Psalm 146 is the first of a series of Psalms, ending with 150, in which the central focus is a call to praise God. He is to be praised for his greatness, his character, his power, his covenant, creation, providence, redemption, his common mercies, and his special mercies. All beings are called on to praise him and to praise him with all that is at their disposal.
I. Verses 1, 2 – The Eternality of Praise to the Lord [Yah].
A. He calls others to Praise -There are some activities to which we have no right to call others. This one, however, of praise to “Yah” is a duty intrinsic both to our status as his creatures and to his character as infinitely praiseworthy. While we have breath we call on others to praise the Lord. We glory in his truth and commend it to others; we discern the lavish advantages of his mercy, and seek to inculcate in others that sense of dependent gratitude; we are kept from a deserved judgment in order to seek him while he may be found, and urge the quest on others. Later, he will list several attributes and activities of Yah which justify this call, but for the present, we praise for he is Lord.
B. He calls on himself to praise. He does not call others to an intrinsic duty to which he does not admonish his own soul. Though the Psalmist himself is a prince or gifted leader, he recognizes that all he has is from the Lord, and he does not exempt his own soul from seeking to express the purest and most knowledgeable praise possible. We must often chide ourselves for our lack of fitting response to God and urge ourselves on in this most blessed, because graciously restored, of all privileges—to know and praise the Lord. Before his grace reached us, we were unfit to praise and found the duty reprehensible. His grace has shined in our hearts and opened our eyes to see the loveliness and holiness which we could not see and could not love (2 Corinthians 4:6). Now, having been restored to praise, let us urge our souls to this most fulfilling and eternally expanding occupation.
C. God is worthy of his praise in every conscious moment.
- While we live here, nothing transcends praise as a high calling for creatures made in the image of God. We have many things that fall within the realm of duty and stewardship that occupy energy and time, but none of them excludes praise to God while in their doing. “Whether we eat drink or whatever we do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
- “While I have my being” means that the chorus of praise will never end. Psalm 145 ended, “My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and all flesh will bless His holy name forever and ever.” This Psalm ends (10) “The Lord will reign forever, your God O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord!” The book of Revelation paints verbal pictures of scenes in which praise is given for the wisdom of God in creation and providence (4:9-11), his mercy in redemption (5:9, 10, 12, 13), his perfect equity in judgment (11:16-19), and his glory in wrath (15:3, 4; 16:5-7). We join the endless exultation of praise for ever and ever.
II. Verses 3, 4 – The vanity and temporality of all earthly powers contrasts absolutely with the eternality of our praise to God.
A. In no class of men are we tempted to put more hope than in “princes” or others whose authority affects the temporal well-being of us all. None can inspire more blind loyalty and unmitigated hatred. Such leaders are just men with as many weaknesses, inconsistencies, and limitations compounded by sin as other men. They are magnified the greater because of their high profile and how much seems to be at stake in their conduct and policy. While we admonished to pray for them, respect them, and obey them in their legitimate sphere of authority, we are not to place our trust in them. They are mortal as well as sinful and will pass away.
B. But God has not forsaken his throne. The statement concerning princes, “in whom there is no salvation.” Implies that salvation resides in another, even the Lord whom we praise. Salvation, or deliverance, comes in ways temporal but most necessarily in eternity. The judge of all also is the only one in whom salvation may be found. He alone has power to save, the right to save, and the wisdom to provide salvation.
C. As for princes, at the moment of death “his spirit departs,” and goes to see God from whom an immediate assignment of eternal destiny will be heard and then to await the final judgment after the reunion of spirit with body. For in the meantime, that body which we have seen and which we identified with the person himself “returns to the earth.” From dust he was made and to dust he will return. (Genesis 2:7; 3:19). Out of that very dust, he will arise to be reunited with his spirit and to live eternally in the embodied state either with the just or the unjust. Only then will the prince, along with all other beings see the unbiassed, perfectly equitable execution of justice.
