Treasury of David
PSALM 147SUBJECT. This is a specially remarkable song. In it the greatness and the condescending goodness of the Lord are celebrated. The God of Israel is set forth in his peculiarity of glory as caring for the sorrowing, the insignificant, and forgotten. The poet finds a singular joy in extolling one who is so singularly gracious. It is a Psalm of the city and of the field, of the first and the second creations, of the commonwealth and of the church. It is good and pleasant throughout.
DIVISION. The, song appears to divide itself into three portions.
From verses 1-6, Jehovah is extolled for building up Zion, and blessing his mourners.
From verses 7-11, the like praise is given because of his provision for the lowly, and his pleasure in them.
From verses 12-20, he is magnified for his work on behalf of his people, and the power of his word in nature and in grace.
Let it be studied with joyful gratitude.
Verse 1. Praise the Lord, or Hallelujah. The flow of the broad river of the Book of Psalms ends in a cataract of praise. The present Psalm begins and ends with Hallelujah. Jehovah and happy praise should ever be associated in the mind of a believer. Jove was dreaded, but Jehovah is beloved. To one and all of the true seed of Israel the Psalmist acts as choirmaster, and cries, "Praise the Lord." Such an exhortation may fitly be addressed to all those who owe anything to the favor of God; and which of us does not? Pay him we cannot, but praise him we will, not only now, but forever.
For it is good to sing praises unto our God. It is good because it is right; good because it is acceptable with God, beneficial to ourselves, and stimulating to our fellows. The goodness of an exercise is good argument with godly men for its continual practice. Singing the divine praises is the best possible use of speech: it speaks of God, for God, and to God, and it does this in a joyful and reverent manner. Singing in the heart is good, but singing with heart and voice is better, for it allows others to join with us. Jehovah is our God, our covenant God, therefore let him have the homage of our praise; and he is so gracious and happy a God that our praise may best be expressed in joyful song.
For it is pleasant; and praise is lovely. It is pleasant and proper, sweet and suitable to laud the Lord Most High. It is refreshing to the taste of the truly refined mind, and it is agreeable to the eye of the pure in heart. It is delightful both to hear and to see a whole assembly praising the Lord.
These are arguments for song service which men who love true piety, real pleasure, and strict propriety will not despise. Please to praise, for praise is pleasant. Praise the Lord in the beauty of holiness, for praise is lovely. Where duty and delight, benefit and beauty unite—we ought not to be backward. Let each reader feel that he and his family ought to constitute a choir for the daily celebration of the praises of the Lord.
Verse 2. The Lord builds up Jerusalem. God appears both in the material and spiritual world as a Builder and Maker, and therein he is to be praised. His grace, wisdom, and power are all seen in the formation and establishment of the chosen seat of his worship; once a city with material walls, but now a church composed of spiritual stones. The Jews rejoiced in the uprising of their capital from its ruins, and we triumph in the growth of the church from among a godless world.
He gathers together the outcasts of Israel; and thus he repairs the waste places, and causes the former desolations to be inhabited. This sentence may relate to Nehemiah and those who returned with him; but there is no reason why it should not with equal fitness be referred to David, who, with his friends, was once an outcast, but before long became the means of building up Jerusalem.
In any case, the Psalmist ascribes to Jehovah all the blessings enjoyed; the restoration of the city and the restoration of the banished he equally traces to the divine hand. How clearly these ancient believers saw the Lord present, working among them and for them!
Spiritually we see the hand of God in the edification of the church, and in the ingathering of sinners. What are men under conviction of sin but outcasts from God, from holiness, from Heaven, and even from hope? Who could gather them from their dispersions, and make citizens of them in Christ Jesus, save the Lord our God? This deed of love and power he is constantly performing. Therefore let the song begin at Jerusalem our home, and let every living stone in the spiritual city echo the strain; for it is the Lord who has brought again his banished ones, and built them together in Zion.
Verse 3. He heals the broken in heart, and binds up their wounds. This the Holy Spirit mentions as a part of the glory of God, and a reason for our declaring his praise: the Lord is not only a Builder, but a Healer; he restores broken hearts as well as broken walls.
The kings of the earth think to be great through their loftiness; but Jehovah becomes really so by his condescension. Behold, the Most High has to do with the sick and the sorry, with the wretched and the wounded! He walks the hospitals as the good Physician! His deep sympathy with mourners is a special mark of his goodness. Few will associate with the despondent, but Jehovah chooses their company, and abides with them until he has healed them by his comforts.
