Click here to learn more!
In the Hebrew this Psalm has no superscription. The Septuagint has the superscription, “Hallelujah. Of Haggai and Zechariah;” and is followed in this respect by the Vulgate and the Syriac. This is based perhaps on ancient tradition; but has no higher authority. Modern expositors are generally agreed that the Psalm was composed after the exile. Thus Perowne: “The Psalm bears evident traces, both in style and language, and also in its allusions to other Psalms, of belonging to the post-exile literature.” All that can be determined concerning the occasion of its composition is well expressed by Hengstenberg: “That the Psalm was composed in a period of depression for the people of God, is indicated by the predicates given to God, which are all of a kind fitted to elevate the distressed, to console the afflicted, and give them confidence in their God.”
This is the first of a series of five Hallelujah Psalms, with which the Psalter is closed. At a later time this series was used in the daily morning prayers, in conjunction with portions of other Psalms and Books of the Old Testament.
The Psalm is chiefly an exhortation and an argument to trust not in man, but in Jehovah.
TRUST AND PRAISE
Let us notice—
I. The trust prohibited.
“Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no help,” &c. Trust even in the most exalted and powerful of men is here prohibited; and reasons are given for the prohibition. Trust them not, because of—
1. Their inability. “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no help,” or “salvation.” We are prone to confide in the great and the high ones of the earth, who seem able to do for us, able to help us, to promote us to rank and wealth, and to establish our state, therefore the Psalmist declares that no man, not even the mightiest, has power to save either himself or others. Prince and pauper are alike destitute of salvation in themselves; alike they must receive it from God, or remain without it. “He giveth salvation to kings.”
2. Their mortality. “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” Here are three points:—
(1.) The termination of bodily life. “His breath goeth forth.” Without respiration, i.e., without inspiration and expiration, we cannot live. While there is breath there is life. But the time comes when expiration takes place, and is not followed by inspiration; when “his breath goeth forth” and returns not again, and life has ceased. Death
“Is the cessation of our breath;
Silent and motionless we lie,
And no one knoweth more than this,
I saw our little Gertrude die;
She left off breathing, and no more
I smooth’d the pillow beneath her head.”
(2.) The destiny of the body. “He returneth to his earth.” Barnes says, “The earth—the dust—is his:—(a.) It is his, as that from which he was made: he turns back to what he was (Genesis 3:19) (b.) The earth—the dust—the grave is his, as it is his home—the place where he will abide. (c.) It is his, as it is the only property which he has in reversion. All that a man—a prince, a nobleman, a monarch, a millionaire—will soon have will be his grave—his few feet of earth. That will be his by right of possession: by the fact that, for the time being, he will occupy it, and not another man. But that, too, may soon become another man’s grave, so that even there he is a tenant only for a time; he has no permanent possession even of a grave. How poor is the richest man!”
(3.) The failure of temporal projects. “In that very day his thoughts perish.” All man’s plans and purposes which relate only to time and this world are cut off by death. The patriarch Job gives striking utterance to this truth: “My days are past, my purposes are broken off, even the thoughts of my heart.” When the breath goeth forth, “however grand the conception, however masterly the execution, all come to an end. The science, the philosophy, the statesmanship of one age is exploded in the next. The men who are the masters of the world’s intellect to-day are discrowned to-morrow. In this age of restless and rapid change they may survive their own thoughts: their thoughts do not survive them.” This truth has a very dread aspect to those whose thoughts and purposes are wholly or even chiefly of the things of sense and time; and this aspect our Lord brings into prominence in Luke 12:16-42.12.21. But the practical aspect of this truth with which we have now to do is that which shows the utter vanity of man as an object of human trust. All the kind purposes and designs which man has for us come to an end when he dies; and all the hopes that are placed on him perish at his death. Therefore, “Trust not in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no help,” &c. “Cursed is the man that trusteth in man,” &c. (Jeremiah 17:5-24.17.8).
II. The trust encouraged. “Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help,” &c. (Psalms 146:5-19.146.10). We regard the word “Jacob” as denoting in this place the whole people of Israel; and “the God of Jacob” as the Lord Jehovah whom they worshipped, in contradistinction to the gods of the heathen. The position of the Psalmist is, that they are blessed who trust in Him; and that for the following reasons:—because of—
1. His almighty power. “Who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that therein is.” The creation of the world manifests the omnipotence of God, and this is engaged on behalf of them whose hope is in Him. The Divine name which is here used (אֵל = God) is also expressive of strength. He is strong to succour and help His people.
2. His unchangeable fidelity. “Who keepeth truth for ever.” Perowne holds that this is “the central thought of the Psalm. For on this ground beyond all others is God the object of trust. He is true, and His word is truth, and that word He keeps, not for a time, but for ever.” “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away.”
