Expositor's Bible Commentary
Praise ye the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul.Psalm 146:1-10THE long-drawn music of the Psalter closes with five Hallelujah psalms, in which, with constantly swelling diapason, all themes of praise are pealed forth, until the melodious thunder of the final psalm, which calls on everything that has breath to praise Jehovah. Possibly the number of these psalms may have reference to the five books into which the Psalter is divided.
This is the first of the five. It is largely coloured by earlier songs, but still throbs with fresh emotion. Its theme is the blessedness of trust in Jehovah, as shown by His character and works. It deals less with Israel’s special prerogatives than its companions do, while yet it claims the universally beneficent Ruler as Israel’s God.
The singer’s full heart of thanksgiving must first pour itself out in vows of perpetual praise, before he begins to woo others to the trust which blesses him. Exhortations are impotent unless enforced by example. Psalm 146:2 is borrowed with slight variation from Psalm 104:33.
The negative side of the psalmist’s exhortation follows in Psalm 146:3-4 which warn against wasting trust on powerless men. The same antithesis between men and God as objects of confidence occurs in many places of Scripture, and here is probably borrowed from Psalm 118:8. The reason assigned for the dehortation is mainly man’s mortality. However high his state, he is but a "son of Adam" (the earth born), and inherits the feebleness and fleetingness which deprive him of ability to help. "He has no salvation" is the literal rendering of the last words of Psalm 146:3 b. Psalm 60:11 gives the same thought, and almost in the same words. Psalm 146:4 sets forth more fully man’s mortality, as demonstrating the folly of trusting in him. His breath or spirit escapes; he goes back to "his earth," from which he was created; and what becomes of all his busy schemes? They "perish" as he does. The psalmist has a profound sense of the phantasmal character of the solid-seeming realities of human glory and power. But it wakes no bitterness in him, nor does it breathe any sadness into his song. It only teaches him to cling the more closely to the permanent and the real. His negative teaching, if it stood alone, would be a gospel of despair, the reduction of life to a torturing cheat; but taken as the prelude to the revelation of One whom it is safe to trust, there is nothing sad in it. So the psalm springs up at once from these thoughts of the helplessness of mortal man, to hymn the blessedness of trust set upon the undying God, like a song bird from its lair in a graveyard, which pours its glad notes above the grassy mounds, as it rises in spirals towards the blue, and at each gives forth a more exultant burst of music.
The exclamation in Psalm 146:5 is the last of the twenty-five "Blesseds" in the Psalter. Taken together, as any concordance will show, beginning with Psalm 1:1-6, they present a beautiful and comprehensive ideal of the devout life. The felicity of such a life is here gathered up into two comprehensive considerations, which supplement each other. It is blessed to have the God of Jacob on our side; but it is not enough for the heart to know that He bore a relation to another in the far-off past or to a community in the present. There must be an individualising bond between the soul and God, whereby the "God of Jacob" becomes the God who belongs to the single devout man, and all the facts of whose protection in the past are renewed in the prosaic present. It is blessed to have Jehovah for one’s "help," but that is only secured when, by the effort of one’s own will, He is clasped as one’s "hope." Such hope is blessed, for it will never be put to shame, nor need to shift its anchorage. It brings into any life the all-sufficient help which is the ultimate source of all felicity, and makes the hope that grasps it blessed, as the hand that holds some fragrant gum is perfumed by the touch.
But the psalmist passes swiftly from celebrating trust to magnify its object, and sets forth in an impressive series the manifold perfections and acts which witness that Jehovah is worthy to be the sole Confidence of men.
The nine Divine acts, which invite to trust in Him, are divided into two parts, by a change in construction. There is, first, a series of participles (Psalm 146:6-7 b), and then a string of brief sentences enumerating Divine deeds (Psalm 146:7-9). No very clear difference in thought can be established as corresponding to this difference in form. The psalmist begins with God’s omnipotence as manifested in creation. The first requisite for trust is assurance of power in the person trusted. The psalmist calls heaven and earth and sea, with all their inhabitants as witnesses that Jehovah is not like the son of man, in whom there is no power to help.
But power may be whimsical, changeable, or may shroud its designs in mystery; therefore, if it is to be trusted, its purposes and methods must be so far known that a man may be able to reckon on it. Therefore the psalm adds unchangeable faithfulness to His power. But Power, however faithful, is not yet worthy of trust, unless it works according to righteousness, and has an arm that wars against wrong; therefore to creative might and plighted troth the psalmist adds the exercise of judgment. Nor are these enough, for the conception which they embody may be that of a somewhat stern and repellent Being, who may be reverenced, but not approached with the warm heart of trust; therefore the psalmist adds beneficence, which ministers their appropriate food to all desires, not only of the flesh, but of the spirit. The hungry hearts of men, who are all full of needs and longing, may turn to this mighty, faithful, righteous Jehovah, and be sure that He never sends mouths but He sends meat to fill them. All our various kinds of hunger are doors for God to come into our spirits.
The second series of sentences deals mainly with the Divine beneficence in regard to man’s miseries. The psalmist does not feel that the existence of these sad varieties of sorrow clouds his assurance in God’s goodness. To him they are occasions for the most heart-touching display of God’s pitying, healing hand. If there is any difference between the two sets of clauses descriptive of God’s acts, the latter bring into clearer light His personal agency in each case of suffering. This mighty, faithful, righteous, beneficent Jehovah, in all the majesty which that name suggests, comes down to the multitude of burdened ones and graciously deals with each, having in His heart the knowledge of, and in His hand the remedy for, all their ills. The greatness of His nature expressed by His name is vividly contrasted with the tenderness and lowliness of His working. Captives, blind persons, and those bowed down by sorrows or otherwise appeal to Him by their helplessness, and His strong hand breaks the fetters, and His gentle touch opens without pain the closed eyes and quickens the paralysed nerve to respond to the light, and His firm, loving hold lifts to their feet and establishes the prostrate. All these classes of afflicted persons are meant to be regarded literally, but all may have a wider meaning and be intended to hint at spiritual bondage, blindness, and abjectness.
The next clause (Psalm 146:8 c) seems to interrupt the representation of forms of affliction, but it comes in with great significance in the centre of that sad catalogue: for its presence here teaches that not merely affliction, whether physical or other, secures Jehovah’s gracious help, but that there must be the yielding of heart to Him, and the effort at conformity of life with His precepts and pattern, if His aid is to be reckoned on in men’s sorrows. The prisoners will still languish in chains, the blind will grope in darkness, the bowed down will lie prone in the dust, unless they are righteous.
The series of afflictions which God alleviates is resumed in Psalm 146:9 with a pathetic triad-strangers. widows, and fatherless. These are forlorn indeed, and the depth of their desolation is the measure of the Divine compassion. The enumeration of Jehovah’s acts, which make trust in God blessed in itself, and the sure way of securing help which is not vain, needs but one more touch for completion, and that is added in the solemn thought that He, by His providences and in the long run, turns aside (i.e. from its aim) the way of the wicked. That aspect of God’s government is lightly handled in one clause, as befits the purpose of the psalm. But it could not be left out. A true likeness must have shadows. God were not a God for men to rely on, unless the trend of His reign was to crush evil and thwart the designs of sinners.
The blessedness of trust in Jehovah is gathered up into one great thought in the last verse of the psalm. The sovereignty of God to all generation., suggests the swift disappearance of earthly princes, referred to in Psalm 146:4. To trust in fleeting power is madness; to trust in the Eternal King is wisdom and blessedness, and in some sense makes him who trusts a sharer in the eternity of the God in whom is his hope, and from whom is his help.