This is another of the last five psalms that have no title in the Hebrew text, but each of these last five begin and end with Hallelujah or Praise the LORD!
A. Praising God for His protection and preservation.
1. (1) The goodness of hallelujah.
Praise the LORD!
For it is good to sing praises to our God;
For it is pleasant, and praise is beautiful.
a. Praise the LORD: These words are both a declaration and an encouragement of praise to Yahweh. We are encouraged to praise Yahweh with the psalmist.
i. “There is no heaven, either in this world, or the world to come, for people who do not praise God. If you do not enter into the spirit and worship of heaven, how should the spirit and joy of heaven enter into you?” (Pulsford, cited in Spurgeon)
b. It is good to sing praises to our God: It was right for the psalmist to tell himself and others to praise the LORD, and he assumed that God’s people would do it with singing. The goodness of praise comes from the truth that it is, in itself, pleasant and beautiful.
i. Psalm 33:1 says praise from the upright is beautiful. True praise is beautiful to God, to His people as a community, and to the individual worshipper.
ii. Praise is pleasant and beautiful for humanity. “It is decent, befitting, and proper that every intelligent creature should acknowledge the Supreme Being: and as he does nothing but good to the children of men, so they should speak good of his name.” (Clarke)
iii. Since praise is beautiful, “…an unthankful man is an ugly, ill-favoured spectacle.” (Trapp)
2. (2-6) The care and power of God.
The LORD builds up Jerusalem;
He gathers together the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
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.
a. The LORD builds up Jerusalem, He gathers together the outcasts of Israel: The psalmist describes the goodness and greatness of God so he and others would have reasons to praise God. The first reason is God’s active care for Jerusalem, perhaps a reference to its restoration after the exile.
i. “The twelfth chapter of Nehemiah tells how the Levites were brought to the city to lead a grand celebration ‘with songs of thanksgiving and with the music of cymbals, harps and lyres’ (Nehemiah 12:27).” (Boice) It would have been fitting for them to sing this psalm, especially Psalm 147:2-3.
ii. In a sermon titled Good Cheer for Outcasts, Spurgeon considered the many kinds of outcasts that Jesus gathers and blesses today.
· Outcasts may be the very poorest and most despised among men.
· Outcasts may be those who have made themselves so by their wickedness.
· Outcasts may be those who judge themselves to be outcasts.
· Outcasts may be backsliders from the church.
· Outcasts may be those who have fallen into great depression of spirit.
· Outcasts may be those who suffer for righteousness’ sake.
b. He heals the brokenhearted: God not only cares for communities, but also for individuals. Those who hurt – the brokenhearted and the wounded – are special objects of His care.
i. “Hearts are broken through disappointment. Hearts are broken through bereavement. Hearts are broken in ten thousand ways, for this is a heart-breaking world; and Christ is good at healing all manner of heartbreaks” (Spurgeon).
ii. Spurgeon described many reasons why Jesus is good at healing the brokenhearted.
· Jesus is educated for this work, having His own heart broken.
· Jesus is experienced in this work, having healed broken hearts for 2,000 years.
· Jesus is willing to take the worst patients, and has never yet lost a patient.
· Jesus heals broken hearts with medicine that He himself provides.
iii. “That God tells the number of the stars is only what we should expect of Him…. But that He should be able to bend over one broken heart and bind it with His sympathy and heal its flowing wounds, this is wonderful, amazing, divine.” (Meyer)
c. He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name: The same God who cares for the lowly individual also knows and names all the stars. His majesty extends in both directions, from the span of the universe to the individual need.
i. The psalmist allowed us to the make the logical conclusion – that if God knows and names all the stars, He certainly knows me and names me.
ii. Apparently in the days of Matthew Poole (1624-79), astronomers numbered 1,025 stars. “He telleth the number of the stars, which no man can do, Genesis 22:17. For those thousand and twenty-five which astronomers number, are only such as are most distinctly visible to the eye, and most considerable for their influences.” In the 21st century scientists estimate that there are 1 billion trillion stars in the observable universe. God knows the exact number.
