Psalm 147

Praise the Lord!
For it is good to sing praises to our God;
For it is pleasant, and praise is beautiful.

The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
He gathers together the outcasts of Israel.

He heals the broken-hearted
And binds up their wounds.

He counts the number of the stars;
He calls them all by name.

Great is our Lord, and mighty in power;
His understanding is infinite.

The Lord lifts up the humble;
He casts the wicked down to the ground.

Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
Sing praises on the harp to our God,

Who covers the heavens with clouds,
Who prepares rain for the earth,
Who makes grass to grow on the mountains.

He gives to the beast its food,
And to the young ravens that cry.

He does not delight in the strength of the horse;
He takes no pleasure in the legs of a man.

The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him,
In those who hope in His mercy.

Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem!
Praise your God, O Zion!
For He has strengthened the bars of your gates;
He has blessed your children within you.

He makes peace in your borders,
And fills you with the finest wheat.

He sends out His command to the earth;
His word runs very swiftly.

He gives snow like wool;
He scatters the frost like ashes;

He casts out His hail like morsels;
Who can stand before His cold?

He sends out His word and melts them;
He causes His wind to blow, and the waters flow.

He declares His word to Jacob,
His statutes and His judgments to Israel.

He has not dealt thus with any nation;
And as for His judgments, they have not known them.
Praise the Lord!

I do not intend going through this Psalm line by line. Rather, I hope to explore what this Psalm is saying, and what the Psalm may mean for us, Gentiles, in the 21st century. I explored some of the commentaries to get other's views as I prepared this synopsis, and found that some commentaries are short in their words. For example:

Psalm 147. The author emphasizes three truths: God is beyond humanity; God is involved in humanity; and God is to be praised by humanity. Surrounding the psalm with calls for praise (147: 1, 20) and strategically positioning similar calls (147: 7, 12), the psalmist creates three sections that highlight God's immanence and transcendence (147: 2-6, 8-11, 13-20).

Immanence—God helps the hurting (147: 2-3), benefits the godly but opposes the ungodly (147: 6, 10-11, 19-20), and meets the needs of humans and animals (147: 9, 13-14).

Transcendence—God directs the universe (147: 4), comprehends what humans cannot even imagine (147: 5), and controls nature (147: 8, 15-18).[1]

In a nutshell, and very succinctly this is an interesting synopsis and one we can touch on as we explore further. I also found in what is known as the Treasury of David, there are 38 pages and over 18 000 words exploring this Psalm. Hopefully, I land somewhere between these two! To start though, we need to note that this Psalm does not acknowledge an author, and indeed, there are some who believe this was written post restoration to Jerusalem after the exile, whilst others say it could have been David, other's say Ezra or Nehemiah. If post exile and when the walls and the temple had been rebuilt, it may explain why the Psalm is so joyous and effusive towards God. It is certainly written by someone who can feel the presence of God, and recognises His awesome power, that vibe shines through from beginning to end. It would be good to have so much praise inside, that such a Psalm could be written today by us, that can be homework for you, get into the spirit, through prayer and meditation on not the problems of life, but that great promise to come, eternity with Him, then express the praise that should burst forth with these thoughts.

If we start with the first two verses we find that it reads as a vow, a solemn vow to God. I will extol You, my God, O King; and I will bless Your name forever and ever. Every day I will bless You, and I will praise Your name forever and ever. There is no half-heartedness here. I will, is the opening statement, which is repeated no less than three more times. Four times he emphasises the actions he will take, first the action to extol or praise God, the author's King, second blessing God's name, forever and forever, even into eternity, one can read into this, thirdly, every day he will also bless God, and finally, the same repeated words, praising God forever and forever. Where do we sit with this sentiment? Are we too busy to praise and worship every day, never skipping, never forgetting, or even feeling miffed towards God that we withhold praise - God forbid that this should occur. It is a stirring opening and gives us a clue as to the calibre of the author, their absolute loyalty towards God, and absolute resolve to serve Him.

We now come to the first section. It is an interesting set of verses, as the first statement is that of God's care for His people, first His city - Jerusalem, then those that are no longer in Israel, those that are no longer seen as part of Israel, and then recognising a broken hearted people, a people whose hearts are down cast, broken as well. The Psalmist makes these statements, identifying these troubled souls, and the need for his interventions with the people of His promise, then there is this strange, but amazing statement. The Psalmist writes without gap: He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name. Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite. What combines these two verses? The final statement is the key, great is our God, a God with infinite understanding. The infinite part is clearly exampled by knowing the name of all the starts, billions of them, but then is the preceding words about the need to intervene for His people.

As I read and re-read these verses, and checked out the thoughts of others, I think that this is an emphasis on the wow factor of God. Often, in the human world, the scientists (I choose them as they are the ones that study the stars for a myriad of reasons), those highly knowledgeable people, seem to have little to do with the little people. They are outside of the circle of social interaction. Men in particular have wives that care for the children as they travel the world, presenting at conferences, imparting their wisdom, their parents being cared for by others. You get the picture! Here we have a God who is able to recognise and speak it states, to the very stars, individually, yet, His people need their broken hearts mended, their ways sorted, and he stoops down as it were and does that too. God is not some distant God, who is out there amongst the stars, though that is where He also is. He is here with us, we His children, He loves us and cares for us as well. We can see this in Luke 4:18-19

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the broken-hearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord."

