Psalm 147

Psalm 147 is the second of the group of five ‘Hallelujah!’ psalms that close the collection. Book V of the Psalms (107 (106) to the end) contains the highest concentration of praise and thanksgiving, but even so, some quite personal psalms attributed to David appear towards the end, including the laments of 142 (141) and 143 (142). David is also credited with 144 (143), which is mixture of thanksgiving and plea for help, and 145 (144). Gerald Wilson (The Editing Of The Hebrew Psalter, 1995) sees a progression through the Psalter from a focus on David to a focus on God. Certainly, in Psalm 145 (144), the last of the David psalms in the collection, we have a beautiful psalm of praise, without any specific reference to David’s life. It’s as if David has stopped worrying and has come to a place of peace and rest in God.

Psalm 146 (145) perhaps hints at a departure from focusing on David: ‘Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals in whom there is no help.’ (v.3). In contrast (v.5): ‘Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob.’ We move into this closing section of the collection with a call to look to God, not to heroes of the past. Each of these five last psalms begins and ends with the exclamation, ‘Hallelujah!’ The worship and prayers of the community, expressed out of the whole range of human experience, come to rest in praise.

Another thing comes to rest with Psalm 147, and that is the controversy between the numbering systems of the Greek bible and the Hebrew bible. With Psalm 147, I can stop writing the Greek numbering in brackets after the Hebrew. The numbering of the Psalms goes adrift as early as psalms 9 and 10 in Hebrew, which are joined together as one psalm, 9, in the Greek translation (known as the Septuagint, parts of which date back to the 3rd Century BCE). There is a little more combining and dividing around Psalms 113-116, but then it is not until the Greek combines its numbers 146 and 147 that the numbers in the two traditions again coincide. Following the decision of the translators of the Authorised/King James Version, Protestant bibles tend to use the Hebrew numbering and Catholic bibles the Greek. Is it too much to claim that Psalm 147 symbolises the unifying of different traditions, not least of Catholic and Protestant? It is at least a hopeful thought, I think, that in the end, we will set our squabbles, ambitions and jealousies aside because they no longer seem important in the light of the reality of God. All divisions will be healed and we will be united in praising God.

Psalm 147 also symbolises the unifying of all creation. The psalm flows between statements about creation and statements about salvation, without any sense of difference. For example, verse 3 to verse 4:

God heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.

He determines the number of stars and gives to all of them their names.

This flow between acts of creation and salvation continues throughout the psalm, without differentiating between them as if creation and salvation are separate categories of the acts of God. They are two sides of the same coin, as God delivers the creation from its bondage to decay and makes a new creation (to borrow imagery from Romans 8.21, 2 Corinthians 5.17, Isaiah 65.17, etc). In Psalm 147, there is no sense of linear history along the lines of creation, fall, restoration. Every statement is in the present tense. It’s as if the whole of the universe, from start to finish, is held in this moment of praise hanging in eternity between two Hallelujahs.

Lastly, Psalm 147 brings together our actions and God’s actions. I think this is one of the ways in which praise and thanksgiving is transformational. If God binds up the wounds of the broken-hearted (v.3), what about me? If God cares for the animals (v.9), what about me? What am I doing? Honest praise presents me with a challenge. If I praise God for lifting up the down-trodden, but I am lazy about issues of justice and the impact of my life on the poor and on suffering creation, then I need to do something about my hypocrisy.  I need to bring my life into alignment with my hope and faith in God. I think the psalm alludes to this in vv.19-20, which could easily be read arrogantly, just as it is so easy to be arrogant about the blessing of God. Ancient Israel’s calling was always to demonstrate godly living amongst the Gentiles: to be a ‘priestly kingdom’ in the world that belongs to God (Exodus 19.5-6). This is what God said to Abram at his call in Genesis 12.3: ‘In you, all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ Abram, ancient Israel, the Church, are called out and blessed in order to be a blessing. The psalm challenges us to put our hope in God’s steadfast love, not our own strength (vv. 10 & 11; and surely v.2 echoes Psalm 127.1). From this place of trust and hope in God (v.11), from the peace and blessing we receive (v.14), when we live in alignment with God’s instruction for living in grace (v.19), God enlarges the boundaries and all creation becomes a broad and spacious land of peace and plenty (v.14; see also Exodus 3.8, Psalm 31.8, Psalm 66.12, Isaiah 30.23).

In challenging us to align our actions with our praises and bring together how we live now in creation with our hope for a new creation; in bringing together creation and salvation into one act of God’s; in bringing together human, animal, bird, grass, clouds, frost and stars into one object of God’s steadfast love; and even in bringing together two traditions of the bible, Psalm 147 gives me hope that God is making all things new in one new creation. My hope is renewed that, in the words of Colossians 1.20, ‘Through him [Christ] God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.’ I think that deserves an hallelujah.

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