iii. He calls them all by name: “Calling them all by names (lit., He calls names to them all) is not giving them designations, but summoning them as a captain reading the muster roll of his band. It may also imply full knowledge of each individual in their countless hosts.” (Maclaren)
iv. “The ‘stars’ are not forces or deities as in the ancient Near East but created entities over which the Lord is sovereign.” (VanGemeren)
d. Great is our Lord, and mighty in power: The psalmist again described God in the highest aspects of His majesty (His understanding is infinite) and in the lowest and most compassionate aspects of His majesty (the LORD lifts up the humble).
i. “It turns upside down the familiar argument that in so great a universe our small affairs are too minute to notice.” (Kidner)
ii. His understanding is infinite: “There is no fathoming his wisdom, or measuring his knowledge. He is infinite in existence, in power, and in knowledge, as these three phrases plainly teach us.” (Spurgeon)
e. The LORD lifts up the humble; He casts the wicked down to the ground: This is much like the phrase repeated throughout in the Scriptures – God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble (as in Proverbs 3:34, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5).
i. “He reverses the evil order of things. The meek are down, and he lifts them up; the wicked are exalted, and he hurls them down to the dust.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “As a man ranks himself in one or other of these two divisions, he may expect from heaven storm or sunshine, mercy or judgment.” (Horne)
B. Praising God for His work in nature.
1. (7-9) Exhortation to sing praises.
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.
a. Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving: As we understand God’s majesty in both its heavenly and earthly expressions, it should create in us a natural response of praise. We bring our praise with song, with thanksgiving, and with music (on the harp to our God).
i. Our God: “He is ‘our God,’ whether he be the God of other men or not. He is ‘our God’ by his choice of us, and by our choice of him; ‘our God’ by eternal covenant, to whom we also pledge ourselves.” (Spurgeon)
b. Who covers the heavens with clouds, who prepares rain for the earth: God’s power and loving care come together again in His work in nature. He brings rain, He makes grass to grow, and He gives to the beast its food.
i. To the young ravens: “…which he mentions, partly, because they were most contemptible, especially to the Jews, to whom they were unclean and forbidden for food; partly, because they are greedy and voracious; and partly, because they are not only neglected by men, but also forsaken by their [mothers] as soon as ever they can fly, and so are wholly left to the care and keeping of Divine Providence.” (Poole)
ii. “The Lord is sovereign over and concerned with all his creation, not only the magnificent stars, but also the lowly creatures on earth. How different is the God of Israel from Baal, whose [supposed] powers of rain and fertility were nothing in comparison!” (VanGemeren)
2. (10-11) What delights the LORD.
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.
a. He does not delight in the strength of a horse: We take great interest in the power of God’s creation, whether it is the strength of a horse or the strength in the legs of a man. God created these things, but they are not what fundamentally delight Him.
b. The LORD takes pleasure in those who fear Him: What God takes pleasure in is the reverence and trust of His people. Those who find their hope in His mercy delight God, because they honor Him with their trust.
i. Mercy here is the word hesed, which refers to the great love of God, especially in the context of loyalty to His promises and covenant. It pleases God when we hope in His loyal love, His loving kindness.
ii. Those who fear Him…those who hope: “Marks of new birth are fear and hope. They fear, for they are sinners; they hope, for God is merciful. They fear him, for he is great; they hope in him, for he is good. Their fear sobers their hope; their hope brightens their fear: God takes pleasure in them both in their trembling and in their rejoicing.” (Spurgeon)
C. Praising God for His wisdom, power, and word.
1. (12-18) More praise for the God of great care and power.
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.
a. Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem: The exhortation to praise comes again, with another hallelujah. The more we understand and explain the power and care of God, the more we should praise Him.
b. He has strengthened the bars of your gates: This begins a series of four great and compassionate acts God had done for His people. Each of these were a reason for praise. Our worship is not empty adoration; it is gratitude for specific goodness and the anticipation of future goodness.