3. His righteous judgment. “Who executeth judgment for the oppressed.” “The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment for all that are oppressed.” By His Providence He calmly and steadfastly works for the vindication of the injured. And in the last judgment He will redress every wrong, &c.
4. His bountifulness to the needy. “Who giveth food to the hungry.” “He satisfieth the longing soul, and filleth the hungry soul with goodness.” “The hungry,” says Hengstenberg, “represents generally all who stand in need of help.” Jehovah is the liberal benefactor of all the necessitous, and especially those of them who trust in Him.
5. His compassion for the afflicted. The poet mentions several classes of distressed or troubled men, and of God’s gracious dealings with each class.
(1.) “Jehovah looseth the prisoners.” By the prisoners we understand captives—those that are bound, and those also who are in the prison of distress. He thus set Israel free from their bondage in Egypt, and afterwards from their captivity in Assyria. Christ is the great Emancipator. It is His “to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to the bound.” “If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.”
(2.) “Jehovah openeth the eyes of the blind.” Heb., lit.: “Jehovah openeth the blind.” Hengstenberg: “The blind are the naturally blind, and such as cannot discern the way of salvation without wisdom and help; blindness occurs as an image of want of wisdom and support in Deuteronomy 28:29; Isaiah 59:10; Job 12:25.” (Comp. also Psalms 119:18; Isaiah 35:5.)
(3.) “Jehovah raiseth up them that are bowed down.” Those who are weighed down and crushed by the burden of anxiety, trial, or sorrow, He sustains and cheers. (See our remarks on Psalms 145:14.)
(4.) “Jehovah preserveth the strangers, He relieveth the fatherless and widow.” Instead of “relieveth” Hengstenberg translates, “raises up;” and Perowne, “setteth up.” “The stranger, the widow, and the fatherless are representatives of persons in a miserable condition;” they are “the three great examples of natural defencelessness.” The Lord succours all the helpless; He has a gracious regard for all who stand in special need of His care; He espouses the cause of the destitute and the weak. “A Father of the fatherless, and a Judge of the widows, is God in His holy habitation.” In Him “the fatherless findeth mercy.”
6. His complacency in His people. “Jehovah loveth the righteous.” Starke says, “What a sweet word: the Lord loves thee! I would not take a kingdom for that word. Love unites God’s heart to mine.” And how broad and firm is the basis of trust which it supplies!
7. His righteous retribution to the wicked. “The way of the wicked He turneth upside down.” Perowne: “He turneth aside.” Conant: “He subverteth” The projects of the wicked Jehovah defeats. Under His government their way leads down to ruin. Moll: “The crooked way of the wicked in which death lies (Proverbs 12:28) is turned by Jehovah down towards hell (Proverbs 15:24; comp. Psa 2:18, Psalms 1:6). “Delitzsch:” There is only a single line devoted to Jehovah’s punitive justice. For He rules in love and wrath, but delights most to rule in love.”
8. His everlasting reign. “The Lord shall reign for ever; thy God, O Zion, unto all generations.” No opposition can shake His throne. All the subtlety and strength of His enemies are utterly powerless against Him. (On the everlasting reign of Jehovah, see vol. i. pp. 224 and 385.) In the perpetuity of His reign we have another evidence of the blessedness of those who trust in Him. Surveying all these reasons for confidence, are we not prepared with the accent of conviction to say with the Psalmist, “Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God”? (Comp. Psalms 2:12; Psalms 84:12; Jeremiah 17:7-24.17.8.)
III. The praise celebrated.
“Praise ye the Lord. Praise the Lord, O my soul.,” &c. Here is—
1. A declaration of personal praise. The poet determines to praise God—
(1.) Spiritually. “Praise Jehovah, O my soul.” “For discharging the duty of praise,” says David Dickson, “all the powers of the soul must be stirred up; the mind, to meditate; the memory, to bring forth former observations; the heart and affections, for discharging the duty of praise in the best manner.”
(2.) Perpetually. “While I live will I praise Jehovah; I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being.”
“I’ll praise my Maker with my breath,
And when my voice is lost in death,
Praise shall employ my nobler powers;
My days of praise shall ne’er be past,
While life and thought and being last,
Or immortality endures.”—Watts.
“Not in this song only will he utter his praise, but ‘his life shall be a thanksgiving unto the Power that made him.’ ”
2. A summons to others to praise Him. “Praise ye the Lord.” Heb., as in Margin: “Hallelujah.” Thus the Psalm begins, and thus also it closes. “As one light kindles another,” says Starke, “so a believing heart seeks to awaken others and excite them to the righteous praise of God.”
