Bible Commentary: Psalm 147

You are here

Bible Commentary

Psalm 147

Login or Create an Account

With a UCG.org account you will be able to save items to read and study later!

Sign In | Sign Up

×

Psalm 147, the second of the final five Hallelujah Psalms, praises the Almighty Creator and Provider for His special devotion to His chosen nation, thanking Him for gathering Israel's exiles to Jerusalem, blessing them with peace and abundance and teaching them His statutes and judgments. The Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible divides the composition into two separate psalms (verses 1-11, 12-20). However, besides the unity maintained in the Hebrew text tradition and the cohesiveness of the subject matter, it has been argued that there is "a good defense for the unity [of the work] by a careful analysis of the structural components, repetition, and parallelism" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, introductory note on Psalm 147).

Thanking God in a psalm for the gathering of Israel's outcasts (verse 2) would seem to suggest some actual experience of this as a present reality when the song was composed. The return of exiles here is paired with the "building up" of Jerusalem (see same verse), which probably refers to increasing population in addition to the restoration of buildings and institutions. Many commentators believe this psalm was composed following the return of the Jewish exiles from captivity in Babylon, which seems a reasonable conclusion. A number try to further pin down the setting, believing that the reference to Jerusalem's gates being strengthened in verse 13 hints at the work of Nehemiah in rebuilding the city walls and gates. Some even suggest that this psalm was the one sung at the dedication of the rebuilt walls (see Nehemiah 12:27-43 Nehemiah 12:27-43 [27] And at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought the Levites out of all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem, to keep the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings, and with singing, with cymbals, psalteries, and with harps. [28] And the sons of the singers gathered themselves together, both out of the plain country round about Jerusalem, and from the villages of Netophathi; [29] Also from the house of Gilgal, and out of the fields of Geba and Azmaveth: for the singers had built them villages round about Jerusalem. [30] And the priests and the Levites purified themselves, and purified the people, and the gates, and the wall. [31] Then I brought up the princes of Judah on the wall, and appointed two great companies of them that gave thanks, whereof one went on the right hand on the wall toward the dung gate: [32] And after them went Hoshaiah, and half of the princes of Judah, [33] And Azariah, Ezra, and Meshullam, [34] Judah, and Benjamin, and Shemaiah, and Jeremiah, [35] And certain of the priests' sons with trumpets; namely, Zechariah the son of Jonathan, the son of Shemaiah, the son of Mattaniah, the son of Michaiah, the son of Zaccur, the son of Asaph: [36] And his brothers, Shemaiah, and Azarael, Milalai, Gilalai, Maai, Nethaneel, and Judah, Hanani, with the musical instruments of David the man of God, and Ezra the scribe before them. [37] And at the fountain gate, which was over against them, they went up by the stairs of the city of David, at the going up of the wall, above the house of David, even to the water gate eastward. [38] And the other company of them that gave thanks went over against them, and I after them, and the half of the people on the wall, from beyond the tower of the furnaces even to the broad wall; [39] And from above the gate of Ephraim, and above the old gate, and above the fish gate, and the tower of Hananeel, and the tower of Meah, even to the sheep gate: and they stood still in the prison gate. [40] So stood the two companies of them that gave thanks in the house of God, and I, and the half of the rulers with me: [41] And the priests; Eliakim, Maaseiah, Miniamin, Michaiah, Elioenai, Zechariah, and Hananiah, with trumpets; [42] And Maaseiah, and Shemaiah, and Eleazar, and Uzzi, and Jehohanan, and Malchijah, and Elam, and Ezer. And the singers sang loud, with Jezrahiah their overseer. [43] Also that day they offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced: for God had made them rejoice with great joy: the wives also and the children rejoiced: so that the joy of Jerusalem was heard even afar off.
American King James Version×
). There is, however, no way to know this, especially as God's strengthening of Zion's gates may be a figurative expression of His protection.