D. “His thoughts perish.” No more will his thinking and policies have any sway over the life of any person. No longer does he express opinions that send subservients scurrying. His thoughts no longer have relevance and strike no fear or joy. If he was cruel, his cruel plans and intentions have perished; if he was beneficent and wise, and merciful we can receive such goodness no longer for all of it went to the dust with him. Rather, his mind now perceives a reality far beyond all the thoughts he had while here and he, or she, is consumed with the ineffable presence of the holy God, either for joy or regret, but now squeezed void of excuses or of any personal thoughts of greatness and influence.
III. The blessings of the Lord culminate in the Messianic work and reign of Christ. Verses 5-10
A. How blessed whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God.
- The God of Jacob is the covenant-keeping God. He made a covenant with mere sinful mortals and certainly will fulfill it. Jacob inherited the blessing to Abraham and his sons would constitute the people of Israel. They were made a nation by the almighty power and outstretched arm of Yah; they were given promises, the covenants, the law, a worship that pointed to the enduring truth of the gospel, and from them would the Messiah arise (Romans 9:3-5).
- If they find in him their present help, they are blessed. They rely on his goodness while here and find his providence filled with tender mercy and assurance. “Goodness and mercy shall follow them all the days of their lives” (Psalm 23:6). Even when it ends in imprisonment for the cause of Messiah with the sure prospect of martyrdom, we still are kept safe and find reason to praise (2 Timothy 4:18).
- Also their hope is in him. As they perceive that which is revealed about life beyond temporality and into eternity, they confess, “And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6), for he “will preserve me for his heavenly kingdom” (2 Timothy 4:18).
B. He is the Creator
- That the one in whom we hope for the future and for present provision is the one who created heaven and earth, the sea “and all that is in them.” All things—all matter, all life in all its forms and the habitats for which they are fit—the Lord did all this. How dismal an exercise it must be for a rational being to seek for hope with no purposeful consciousness of an omnipotent creator! Neither matter, nor life, nor time had a rational and purposeful beginning, and, therefore, can find none in its progression toward final demise. To what wretchedness must a rational, soulful, perceptive being submit who has no sense of purpose either from the beginning or in the end.
- “Who keeps faith [truth] forever.” Neither his being nor his knowledge ever change. His reason for creation does not falter. Thus his revelation to his creatures always is true; his statements about his attributes, his judgments, his mercies in redemption are all always true. This is the God who is there, and, for those who put their trust in him and find their present delight in his provision and their final hope in his redemption, he is our God.
C. His works are Morally right
- He executes justice for the oppressed (verse 7). The experience of being set from for the oppression of Egypt informed the Jews’ understanding of how God undertakes for the oppressed (Exodus 3:9). Whether in this life or at the judgment, oppressors will see the injustice of their sense of privilege due to power. “And look! The tears of the oppressed, but they have no comforter—but on the side of heir oppressors there is power” (Ecclesiastes 4:1). All that has fallen short of the glory of God will be revealed in every dimension of sinfulness, and oppression will be particularly singled out as evidence of a dark heart (“He who oppresses the poor reproaches his Maker; But he who honors him has mercy on the needy” (Proverbs 14:31).
- He loves the righteous. Righteousness marks all the works of God; it is the state attained through complete fulfillment of the Law (“All your commandments are righteousness” Psalm 119: 172). Through Christ’s righteousness, those who have faith in him because of that righteousness find justification. Those, therefore, who love Gods’ law, who meditate on it and seek its light as the guide to their thoughts and actions will be loved by God (“O how I love your law; it is my meditation day and night.” – Psalm 119:97). It does not constitute their salvation, for even those who love and meditate on his law, and see in it absolute perfection, do so only imperfectly, for it far transcends them “I have seen the consummation of all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad” (Psalm 119:96). They who love the law and make it their guide and see its beauty as a feast of righteousness, nevertheless plead with God for salvation from him, and recognize that their law-keeping flows from, not to, salvation (“Behold I long for your precepts; revive me in your righteousness. Let your mercies come also to me, O Lord—your salvation according to your word. … Lord I hope for your salvation, and I do your commandments. … I long for your salvation, O Lord, and your law is my delight; … I have gone astray like a lost sheep; Seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments” (Psalm 119: 40, 41, 166, 174, 176).
