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Psalm 146 Biblical Commentary:
Psalms 146-150 form a closing unit for this book, each of these five psalms beginning and ending with “Praise the Lord” (Hebrew: halal Yah––Hallelujah!).
This psalm provides reasons for trusting Yahweh:
- Unlike the princes of verses 3-4, Yahweh will reign forever (v. 10).
- Yahweh demonstrated his power and good will in the creation (v. 6).
- Yahweh helps the vulnerable (vv. 7-9).
This psalm has much in common with Psalm 145, which praises Yahweh for his wondrous works, goodness, steadfast love, and provision for the needy. That psalm also contrasts the way that Yahweh helps the righteous and needy, but destroys the wicked (Compare Psalm 145:20; Psalm 146: 9).
PSALM 146:1-2. PRAISE YAHWEH, MY SOUL
1 Praise Yah!
Praise Yahweh, my soul.
2 While I live, I will praise Yahweh.
I will sing praises to my God as long as I exist.
“Praise Yah!” (Hebrew: halal Yah) (v. 1a). The verb halal in this line is plural and imperative, so it commands others to praise Yah, which is an abbreviated form of Yahweh (the name of God, often translated “the Lord.”)
Halal Yah has been transliterated into English as the word Hallelujah, which means praise the Lord.
“Praise Yahweh, my soul” (Hebrew: nepes) (v. 1b). In this line, praise is singular and imperative, so the psalmist is telling himself to praise the Lord.
The phrase, my soul (nepes) adds an intimate dimension. The noun, nepes, means soul or life. The Israelites also used it to mean breath, the animating force that gives the creature life. The psalmist is telling himself to praise the Lord from the very depths of his being––heartfelt praise.
“While I live, I will praise Yahweh.
I will sing praises to my God as long as I exist” (v. 2). The psalmist has called others to praise the Lord (v. 1a), and has ordered himself to praise the Lord from the depths of his being (v. 1b). Now he commits to praising the Lord as long as he lives––as long as he has breath to speak praises.
PSALM 146:3-4. DON’T PUT YOUR TRUST IN PRINCES
3 Don’t put your trust in princes,
each a son of man in whom there is no help.
4 His spirit departs, and he returns to the earth.
In that very day, his thoughts perish.
“Don’t put your trust (Hebrew batah) in princes (Hebrew nadib),
each a son (Hebrew: ben) of man (Hebrew: ‘adam) in whom there is no help” (v. 3).
The word batah (trust) means “to feel secure” or “to have confidence in.” In this verse, the psalmist is telling us not to seek security from princes, because they are merely human and sons of humans, with all the foibles and frailties associated with humanity.
The word nadib (princes) represents people in high positions––people who wield authority––wealthy people. The psalmist tells us not to not to place our faith in them––not to believe that they represent some sort of ultimate security–– because they are apt to disappoint us.
There are various reasons why these “princes” might disappoint. They might not have the power that we imagine them to have. They might have other priorities. They might be corrupt. They might not allow us the opportunity to present our case. The list goes on and on.
But the next verse will reveal an even more profound reason not to put our trust in them.
The psalmist’s use of the word ‘adam (man) in this verse sets up a word play that involves the word ‘adamah (earth) in the next verse.
“His spirit departs, and he returns to the earth” (Hebrew: ‘adamah) (v. 4a). The ultimate reason we should not trust in princes is that they will inevitably die, and their influence will die with them. The prince is a son of man (‘adam) in whom there is no help, because he is of the earth (‘adamah) and to the earth he must return. “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.”
“In that very day, his thoughts (Hebrew: estonah––thoughts or plans) perish” (v. 4b). When a prince dies, he will be replaced by a new prince who will have his own agenda––his own thoughts––his own plans. As the British say, “The king (the king who died) is dead; long live the king” (the new king). It is their way of acknowledging: (1) the passing of the old king, (2) the continuance of the monarchy, and (3) the fact that the winds of change may soon begin to blow.
PSALM 146:5-6b. HAPPY IS HE WHO HAS GOD FOR HIS HELP
5 Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help,
whose hope is in Yahweh, his God:
6ab who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
“Happy (Hebrew: ‘eser) is he who has the God of Jacob for his help,
whose hope is in Yahweh, his God” (v. 5). This is the last of 26 beatitudes (“Blessed…” “Happy…”) in the psalms, the first being Psalm 1:1.
While the word ‘eser can mean happy, joyful would be a better translation. We have cheapened the word happy by overuse, often in trivially. Joyful means joy-filled and has a more robust character––one more appropriate to this verse.
The New Testament equivalent is the Greek markarios (blessed), prominent in Jesus’ Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12; Luke 6:20-23). Blessed is also a good translation for the Hebrew ‘eser, because blessed has religious overtones––and the reasons for blessedness that the psalmist cites in these verses are rooted in Yahweh.
The joy-filled person of this verse is the one “who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in Yahweh, his God.” Unlike the princes of verses 3-4, Yahweh has the power to meet our needs. His priority is to bless us––to save us. He is not corrupt. He will hear us. He will not die. His plans and purposes will not expire in the hands of his successor.
Jacob was the younger son of Isaac and Rebekah. God changed his name to Israel, and promised that the covenant originally made with Abram would be fulfilled through Jacob/Israel (Genesis 35:10-12).
So the God of Jacob (the person) is also the God of Israel (the nation).
The God of Jacob and Yahweh are synonymous––refer to the same God.