He deigns to handle and heal broken hearts—he himself lays on the ointment of grace, and the soft bandages of love, and thus binds up the bleeding wounds of those convinced of sin. This is compassion like a God. Well may those praise him to whom he has acted so gracious a part.
The Lord is always healing and binding: this is no new work to him, he has done it of old; and it is not a thing of the past of which he is now weary, for he is still healing and still binding, as the original has it.
Come, broken hearts, come to the Physician who never fails to heal—uncover your wounds to him who so tenderly binds them up!
Verse 4. He counts the number of the stars. None but he can count the mighty host, but as he made them and sustains them, he can number them. To Jehovah stars are as mere coins, which the merchant counts as he puts them into his bag.
He calls them all by their names. He has an intimate acquaintance with each separate orb, so as to know its name or character. Indeed, he gives to each its appropriate title, because he knows its constitution and nature. Vast as these stars are, they are perfectly obedient to his bidding; even as soldiers to a captain who calls their names, and allots them their stations. Do they not rise, and set, and move, or stand, precisely according to his order?
What a change is here from the preceding verse! Read the two without a break, and feel the full force of the contrast. From stars to sighs is a deep descent! From worlds to wounds is a distance which only infinite compassion can bridge. Yet he who acts a surgeon's part with wounded hearts, also marshals the heavenly host, and reads the muster roll of suns and their majestic systems. O Lord, it is good to praise you as ruling the stars, but it is pleasant to adore you as healing the broken in heart!
Verse 5. Great is our Lord. Our Lord and King is great—magnanimous, infinite, inconceivably glorious. None can describe his majesty, or reckon up the number of his excellencies.
And of great power. Doing as he wills, and willing to do mighty deeds. His acts reveal something of his might, but the mass of his power is hidden, for all things are possible with God, even the things impossible with men.
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. The gods of the heathen are nothing, but our God fills all things.
And yet how condescending! For this is he who so tenderly nurses sick souls, and waits to be gracious to sinful men. He brings his boundless power and infinite understanding to bear upon human distress for its assuagement and sanctification. For all these reasons let his praise be great: even could it be infinite, it would not exceed his due.
In the building of his church and the salvation of souls, his greatness, power, and wisdom are all displayed, let him be extolled because of each of these attributes.
Verse 6. The LORD lifts up the meek: he casts the wicked down to the ground. 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. The Lord loves those who are reverent to himself, humble in their own eyes, and gentle to their fellow men; these he lifts up to hope, to peace, to power, to eternal honor. When God lifts a man, it is a lift indeed.
Proud men are in their own esteem, high enough already; only those who are lowly will care to be lifted up, and only such will Jehovah upraise.
As for the wicked, they must come down from their seats of vain glory. God is accustomed to overthrow such; it is his way and habit. None of the wicked shall in the end escape. To the earth they must go; for from the earth they came, and for the earth they live. It is one of the glories of our God for which his saints praise him, that he has put down the mighty from their seats, and has exalted them of low degree. Well may the righteous be lifted up in spirit and the wicked be downcast, as they think of the judgments of the Lord God.
In this verse we see the practical outcome of that character of Jehovah which leads him to count and call the stars as if they were little things, while he deals tenderly with sorrowful men, as if they were precious in his esteem. He is so great that nothing is great to him, and he is so condescending that nothing is little to him! His infinite majesty thus naturally brings low the lofty and exalts the lowly.
Verse 7. In this paragraph the contrast announced in the former section is enlarged upon from another point of view, namely, as it is seen in nature and in providence. Sing unto the LORD with thanksgiving; or rather, "respond to Jehovah." He speaks to us in his works, let us answer him with our thanks. All that he does is gracious, every movement of his hand is goodness; therefore let our hearts reply with gratitude, and our lips with song. Our lives should be responses to divine love. Jehovah is ever engaged in giving, let us respond with thanksgiving.
Sing praise upon the harp unto our God. Blend music with song. Under a dispensation of ritual the use of music was most commendable, and suitable in the great congregation: those of us who judge it to be less desirable for public worship, under a spiritual economy, because it has led to so many abuses, nevertheless rejoice in it in our privacy, and are by no means insensible to its charms.
It seems profanation that choice music should so often be devoted to unworthy themes: the sweetest harmonies should be consecrated to the honor of the Lord. He is our God, and this fact is one choice joy of the sing. We have chosen him, because he has chosen us; and we see in him peculiarities which distinguish him from all the pretended deities of those among whom we dwell. He is our God in covenant relationship forever and ever, and to him be praise in every possible form!