THE PHILOSOPHY OF DEATH
The text refers—
I. To the destiny of all.
1. To a special day. “In that very day.” This is the day of death. There are many important days in a man’s history. Often days of great moment. Each perhaps the crisis of some eventful period of our history. But the day of death is peculiarly momentous: it is invested with unusual solemnity. It is the termination of probation, and the entrance on the unchanging realities of a future world.
The aspect of this day depends entirely on the moral condition of the individual, whether it be bright or dark—a day of bliss or woe—of exaltation to heaven or degradation even to the lowest abyss of hell. It would be well to read and meditate on this day; to look at it in all lights, and in all its consequences; and especially for this reason,—it is a day which we, every one, must personally realise. “It is appointed unto men once to die,” &c. “I know Thou wilt bring me to death,” &c.
Our text refers—
2. To a striking view of death. “His breath goeth forth.” When God made man, He “breathed,” &c. Life is a succession of breathings. By the act of inspiration we take in the air, which supplies the blood with a fresh supply of oxygen, and thus makes it wholesome and nutritious to the system. By the act of expiration, the breath which has become impure is thrown off. Now, this ceasing to breathe is the extinction of life, and this may be produced by a variety of causes,—impure air, organic disease of the heart, affections of the lungs, &c. Oh think of this, and remember every instant there is but one step between us and death. The text refers—
3. To man’s last earthly home. “He returneth to his earth.” From that our first parents sprung. On that we move and live. It yields our supplies of food. We at length return to it. “Dust thou art,” &c. “His earth”—every man has a claim on the earth for a sepulchre. The poorest have this, and the richest only this. “I know Thou wilt bring me to death, and to the house appointed,” &c. “If I wait, the grave is mine house,” &c. The text refers—
4. To the cessation of mental activity. “In that very day his thoughts perish.” His worldly plans and schemes; his anxieties and cares; his purposes and projects; even his religious thoughts of repentance and serving God. His resolutions and vows, &c., all perish—all die with him. Whether king or peasant, philosopher or rustic. Not his soul—no, that still lives. Our text refers—
II. To the peculiar privileges and happiness of a certain description of character.
The character introduced is represented under two interesting features.
1. As sustained by the God of Jacob. “The God of Jacob for his help.” Man requires Divine help. This help Jesus obtained by His obedience and sacrifice. Even the Old Testament saints enjoyed this help by prospective faith in the Redeemer. How God helped Jacob! delivering him from the wrath of his brother, and the oppression of Laban. Helped him to sustain his domestic troubles; helped him in all his trials and difficulties, and led him at last to dwell in the rich and fruitful land of Goshen. God is the help of all the spiritual posterity of Jacob—all who like Jacob are distinguished for prayer, faith, and obedience to His word. God is a help at hand; all-sufficient; unchangeable; everlasting. This character is represented—
2. As expecting all good in and from God. “Whose hope is in the Lord his God.” The hope of the pious has respect to God’s wisdom, truth, goodness, mercy, fidelity, &c. Hope is the balm of life, the very joy of existence. What would man do in the sorrows and trials of his present state, or what in looking towards the eternal future, without hope? He alone can sustain, deliver, bless, and save. Hence, notice—
3. The blessedness of this character. “Happy is he,” &c. We are often struck most forcibly by contrasts. Contrast the godly man who hath Jehovah for his help with the poor benighted pagan, dwelling in the region of death—anxious, wretched, despairing. Contrast him with the sceptic, who is all doubt and uncertainty. With the worldly, whose hope and happiness are identified with gold and silver. With the neglector of religion, who trifles away opportunities, and mercies, and privileges, until “the harvest is past,” &c. Oh, yes, the godly man is happy—happy in the enjoyment of heavenly knowledge—happy in the enjoyment of Divine peace, internal tranquillity—happy in the prospect of immortality and eternal life. “They shall return and come to Zion with songs,” &c.
Our subject contains matter—
1. For solemn admonition. Think of the day of death, &c.
2. For rejoicing, to those who have God for their help. What a privilege! Oh, value it—often praise God for it.
3. For exhortation. Who will consecrate himself to the Lord?—Jabes Burnt, D.D.
THE LORD THE LIBERATOR
“The Lord looseth the prisoners.”
The text suggested to the preacher to go through the corridors of the great world-prison in which prisoners were confined.
I. The common prison—the ward of sin.
II. The solitary cell—the place of penitence, where was a secret spring, called faith, which, if a man could touch, he could go forth.
III. The silent cell, where he met with people who could not pray.
IV. The cell of ignorance.
V. The prison of habit.
VI. The hard labour room.
VII. The low dungeon of despondency.
VIII. The inner prison—the hold of despair.
IX. The devil’s torture chamber.
X. The condemned cell.—C. H. Spurgeon. From “Lamps, Pitchers, and Trumpets,” by E. P. Hood.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 146". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany