George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 5

Psalm 147

1. Structure

This is difficult. Apart from the initial and final Hallelujah’s, there are three isolated “Praise” verses — 1, 7, and 12 — but these do not give any special shape to the psalm. Again, there does not seem to be any systematic sequence of topics. Verses 8, 9 and 16, 17 seem to belong together; but why should these be isolated in the way that they are? The conclusion, in v. 20, seems rather negative. Yet when considered in detail, there are some remarkably fine passages worthy of the Yahweh whom they praise.

The LXX treats 147 as two separate psalms, of which the second begins at v. 12; but this does not seem to offer any real assistance either in discerning the structure.

2. Historical setting

Apart from its place in the Psalter, 147 has a fair number of details which are specially appropriate to the reign of Hezekiah.

The Lord doth bind up Jerusalem. Compare also the emphasis in vv. 12,13 where He hath strengthened the bars of thy gates is particularly eloquent of the saving of Jerusalem from the seemingly irresistible Assyrians (cp. also Psa. 46:5; 48:2,3; 125:2).

He gathered together the outcasts of Israel, as a shepherd gathers his flock (cp. Isa. 11:12; 40:11; 54:7; and also Jer. 23:3; 31:10; Ezek. 34:13). Here is double reference to (1) the estranged northern tribes, many of whom came to Hezekiah’s great Passover, and to (2) the amazing restoration of the great multitude of captives whom Sennacherib rounded up and marched off to Babylon (Mic. 4:10). The word “outcasts” is especially relevant to the latter (s.w. Isa. 11:12; 56:8).
He healeth the broken in heart, those who were too sad to sing the Lord’s songs in a foreign land like Babylon (Psa. 137).
The Lord lifteth up the meek (Psa. 146:9), those with the humble religious spirit of Hezekiah.

The wicked, on the other hand, were the boastful tyrannous Assyrians, who were cast down to the ground in the most sensational military destruction in all of ancient history.
Who covereth the heaven with clouds, who prepareth rain for the earth, who maketh grass to grow upon the mountains. He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry. Here is the special blessing of rain, fertility and fruitfulness in the Year of Jubilee (Isa. 37:30,31).
He delighteth not in the strength of the horse: he taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man (Psa. 33:16,17; Prov. 21:31; Isa. 31:1). This chimes in with Rabshakeh’s crude challenge in 2 Kings 18:23:

“Now therefore... give pledges to my lord the king of Assyria, and I will deliver thee two thousand horses, if thou be able on thy part to set riders upon them.”

“The [cherubim] chariots of Israel and the horsemen thereof” were plenty enough, and more, to answer the taunts of Rabshakeh!
Strengthened is a play on the name of Hezekiah.

He hath blessed thy children within thee. Hezekiah’s faithful remnant.
He maketh peace in thy borders. Note the italics: ‘He makes “Peace” thy borders!’ — much more emphatic (cp. the figures of speech in Isa. 60:17,18). This was all unexpected, at a time when lasting destruction from the Lord seemed inevitable.

And filleth thee with the finest of the wheat. The promised but unexpected blessing of the Year of Jubilee (see on v. 8; also Psa. 81:16).
He sendeth forth his commandment upon earth: his word runneth very swiftly (cp. v. 18). The “commandment” is the divine instruction to the Angel of God’s power (Isa. 37:36). “Runneth” is an allusion to the cherubim war-chariots (cp. Ezek. 1:18-21; Zech. 6:1-8; Rev. 5:6). Also, to the word of God in the tongues of the prophets, who “run” carrying the message of God (Jer. 23:21; 1 Kings 18:46; 2 Chron. 16:9; Hab. 2:2; Amos 8:12; Zech. 4:10; Dan. 12:4; Gal. 2:2; Phil. 2:16; 2 Thes. 3:1; Jude 11; cp. Prov. 25:11: “a word spoken upon its wheels”!). In either case, of course, it is the word of God which is powerful and swift to accomplish His Purposes — without regard to the exact means employed.
As for his judgments, they have not known them. Here is the pathetic ignorance of boastful, idol-worshiping Assyria.

3. Messianic reference

The Lord doth build up Jerusalem (Psa. 102:16). This is a necessary beginning to the New Age, after the great earthquake of Zech. 14:4.