Verse 8. Who covers the heavens with clouds. He works in all things, above as well as below. Clouds are not caused by accident, but produced by God himself, and made to assume degrees of density by which the blue firmament is hidden. A sky-scape might seem to be a mere fortuitous concourse of vapors, but it is not so: the Great Artist's hand thus covers the canvas of the heavens.
Who prepares rain for the earth. The Lord prepares clouds with a view to rain, and rain with an eye to the fields below. By many concurrent circumstances all things are made ready for the production of a shower; there is more of art in the formation of a rain cloud and in the fashioning of a rain drop, than appears to superficial observers. God is in the vapor, and in the pearly drop which is born of it.
Who makes grass to grow upon the mountains. By the far reaching shower he produces vegetation where the hand of man is all unknown. He cares not only for Goshen's fertile plains, but for Carmel's steep ascents. God makes the heavens the servants of the earth, and the clouds the irrigators of the mountain meadows. This is a kind of evolution about which there can be no dispute.
Nor does the Lord forget the waste and desolate places, but causes the lone hills to be the first partakers of his refreshing visitations.
This is after the manner of our God. He not only causes rain to descend from the heavens to water the grass, and thus unites the skies and the herbs by a ministry of mercy; but he also thinks of the rocky ledges among the hills, and forgets not the pastures of the wilderness. What a God is this!
"Passing by the rich and great,
For the poor and desolate."
Verse 9. He gives to the beast his food. By causing the grass to grow on the hills, the Lord feeds the cattle. God cares for the brute creation. Men tread grass under foot as though it were nothing, but God causes it to grow. Too often men treat their cattle with cruelty, but the Lord himself feeds them. The great God is too good, and, indeed, too great to overlook things that are despised by men.
Say not, "Does God care for oxen?" Indeed he does, and he permits himself to be here described as giving them their food as gardeners are accustomed to do.
And to the young ravens which cry. These wild creatures, which seem to be of no use to man; are they therefore worthless? By no means; they fill their place in the economy of nature. When they are mere fledglings, and can only clamor to the parent birds for food, the Lord does not allow them to starve, but supplies their needs.
Is it not wonderful how such numbers of little birds are fed! A bird in a cage under human care is in more danger of lacking seed and water than any one of the myriads that fly in the open heavens, with no owner but their Creator, and no provider but the Lord.
Greatness occupied with little things makes up a chief feature of this Psalm. Ought we not all to feel special joy in praising One who is so specially remarkable for his care of the needy and the forgotten? Ought we not also to trust in the Lord? For he who feeds the the ravens will surely nourish his own redeemed people! Hallelujah to Him who both feeds the ravens and rules the stars! What a God are you, O Jehovah!
Verse 10. He delights not in the strength of the horse. Not to great and strong animals does the Creator in any measure direct his special thought; but in lesser living things he has equal pleasure. If man could act the Creator's part, he would take peculiar delight in producing noble quadrupeds like horses, whose strength and speed would reflect honor upon their maker. But Jehovah has no such feeling; he cares as much for helpless birds in the nest, as for the war-horse in the pride of its power.
He takes not pleasure in the legs of a man. These are the athlete's glory, but God has no pleasure in them. Not the strengths of the creature, but rather its weakness and necessity, win the regard of our God. Monarchs trust in their cavalry and infantry; but the King of kings exults not in the hosts of his creatures as though they could lend power to him. Physical or material greatness and power are of no account with Jehovah; he has respect to other and more precious qualities. Men who boast in the valor of gigantic might, will not find themselves the favorites of God: though earthly princes may feast their eyes upon their Joabs and their Abners, their Abishais and Asahels—the Lord Almighty has no pleasure in mere bone and muscle. Sinews and muscles are of small account, either in horses or in men, with Him who is a spirit, and delights most in spiritual things.
The expression of the text may be viewed as including all creature power, even of a mental or moral kind. God does not take pleasure in us because of our attainments, or potentialities. He respects character rather than capacity.
Verse 11. The LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him; in those who hope in his mercy. While the bodily powers give no delight to God, spiritual qualities are his delight. He cares most for those emotions which center in himself: the fear which he approves is fear of him, and the hope which he accepts is hope in his mercy.
It is a striking thought that God should not only be at peace with some kinds of men, but even find a solace and a joy in their company. Oh! the matchless condescension of the Lord, that his greatness should take pleasure in the insignificant creatures of his hand.