“who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them” (v. 6ab). Yahweh has demonstrated his power and good will by his creation of heaven, earth, and everything in them. The person who places his hope in Yahweh is joy-filled, because he/she has substantial reason to believe that his trust is well-placed.
PSALM 146:6c-9. YAHWEH OPENS EYES & RAISES UP
6cwho keeps truth forever;
7 who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
Yahweh frees the prisoners.
8 Yahweh opens the eyes of the blind.
Yahweh raises up those who are bowed down.
Yahweh loves the righteous.
9 Yahweh preserves the foreigners.
He upholds the fatherless and widow,
but the way of the wicked he turns upside down.
“who keeps (Hebrew: samar) truth (Hebrew: ’emet ) forever” (v. 6c). Truth (’emet) is that which is real, dependable, stable––the opposite of false––that which we can count on. Truth is faithful––trustworthy. Those who believe the truth will find their journey much easier than those who place their faith in something that is false. That which is real will always triumph in the end.
Yahweh is a God of truth (Psalm 31:5). He keeps (samar) truth. The word samar has a number of meanings. The ones most applicable here are keep or preserve or pays attention.
“who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
Yahweh frees the prisoners
Yahweh opens the eyes of the blind.
Yahweh raises up those who are bowed down” (v. 7-8ab). The psalmist outlines five ways that Yahweh cares for vulnerable people.
Torah law included provisions to provide for the needs of the poor. Landowners were required to leave the edges of their fields unharvested so that poor people could glean those fields and obtain enough food for survival (Leviticus 19:9-10). The law also made provision for the next of kin to redeem land sold by a relative (Leviticus 25:25), and required families to support indigent kin (Leviticus 25:35). The prophets emphasized concerned for the poor and condemned ill treatment of widows and orphans (Isaiah 1:17, 23; 10:1; Jeremiah 5:28; 7:6; 22:3; Malachi 3:5).
“Yahweh loves the righteous” (Hebrew: saddiq) (v. 8c). Righteous people live in accord with ethical principles––according to God’s law and God’s will.
“Yahweh preserves the foreigners.
He upholds the fatherless and widow,
but the way of the wicked he turns upside down” (v. 9). The psalmist lists two more ways Yahweh takes care of vulnerable people––but does so here to set up a contrast with the way that he deals with the wicked.
The ways of the wicked, Yahweh turns upside down (‘awat). The word ‘awat means to bend or subvert or frustrate. The picture that comes to mind is the cartoon where someone tries to shoot someone else, but the barrel of the gun is bent so that it points back at himself. “Turns upside down” is not a literal translation, but it conveys the meaning quite well.
PSALM 146:10. YAHWEH WILL REIGN FOREVER
10 Yahweh will reign forever;
your God, O Zion, to all generations.
“Yahweh will reign forever;
your God, O Zion, to all generations” (v. 10bc). Unlike the princes of verses 3-4, Yahweh is here today AND here tomorrow. He will not die. He will reign forever––to all generations.
“Praise Yah!” (Hebrew: halal Yah––Hallelujah!––Praise the Lord!) (v. 10c). The psalmist opened this hymn with these words, and closes it the same way. Again, the verb halal (praise) is plural, so the psalmist is once again inviting the faith community to join in praising God.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern
English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia
Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Anderson, A.A., The New Century Bible Commentary: Psalms 73-150 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972)
Broyles, Craig C., New International Biblical Commentary: Psalms (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999
Brueggemann, Walter, The Message of the Psalms A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1984)
Clifford, Richard J., Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 73-150 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003)
DeClaisse-Walford, Nancy; Jacobson, Rolf A.; Tanner, Beth Laneel, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014)
Gower, Ralph, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987)
Kidner, Derek, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 73-150, Vol. 14b (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973)
Limburg, James, Westminster Bible Companion: Psalms (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000
Mays, James Luther, Interpretation: Psalms (Louisville: John Knox, 1994)
McCann, J. Clinton, Jr., The New Interpreter’s Bible: The Book of Psalms, Vol. 4 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996)
Ross, Allen P., A Commentary on the Psalms, 90-150, Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2016)
Tate, Marvin E., Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 51-100 (Dallas: Word Books, 1990)
Waltner, James H., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Psalms (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 2006)
DICTIONARIES, ENCYCLOPEDIAS & LEXICONS:
Baker, Warren (ed.), The Complete WordStudy Old Testament (Chattanooga; AMG Publishers, 1994)
Baker, Warren and Carpenter, Eugene, The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: Old Testament (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2003)
Bromiley, Geoffrey (General Editor), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979-1988)
Brown, Francis; Driver, S.R.; and Briggs, Charles A., The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1906, 2004)
Doniach, N.S. and Kahane, Ahuvia, The Oxford English-Hebrew Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1998)
Fohrer, Georg, Hebrew & Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament (SCM Press, 2012)
Freedman, David Noel (ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, 6 vol. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007)
Freedman, David Noel (Ed.), Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000)
Mounce, William D., (ed.), Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006)
Renn, Stephen D., Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words: Word Studies for Key English Bible Words Based on the Hebrew and Greek Texts (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2005)
Richards, Lawrence O., Encyclopedia of Bible Words (Zondervan, 1985, 1991)
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob (ed.), The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 5 vol. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006-2009)
VanGemeren, Willem A. (General Editor), New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, 5 vol., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997)
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