Structure of the Psalms

The structure of the end of the book of psalms:

Psalms 145 through 150   Praise Psalms

Psalm 140–144  Petition Psalms
“And it is observable,  1. That after five psalms of prayer follow six psalms of praise; for those that are much in prayer shall not want matter for praise, and those that have sped in prayer must abound in praise. Our thanksgivings for mercy, when we have received it, should even exceed our supplications for it when we were in pursuit of it. ”   -Matthew Henry

Psalm 146:5–The Turning Point and the Second Half, God is God…

As depressing as verses 3 and 4 are, we (thankfully) reach a pivot and turn at verse 5:

Psa 146:5  Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God

Trusting in men is immediate, easier, but ultimately a letdown.  Trusting is God is where we are headed with this psalm.   Good comment here:

Alas, how often do we trust when we should be afraid, and become afraid when we should trust! – Lange’s Commentary.

I also like the Believer’s Bible Commentary here where he connects the second part of this psalm to particular character traits in God.  This list would be good to meditate upon:

“The way of happiness, help, and hope is to rely on the God of Jacob, that is, the God of the undeserving. Here are some of the reasons why He is worthy of all our confidence:
146:6   Omnipotent Creator. He made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and all the creatures in the universe. If He can do that, what can’t He do?
Dependable One. He keeps truth forever. It is impossible for Him to lie or to go back on His word. There is no risk involved in trusting Him. He cannot fail.
146:7   Advocate of the helpless. He sees to it that the righteous are vindicated, that their cause eventually triumphs. The waves may seem to be against them but the tide is sure to win.
Provider. He gives food to the hungry, both in a spiritual and physical sense. He brings us into His banqueting house, and what a table He spreads!
Emancipator. He sets the captives free—from human oppression, from the chains of sin, from the grip of the world, from the bondage of the devil, and from selfish living.
146:8   Sight-Giver. The LORD opens the eyes of the blind; some are blind physically, some mentally and spiritually. Some by birth, some by accident, and some by choice. No case is too hard for Him.
Uplifter. He lifts the flagging spirits of those who are bowed down beneath the burdens of worry, affliction, trouble, and sorrow.
Lover of good men. Barnes writes, “It is a characteristic of God, and a foundation for praise, that He loves those who obey law, who do that which is right.”
146:9   Protector of exiles. He is interested in the welfare of strangers, sojourners, and exiles. Pilgrims find a true paraclete in Jehovah.
Friend of the bereft. He upholds the fatherless and the widow, and all others who have no human helper.
Judge of the evil. He thwarts the best laid plans of ungodly men and makes the way of the wicked end in ruin.
146:10   Eternal King. In contrast to man’s transiency is the eternity of God. The LORD shall reign forever—to all generations. Praise the LORD!”  -BBC

Men are Men, a Real Downer: the first half of Psalm 146

“The best of men are men at best. They cannot save themselves, let alone others. ” -BBC

Psa 146:3  Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
Psa 146:4  When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.

Men are men, God is God–simple, right?   But we mess it up all the time.  We hope in the seen instead of the unseen.  We trust in the immediate at the expense of the eternal.

You can’t get more depressing than Barnes here:

It is “his” as it is the only property which he has in reversion. All that a man – a prince, a nobleman, a monarch, a millionaire – will soon have will be his grave, his few feet of earth. That will be his by right of possession, by the fact that for the time being he will occupy it, and not another man! But that, too, may soon become another man’s grave, so that even there he is a tenant only for a time; he has no permanent possession even of a grave. – Albert Barnes.

When I read the older commentaries, they strike me as morbid at times.  Or perhaps they were more in touch with the boundaries of life—disease, hard work, the elements of nature, and the ravages of time–were not held at arms length as they are nowdays.

“His thoughts perish.” The science, the philosophy, the statesmanship of one age is exploded in the next. The men who are the masters of the world’s intellect to-day are discrowned to-morrow. In this age of restless and rapid change they may survive their own thoughts; their thoughts do not survive them. – J. J. Stewart Perowne.

If this was true in the 1880’s when Stewart Perowne was at his zenith,  how much more is this true today with the great proliferation of real-time thinking, RSS feeds, and text messaging?  Without faith in God, in our spirit returning to The Creator, it’s easy to see how the existentialists waded in the black mire.  God’s hand in all this changes everything.