Who are these favored men in whom Jehovah takes pleasure? Some of them are the least in his family, who have never risen beyond hoping and fearing. Others of them are more fully developed, but still they exhibit a blended character composed of fear and hope: they fear God with holy awe and filial reverence, and they also hope for forgiveness and blessedness because of the divine mercy.
As a father takes pleasure in his own children, so does the Lord solace himself in his own beloved ones, whose 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 both their trembling and in their rejoicing.
Is there not rich cause for praise in this special feature of the divine character? After all, it is a poor nature which is delighted with brute force. It is a diviner thing to take pleasure in the holy character of those around us.
As men may be known by the nature of the things which give them pleasure, so is the Lord known by the blessed fact that he takes pleasure in the righteous, even though that righteousness is as yet in its initial stage of fear and hope.
Verse 12. Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem; praise your God, O Zion. How the poet insists upon praise: he cries praise, praise, as if it were the most important of all duties. A peculiar people should render peculiar praise.
The city of peace should be the city of praise; and the temple of the covenant God should resound with his glories. If nowhere else—yet certainly in Zion there should be joyful adoration of Zion's God.
Note, that we are to praise the Lord in our own houses in Jerusalem, as well as in his own house in Zion. The holy city surrounds the holy hill, and both are dedicated to the holy God, therefore both should ring with hallelujahs.
Verse 13. For he has strengthened the bars of your gates. Her fortifications were finished, even to the fastenings of the gates, and God had made all sound and strong, even to her bolts and bars: thus her security against invading foes was guaranteed. This is no small mercy.
Oh, that our churches were thus preserved from all false doctrine and unholy living! This must be the Lord's doing; and where he has wrought it his name is greatly to be praised.
Modern libertines would tear down all gates and abolish all bars. But not so with the godly, because of the fear of the Lord.
He has blessed your children within you. Internal happiness is as truly the Lord's gift as external security. When the Lord blesses "your sons in the midst of you", you are, O Zion, filled with a happy, united, zealous, prosperous, holy people, who dwell in communion with God, and enter into the joy of their Lord. When God makes your walls salvation, your gates must be praise. It would little avail to fortify a wretched, starving city; but when the walls are strengthened, it is a still greater joy to see that the inhabitants are blessed with all good gifts. How much our churches need a present and abiding blessing.
Verse 14. He makes peace in your borders. Even to the boundaries quiet extends; no enemies are wrangling with the borderers. If there is peace there, we may be sure that peace is everywhere. "When a man's ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him." Peace is from the God of peace.
Considering the differing constitutions, conditions, tastes, and opinions of men—it is a work of God when in large churches unbroken peace is found year after year. And it is an equal wonder if worldlings, instead of persecuting the godly, treat them with marked respect. He who builds Zion is also her Peacemaker, the Lord and Giver of peace.
And fills you with the finest of the wheat. Peace is attended with plenty—plenty of the best food, and of the best sort of that food. It is a great reason for thanksgiving when men's wants are so supplied that they are filled. It takes much to fill some men. Perhaps none ever are filled but the inhabitants of Zion; and they are only to be filled by the Lord himself.
Gospel truth is the finest of the wheat, and those are indeed blessed who are content to be filled therewith, and are not hungering after the husks of the world. Let those who are filled with heavenly food, fill their mouths with heavenly praise.
Verse 15. He sends forth his commandment upon earth. His messages fly throughout his dominions: upon earth his warrants are executed as well as in Heaven. From his church his word goes forth; from Zion he missions the nations with the word of life. His word runs very swiftly. His purposes of love are speedily accomplished.
Oriental monarchs labored hard to establish rapid postal communication. But the desire, will, and command of the Lord flash in an instant from pole to pole, yes, from Heaven to earth. We who dwell in the center of the Lord's dominions may exceedingly rejoice that to the utmost extremity of the realm, the divine commandment speeds with sure result, and is not hindered by distance or time.
The Lord can deliver his people right speedily, or send them supplies immediately from his courts above.
God's commands in nature and providence are fiats against which no opposition is ever raised—to effect which all things rush onward with alacrity. The expressions in the text are so distinctly in the present that they are meant to teach us the present mission and efficiency of the word of the Lord, and thus to prompt us to present praise.
Verse 16. Here follow instances of the power of God upon the natural elements.
