Friday, December 27, 2013

Notes on Psalm 147

Psalm 147 Page 804-805, BCP

Laudate Dominum

1 Hallelujah!
How good it is to sing praises to our God!

how pleasant it is to honor him with praise!

2 The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem;

he gathers the exiles of Israel.

3 He heals the brokenhearted

and binds up their wounds.

4 He counts the number of the stars

and calls them all by their names.

5 Great is our LORD and mighty in power;

there is no limit to his wisdom.

6 The LORD lifts up the lowly,

but casts the wicked to the ground.

7 Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;

make music to our God upon the harp.

8 He covers the heavens with clouds

and prepares rain for the earth;

9 He makes grass to grow upon the mountains

and green plants to serve mankind.

10 He provides food for flocks and herds

and for the young ravens when they cry.

11 He is not impressed by the might of a horse;

he has no pleasure in the strength of a man;

12 But the LORD has pleasure in those who fear him,

in those who await his gracious favor.

13 Worship the LORD, O Jerusalem;

praise your God, O Zion;

14 For he has strengthened the bars of your gates;

he has blessed your children within you.

15 He has established peace on your borders;

he satisfies you with the finest wheat.

16 He sends out his command to the earth,

and his word runs very swiftly.

17 He gives snow like wool;

he scatters hoarfrost like ashes.

18 He scatters his hail like bread crumbs;

who can stand against his cold?

19 He sends forth his word and melts them;

he blows with his wind, and the waters flow.

20 He declares his word to Jacob,

his statutes and his judgments to Israel.

21 He has not done so to any other nation;

to them he has not revealed his judgments.

Here we have yet another psalm of praise from those “Hallelujah Psalms” at the end of the psalter. This one has definite connections to our Isaiah reading: praising God (v.1), God rebuilding Jerusalem and gathering the exiles (v.3), and agricultural abundance (v. 9).

This psalm has obvious uses in worship, and includes three strophes or sections that are each begun with a call to worship (or praise) at verses 1, 7, and 13. Some scholars in the early church wondered if this psalm wasn’t actually three separate psalms, and the Septuagint makes a separate psalm out of verses 12-20, yet there actually is a unifying theme of praise that makes it more likely that these are related units.

Strophe 1, verses 1-6, praises God for restoring Jerusalem and justice to the oppressed. In verse 3, the claim of Isaiah 61:1 is echoed in that God heals the brokenhearted. Strophe 2, verses 7-11, gives instructions on HOW to praise (with music from a harp), and depicts God as wondrous through natural phenomena, and points out that everything is subordinate to God, even the strength of creatures, whether horse or human (which were signs of strength and might in battle). Strophe 3 brings together the themes of the first two sections, calling Jerusalem to worship God, whose command of the wind and waters (especially frozen waters- so perfect for the season) and giving of the law reveals God’s particular love and care for Israel (Jacob).

And what God do we praise? A God who not only hears the cries of the broken-hearted, but can number and name all of the stars (vv. 3-4). This is the God of action in the present tense, who in verses 2-10: rebuilds, gathers, heals, binds up, counts, calls, lifts up, casts, covers, prepares, makes (to grow), and provides. There then follows three actions in the present perfect tense (meaning it has already taken place sometime in the past whether recently or long ago is unclear): God has strengthened, has blessed, has established peace (vv. 14-15). We then return to more active verbs in the last five and a half verses beginning in 15b: God satisfies, sends out, gives, scatters (twice), sends forth, blows, and declares. God is incredibly active, indeed.

The verbs used to describe the response to God are to sing praises and honor God (v.1); to sing and make music (v. 7); and worship and praise (v. 13). We are reminded of how much we receive from God, and in return the first thing we must offer is worship and obedience- to “fear him,” and “await his gracious favor” (v. 12).

God’s might is emphasized in verses 16-21 in images especially appropriate for the start of winter: snow, hoarfrost, and hail— God is master of them all, and can melt them away with his word that is carried on his breath like the wind.

God’s “word” is used three times, and indicates “command” or “commandment” and later “statute” or “law.” God gave the law to Israel (the other name for Jacob) as a sign of particular favor to her. The point of God’s activity is directed toward generously saving us and loving us as beloved, treasured children.

Links for more information:
Walter D. Zorn, The College Press NIV Commentary: Psalms, vol. 2

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