He gathereth together the outcasts of Israel, Jews and also Gentiles (John 11:52). And, in the future, his angels will gather together all his elect, from the four winds, to Jerusalem (Matt. 24:31).
He healeth the broken in heart, that is, repentant Israel (Zech. 12:10-14).
He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names. Here is the fulfillment of the promises to Abraham:

“Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be” (Gen. 15:5; cp. 22:17; Dan. 12:3; Rom. 4:18).
The Lord lifteth up the meek, so that they may inherit the earth (Psa. 37:11; Matt. 5:5).

But he casteth the wicked down to the ground, or into outer darkness.
Sing praise upon the harp: Rev. 14:2.
He delighteth not in the strength of the horse. All armaments will be abolished (Isa. 2:4; Mic. 4:3).
The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him. The Hebrew for “taketh pleasure” implies acceptable sacrifice.

In those that hope in his mercy. God’s forgiveness becomes “the hope of Israel” (Acts 28:20).
He sendeth forth his commandment upon earth: his word runneth very swiftly. A worldwide publishing of God’s Law, which will require full obedience (Isa. 2:2,3; Mic. 4:1,2; Zech. 8:20-22; 14:16-19).
He sendeth out his word, and melteth them: he causeth his wind to blow, and the waters flow. The nations will be disciplined by divine power.
He sheweth his word unto Jacob. God’s purpose is centered in Israel, and in the new “Israel”.

4. Other details

He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds. Those distraught in mind have their desperate worries taken care of.
The stars are not only literal but also eloquently symbolic of Israel (Gen. 15:5; 22:17; Jer. 33:22). Men, for all their cleverness, have abandoned as hopeless the counting of the stars.

He calleth them all by their names. This is especially true of God’s New Israel (Isa. 40:26; John 10:3) — who have, individually and collectively, received a new name (Rev. 2:17; 3:12).
Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite (Psa. 145:3). Even if one might number the stars (v. 4), still God’s wisdom defies enumeration!
Sing unto the Lord with thanksgiving; sing praise upon the harp unto our God. When a man really appreciates the awe-inspiring power of God, the praise with which he reacts to this will be mostly thanksgiving that such incomprehensible majesty is brought home to his soul.
Who covereth the heaven with clouds, who prepareth rain for the earth, who maketh grass to grow upon the mountains. He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry (Luke 12:24; Job 38:41). All this in the world of Nature is done by overall control of God. A wholesome faith dissipates the smoke-screen of “the laws of Nature” which modern scientists so enthusiastically interpose between man and a God who is ceaselessly at work. The Bible never talks about science or scientific law, but always about the acts of God (cp. vv. 15-17; Psa. 104; Job 38-41; Matt. 5:45).
He taketh no pleasure in the legs of a man, even though those legs be “legs of iron” (Dan. 2:33)! So much for “body-builders” in God’s esteem!
The Lord taketh pleasure in them that fear him. There is something wrong with the man — he is in some profound way mentally deficient! — who contemplates the marvels of God’s work in Nature and in miracles, and who is not moved thereby to reverence.

In those that hope in his mercy. This word is particularly associated with (a) the forgiveness of sins, and (b) the covenants of promise, the hope of Israel.
He giveth snow like wool (Job 37:6). This describes the feathery flakes of snow, blanketing the earth like wool, protecting the ground from worse cold, and at last giving much-needed moisture (Isa. 55:10,11).

So white is the snow, that it is like wool which has been washed, and is a fit symbol of one whose sins have been truly forgiven and blotted out (Isa. 1:18; cp. Rev. 1:14; 7:14).
He casteth forth his ice like morsels (Job 37:10). This could be: (1) hail, or (2) layers of ice, thin and brittle like wafers of unleavened bread.

Who can stand before his cold? The NEB, following an emendation, has: “The waters stand frozen”.
He causeth his wind to blow, and the waters flow. Exod. 15:10; Psa. 148:8.
He hath not dealt so with any nation: Deut. 4:32-34; 32:32-41; Rom. 3:1,2; 2:17; Amos 3:2. “But the reception of a law was not in itself a ground of satisfaction; the keeping of it would have been... They knew and approved in theory, but not in personal practice” (John Carter, The Letter to the Romans, p. 33).

And as for his judgments, they have not known them. Who has not known them? Surely the Gentiles (as in Par. 2 above). But also Israel, which did not truly “know” God’s will because it never really fulfilled His main purpose in giving them the Law — that is, so that they might become a light unto the Gentiles (Isa. 49:6).
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