Even with a historical context for Psalm 147, the return of Israel's outcasts should not be limited to the small Jewish return from ancient Babylon. Rather verse 2 is evidently meant in an ongoing sense. As time went on, God would further build up Jerusalem and gather the exiles--including those not only of Judah but of all Israel. As we know from other passages, this would happen in stages. Outcasts of Israel would first return to God in a spiritual sense--the forerunners in this return forming spiritual Zion or Jerusalem, the Church of God. Romans 11 explains that the Israelites were broken off from God's covenant nation for disobedience, yet they would be grafted back in, in a spiritual return, through repentance--along with gentiles who would also become part of Israel spiritually. As also explained in that chapter, those returning are the elect according to grace--again, God's Church. And this is a forerunner of a greater return of all Israel in the future--that return being both spiritual and geographic--as shown in numerous prophecies. There is no way to know whether the psalmist himself understood all this--but God, who inspired the psalm, certainly did.

The future gathering of all Israel to the Promised Land will occur when Jesus Christ returns in power and glory: "For the LORD shall build up Zion; He shall appear in His glory. He shall regard the prayer of the destitute, and shall not despise their prayer. This will be written for the generation to come, that a people yet to be created may praise the LORD" (Psalms 102:16-18 Psalms 102:16-18 [16] When the LORD shall build up Zion, he shall appear in his glory. [17] He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer. [18] This shall be written for the generation to come: and the people which shall be created shall praise the LORD.
American King James Version×
). Psalms 147:3 Psalms 147:3He heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds.
American King James Version×
speaks similarly of God healing the brokenhearted and binding up their wounds--God's most important rebuilding work being within the human heart. In an ultimate sense these words apply to the wonderful time of God's intervention to come. Yet there was a vital measure of application for the returned exiles at the time of the song's composition--and so it is with us today. Indeed, this was part of the mission of the Messiah (Isaiah 61:1-2 Isaiah 61:1-2 [1] The Spirit of the Lord GOD is on me; because the LORD has anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; [2] To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;
American King James Version×
), and Jesus has already embarked on this mission (Luke 4:16-21 Luke 4:16-21 [16] And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read. [17] And there was delivered to him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, [18] The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, [19] To preach the acceptable year of the Lord. [20] And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. [21] And he began to say to them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.
American King James Version×
) as He builds His Church, spiritual Zion, the Israel of God.

The psalm then abruptly turns to the matter of just who is doing this great work. It is the same One who made the vast universe and who also takes care of it (Psalms 147:4-9 Psalms 147:4-9 [4] He tells the number of the stars; he calls them all by their names. [5] Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite. [6] The LORD lifts up the meek: he casts the wicked down to the ground. [7] Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; sing praise on the harp to our God: [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×
). Verses 4-6 are evidently taken in part from Isaiah 40, which mentions God counting the stars and calling them all by name (verse 26), as well as His understanding being unsearchable (verse 28) and His giving power to the weak who wait on Him (verses 29-31). As noted in the Beyond Today Bible Commentary on Isaiah 40:26 Isaiah 40:26Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who has created these things, that brings out their host by number: he calls them all by names by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one fails.
American King James Version×
, the concept of God counting and naming all the stars is staggering beyond comprehension. For given that there are at least a hundred billion galaxies of a hundred billion stars each, naming each star at a rate of one per second would take more than 21,000 times the 15-billion-year age that scientists claim for the universe. "Great [indeed] is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite" (Psalms 147:5 Psalms 147:5Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.
American King James Version×
).

