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

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-20

Psalms 147:1-20

THE threefold calls to praise Jehovah (Psalms 147:1, Psalms 147:7, Psalms 147:12) divide this psalm into three parts, the two former of which are closely connected, inasmuch as the first part is mainly occupied with celebrating God’s mercy to the restored Israel, and the second takes a wider outlook, embracing His beneficence to all living things. Both these points of view are repeated in the same order in the third part (Psalms 147:12-20), which the LXX makes a separate psalm. The allusions to Jerusalem as rebuilt, to the gathering of the scattered Israelites, and to the fortifications of the city naturally point to the epoch of the Restoration, whether or not, with Delitzsch and others, we suppose that the psalm was sung at the feast of the dedication of the new walls. In any case, it is a hymn of the restored people, which starts from the special mercy shown to them, and rejoices in the thought that "Our God" fills the earth with good and reigns to bless, in the realm of Nature as in that of special Revelation. The emphasis placed on God’s working in nature, in this and others of these closing psalms, is probably in part a polemic against the idolatry which Israel had learned to abhor, by being brought face to face with it in Babylon, and in part a result of the widening of conceptions as to His relation to the world outside Israel which the Exile had also effected. The two truths of His special relation to His people and of His universal lovingkindness have often been divorced, both by His people and by their enemies. This psalm teaches a more excellent way.

The main theme of Psalms 147:1-6 is God’s manifestation of transcendent power and incalculable wisdom, as well as infinite kindness, in building up the ruined Jerusalem and collecting into a happy band of citizens the lonely wanderers of Israel. For such blessings praise is due, and the psalm summons all who share them to swell the song. Psalms 147:1 is somewhat differently construed by some, as Hupfeld, who would change one letter in the word rendered above "to harp," and, making it an imperative, would refer "good" and "pleasant" to God, thus making the whole to read, "Praise Jehovah, for He is good; harp to our God, for He is pleasant: praise is comely." This change simplifies some points of construction, but labors under the objection that it is contrary to usage to apply the adjective "pleasant" to God; and the usual rendering is quite intelligible and appropriate. The reason for the fittingness and delightsomeness of praise is the great mercy shown to Israel in the Restoration, which mercy is in the psalmist’s thoughts throughout this part. He has the same fondness for using participles as the author of the previous psalm, and begins Psalms 147:2, Psalms 147:3, Psalms 147:4, and Psalms 147:6 with them. Possibly their use is intended to imply that the acts described by them are regarded as continuous, not merely done once for all. Jehovah is ever building up Jerusalem, and, in like manner, uninterruptedly energising in providence and nature. The collocation of Divine acts in Psalms 147:2 bears upon the great theme that fills the singer’s heart and lips. It is the outcasts of Israel of whom he thinks, while he sings of binding up the brokenhearted. It is they who are the "afflicted," helped up by that strong, gentle clasp; while their oppressors are the wicked, flung prone by the very wind of God’s hand. The beautiful and profound juxtaposition of gentle healing and omnipotence in Psalms 147:3-4, is meant to signalise the work of restoring Israel as no less wondrous than that of marshalling the stars, and to hearten faith by pledging that incalculable Power to perfect its restoring work. He who stands beside the sick bed of the brokenhearted, like a gentle physician, with balm and bandage, and lays a tender hand on their wounds, is He who sets the stars in their places and tells them as a shepherd his flock or a commander his army. The psalmist borrows from Isaiah 40:26-29, where several of his expressions occur. "Counting a number for the stars" is scarcely equivalent to numbering them as they shine. It rather means determining how many of them there shall be. Calling them all by names (lit., He calls names to them all) is not giving them designations, but summoning them as a captain reading the muster roll of his band. It may also imply full knowledge of each individual in their countless hosts. Psalms 147:5 is taken from the passage in Isaiah already referred to, with the change of "no number" for "no searching," a change which is suggested by the preceding reference to the number of the stars. These have a number, though it surpasses human arithmetic; but His wisdom is measureless. And all this magnificence of power, this minute particularising knowledge, this abyss of wisdom, are guarantees for the healing of the broken hearted. The thought goes further than Israel’s deliverance from bondage. It has a strong voice of cheer for all sad hearts, who will let Him probe their wounds that He may bind them up. The mighty God of Creation is the tender God of Providence and of Redemption. Therefore "praise is comely," and fear and faltering are unbefitting.

