PSALM 147

Measureless Power, Matchless Grace

Psalm 147 is actually two poems in the Greek OT, dividing between verses 11 and 12. But if we consider this incredible psalm in its entirety, clearly there is only one psalm here with one overriding theme and purpose: boundless praise to God for His beneficent acts.

Most scholars put this psalm historically during the restoration of Jerusalem, during which time the OT books of Ezra and Nehemiah were written. It must have been a strange time, when Ezra the priest entered what was once Jerusalem after his 5 month trek across the wilderness, accompanied by some 2,000 exiles. For 13 years they worked to rebuild the city, but Ezra’s main concern was the re-introduction of the Mosaic law into the consciousness of his people. After 13 years, along came Ezra’s cupbearer, Nehemiah, and then the rebuilding efforts really took off. The city was rebuilt and the walls around Jerusalem were put back up. It was a perilous time and the work was staggering in its scope.

Finally, the city, wall, and Temple had been rebuilt, and the time came for the purification of the priests, Levites, the population of Jerusalem, the Temple and city, and finally, for the first time since the Exile, it was time to worship the Lord in His Temple. Some scholars believe that the last four psalms, 147—150, were sung at this time.

Considering what this remnant had been through to get back home and rebuild it, some people might think it remarkable that they were able sing with such gratitude to God. After all, as some people might think, the people themselves did all the work of rebuilding. What was it, exactly, that God did? they ask.  The people had to defend themselves during the years of rebuilding. What did God do? But then, this faithful remnant saw things much more clearly than some others do. We, today, are so short-sighted. We are so self-centered. Most Christians today do not have a sense of awe when we consider the greatness of God. Most Christians have no fear of God. The Church of Jesus Christ can learn a lesson from the attitude and the words of this faithful remnant. Let’s examine this psalm and discover why the people praised God so.

1. God’s power in redemption, 147:1—6

This psalm begins as so many other ones do, with Hallelu-Yah! But this “praise the Lord” was not given out of a sense of sentiment or emotion; this expression of praise was based upon fact. Subsequent facts for praise will be given in subsequent verses, but the Hallelu-Yah is to be viewed by children of God as a duty; the celebration of our God is our responsibility. We don’t often view worship of God as a duty or responsibility. In our culture, many believers think they need to be “moved” to worship by a hymn or song. Truthfully, though, we ought to be moved by God Himself to worship. Maybe Isaac Watts expressed it best:

When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died;
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.
How good it is to sing praises to our God, how pleasant and fitting to praise him! (verse 1)

The whole sense of verse one is that is fitting, right, and proper for the Christian to praise God. It may well be that the last thing you feel like doing is praising God; yet it is your solemn duty to praise Him! In fact, that is the very best time to praise God; praise releases the Holy Spirit within you to minister to you. If you step out in faith and praise God when everything inside you doesn’t want to, the Spirit will sweep over you, giving you such joy and peace as you’ve never had before. It’s like a “reward” for doing the right thing. We miss so much doing what we feel like doing instead of doing what we should be doing.

In verses 2—6, the psalmist gives us some secondary facts about God’s goodness that ought to move us to praise Him.

(1) The Lord is good is allowing his people the experience of restoration, verses 2, 3

Notice an interesting thing: the people did the work, but it was the Lord who “builds, heals, and binds up.” It was the Lord who allowed those 2,000 exiles to return home. It was the Lord who allowed them to rebuild the ruins of their city. But all of this activity was according to the Word of the Lord:

The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when this city will be rebuilt for me from the Tower of Hananel to the Corner Gate. The measuring line will stretch from there straight to the hill of Gareb and then turn to Goah. The whole valley where dead bodies and ashes are thrown, and all the terraces out to the Kidron Valley on the east as far as the corner of the Horse Gate, will be holy to the LORD. The city will never again be uprooted or demolished.” (Jeremiah 31:38—40)

Jeremiah wrote that stunning prophecy as his people were going into their exile. The restoration of Jerusalem was a done deal in the mind of God even before it fell. God had promised that something would happen, and as the people set their hearts and minds to do the work and will of God, He accomplished what He said would come to pass. But the people had to step out in faith and work with Him. Not that God needed their help; but He allowed them to work and to be a part of the process.

God always lets human beings participate in the fulfilment of His prophetic word. But our God is not cold, nor is His will cold and mechanical. God knows who the brokenhearted are. God knows who needs to be healed. And He looks after them. Sometimes God will use doctors and other human beings to fulfill His will, just as He let the remnant participate in His rebuilding of Jerusalem.

(2) The Lord is good to His creation, verses 4, 5.

