Bible Commentary: Psalm 146

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Psalm 146

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We come now to the concluding section of the book of Psalms, the final Hallel ("Praise") collection (Psalms 146-150)--the other two being the Egyptian Hallel (113-118) and the Great Hallel (120-136). In this final cluster of five untitled and unattributed hymns, each is bracketed at beginning and end by shouts of Hallelujah! ("Praise Yah," typically appearing as "Praise the LORD")--perhaps added by the final editors of the Psalter (see in comparison Psalms 105-106 and 111-117).

The Zondervan NIV Study Bible comments: "The Psalter collection [the whole book of Psalms] begins with two psalms that address the reader and whose function is to identify those to whom the collections [of the Psalter] specifically belong [that is, those who fit the profile of the righteous as portrayed in the Psalms--the holy congregation of God] (see...Psalm 1-2). Here, at the collection's end, that congregation gives voice to its final themes. They are the themes of praise--and calls to praise--of Zion's heavenly King (see Psalm 146:10; Psalm 147:12; Psalm 149:2), the Maker, Sustainer and Lord over all creation (see Psalm 146:6; Psalm 147:4, Psalm 147:8-9, Psalm 147:15-18; Psalm 148:5-6); the one sure hope of those who in their need and vulnerability look to him for help (see Psalm 146:5-9; Psalm 147:2-3, Psalm 147:6, Psalm 147:11, Psalm 147:13-14; Psalm 149:4); the Lord of history whose commitment to his people is their security and the guarantee that, as his kingdom people (see especially Psalm 147:19-20), they will ultimately triumph over all the forces of this world arrayed against them (see Psalm 146:3, Psalm 146:10; Psalm 147:2, Psalm 147:6, Psalm 147:10, Psalm 147:13-14; Psalm 148:14; Psalm 149:4-9)" (introductory note on Psalms 146-150).

The psalms of this final section are typically thought to have been composed following the Jewish return from Babylonian Exile. However, there is no way to really know whether this is the case. It does seem likely that these psalms were at least arranged as a concluding group at that time. The Latin Vulgate translation follows the Greek Septuagint in attributing Psalms 146 and 147 (with the latter divided into two psalms) to the postexilic prophets Haggai and Zechariah respectively. However, there is no other evidence to corroborate this.

Psalm 146, the first in the final Hallel collection, is, as the Zondervan NIV Study Bible notes, "a hymn in praise of Zion's heavenly King, with special focus on his powerful and trustworthy care for Zion 's citizens who look to him when oppressed, broken or vulnerable. It has many thematic links with Psalm 33; 62; 145." Indeed, there are a number of very close links to the latter, the previous psalm, as we will see--thus providing a good transition from the Davidic collection (138-145) to the final collection of psalms (146-150).

Following the opening general declaration of Hallelujah or "Praise the LORD," the psalmist gives the same imperative to himself (verse 1)--and all who sing the song thus proclaim this directive to themselves as well. "O my soul" here is simply a way of speaking to oneself. For a similar directive, compare the opening and closing of Psalms 103 and 104.

Psalm 146:3-5 echoes Psalm 118:8-9 in calling on people to not trust in mortal human beings no matter what their station in life but rather to look to God. Of course, we have to trust people to a certain extent as part of life. The point here is that other human beings should not be our ultimate source of trust. For that we must rely on God (compare also Jeremiah 17:5, Jeremiah 17:7).

Incidentally, note that the New King James Version translates the end of verse 4 to say that when a human being dies and his spirit leaves his body, at the same time "his plans perish." The NIV says, "his plans come to nothing," and other modern translations follow suit. However, the earlier King James Version renders this literally to say "his thoughts perish." While thoughts can certainly include plans, there is no valid basis here for limiting the scope of the word. Rather, the basis in this case is one of doctrinal bias, and this is a good example of how such bias can influence translation. No doubt later translators found the literal wording untenable given their belief in the immortality of the human soul wherein consciousness continues apart from the body--a doctrine not supported by Scripture. The Bible instead teaches that at death a person's thoughts do in fact cease: "The dead know nothing.... There is no work or device or knowledge in the grave where you are going" (Ecclesiastes 9:5, Ecclesiastes 9:10). Death is elsewhere portrayed in Scripture as an unconscious sleep. Life after death is not as a disembodied consciousness but will come only through a future resurrection of the dead to a new body.

Returning now to the progression of the psalm, let's note again that verse 5 gives the contrast to verses 3-4. Rather than trusting in mortal man, "happy" or "blessed" (NIV) is the person who relies on God for help. The remainder of the psalm then explains why this is so, showing that God--the Almighty Creator, Sustainer and Deliverer, who faithfully loves and cares for those in need, and who (in contrast to dying) lives and reigns forever--can truly be counted on.

"The LORD raises those who are bowed down" (verse 8) is essentially repeated from the previous psalm (compare Psalm 145:14). God giving food to the hungry (Psalm 146:7) is also found in the previous psalm (Psalm 145:15-16). Furthermore, God caring for the righteous and upending the wicked is found in both songs (Psalm 145:17-20; Psalm 146:8-9)--as is the focus on God reigning forever (Psalm 145:13; Psalm 146:10).

As in many psalms, God is identified with His nation of Israel. Note in verse 5 that He is the "God of Jacob," and in verse 10 that He is referred to "Your God, O Zion." Israel and Zion are the special recipients of God's attentive care and blessings. We will see this focus in the next psalm as well. Yet we should recognize, as throughout the Psalter, that these names can apply to God's spiritual people as well--His Church. Moreover the ultimate fulfillment of the help promised in both psalms will come with the future establishment of the Kingdom of God over all nations--who must all become part of Israel in a spiritual sense.