"Biblical Theology Weekly Bible Study" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Biblical Theology Weekly Bible Study Psalm 146:1-10. Halleluhah! Celebrate YAHWEH!
Date: July 27th 2017
Halleluhah! Celebrate YAHWEH!
Any exploration of the book of Psalms is likely to turn into a celebration of Praise to the LORD. As we peruse the Psalter we continually encounter the Hebrew imperative, “Hallel Yah,” from which the English transliteration, “Hallelujah” is derived. The two Hebrew words that we have combined into one literally mean “celebrate YAHWEH.” We may often use this word in singing and praise to the LORD, and not actually understand its literal meaning. There is a common antiphonal praise song, often shared among children and youth that simply repeats the words … (Antiphonal group 1 in italics, antiphonal group 2 without italics:)
“Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah! Praise Ye the LORD!”
“Hallelu, hallelu, hallelu, hallelujah! Praise Ye the LORD!”
“Praise Ye the LORD! Hallelujah!”
“Praise Ye the LORD! Hallelujah!”
“Praise Ye the LORD! Hallelujah!”
(Groups 1 & 2:) “Praise Ye, the LORD!”
Consequently, the Hebrew term, “Hallelujah” is often translated, “praise the LORD.” So, when we proclaim, “Hallelujah!”, we are proclaiming, “Praise the LORD.” These words are one and the same, simply expressed in different languages.
When we submit to true and sincere consideration of the nature of God and His purpose in His creation for the benefit of man, one cannot come away without praising the LORD for who He is and for what He has done for us. We will find this expression of praise both intensely personal, yet also shared among others. The LORD calls upon us to praise Him so that through our praise we can draw closer to Him in a relationship with Himself that He desires. Praise for God helps us to worship Him in the appropriate context as we rid ourselves of the sin of pride that separates us from a close relationship with Him.
The writer of the 146th Psalm makes use of this term as he is exploring the praiseworthiness of God. We have the opportunity to join the writer in his praise for the LORD and find in his words a remembrance of the many reasons why God so greatly deserves all of our praise.
Psalm 146:1. Praise ye the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul.
The writer begins his song with the imperative declaration, “Hallelujah!” Standing by itself without any modifier or context, the words, “Hallel Yah” are sufficient to communicate one’s praise for the LORD. We may proclaim the word in response to our recognition of something wonderful that the LORD has done. Stated by itself it forms a broad and sweeping testimony of praise.
However, the writer does not leave the declaration there: he repeats it by stating, “Hallelujah, o my soul!” He adds a Hebrew term that makes his praise intensely personal. This is a praise that defines and permeates his entire soul: his sentient mind, will, and emotions. Not only is he declaring that his praise comes from within His own testimony, but that it comes from deep within his own heart. He has taken a general expression of praise and declared to his readers that his praise comes from deep within. His praise is an uncompromised expression of his own soul. His spirit is defined by this praise.
When we sing or say, “praise the LORD,” are we simply testifying to an agreement with others that God is worthy of our praise, or are we truly praising God from deep within our soul? As a minister of music in several churches in a variety of contexts over the last thirty to forty years I have come away from the experience with a simple, but true thought: as congregations sing, “praise the LORD,” regardless of the style of music or liturgy of its expression, it is usually an unemotional and almost indifferent set of words that many congregants almost labor to get through. Somehow, many who attend worship services are so distracted by their own thoughts that they may be missing a wonderful opportunity to experience true praise, and their testimony is certainly not one of the sincere deep-hearted praise that is expressed by the psalmist.
We may find personal expression of praise in another hymn that is based upon Psalm 103:1.
Psalm 103:1. Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name.
Praise is to be intensely personal and sincere. Praise to the LORD is to come from “all that is within us,” yet how often does our praise lack the energy and zeal that the LORD deserves? What will help us to shed ourselves of those impediments to praise that so overwhelm our obedience? Some simple truths may help us, truths that are expressed in this and other Psalms.
First, praising the LORD from within is not an act of emotion: it is a decision to do so. Praise of the LORD is not a characteristic of our human nature. We praise the LORD with all of our soul only when we make a firm and honest decision to do so. It is a decision to truly surrender our pride, put away any distractions from our worship, and to embrace the LORD with our hearts.
Psalm 146:2. While I live will I praise the LORD: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being.
Note how the writer expresses a deliberate choice to express praise to the LORD. He is declaring his own determined will to praise God, first “while I live.” If we sincerely understand the grace of the LORD and what He has done for us, we will realize that our life: our very personal existence, and the spirit and soul that resides in our created bodies came from God’s creative will. We exist only because He made us, and He did so with the intention that we would love Him more than anything that He has created. Recognizing this, the psalmist declares that his life will forever serve as a testimony to the praiseworthiness of God. His praise is an expression of that life, and is appropriately declared in every waking moment through every waking activity.
