A Bible Lesson on Psalm 146

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This is a Bible lesson on a passage not in the current ISSL schedule, Psalm 146.  The last 5 Psalms are one group of “Hallel” psalms, psalms of praise to God.  They all begin with “Hallelu Yah,” praise the LORD, praise the I AM, praise the God of the Bible.

James Boice said, “In the earlier psalms, we have studied the writers’ griefs, shames, sins, doubts, and fears.  We have witnessed the people of God in their defeats and victories, their ups and downs in life.  We have encountered rebellious words and struggling faith.  All this is behind us now.  In these final psalms every word is praise.

Praise is where all true religious contemplation should end.  When all is said, the hearts of those who are truly God’s people beat their last praising God.  Do we understand all that God is doing in our lives or in the world?  Of course not, but we understand enough about the nature of God to praise him in spite of the difficulties.

Particularly as our lives move toward their inevitable earthly ends, they should be full of praise.  In The Treasury of David Charles Spurgeon reports that on his deathbed a man named John Janeway cried out:

‘Come, help me with praises. …  Let every thing that hath being help me to praise God.  Hallelujah!  Hallelujah!  Hallelujah!  Praise is now my life work, and I shall be engaged in this sweet work now and for ever.  Bring the Bible; turn to David’s psalms, and let us sing a psalm of praise.  Come, let us lift up our voices in the praises of the Most High.  I will sing with you as long as my breath doth last, and when I have none, I shall do it better.’ ”

Psalm 146:1  Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!

Here is the psalmist, talking to both himself and us.  The call is plural.  There is resolve/determination in this.  This is to be done.  This is no matter of simply being caught up in a wave of emotion or good cheer.  Isaac Watts wrote a fine hymn based on this Psalm and it begins “I’ll praise my Maker.”  The psalmist is going to put his will and his mind to this fundamental and most basic task.  The Westminster confession says that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him eternally.  The psalmist is a mature believer and knows that this is true and is not conditional on anything, not on circumstance, and surely not on his frame of mind or emotional state.  Praise the I AM, Yahweh, the God of the Bible, O my soul.

 2 I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

 I will praise.  I will sing.  There is an emphatic ring here.  The Jerusalem Bible renders this “I mean to praise … I mean to sing”  Once more, this is more than emotion or some passing feeling.  This is a statement about the psalmist’s whole being and life and purpose.  And this purpose will last into eternity.  At every time as long as the psalmist has being, he intends to praise the I AM.  What is the proper limit of this?  There is none.  When does this have an end?  Never.  If you and I are indeed eternal creatures, you and I will forever praise the Creator and sing His praises.  Of course!  And if that is our eternal destiny and work, the psalmist intends to stir himself and others to be about it.

3 Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.

This is surely not a non-sequitur.  But logically, how do we get from dedication to a life of praising God to this instruction to not trust in man?  Well, that’s really quite easy.  As a result of the fall, you and I get distracted.  Our attention is not on God, but on ourselves and those around us.  We worship/value/attribute worth to humans, rather than to God.  As Paul says in Romans, we worship creatures rather than the Creator.  So the psalmist says to himself and to us, “Worship God, not man!”  Don’t trust in even the most important of humans, the princes, the influential.  Don’t look to your politicians for your security and hope.  Don’t look to one who is a “son of man.”  That is, don’t look to one who is of the nature of a human being.  Such persons simply do not have the goods!  They won’t come through.  They simply cannot come through in any consistent or lasting way (and wouldn’t do so if they could!  They are far more interested in themselves!).  Since we cannot see God, we get suckered into the error of thinking that the most important of those we can see must be the ones we should look to for help.  But there’s no help in them.  Truly, your help is not in Washington, but in the I AM.

4 When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.

This is completely obvious if we will open our eyes, and here is proof.  Where are even the greatest/most decent of human leaders of the past?  Where is Winston Churchill?  Where is Ronald Reagan?  Or even where is John Calvin, or Martin Luther?  They are in the grave, dead and gone from our presence.  There is a Hebrew play on words here emphasizing this hard fact in that the word for “man” and “earth” are very close.  Don’t trust in ones who are made of earth, they will return to it.  As a result of the fall, we are dust and to dust our bodies return.

Genesis 3:19  By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

So if we are foolish enough to count on aid from even the best of humans, we’re leaning on a false hope.  There ought to be no worship of humans in us.

Now even unbelieving people can on occasion see the futility of trusting in humans and their institutions.  But where does that leave them?  It leaves them only cynicism and despair.  Really, if my only hope is in the fine work of the republican party or the democratic party or the communist party or the king or the benevolence of a great philanthropist, or democracy, or capitalism or whatever, I’m doomed!  These have had all of human history to usher in utopia.  And they have none of them dealt with my basic sin problem!  But there is this.

5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God,

Happy/blessed is the one who is of the mind of the psalmist, determined to with all his life praise the I AM, who counts only on the ultimate help of the I AM.  Of course this is true.  It’s only because we are fallen and rebellious that this is news.  If we have no independent existence, if we are creatures living in a world made by a real omnipotent Creator, where else do we expect to find any real help?  Where else could there be any hope and comfort?   Humans can put their fingers in their ears, close their eyes, and ignore the reality of their finiteness and mortality if they insist, but if there is to be any help, it must come from the King of creation.

6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever;

This God of the Bible actually has the goods.  In contrast to ones who are of the nature of human beings and can affect no permanent help or good, this One made heaven and earth and all that is in them.  He has all power.  Cynicism and despair are not the only honest options open to human beings.  There is the option to bow the knee and worship the real and eternal King.  But there is a serious potential problem there.  What if that King is not favorably disposed towards us?  Then we’re in a world of hurt.  Thanks be to Him, the good news is that He keeps faith forever.  He’s the God of Jacob.  He’s the One who has made promises of love to Abraham Isaac, and Jacob.  And His nature is that He’s completely reliable and trustworthy.  He’s got the goods and He loves us!  That’s amazing and simply wonderful!

In light of this, the psalmist can look around at a very messy world with rock steady confidence.  He’s not going to be shaken by the first instance of evil or injustice he sees.  He knows that in the end, the King is going to set things completely right.  Again, of course!  An all-powerful and good King will both intervene in the present and in the end set all things right.  He’s not going to let rebels permanently run amok in His creation.

Here follow a series of blessings He executes both now in some measure and ultimately in completeness.

7 who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free;

The LORD, the I AM, the real King of Creation will deal with oppressors.  His weakest subjects will not be mistreated forever by the strong.  He will settle accounts.

And it’s the I AM who feeds the hungry.  There will be no permanent lack.

Those held captive will have permanent freedom.  It’s the LORD who keeps faith and whom the psalmist praises, who he knows will do these things.

8 the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.

It’s the LORD who gives sight.  It’s the LORD who lifts up those who are bowed down.

9 The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

It’s the LORD who watches over the sojourners, the widow and the fatherless.  It’s the LORD, it’s the LORD, it’s the LORD, not any other person, no other little “g” “god,” not any institution.  It’s the LORD.

And Kidner so wisely said, “like Father like Son.”

Luke 4:18  “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

19  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 7:21  In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight.

22 And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them.

These blessings of justice are of necessity double-edged.  There is good in store for the righteous and there is ruin for the wicked.  It can’t be otherwise and indeed, we shouldn’t want it to be otherwise.

10 The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD!

Boice commented, “God alone is utterly good, utterly powerful, and utterly trustworthy.”  He has always been this and always will be this.  That necessarily implies that He will then be praised forever by His adoring creatures, the ones whose God He is.  That, believer, is our eternal destiny.  We will praise God while we have being.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

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