· He gives security (strengthen the bars of your gates).
· He gives a future (bless your children within you).
· He gives peace (peace in your borders).
· He gives provision (fills you with the finest wheat).
i. He has strengthened the bars of your gates: “The fortifications of Jerusalem are now complete, and their strength gives security to the people gathered into the city. Over all the land once devastated by war peace broods, and the fields that lay desolate now have yielded harvest.” (Maclaren)
c. He sends out His command to the earth: This begins a series of short descriptions of God’s presence and work in the natural world. God’s work in the natural world begins with His command to the earth, with His word that runs very swiftly.
i. The Apostle Paul asked for prayer in 2 Thessalonians 3:1, asking that the word of the Lord may run swiftly and be glorified. Paul probably had Psalm 147:15 in mind when he wrote that.
ii. His word runs very swiftly: “If God’s word runs very swiftly, then it can even overtake those who run away from it. Not only can the Lord come quickly to those who seek him, but he can overtake those who hasten away from him.” (Spurgeon)
iii. His command: “…which is sufficient without any instruments to execute whatsoever pleaseth him, either in works of nature or of providence. His word runneth very swiftly; the thing is done without delay or difficulty.” (Poole)
d. He gives snow like wool: The psalmist considered God’s power as it is seen in cold weather. The snow, the frost, the hail, and the cold are all expressions of His power in nature. Then, when God sends out His word and melts them, it is another expression of His power.
i. Hebrews 1:3 describes Jesus as the one who is upholding all things by the word of His power. Psalm 147:18 reminds us that even the natural order of snow and melting and flowing waters happens as God sends out His word.
ii. Sends out His word and melts them: “He can as easily melt the hardest heart by his Word, made effectual to such a purpose by his Holy Spirit. If that wind does but blow, the waters of penitent tears will soon flow.” (Trapp)
iii. He causes His wind to blow: Spain attempted to invade England in 1588. The first step of their plan was to defeat the English Navy at sea. They sent 130 ships against England’s 90 ships, yet at a critical point of the long battle, a strong wind turned the Spanish armada away and more than half their fleet was lost. “The English victory was complete. The Spanish defeat was total. The English celebrated their deliverance by minting a new issue of coins, which bore the Latin inscription Affavit Deus (‘God blew’), taken from Psalm 147:18: ‘He stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow.’ In those days there was at least one nation that knew how to praise God for its safety.” (Boice)
2. (19-20) The presence and goodness of God’s word to Israel.
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!
a. He declares His word to Jacob: The same God who orders and directs the natural world through His word has also brought the revelation of His heart and mind through His word to Israel. He has declared His statutes and His judgments to Israel.
i. The declaration of His word shows that God regards humanity as rational and capable of relationship. “So by addressing us, not programming us, God shows that he seeks a relationship, not simply a sequence of actions carried out.” (Kidner)
ii. “The Jews were God’s library keepers; and unto them (as a special favour) were committed those lively and life-giving oracles, Romans 3:2.” (Trapp)
iii. “He who is the Creator is also the Revealer. We are to praise the Lord above all things for his manifesting himself to us.” (Spurgeon)
b. He has not dealt thus with any nation: God uniquely chose Israel to be the receivers and guardians of His revealed word. He did not choose the Philistines or the Edomites or the Egyptians for this role. The other nations have not known the judgments of God (that is, His word).
i. As the Apostle Paul would later write, one of the chief advantages God gave to Israel is that He committed to them the oracles of God (Romans 3:2). Israel received this responsibility seriously, and took great care to copy, learn, and preserve the Hebrew Scriptures.
ii. “The psalmist is not rejoicing that other nations have not received these, but that Israel has. Its privilege is its responsibility. It has received them that it may obey them, and then that it may make them known.” (Maclaren)
c. Praise the LORD: Understanding the greatness of God, His care for humanity and all of nature, and the remarkable power and nature of His word, should move us to praise Him all the more. Hallelujah!
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org