In typical Hebrew poetry, the second clause of the verse is a slight variation on the first. The first is a declaration of his undying praise for the LORD and the second is formed as a promise or vow to do so for the remainder of this life. His testimony is this: simply nothing but death will serve to end his praise for the LORD while he lives.
Psalm 146:3-4. Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. 4His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.
The continued context of the poetry indicates that the psalmist declares that his trust is in the LORD, and not in the things of this world, and particularly not in people.
He first states that we are not to put our trust in “princes.” We are a social people, and as we draw any group of members together, we always lift a subset of people to positions of authority over that group so that our society can be managed and organized. This social phenomenon is true from the establishment of small groups of people up to entire nations. Those who we have lifted to such positions are the “princes” of this passage.
Though Jesus used the title as a prophetic and appropriate Old Testament-sourced Messianic title for Himself, this is not the identity of the “son of man” used in this passage. This is not a prophetic verse. Instead, the writer is referring to those who follow under the prince. First, this is indicated by the parallelism of Hebrew poetry where “prince” and “son of man” are meant to be two ways of representing the same thought. Second, the idea of the son of a prince would remind the reader of the propensity of kings to pass down their throne to their sons. Consequently, both terms are referring to those people to whom we assign authority. It was, and probably still is, common for those who submit to the authority of another to lavish the leader with praise, either intended, or forced.
The writer expresses several important limitations that we find in human leadership that we do not find in the LORD, limitations that indicate that lavishing man with praise is wholly misguided. First, the writer notes that the human leadership that we tend to lavish with such praise provides no real, substantive help. Where the LORD has created us, actively loves us, and works to provide all of our basic needs as He brings us to Himself, our human leaders can do none of this. Man is devoid of any ability to provide us with eternal blessings that are simply a part of God’s expressing of His love and grace. At best a human leader may work to bring small benefits in our lives, but such benefits are physical, short-lived, and none of these extend beyond the grave. None of the benefits from a human leader can serve to replace that which the LORD promises to those who place their faith and trust in Him. Substantive benefits from a human leader are truly rare, since most “princes” express their sinful human nature in corrupt and self-fulfilling regimes. People have experienced far more persecution at the hands of their kings than blessing. Human governments tend to place their people into various forms of submission and bondage rather than lift them to a life of happiness and blessing.
The psalmist also notes that the works of the “prince” are quite temporal, simply a breath that exists for a short time, and then, like a grass in the desert, is gone. The promises and benefits of the king die with him, where the promises and benefits from the LORD are eternal. Where the promises of a King can change in a whim, or may not be continued at the end of his reign, the promises of the LORD are sure. As the LORD is eternal, His promises are eternal and not subject to change from any human source.
The writer clearly cautions his readers of the folly of placing our trust in human leaders, because such trust will always fail us. The product of such trust is at best a shallow and fragile hope, and at worst an utter disappointment. This is not where happiness is ever found.
Psalm 146:5. Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God:
The purpose of our promotion of and submission to leaders is so that we might find happiness in the environment that they will oversee. However, this is but a shallow and tenuous source. True blessing is never found in the people of this world, but rather in the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is in the LORD that our help is found, and those who have placed their faith and hope in Him find this help.
The key term in this verse is “happiness,” and its message is the source of that happiness: the LORD. Again, as we consider the context of this psalm of praise, the writer has proven that the LORD is worthy of our praise rather than our human leaders. The LORD is worthy of our praise because of the eternal help He has given us, starting with our physical life, its sustenance, its empowerment and blessing by the work of the Holy Spirit, and its eternal context that is realized in eternal life with God. Certainly, one cannot compare the benefits of any man with the benefits of God, so surely the praise that we tend to give to any man is more appropriately given to God, and where a human leader may deserve a little praise for his/her efforts, the LORD deserves all of our praise for who He is and what He has done.
Psalm 146:6. Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth for ever:
If we compare the works of man with the works of the LORD, it would seem that mankind comes up a little short. We often elevate our opinion of our leaders to that of a demigod, or even in some cultures to the level of a god. Many kings demanded that they be worshipped as a god, with some even believing in their own imputed deity. In the process of the deification of man we tend to exercise the denigration of the deity of God. We elevate man to the level of a god, and we reduce God to the level of man.