Note some similar words here, as found in Psalm 147. Note the liberty to the captives, which offers what seems to be a clue to the broken-hearted as written in our verses.

Next as we read, we see our Psalm return to this same theme of God being there for His creation, feeding the ravens, as well as other animals, and helping his people. God is for all, and overall. No wonder the Psalmist brings in the praises at regular intervals. Here we see what the commentator first mentioned is on about. The author is switching from the help God provides humanity, in this case His people, then what he provides His creation, the birds and animals, and the praise humanity should be offering back. God is transcendent, he reaches the most distant stars, and the feeblest person, and if you know the Old Testament, he does not forget His people.

Next we see the likes and dislikes of God, muscles, strength, physique, all those things that the world admires if you listen to them, are not on God's list. He wants the humble, those that fear Him, that is, the attributes he is looking for in us. Note both man and horse are mentioned here, remembering that the horse was the creature he created, but God is telling us that perhaps we admire the horse for the wrong reason. Certainly we have a racing industry that is full of wickedness, godlessness, and sucks people in often to their financial doom, all over the muscles and racing ability of the horse. Here is a lesson for us, one that need no further explanation.

To fear God is not an isolated statement in this Psalm. In Genesis (22:12) we come across Abraham, and God noting his fear: And He said, "Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me." The willingness to sacrifice one's own son, on the basis of a request from God, shows the standing God had in Abraham's life. He was a friend of God's yet still he feared the LORD. What does this word fear really mean though? It has been covered before by others, but I think it worthwhile just getting it right in our heads each time. Fear in today's world is that of being scared. Fear of terrorism, fear of the future with climate change, that type of thing. Fear in the Biblical context is different. It has a greater, higher meaning, for it relates to our relationship with God. On this earth we can have it with our parents, though in today's dismal world, little respect and fear of parents are present, and where fear is present it is usually associated with abuse.

Proverbs 2; 1-5 tells us how we understand this concept, this relationship attribute we must have with our God:

My son, if you receive my words, and treasure my commands within you,
So that you incline your ear to wisdom, and apply your heart to understanding;
Yes, if you cry out for discernment, and lift up your voice for understanding,
If you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will understand the fear of the Lord

Note all the ‘ands' present - receive words and treasure them, seek out wisdom and apply it, vigorously seek discernment and for pray for understanding, with the final two emphasising the same thing - that is, it is very important to seek, to search the mind of God, to gain the wisdom God offers us. To understand the fear we must have for God, let us consider these verses from Hebrews 12 (28 & 29):

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire.

We must never forget the awe and reverence we need to have for God. We must never forget the grace that has given us eternal life, forgiveness that has removed from us hell fire and God's wrath. This will enable us to praise God with all our heart, all the time, as we can read as happening in this Psalmist's life.  What does fearing God bring to us? Our text today reminds us that we give Him pleasure. Is that not reason enough? God though knows the frailty of the human mind and he offers us more than His own pleasure. For example Psalm 128 tells us in the opening verses:

Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord,
Who walks in His ways.
When you eat the labour of your hands,
You shall be happy, and it shall be well with you.
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
In the very heart of your house,
Your children like olive plants
All around your table.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed
Who fears the Lord.

The next passage has all the things that will come about when he reigns on this earth. However, it can happen now in our own lives, though there will remain sorrow, tears, pain, and suffering, that cannot stop until evil is dealt with forever at the last days.

For He has strengthened the bars of your gates;
He has blessed your children within you.
He makes peace in your borders,
And fills you with the finest wheat.
He sends out His command to the earth;
His word runs very swiftly.

The last line is an interesting one; “I have spoken before about the timing of God“. It seems that when God reigns, and some equate this passage to the 1000 year millennial period, Israel with live in peace and God's words will run swiftly. Who knows what this really means, we think it great that in a second we can get a voice across to the other side of the world, we can send live pictures within seconds, but God's words will run very swiftly. A call to God will get an immediate response, how awesome is that promise. Here too we have absolute security with gates strengthened by God.

All of this is applicable today, if we hand our lives over to Him. It may not be literal, for God may place us in prison for our faith, and we eat the scraps thrown to us, but spiritually, all is possible through the Holy Spirit being allowed free reign in our lives to direct our paths, and provide communication to our God, as we find in a verse I have highlighted before, but one so critical in our relationship with God: Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Romans 8:26.

We then move to Job like verses:

He gives snow like wool;
He scatters the frost like ashes;
He casts out His hail like morsels;
Who can stand before His cold?
He sends out His word and melts them;
He causes His wind to blow, and the waters flow.