From H6245; thinking: – thought.

“His thoughts.” Rather, “his false, deceitful show”; literally, “his glitterings.” – Samuel Horsley, 1733-1806.

A primitive root; probably to be sleek, that is, glossy; hence (through the idea of polishing) to excogitate (as if forming in the mind): – shine, think.

I’m trying to trace Horsley’s footsteps here—imagine this “ashath” is where we got “glitterings.”  It’s sad to think that our most polished thoughts are mere glitterings.  How to reconcile this thought that man is of so little consequence and yet of such great consequence to God?   It requires more space and time than I have this morning, that’s for sure!

“His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth.” His breath goes from his body, and his body goes to the grave. His spirit goes one way, and his body another. High as he stood, the want of a little air brings him down to the ground, and lays him under it.”  Spurgeon

And if you haven’t had enough already, here are more depressing reflections from Spurgeon:

“In that very day his thoughts perish.” Whatever he may have proposed to do, the proposal ends in smoke. He cannot think, and what he had thought of cannot effect itself, and therefore it dies. Now that he has gone, men are ready enough to let his thoughts go with him into oblivion; another thinker comes, and turns the thoughts of his predecessor to ridicule. It is a pitiful thing to be waiting upon princes or upon any other men, in the hope that they will think of us. In an hour they are gone, and where are their schemes for our promotion? A day has ended their thoughts by ending them; and our trusts have perished, for their thoughts have perished. Men’s ambitions, expectations, declarations, and boastings all vanish into thin air when the breath of life vanishes from their bodies. This is the narrow estate of man, his breath, his earth, and his thoughts; and this is his threefold climax therein, – his breath goeth forth, to his earth he returns, and his thoughts perish. Is this a being to be relied upon? Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. To trust it would be a still greater vanity.”  Spurgeon

It does remind me of Ecclesiastes—no wonder the literature teachers love Ecclesiastes.   But notice, it’s trusting in man that caused this bleakness.

Just Say the Word…the Proper Course of Power

“He sends His orders to the world—how swiftly His word flies!”  Psalm 147:15

The power of His word created the world.  The officer in Matthew understood this power instinctively:

When Jesus returned to Capernaum, a Roman officer came and pleaded with Him, “Lord, my young servant lies in bed, paralyzed and in terrible pain.”  Jesus said, “I will come and heal him.” But the officer said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come into my home. Just say the word from where You are, and my servant will be healed.  I know this because I am under the authority of my superior officers, and I have authority over my soldiers. I only need to say, ‘Go,’ and they go, or ‘Come,’ and they come. And if I say to my slaves, ‘Do this,’ they do it.”  When Jesus heard this, He was amazed. Turning to those who were following Him, He said, “I tell you the truth, I haven’t seen faith like this in all Israel!  And I tell you this, that many Gentiles will come from all over the world—from east and west—and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at the feast in the Kingdom of Heaven.  But many Israelites—those for whom the Kingdom was prepared—will be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”   Then Jesus said to the Roman officer, “Go back home. Because you believed, it has happened.” And the young servant was healed that same hour. ”  Matthew 8: 5-13

It’s an easy faith to admire from afar, isn’t it?  Looking back from the distance of 2,000 years, it’s easy to forget the context surrounding this scene–that Christ had not yet died, risen and his power over sickness, death, creation was not fully evident at this point.  But the officer readily transferred his understanding of how authority works in his world to how power works in the spiritual world.

Some people seem to be given a greater measure of this kind of faith than others.   Me?  It’s definitely not an area of strength for me–I could learn a lot by meditating upon this officer’s response.  I should be quicker to recognize His hand over the weather, animals, plants, and humans of this world.   It all comes from Him and it is ALL under His ultimate authority.  The Lord reminded Job of this when Job became too stuck in his own pity party.   It should be at the forefront of our minds, so that we are also quick to say “Lord, I am not worthy” and “Just say the word from where you are.”

Corks and Lead…hope and fear

Psa 147:11  but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.