However, the psalmist reminds us of the true nature and power of God who created the universe: the heavens and the earth, the land and the sea, and all that is in it. Again, no act or work of man can compare with the acts and works of God. “All that therein” is a reference to physical life. Every form of life, which even in its simplest form cannot be created by any man, was created by God simply as an act of His Holy will. This ancient writer had very little understanding of the profound size and power of the elements in the universe, or of the profound complexity of a single living being, yet he fully understood that life itself is a wondrous creation of God, alone.
Consequently, God is worthy of our praise simply through the evidence that we find in the physical universe and in physical life itself: evidence of the unfathomable power and majesty of God. Paul wrote to the Romans his understanding that this evidence of the character of God is recognizable by all people, and we have no excuse that would serve to defend our ignorance of Him.
Psalm 146:7. Which executeth judgment for the oppressed: which giveth food to the hungry. The LORD looseth the prisoners:
While the world is characterized by injustice, we know that the LORD is always just, and His judgment is always sure. Those who are oppressed will find vindication in the LORD who will always exact judgment upon those who are the oppressors. Though the oppressors may enjoy a moment of power and prosperity at the expense of those who they abuse, such power and prosperity is surely fleeting, for at the end of this life, these will find true, fair, and sure judgment when they, like all people, come before the LORD. Even in this life, the rewards earned by the oppressors only come from the resources of this world, and not from the LORD. While the faithful oppressed still possess the peace, love, and joy of the LORD, the oppressor knows no such benefits, and is not in a position to take it away from those whom he/she abuses.
The world is also characterized by greed. There are very few leaders outside of the fellowship of faith who truly seek to meet the needs of others. Entire nations of people are held in poverty by their greed-filled governments as they use their power to amass great wealth among those in control and use a bondage to poverty and subsequent government “assistance” to control their populations.
The LORD’s agenda is quite the opposite, as He loves His creation and the people in it. His purpose is to bless those who love Him. God has formed this earth and its resources such that there is sufficient flora and fauna and the ability for us to grow both, to easily meet our needs for sustenance. The best that mankind can do is grow and distribute food, but it is the LORD who creates it in the first place. The planting, growth, and multiplication of a seed is in itself a miracle of God’s design that we may often take for granted. When we consider the miracle of life itself and how the LORD created it so that we would find sustenance, how can we not express praise and thanksgiving to the LORD?
The last phrase in this verse refers to the receipt of freedom from bondage. We live in a world that seeks to place us into bondage, whether it comes from our own sinful choices or at the hands of others who would seek to control us. We will find ourselves in bondage any time we submit ourselves to an authority or power that is contrary to the LORD’s purpose of blessing us. We are in bondage any time we are not free to express ourselves in a context that is consistent with the LORD’s purpose of blessing us. We may be in bondage to our sinful attitudes and behaviors. We may be bondage to the consequences of our unwise choices. Ultimately, without the LORD we are held in the prison of eternal bondage by our sin. It is the LORD’s purpose to set us free from bondage.
Psalm 146:8. The LORD openeth the eyes of the blind: the LORD raiseth them that are bowed down: the LORD loveth the righteous:
Likewise, just as all life comes from the creative will of God, all healing is a similar miracle of His graceful design. Man cannot create life, nor can he create healing. All we can do is provide an environment whereby the healing that is a product of God’s design is not impeded. We may often refer to a dramatic and unexpected healing from some devastating disease such as cancer, or a condition of blindness as cited here, as a miracle, and certainly it is. However, we may forget that the healing of the smallest scratch is a similar miracle that no man can duplicate. Without the miracle of healing none of us would survive a single day as our bodies are constantly locked in a battle with bacteria and diseases that would overwhelm us without the resource of antibodies that are produced within our own bodies. When a person dies, the body is quickly overwhelmed by these processes. Consequently, every heartbeat and every breath that we experience is a gift of God’s healing grace, and for that He deserves our thanksgiving and praise.
The idea behind “raising those who are bowed down” is the work of lifting us up when we are in a world that would otherwise beat us down. Faith in the LORD brings with it the knowledge of His promises and of His Word that teaches us truth in a world that is characterized by lies. When we have faith, we are not as easily discouraged or “knocked down” by the circumstances of this life. When we are well-trained in the Word of God we are not as susceptible to being swept away or even turned by winds of false doctrine. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians of how we are empowered to stand against the evil one by appropriating for ourselves the resources of faith. Faith in the LORD is the one resource that, beyond all others, serves to strengthen us against the influences of this world and its environment that would work to diminish or defeat us. Again, the LORD is the only source of this resource, and for that He is worthy of our praise.
The writer reminds us that the LORD loves those who have placed their faith and trust in Him, and knowledge of that love can be a great encouragement to us. His love for us is infinitely greater than any love that man can show, and when we find ourselves in a loveless world, His love can become a great encouragement for us. That love for us is demonstrated in the next verse.
