Commentary on Psalm 147:12-20
Psalm 147 is classified as a Community Hymn — a hymn of the people that celebrates God’s sovereign reign over the community of faith and over all creation.
It is the second of the five psalms known as the “Final Hallel” (Hallelujah) that form the doxological close of the book of Psalms (Psalms 146-150). As do each of the five psalms, Psalm 147 begins and ends with the words “Praise the LORD,” which is “hallelujah” in Hebrew.
Psalm 147 may be divided into three sections, each with a call to praise followed by descriptive words about God’s sovereignty over the community of faith and the created world.
vv. 1-6: Invitation to Sing Praises to God
vv. 7-11: Invitation to Sing and Make Music to God
vv. 12-20: Invitation to Glorify God
The focus of this commentary is verses 12-20, but the context of the verses within Psalm 147 is important to understand. In verses 1-6, the community of worshipers is invited to participate in praising the Lord and then is given the reasons for the invitation to do so in a series of statements about God’s actions on behalf of the community of faith and all creation. God is gracious (v.1); God builds up Jerusalem and gathers the outcasts (v. 2); God heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds (v. 3); God determines the number of the stars and names them (v. 4); God is great and abundant in power and understanding (v. 5); and God lists up the downtrodden and casts out the wicked (v. 6).
Verse 7 issues a two-fold invitation to participate in singing Psalm 147: “Sing to the Lord with thanks” and “make music to our God.” What follows in verses 8-11 is a continuation of the reason for the invitation to praise given in verses 1-6. God covers the heavens with the clouds, prepares rain for the grass, and makes grass grow on the hills (v. 8); God gives the animals and the young ravens their food (v. 9); God does not delight in the strength of the horse or the speed of the runner, but rather in those who revere (in the NRSV, “fear”) God (vv. 10-11).
And thus we come to our focus verses: 12-20. Verse 12 issues the third call to participate in singing Psalm 147: “Glorify O Jerusalem, the Lord; praise your God, O Zion.” Verse 13’s opening word, “for,” introduces the reason that the singers of the psalm should glorify Jerusalem and Praise God. God strengthens the bars of your gate and blesses your children (v. 13); God grants peace within your borders and fills you with the finest of wheat (v. 14); God sends out commands to the earth and the words run swiftly (v. 15); God give snow like wool and scatters frost like ashes (v. 16); God hurls down hail like crumbs so that no one can stand (v. 17); God sends out God’s word and makes the wind blow and the waters flow (v.18); God declares statutes and ordinances to Jacob and all Israel, unlike any other nation (vv. 19-20).
Verses 12-20 issue a resounding cry to “Praise the LORD” and outlines the various reasons why the psalm singer should do so. The reasons to do so are structured in something of an inclusion structure. According to verses 13-14, God cares and provides for each individual member of the community of faith. And in verses 19-20, God’s statutes and ordinances are the means by which God cares and provides for the community of faith. In the intervening verses, verses 15-18, the psalmist depicts God as creator and sovereign over the created order, sending out God’s word, giving snow and frost, hurling down hail and cold, and causing the winds to blow and waters to flow.
Thus, we might see a structure for these verses as follows:
verse 12: call to praise
verses 13-14: call to each member of the community of faith
verses 15-18: call to all creation
verses 19-20: call to the whole community of faith
All the faithful are called to see God’s good work in their lives — for strength, legacy, peace, and fulfillment. The faithful also are called to see God’s good work in creation — in the snow, the frost, the hail, the wind, the waters. And, finally, the faithful are called to see God’s good work for the community of faith as a whole — the statutes and ordinances, that is, the path to the good for society as a whole.
The closing verses of Psalm 147 outline a process of what I like to call “becoming human” as God’s good creation. We begin with ourselves, attempting to understand who we are in relationship to God; we then observe the world around us and try to fathom God’s place in the magnificent created order; and then we join with the larger community as we pursue the good for all creation. James L. Mays, on page 442 of the 1994 Interpretation commentary on the book of Psalms, sums it up well:
The history of the community of faith is a small part of reality, but the power that moves its course is the same that governs the stars. On the other hand, the processes of the world are vast, impersonal, and uncaring, but the sovereignty at work in the world is the saving, caring God whom Israel has come to know in its history.
The words of Psalm 147 remind the faithful of the nature and character of the God they worship. Psalm 147:12-20 is the lectionary reading for the second Sunday after Christmas Day, along with John 1:10-18 and Ephesians 1:3-14. John 1 states that “the word” was in the world in the fleshly embodiment of the person of Jesus. But only those who accepted “the word” as both the embodiment and transcendence of God, that is those who saw God as intimate provider and sovereign of the universe, could be called the true children of God. Ephesians 1:3-14 reminds the reader that believers are blessed as children of God in all of God’s wisdom and insight (Ephesians 1:8) and that their futures are assured according to God’s “plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth” (Ephesians 1:10). Thus, all three texts (Psalm 147:12-20; John 1:10-18; and Ephesians 1:3-14) remind the community of faith that God is creator of all and yet that God intimately cares for humanity.
January 3, 2016