The second part of the psalm (Psalms 147:7-11) passes out from the special field of mercy to Israel, and comes down from the glories of the heavens, to magnify God’s universal goodness manifested in physical changes, by which lowly creatures are provided for. The point of time selected is that of the November rains. The verbs in Psalms 147:8, Psalms 147:9, Psalms 147:11, are again participles, expressive of continuous action. The yearly miracle which brings from some invisible storehouse the clouds to fill the sky and drop down fatness, the answer of the brown earth which mysteriously shoots forth the tender green spikelets away up on the mountain flanks, where no man has sown and no man will reap, the loving care which thereby provides food for the wild creatures, owned by no one, and answers the hoarse croak of the callow fledglings in the ravens’ nests-these are manifestations of God’s power and revelations of His character worthy to be woven into a hymn which celebrates His restoring grace, and to be set beside the apocalypse of His greatness in the mighty heavens. But what has Psalms 147:10 to do here? The connection of it is difficult to trace. Apparently, the psalmist would draw from the previous verses, which exhibit God’s universal goodness and the creatures’ dependence on Him, the lesson that reliance on one’s own resources or might is sure to be smitten with confusion, while humble trust in God, which man alone of earth’s creatures can exercise, is for him the condition of his receiving needed gifts. The beast gets its food, and it is enough that the young ravens should croak, but man has to "fear Him" and to wait on His "lovingkindness." Psalms 147:10 is a reminiscence of Psalms 33:16-17, and Psalms 147:11 of the next verse of the same psalm.

The third part (Psalms 147:12-20) travels over substantially the same ground as the two former, beginning with the mercy shown to the restored Israel, and passing on to the wider manifestations of God’s goodness. But there is a difference in this repeated setting forth of both these themes. The fortifications of Jerusalem are now complete, and their strength gives security to the people gathered into the city. Over all the land once devastated by war peace broods, and the fields that lay desolate now have yielded harvest. The ancient promise {Psalms 81:16} has been fulfilled, its condition having been complied with, and Israel having hearkened to Jehovah. Protection, blessing, tranquillity, abundance, are the results of obedience, God’s gifts to them that fear Him. So it was in the psalmist’s experience; so, in higher form, it is still. These Divine acts are continuous, and as long as there are men who trust, there will be a God who builds defences around them and satisfies them with good.

Again the psalmist turns to the realm of nature; but it is nature at a different season which now yields witness to God’s universal power and care. The phenomena of a sharp winter were more striking to the psalmist than to us. But his poet’s eye and his devout heart recognise even in the cold, before which his Eastern constitution cowered shivering, the working of God’s Will. His "commandment" or Word is personified, and compared to a swift-footed messenger. As ever, power over material things is attributed to the Divine word, and as ever, in the Biblical view of nature, all intermediate links are neglected, and the Almighty cause at one end of the chain and the physical effect at the other are brought together. There is between these two clauses room enough for all that meteorology has to say.

The winter piece in Psalms 147:16-17 dashes off the dreary scene with a few bold strokes. The air is full of flakes like floating wool, or the white mantle covers the ground like a cloth; rime lies everywhere, as if ashes were powdered over trees and stones. Hailstones fall, as if He flung them down from above. They are like "morsels" of bread, a comparison which strikes us as violent, but which may possibly describe the more severe storms, in which flat pieces of ice fall. As by magic, all is changed when He again sends forth His word. It but needs that He should let a warm wind steal gently across the desolation, and every sealed and silent brook begins to tinkle along its course. And will not He who thus changes the face of the earth in like manner breathe upon frost-bound lives and hearts,

"And every winter merge in spring"?

But the psalm cannot end with contemplation of God’s universal beneficence, however gracious that is. There is a higher mode of activity for His word than that exercised on material things. God sends His commandment forth and earth unconsciously obeys, and all creatures, men included, are fed and blessed. But the noblest utterance of His word is in the shape of statutes and judgments, and these are Israel’s prerogative. The psalmist is not rejoicing that other nations have not received these, but that Israel has. Its privilege is its responsibility. It has received them that it may obey them, and then that it may make them known. If the God who scatters lower blessings broadcast, not forgetting beasts and ravens, has restricted His highest gift to His people, the restriction is a clear call to them to spread the knowledge of the treasure entrusted to them. To glory in privilege is sin; to learn that it means responsibility is wisdom. The lesson is needed by those who today have been served as heirs to Israel’s prerogative, forfeited by it because it clutched it for itself, and forgot its obligation to carry it as widely as God had diffused His lower gifts.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 147". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/psalms-147.html.
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