“Them that fear him, those that hope in his mercy.” Patience and fear are the fences of hope. There is a beautiful relation between hope and fear. The two are linked in this verse. They are like the cork in a fisherman’s net, which keeps it from sinking, and the lead, which prevents it from floating. Hope without fear is in danger of being too sanguine; fear without hope would soon become desponding. – George Seaton Bowes, in “In Prospect of Sunday,” 1880.

“Fear” and “Hope” are the great vincula of Old Testament theology, bracketing and including in their meaning all its ideas. – Thomas Le Blanc.

More on this fear and hope from Spurgeon’s commentary this morning:

“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 favoured 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 doth 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 them both in 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 taketh pleasure in the righteous, even though that righteousness is as yet in its initial stage of fear and hope.” -Spurgeon

I particularly like that last paragraph as many environmentalists are quick to marvel at the beauty of nature, but equally as quick to throw darts at the evil nature of their fellow man who fails to care for the creation.  They marvel at an unfolding leaf while rejecting the worth of a life unfolding in the womb.

On His Providential Care, Birds, and Psalm 147

This morning I came across this poem during my devotional time.  I love it when the Lord effortlessly connects my different worlds together through a passage.  This morning, He did so through Psalm 147 and Spurgeon’s commentary on the psalms:

“He gives to the beasts their food, and to the young ravens that cry.” -Psalm 147:9

Lately we have been studying birds at our feeder.  David has become particularly fascinated with them, so we are reading about John James Audubon, looking through our field guides, observing birds, and coloring pictures of different types.

This verse in the psalms brought to mind some of Jesus’ comments on birds, which are some of  my favorite passages in scripture:

“Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?  Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”  -Matthew 6:26-34

and this one….

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”  -Matthew 10:29-31

I think his point here is not to devalue birds in any way, but to point us to His meticulous providential care over all aspects of His creation.  Clearly He is a God of great specificity and detail–DNA, the architecture of snowflakes, the marvelous way that our bodies are put together, all of these things, for me, point to His care over the details of His creation.

Shakespeare saw it too, which is why he put these words in Hamlet’s mouth:

If your mind dislike any thing, obey it. I will forestall their
repair hither, and say you are not fit.

Not a whit, we defy augury. There is special providence in
the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to
come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come—the
readiness is all. Since no man, of aught he leaves, knows what is’t
to leave betimes, let be.
Hamlet Act 5, scene 2, 217–224

I’m so thankful to serve such a God–His hand and eye is over ALL of the earth, including our own little worlds.  He certainly does not always act in ways that we can comprehend, and His ways are not  always easy ways, but all the same present, He is present–the buck stops with Him.

Oh–I almost forgot the poem from Spurgeon’s commentary that got me on this jag to begin with– and then I’ve got to go teach those children ; )

Behold, and look away your low despair;
See the light tenants of the barren air:
To them, nor stores, nor granaries belong,
Nought but the woodlands and the pleasing song;
Yet, your kind heavenly Father bends his eye
On the least wing that flits along the sky.
To him they sing when Spring renews the plain;
To him they cry in Winter’s pinching reign;
Nor is the music, nor their plaint, in vain.
He hears the gay, and the distressful call,
And with unsparing bounty fills them all.
Will he not care for you, ye faithless, say?
Is he unwise? Or, are ye less than they?
James Thomson, 1700-1748.

Ordering within the Creation (Ps 147:8)

Psalm 147:8 “He covers the heavens with clouds, provides rain for the earth, and makes the grass grow in mountain pastures.

In the order of the world there is an excellent chain of causes, by which all things hang together, that so they may lead up the soul to the Lord. – Thomas Manton.

I like what Thomas Manton says here about how the world should lead us to lift our eyes to God.  Instead of looking for God literally within His creation (as a pantheist would) we are to marvel at the intricately woven chain of dependency and then marvel at God.

What does this mean for an earth increasingly burdened by “broken links” in the chain (environmental problems, eradication of species, etc)?  I’m not sure.   Also, isn’t it sad that evolutionary theory has done its best to turn God’s glory as revealed by His creation upon its head?  Instead of seeing His handiwork as a source of praise, we end up burdened with a head full of questions about how to reconcile carbon dating, fossils, and plate tectonics with His word.  Sad.