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 Psalms 146:10 Psalms 146:10The LORD shall reign for ever, even your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise you the LORD.
American King James Version×
; Psalms 147:12 Psalms 147:12Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion.
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; Psalms 149:2 Psalms 149:2Let Israel rejoice in him that made him: let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.
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), the Maker, Sustainer and Lord over all creation (see Psalms 146:6 Psalms 146:6Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keeps truth for ever:
American King James Version×
; Psalms 147:4 Psalms 147:4He tells the number of the stars; he calls them all by their names.
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, Psalms 147:8-9 Psalms 147:8-9 [8] Who covers the heaven with clouds, who prepares rain for the earth, who makes grass to grow on the mountains. [9] He gives to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry.
American King James Version×
, Psalms 147:15-18 Psalms 147:15-18 [15] He sends forth his commandment on earth: his word runs very swiftly. [16] He gives snow like wool: he scatters the hoarfrost like ashes. [17] He casts forth his ice like morsels: who can stand before his cold? [18] He sends out his word, and melts them: he causes his wind to blow, and the waters flow.
American King James Version×
; Psalms 148:5-6 Psalms 148:5-6 [5] Let them praise the name of the LORD: for he commanded, and they were created. [6] He has also established them for ever and ever: he has made a decree which shall not pass.
American King James Version×
); the one sure hope of those who in their need and vulnerability look to him for help (see Psalms 146:5-9 Psalms 146:5-9 [5] Happy is he that has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God: [6] Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keeps truth for ever: [7] Which executes judgment for the oppressed: which gives food to the hungry. The LORD looses the prisoners: [8] The LORD opens the eyes of the blind: the LORD raises them that are bowed down: the LORD loves the righteous: [9] The LORD preserves the strangers; he relieves the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turns upside down.
American King James Version×
; Psalms 147:2-3 Psalms 147:2-3 [2] The LORD does build up Jerusalem: he gathers together the outcasts of Israel. [3] He heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds.
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, Psalms 147:6 Psalms 147:6The LORD lifts up the meek: he casts the wicked down to the ground.
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, Psalms 147:11 Psalms 147:11The LORD takes pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.
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, Psalms 147:13-14 Psalms 147:13-14 [13] For he has strengthened the bars of your gates; he has blessed your children within you. [14] He makes peace in your borders, and fills you with the finest of the wheat.
American King James Version×
; Psalms 149:4 Psalms 149:4For the LORD takes pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation.
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); the Lord of history whose commitment to his people is their security and the guarantee that, as his kingdom people (see especially Psalms 147:19-20 Psalms 147:19-20 [19] He shows his word to Jacob, his statutes and his judgments to Israel. [20] He has not dealt so with any nation: and as for his judgments, they have not known them. Praise you the LORD.
American King James Version×
), they will ultimately triumph over all the forces of this world arrayed against them (see Psalms 146:3 Psalms 146:3Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help.
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, Psalms 146:10 Psalms 146:10The LORD shall reign for ever, even your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise you the LORD.
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; Psalms 147:2 Psalms 147:2The LORD does build up Jerusalem: he gathers together the outcasts of Israel.
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, Psalms 147:6 Psalms 147:6The LORD lifts up the meek: he casts the wicked down to the ground.
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, Psalms 147:10 Psalms 147:10He delights not in the strength of the horse: he takes not pleasure in the legs of a man.
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, Psalms 147:13-14 Psalms 147:13-14 [13] For he has strengthened the bars of your gates; he has blessed your children within you. [14] He makes peace in your borders, and fills you with the finest of the wheat.
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; Psalms 148:14 Psalms 148:14He also exalts the horn of his people, the praise of all his saints; even of the children of Israel, a people near to him. Praise you the LORD.
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; Psalms 149:4-9 Psalms 149:4-9 [4] For the LORD takes pleasure in his people: he will beautify the meek with salvation. [5] Let the saints be joyful in glory: let them sing aloud on their beds. [6] Let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two-edged sword in their hand; [7] To execute vengeance on the heathen, and punishments on the people; [8] To bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron; [9] To execute on them the judgment written: this honor have all his saints. Praise you the LORD.
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)" (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.

Psalms 146:3-5 Psalms 146:3-5 [3] Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. [4] His breath goes forth, he returns to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish. [5] Happy is he that has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God:
American King James Version×
echoes Psalms 118:8-9 Psalms 118:8-9 [8] It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man. [9] It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in princes.
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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 17:5Thus said the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusts in man, and makes flesh his arm, and whose heart departs from the LORD.
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, Jeremiah 17:7 Jeremiah 17:7Blessed is the man that trusts in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is.
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).

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 9:5For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.
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, Ecclesiastes 9:10 Ecclesiastes 9:10Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, where you go.
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). 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 Psalms 145:14 Psalms 145:14The LORD upholds all that fall, and raises up all those that be bowed down.
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). God giving food to the hungry (Psalms 146:7 Psalms 146:7Which executes judgment for the oppressed: which gives food to the hungry. The LORD looses the prisoners:
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) is also found in the previous psalm (Psalms 145:15-16 Psalms 145:15-16 [15] The eyes of all wait on you; and you give them their meat in due season. [16] You open your hand, and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
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). Furthermore, God caring for the righteous and upending the wicked is found in both songs (Psalms 145:17-20 Psalms 145:17-20 [17] The LORD is righteous in all his ways, and holy in all his works. [18] The LORD is near to all them that call on him, to all that call on him in truth. [19] He will fulfill the desire of them that fear him: he also will hear their cry, and will save them. [20] The LORD preserves all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy.
American King James Version×
; Psalms 146:8-9 Psalms 146:8-9 [8] The LORD opens the eyes of the blind: the LORD raises them that are bowed down: the LORD loves the righteous: [9] The LORD preserves the strangers; he relieves the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turns upside down.
American King James Version×
)--as is the focus on God reigning forever (Psalms 145:13 Psalms 145:13Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.
American King James Version×
; Psalms 146:10 Psalms 146:10The LORD shall reign for ever, even your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise you the LORD.
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).

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.