When believers are able to take their eyes off themselves; as they broaden their scope to consider God’s creation at large, they will receive true encouragement. These verses forever put to rest the ridiculous debate over creation. Of course there is a Creator! The Creator of all is our God. But not only has God created everything, but He sustains everything He created. God did not just “throw it all out there,” like some kind of “big bang.” Look at how He cares for what He made:

He determines the number of the stars and calls them each by name. (verse 4)

The writer to Hebrews understood this and frames it in the context of the work of Jesus Christ:

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. (Hebrews 1:3)

Do you think that the God who made everything, who named the stars and holds everything together, cannot understand YOU? Or your problems? Not to downplay the seriousness of your problems, but, really, what is so big and so overwhelming to you is nothing to Him.

Great is our Lord and mighty in power; his understanding has no limit. (verse 5)

Our God is all powerful and there is nothing beyond His understanding. We may think we know it all, but He KNOWS it all.

(3) The Lord is good to sustain and vindicate His people, verse 6.

Not only does the Lord sustain nature, but He sustains His people. He is a able judge and ultimately will vindicate His people in total justice and fairness.

2. God’s power in nature, 147:7—11

The second stanza of this powerful, theologically-packed psalm deals mostly with God’s power as manifested in the phenomena of nature. It opens with another call to praise and thank God:

Sing to the LORD with grateful praise; make music to our God on the harp. (verse 7)

But this isn’t a simple “praise break” someone may take during their day. The sense here is a kind of organized praise, with at least one musical instrument. There is no effort to be spared in praising God.

God deserves to be praised because He is the “good King” over all He has created. God cares for and sustains everything: the cattle and the ravens being just two representatives of the wild kingdom. The Lord is sovereign over all, from the stars and galaxies in the all the universe, to the lowliest creature on the Earth. Look at what our God does for the things He created:

  • He makes it rain;
  • He makes the grass grow;
  • He feeds cattle;
  • He hears the cry of birds for food and He feeds them!

Verses 10 and 11 concern human beings, and it would do well for all of us to understand them well:

His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor his delight in the power of human legs; the LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.

The strength of the horse or the strength of human beings—as marvelous creations they may be—is not what moves God. God is moved by those who “fear him, who put their hope” in Him. It’s not that God wants you quivering in terror in church Sunday morning. But maybe what God wants is for His children to get back a sense of child-like awe and wonder at their Heavenly Father! The bigger your God is, the easier it will be for you to depend on Him for your needs. We glibly pray, “give us this day our daily bread,” but do we really expect God to do that? We usually forget those words the second we pray them. God wants us to depend on Him—it makes Him happy when we depend on Him. If you want to see God smile, try trusting Him for a change.

3. God’s power in history, 147:12—20

In these verses, the psalmist gives reasons why Zion—Jerusalem, should praise God. All these reasons are firmly based in history:

  • Yahweh has promised to be Israel’s god and to live with her, 132:13—16;
  • Yahweh has promised to rule over Israel, 146:10;
  • Yahweh strengthen the city and brings peace;
  • Yahweh has given His Word to His people;
  • Yahweh has blessed His people unlike any people on the earth.

The believer has a similar history with God, for we are the recipients of tremendous promises, just as the Hebrews were so long ago. Here is just a handful of promises for you; all reasons to praise God:

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thessalonians 4:13—17)

Marvelous promises! We could praise God for hours for just the one paragraph!

Do you realize that all nature is at God’s command? All the seasons change at His Word. That’s all the science you really need to know. In fact, the intricacies of the world around us should move us to praise God. God’s people praise Him for His control of nature, and they praise Him because He has given us His Word:

He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. (verse 19)

This, of course, was written about the Jews, but has God also not given Christians His precious Word? Of course He has, and He ought to be praised for that. When was the last time you praised God for the Bible? Like Israel, we are prone to forget the preciousness of God’s Word; we take it for granted, but it should be a motive to praise God. Just as the Word of God was His gift to Israel that would separate it from all nations around it, so the Word of God is His gift to the Church that separates us from the world around us.

He has done this for no other nation… (verse 20)

Israel never realized this. Christians also don’t realize how differently God treats them from the rest of the world. We are blessed beyond our comprehension. And yet we, like Israel, look at what the world has and we want what they have. We have so much more than they can ever have! This psalm is fraught with reasons to stop and praise God. There are 20 verses of reasons to praise God. There is never a reason to not praise the Lord.

The next time you sit down to pray and can’t think a good reason to praise God, take out your Bible, turn to Psalm 147.  Pretty soon you’ll have scores of reason to praise your God.

(c) 2011 WitzEnd
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