Thus He certainly knows how to care for those in need and render judgment on those who defy Him (compare verse 6). This contrast of verse 6--lifting the humble (tying back to verse 3) and casting down the wicked--parallels statements in the previous two psalms (Psalms 145:14-20 Psalms 145:14-20 [14] The LORD upholds all that fall, and raises up all those that be bowed down. [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. [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 146:7-9 Psalms 146:7-9 [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 147:7-9 Psalms 147:7-9 [7] Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; sing praise on the harp to our God: [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×
calls for thanks to God for not only His creation but for causing life to flourish through His care and provision. Giving food to the animals (verse 9a) recalls God providing for all living things in 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.
American King James Version×
. The imagery of feeding the crying young ravens (Psalms 147:9 Psalms 147:9He gives to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry.
American King James Version×
b) is drawn from God's own words in Job 38:41 Job 38:41Who provides for the raven his food? when his young ones cry to God, they wander for lack of meat.
American King James Version×
. As the Beyond Today Bible Commentary covered on that verse, Job was to understand that God's point was about more than animals. Rather, as Jesus said to human beings about God providing for the birds, "Are you not of more value than they?" (Matthew 6:26 Matthew 6:26Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much better than they?
American King James Version×
).

The next verse, Psalms 147:10 Psalms 147:10He delights not in the strength of the horse: he takes not pleasure in the legs of a man.
American King James Version×
, should not be taken to mean that God doesn't enjoy horses and their powerful strength or that he is unhappy with His creation of human legs. Rather, these things are elements in which people placed undue trust--horses and the strength and endurance of men's legs being military assets. Consider Psalms 33:16-17 Psalms 33:16-17 [16] There is no king saved by the multitude of an host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength. [17] An horse is a vain thing for safety: neither shall he deliver any by his great strength.
American King James Version×
: "No king is saved by the multitude of an army; a mighty man is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a vain hope for safety; neither shall it deliver any by its great strength." There is only one reliable source of deliverance: "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the LORD our God" (Psalms 20:7 Psalms 20:7Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God.
American King James Version×
). The point of Psalms 147:10-11 Psalms 147:10-11 [10] He delights not in the strength of the horse: he takes not pleasure in the legs of a man. [11] The LORD takes pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.
American King James Version×
is that God is not looking for powerful people or armies to prop Him up. He doesn't need that at all. Instead, He wants humble people who realize their need for Him--who properly fear Him and rely on His hesed, His mercy or loving devotion.

For the exiles who returned from ancient Babylon this was a sorely needed message. They were weak militarily and beset by neighboring enemies. God says essentially: "Look, you don't need to be some elite fighting force to be My people. You just look to Me, and I'll take care of whatever needs to be taken care of." We see this in the next verses, where the people of Jerusalem are told to praise God--for He has strengthened their gates, He has blessed their children, He gives them peace on their borders and He abundantly provides them with the best crops (Psalms 147:12-14 Psalms 147:12-14 [12] Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion. [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×
).

Verses 15-18 illustrate again God's rule over nature, the imagery in this case being one of winter weather. Stress is put on the elements of creation being immediately responsive to God's commands (verses 15, 18)--a pattern that should be followed by God's people, as implied in verses 19-20. There are perhaps other spiritual lessons here as well. It is hard to bear the bitter cold (verse 17). But in God's time, seasonally, warm breezes come, the cold is broken, ice accumulation melts and water flows (verse 18)--again demonstrating God's providence, and this on His time schedule. This is something to consider when times are hard. Know that there's a point to it and that circumstances will ultimately vastly improve, culminating in refreshment and fulfillment.

Finally, far more important than the physical help and sustenance God has given to Israel is the blessing of His instruction--the code of conduct laid out in His Word. The words in verses 19-20 (coupled with the last verse of the next song, 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.
American King James Version×
) echo those of Moses in Deuteronomy 4:7-8 Deuteronomy 4:7-8 [7] For what nation is there so great, who has God so near to them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call on him for? [8] And what nation is there so great, that has statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?
American King James Version×
: "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?" God has not blessed any other nation in this way. In fact, for other nations to participate in this exclusive relationship, they must become part of Israel in a spiritual sense.

Of course, just understanding God's laws is not enough. We must, as the natural realm, obey the commands God gives if they are to do us any good. Yet in our case He has given us the choice of whether to obey Him or not. Rejection of God's commands excludes a person from God's chosen covenant nation. Thus, for the returning outcasts, true return to God resulting in His healing and help requires embracing God's laws and living by them. The same applies to us.