Psalm 146:9. The LORD preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turneth upside down.
One of the many promises that the LORD has made to those who place their faith and trust in Him is to work to preserve and protect them. Much of the Old Testament narrative, particularly the record of Israelite history, illustrates the protective hand that the LORD holds for the righteous, and how quickly one steps away from that protection when they rely on the world rather than Him when in times of need. The word for “strangers” in this passage can be understood in today’s culture to represent those who are “homeless.” These are those in ancient Israel who were landless, and were not experiencing the blessing of the land that God gave to His people. One cannot separate the culture and beliefs of Israel from the promise of the land that was given to them by God through Abraham and later apportioned through Joshua. Every Israelite identified with that land either by assignment to his family or, for the Levites, as a share in that same inheritance. A stranger in ancient Israel, by this definition, is simply a non-Jew. Because of the spiritual pride of the Israelites, Gentiles were despised and rejected by most of the Jews. Likewise, fatherless children and widows were also disenfranchised from the land and were dependent upon someone else to meet their basic needs. Even today most people in most nations who find themselves in this situation face a marginalized future in a world that has little interest in their welfare.
However, unlike this world, the LORD loves His people and cares greatly for their preservation as He seeks to bless them. The LORD works to preserve and provide for those who are the most marginalized in society, for it is those who need Him the most. It is those who turn to the LORD in their times of need when no worldly power would do so. For that, we again can praise the LORD.
The Psalmist refers to the world of the wicked as “turned upside down.” By maintaining themselves outside of the LORD’s hand of protection, those who are in rebellion against the LORD fail to reap the benefits of His blessings. They fall victim to the consequences of their own sin as well as the sin of those with whom they associate or those to whom they are submitted. Those who are rich and place their trust in their riches rather than in the LORD suffer the identical malady since they are also maintaining themselves outside of the preserving and protecting hand of the LORD. This truth is simply a reminder that the plight of the downtrodden is vindicated by the LORD in the lives of the wicked who will not find the blessing of the LORD on this side of death or after. Where the righteous are preserved, the wicked are not, and they will only find judgment and separation from God when they enter eternity.
Psalm 146:10. The LORD shall reign for ever, even thy God, O Zion, unto all generations. Praise ye the LORD.
Since the LORD is eternal, He will never leave us. All of the blessings that the Psalmist has noted are, therefore, also eternal. Nothing this world offers will last, but everything that the LORD gives us contributes to our eternal relationship with Him. The Psalmist has been contrasting the temporal and limited benefits that we find in the gods, the leaders, and the context of this world with the eternal benefits of our relationship with the LORD, a relationship that brings with it the entire range of the works and power of the Holy Spirit.Because of all of these things, the LORD is worthy of our honor, worship, and praise. When we truly understand what the LORD has done (and is doing) for us, we will find that worship and praise is not characterized by acts of worship and praise at specific times of the week, or are they reserved for a specific location. Worship and praise of the LORD is a basic attitude of the heart that informs every moment of our lives, empowering us to perceive the work of the LORD on our behalf. Worship and praise takes place in all of our activities as we pray continually to the LORD through our daily experiences, thanking Him for the events and experiences of our day as we come to better recognized the miracles of His grace that we experience every day. Then, we can easily proclaim, continually throughout our day, Hallelujah! Praise the LORD!
Note that a common variant on the spelling of “hallelujah” is “halleluia,” substituting the letter “i” for the letter “j.” This variation is common in Hebrew translation simply because Hebrew has no letter “j.” For example, the Greek name for “Jesus” is often transliterated from the Hebrew as “Ἰησοῦς,” “Iesous,” or “Y’shua”. The substitution of the J for an I is a later variant. The literal transliteration of “YAHWEH” is “Ieovah, ” or “Jehovah.”
I once experienced the complete healing of a cut in the palm of my hand that was about two inches long and as deep as a quarter inch in its center. Upon receipt of the cut, and following intense prayer concerning the context of the injury, the cut was completely healed when observed about two hours after the injury. This event served as a reminder of the miracle of healing, whether it is from a cancer or from a scratch. It is all a part of God’s purpose and design.
An example of the plight of the landless is given in the Old Testament book of Ruth when Naomi and her two daughters each lost their husbands to death. Without finding someone to support them, they faced poverty and starvation. One daughter went home to her family and the other, Ruth, accompanied Naomi as she returned to her home village in Israel. It was there that Ruth met Boaz who chose to “redeem” Ruth and Naomi by marrying Ruth and returning both of them to the inheritance. It was through Boaz and Ruth that the ancestral line of King David, and hence Jesus Christ, was formed.
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