I belong to an online photography group, we share daily pictures. Right now in the Northern Hemisphere snow like wool lies about. So much so that a Christian contributor posted a photo of the ground covered in snow, and the verse:  “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool. Isaiah 1:18. We take climate for granted, or blame man, or even curse ‘Mother Nature'. But the weather comes from God. God created the physics and quantum mechanics that make the weather happen. Sure, we are doing bad things to the atmosphere, with our polluting ways, but God has His hands on the storehouses of snow. Job 36:27-29: tells us: For He draws up drops of water, which distil as rain from the mist, which the clouds drop down and pour abundantly on man. Indeed, can anyone understand the spreading of clouds, the thunder from His canopy?

Let us consider these words for a moment. At first glance these words seem like a nice comparative things that can be attributed to God. A second look and we see snow, hail, frost and cold. It is winter, yet snow is described as wool. I read that this was a common phrase back in those days, and if you talk to an Inuit, they use snow to build their houses in winter (or used to) as it has excellent insulating properties, and helps to keep you warm. We complain about winter often; the frosts burn-off our plants; snow is difficult to move about in; hail is not so great, especially when the apples are ripening. But we need to be reminded that some plants will not, and won't bear fruit if the temperatures don't get cold enough. A peach tree does poorly if it is grown in warmer climates. Snow provides melt waters that keep the rivers running right into summer even here in alpine regions of Australia. It also melts into the ground at spring, allowing the ground to quite literally spring forth, often with bulbs sending brilliant flowers into the renewing and greening surrounds. He sends out His word and melts them; He causes His wind to blow, and the waters flow. These words appear to be literal, but when we meet the Lord for the first time, our hearts are like ice, God's Word melts our hearts, and allows His living waters to flow within us. Spurgeon writes; When the frost is sharpest, and the ice is hardest, the Lord intervenes; and though he doth no more than send his word, yet the rocks of ice are dissolved at once, and the huge bergs begin to float into the southern seas. The phenomena of winter are not so abundant in Palestine as with us [UK], yet they are witnessed sufficiently to cause the devout to bless God for the return of spring. At the will of God snow, hoarfrost, and ice disappear, and the time of the opening bud and the singing of birds has come. For this let us praise the Lord as we sun ourselves amid the spring flowers.

The final section is an interesting one:>

He declares His word to Jacob, His statutes and His judgments to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any nation; and as for His judgments, they have not known them. Praise the Lord!

Abraham received the covenant, and these verses speak specifically of the separation of Israel out from that region as a people for God, His special people. The Psalmist reaches back to Jacob who became Israel, in the same way we can reach forward to the future and see that the destiny and place of Israel in God's sight remains unchanged as a nation. Romans 3:1 tells us: What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God. Deuteronomy 4:5-8 makes this very clear: "Surely I have taught you statutes and judgments, just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should act according to them in the land which you go to possess. Therefore be careful to observe them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes, and say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people. '"For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the Lord our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day? They have been God's people as from when God first communed, and wrestled with Jacob, and made promises to him, whilst touching his hip to turn the victory away from him. You may ask, why does this Psalm say that they do they not know God's judgements? Sure, individuals and groups of Jews will as they have rejected Christ, as well as their own covenant. But we must not confuse judgement with what we suffer today. Judgement comes at the end, and Israel will be restored. They will praise God. They will be His special nation once more. Ezekiel tells us in chapter 37:21-23:  , "Thus says the Lord God: 'Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again. They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. Then they shall be My people, and I will be their God.

So we see the promise to Israel that has lasted over 4000 years; and to this day that promise stands. They will be re-established as a nation, despite their apostasy, their wandering away from God. They remain God's chosen people, His nation, we will also have part of what God is offering, but this something is special, as seen in our Psalm's last verses. We had better remember, no matter what occurs in Israel, God is there, they are His people. Countries have been unable to defeat Israel, and if countries are against Israel, they tend to find trouble in their own countries, look at Syria today, Lebanon, internal turmoil, Egypt's current waning relationship with Israel and their current civil strife. God looks after His children forever, a sure promise to us, that we stand firm with Him, He is our God, He will still be there for us, if we get into trouble, or fail in walking His way.

To finish, I will give you someone else's' summary. It says it so well. “…what can be wanting to a nation which "strengthened" with walls, "blessed" with multitudes, hath "peace" in the border, "plenty" in the field, and, what is all in all, God in the sanctuary: God the bar of the "gate", the Father of the children, the crown of the "peace", the staff of the "plenty"? The haven "gate" restored, a "city" blessed, a "border" quieted, a "field" crowned, a "sanctuary" beautified with the oracles of God. What can be wanting to such a people, but a mouth filled, a heart enlarged, a spirit exalted in the praises of the Lord? "Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise thy God, O Zion" [2]

[1] Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary (2012) , Gary M. Burge & Andrew E. Hill (Editors), Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids USA

[2] Quote of  Edward Reynolds in a Sermon entitled "Sion's Praises", 1657 in Charles H Spurgeon, Treasury of David - Psalm  147 (also in hard cover - republished by Hendrickson, USA).  (Accessed 13 August 2014)

Stephen B Simon
February 2013 (CCC)
\Psalms\Psalm 147 (SBS)