< July 26, 2009 >

Commentary on Psalm 145:10-18

 

Psalm 145 is the last of a group of eight psalms at the end of Book Five of the Psalter that are ascribed, in their superscriptions, to David (Psalms 138-145).

It is an acrostic, in which in each verse of the psalm begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Acrostic poems were the works of highly skilled literary artists and functioned in ancient Israelite literature in a number of ways. Acrostics were most likely memory devices to aid in private and public -- that is, individual and corporate -- recitation. In addition, they literarily summarized all that could be said or needed to be said about a particular subject, summing it up from alif to tav, from A to Z.

Adele Berlin, in an article in a 1985 festschrift, comments on the structure of Psalm 145: "The poet praises God with everything from A to Z: his praise is all inclusive. More than that, the entire alphabet, the source of all words, is marshaled praise of God. One cannot actually use all of the words in a language, but by using the alphabet one uses all potential words."1

The Babylonian Talmud tractate Berakot 4b states that Psalm 145, like the shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5: "Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might."), is to be recited three times a day and everyone who does so, "may be sure that he (or she) is a child of the world to come."

Psalm 145 appears in the Jewish Prayer Book more than any other psalm in the Psalter. Also, the Dead Sea Psalm scroll 11QPsa contains a version of Psalm 145 in which the refrain, "Blessed is the LORD and blessed is his name forever and ever," is included after each verse, indicating some sort of liturgical use.

All indications are the words of this psalm were and are a vital part of the faith of the Jewish people.

Within the twenty-one-verses of Psalm 145, David, the great king of Israel, leads the Israelites and all of creation in words of praise and thanksgiving to God as king over all. The heart of the psalm is found in verses 10-18, verses that describe God's sovereignty over creation and God's care for that creation.

In verse 10, David states that all of God's works (all that God has created) will give thanks and all of God's faithful ones will bless God. The word "faithful ones" is hasidim, a word derived from the word hesed. Hesed, translated most often in the NRSV as "steadfast love," has to do with the covenant relationship between God and God's people (see Exodus 19:3b-6a). Thus a better translation for hesed might be "covenant love," and a better translation for hasidim in verse 10 might be "covenant partners."

Verses 11-13 of the acrostic psalm celebrate the sovereignty of God in a masterful way. The corresponding acrostic letters of these verses, inverted, spell out the Hebrew word for king, mlk. And within the verses, the word 'kingdom' appears four times, at the beginning, the middle, and the end. These appearances form a triangular structure, with its apex at the end of verse 12 and its base at the beginnings of verses 11 and 13.

  • Verse 11: They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power,
  • Verse 12: to make known to all people your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
  • Verse 13: Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

Having firmly established the sovereignty of God in verses 11-13, the psalm singer continues in verses 14-18 by cataloguing the gracious acts of God on behalf of creation. Significantly, the catalogue consists of verbal actions on God's part.

These verbal actions are conveyed linguistically with active participles, emphasizing the ongoing nature of the acts. Thus the verbs describing God's actions may be translated better in verse 14 as "the LORD is upholding ... and is raising up;" in verse 15 as "you are giving to them;" in verse 16 as "opening your hand ... satisfying;" and in verse 18 as "the LORD is being near."

Such ongoing care from God is extended to "all who are falling, who are bowed down" (verse 14); "all who look to God" (verse 15); "every living being" (verse 16); "all who call on God, who call on God in truth" (verse 18). God's sovereignty brings peace, security, well-being, and abundance for all who embrace the kingdom of God.

The message for the church today is simple and yet complex. In the midst of turmoil and uncertainty in the world, praising God as sovereign is the solution.

But what does that mean? We can speak the words, but how do we put them into action? God is indeed sovereign but we must be the hands and feet of God in God's world -- what some scholars call "a communitization" of kingship.

In the ancient Near East, the role of the king was to provide a safe place of habitation for humanity. That safety included dwelling places, farm land, drinking water, abundant harvests, increase of animals, and fertility within the family (see Psalm 72).

In our twenty-first century world, many people do not have the basic elements of safe habitation -- whether as a result of poverty, societal violence, disease, or outright neglect. We must, in God's name and as the hands and feet and heart of God, support those who are falling. We must lift up those who are bent down, give food in its time, open our hands, and hear and respond to cries for help.


1Adele Berlin "The Rhetoric of Psalm 145" in Biblical and Related Studies Presented to Samuel S. Iwry, edited by Ann Kort and Scott Morschauser (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1985) 17-22.