his benevolent agency, which extends even to the smallest of his creatures, so that the feeling may be more deeply impressed, and along with thanksgiving hope also invigorated. But the whole runs out in praise of the Lord’s loving-kindness toward his own, in like manner as all had proceeded from him. Answer (comp. on Psalms 119:172) to the Lord, who has addressed us in so friendly a manner by bestowing on us his salvation.

The clouds are referred to in Psalms 147:8 only in so far as they produce the rain, which is one of the instruments of blessing. In regard to the question: why precisely the mountains are mentioned, comp. on the original passage, Psalms 104:13.

On the first member of Psalms 147:9 comp. Psalms 104:14, Psalms 104:27-28. The young ravens are introduced here, partly as being creatures of an unprofitable and disagreeable kind, partly on account of their croaking (Bochart: corvus vocem clamosam habet et obstreperam tanquam importuni flagitatoris), which seems to call upon the heavenly Provider for help. We must not translate exactly with Luther: who call upon him; however, the croaking should certainly be regarded as a sort of unconscious crying to the Creator for help, comp. Job 38:41, where the young ravens cry to God, Psalms 104:21, Psalms 145:15.

Psalms 147:10-11 rest upon Psalms 33:16-18. Here, as there, the horse stands as a representation of the kind, over against him man. In the legs of a man, and their strength, this is to be supplied from the first member—comp. also: through his great strength, in Psalms 33:16. How glorious is God’s loving-kindness! In contrast to the world, which expends its love only on the strong, from whom it can expect recompense and returns of favour, he has no pleasure in the heathen world ever boastful of its might, but in Israel prostrated on the ground in its impotence, yet looking with the eye of faith to him, that he will lift it up from its depression in the dust, as he had already begun to do—comp. Psalms 147:12 ss.

Verses 12-17

Ver. 12. Praise, Jerusalem, the Lord; praise Zion, thy God. Ver. 13. For he has strengthened the bars of thy gates, blessed thy children within them. Ver. 14. Who makes peace in thy borders, satisfies thee with the fat of the wheat. Ver 15. Who sends his discourse upon the earth, his word runs very quickly. Ver. 16. Who gives snow like wool, hoar-frost scatters like ashes. Ver. 17. He casts forth his ice like morsels, who can stand before his frost? Ver. 18. He sends out his word, and causes it to melt, makes his wind blow, then the waters flow.

In Psalms 147:13-14 first security in respect to what is without, then the blessing within. On Psalms 147:14 comp. Psalms 81:16. In Psalms 147:15-18 there is probably not only an allusion to the omnipotence of God as manifested in nature not less than in the government of his people, but at the same time an allegorical representation of this government, so that the Psalmist perceived in the operations of God in nature the image of his administration in grace—in the snow, hoar-frost and frost, an image of the now no longer existing time of trouble, in the spring, Psalms 147:18, an image of the returning salvation; comp. the similar figurative representations in Psalms 107. In Psalms 147:15, the discourse and word of God are represented as servants, which he sends upon the earth to execute his will. Their quick course marks the speedy result of what takes place in the will.

The comparison denotes, in Psalms 147:16-17, generally the ease with which God accomplishes the greatest things, not otherwise than man the least, such as causing some locks of wool to fly, or scattering a few ashes. Those things are taken which present some kind of resemblance to the snow, hoar-frost, and ice. The great flakes of ice are compared with the morsels of bread which man throws out to his domestic animals. The question: Who can stand before his frost? Israel had known to put from painful experience. The suff. in ימסם , Psalms 147:18, refers to the snow, the hoar-frost, and the ice. The wind is the thawing breeze.

Verse 19

Ver. 19. He declares to Jacob his word, to Israel his statutes and judgments. Ver. 20. He has done so to no heathen, and judgments know they not. Halleluiah.

This epiphonem points to the ground of the special care which God exercised over Israel, which had now again manifested itself. Israel was the people of the Revelation, the only people on the broad earth which stood under the supremacy of the divine will, as expressed by way of command in the laws of Moses. The heathen knew not, as they did, any rights, and hence were without God, Psalms 147:20. For what they called by that name was only the shadow of that which really deserved it, a sad mixture of right and wrong.

Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 147". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-147.html.
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