He gives snow like wool. As a gift he scatters the snow, which falls in flakes like fleecy wool. Snow falls softly, covers universally, and clothes warmly—even as wool covers the sheep.
The most evident resemblance lies in the whiteness of the two substances; but many other likenesses are to be seen by the observant eye. It is wise to see God in winter and in distress, as well as in summer and prosperity. He who one day feeds us with the finest of the wheat, at another time robes us in snow. He is the same God in each case, and each form of his operation bestows a gift on men.
He scatters the hoarfrost like ashes. Here again the Psalmist sees God directly and personally at work. As ashes powder the earth when men are burning up the noxious herbage; and as when men cast ashes into the air they cause a singular sort of whiteness in the places where they fall, so also does the frost.
The country people talk of a black frost and a white frost, and the same thing may be said of ashes, for they are both black and white. Moreover, excessive cold burns as effectually as great heat, and hence there is an inner as well as an outer likeness between hoarfrost and ashes.
Let us praise the Lord who condescends to wing each flake of snow and scatter each particle of frost. Ours is no absent or inactive deity: he works all things, and is everywhere at home.
Verse 17. He casts forth his ice like morsels. Such are the crumbs of hail which he casts forth, or the crusts of ice which he creates upon the waters. These morsels are his ice, and he casts them abroad.
The two expressions indicate a very real presence of God in the phenomena of nature. Who can stand before his cold? None can resist the utmost rigors of cold any more than they can bear the vehemence of heat. God's withdrawals of light are a darkness that may be felt, and his withdrawals of heat are a cold which is absolutely omnipotent. If the Lord, instead of revealing himself as a fire, should adopt the opposite manifestation of cold—he would, in either case, consume us should he put forth all his power.
It is ours to submit to deprivations with patience, seeing the cold is his cold. That which God sends, whether it be heat or cold, no man can defy with impunity, but he is happy who bows before it with childlike submission. When we cannot stand before God we will gladly lie at his feet, or nestle under his wings.
Verse 18. He sends out his word, and melts them. When the frost is sharpest, and the ice is hardest, the Lord intervenes; and though he does no more than send his word—yet the rocks of ice are dissolved at once, and the huge icebergs begin to float into the southern seas. The phenomena of winter are not so abundant in Palestine as with us—yet they are witnessed sufficiently to cause the devout to bless God for the return of spring.
At the will of God snow, hoarfrost, and ice disappear, and the time of the opening bud and the singing of birds has come. For this let us praise the Lord as we sun ourselves amid the spring flowers.
He causes his wind to blow, and the waters flow. The Lord is the great first cause of everything; even the fickle, wandering winds are caused by him.
Natural laws are in themselves mere inoperative rules, but the power emanates directly from the Ever-present and Ever-potent One. The soft gales from the south, which bring a general thaw, are from the Lord—as are those wintry blasts which bound the streams in icy bonds. Simple but effectual are the methods of Jehovah in the natural world; equally so are those which he employs in the spiritual kingdom; for the breath of his Holy Spirit breathes upon frozen hearts, and streams of penitence and love gush forth at once.
Observe how in these two sentences the word and the wind go together in nature. They attend each other in grace; the gospel and the Holy Spirit cooperate in salvation. The truth which the Spirit breathed into prophets and apostles, he breathes into dead souls, and they are quickened into spiritual life.
Verse 19. He shows his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He who is the Creator is also the Revealer. We are to praise the Lord above all things for his manifesting himself to us as he does not unto the world. Whatever part of his mind he discloses to us, whether it be a word of instruction, a statute of direction, or a judgment of government, we are bound to bless the Lord for it.
He who causes summer to come in the place of winter, has also removed the coldness and death from our hearts by the power of his word, and this is abundant cause for singing unto his name. As Jacob's seed of old were made to know the Lord, even so are we in these latter days; why, let his name be magnified among us. By that knowledge Jacob is ennobled into Israel, and therefore let him who is made a prevailing prince in prayer be also a chief musician in praise.
The elect people were bound to sing hallelujahs to their own God. Why were they so specially favored if they did not, above all others, tell forth the glory of their God?
Verse 20. He has not dealt so with any nation. Israel had clear and exclusive knowledge of God, while others were left in ignorance. Election is the loudest call for grateful adoration.
And as for his judgments, they have not known them. The nations were covered with darkness, and only Israel sat in the light. This was sovereign grace in its fullest noontide of power.
Praise the Lord. When we have mentioned electing, distinguishing love, our praise can rise no higher, and therefore we close with one more hallelujah.