- He thwarts the way of the wicked. Psalm 1 assures its reader that “the way of the wicked will perish.” Haman was hung on his own gallows; Absalom was foiled by his luxurious head of hair, Sisera’s head was nailed to the ground by the hand of a woman, Nebuchadnezzar (in preparation for his encounter with the Living God) went to live in the wilds like an animal, and Belshazzar’s soul was snatched away in a moment. They themselves will be blown away like chaff, and their “way”— the way of achieving honor through evil, power through oppression, pleasure through lawlessness, and standing through deceit—will perish, it will be no more. Righteousness will reign among the elect, and divine wrath will keep before the wicked the deep horror of sin against the thrice-holy God and the refusal to love one’s neighbor as oneself.
D. He is Compassionate. He engages precisely with the need of those who are the recipients of his mercy.
- To the Hungry, food. In an extraordinary way, the Lord has shown his provision of food to the hungry. The nation of Israel was sustained for forty years by miraculous provision until they reached the land promised to Abraham and began to partake of its fruit. He then provided by seedtime and harvest. He provided for Elijah by a raven and for Elisha’s widow (2 Kings 4:1-7) enough oil for sustaining provision. Jesus fed 5,000 and then 4,000 with a meagre meal for one person. In that way he always is our present help, providing abundant food when he could with justice send upon us famine and starvation. Also he is our hope, for he reminded us in his own trial with hunger that “Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3).
- To the prisoners, freedom. After a long and unjust imprisonment, Joseph was delivered and became the savior of Egypt (Genesis 41:14, 46-49). Even to Jehoiachin, the young and faithless king of Judah at the point of its captivity, was released from prison after 37 years and spent the remainder of his days at the table of the Babylonian king (2 Kings 24:8, 9. 12; 25:27-30). Jeremiah was cast into the dungeon-pit and rescued by an Ethiopian eunuch (Jeremiah 38). In a striking providence, an Ethiopian eunuch was rescued from his spiritual imprisonment through reading the prophet Isaiah (Acts 8:26-40).
- To the blind, sight. When John the Baptist inquired from Jesus a testimony from his own lips about his messianic status, Jesus told him, “The blind see,” along with other acts of mercy toward weak and oppressed. In John 9, Jesus healed a man blind from birth: “Since the world began,” the people exclaimed, “it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing” (John 9:32, 33). Jesus concluded from the event, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind” (John 9:39). The God of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe, and only the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ shining in the heart can make us see God’s glory (2 Corinthians 4:4-6)
- To those bowed down, exaltation. James expressed this well in saying, “Let the lowly brother glory in his exaltation, but the rich in his humiliation” (James 1:9). The same event has cause the change in both postures. The lowly brother has been given grace and raised up with Christ, been made a son of God, and seated in heavenly places (John 1:12, Ephesians 2:6, 7). God has chosen the poor in this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom (James 2:5). The rich has been made to see that he cannot trust in riches which will perish in a moment and be of no value to him in the day of judgment, but only in a humble submission of heart in repentance and faith can he find true, imperishable riches (cf. 1 Timothy 6:17-19).
- To stranger, protection. Israel was to be kind to the stranger who sojourned among them and not vex or oppress them, for they were strangers in Egypt (Exodus 22:21; 23:9). To the greatest of all strangers, the Gentiles, God opened the door of mercy and knowledge of salvation (Jeremiah 16:19-21; Acts 13:46-48). Paul reminded the Ephesians that they were “without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” They had been “brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:12, 13).
- To the fatherless and widows, necessary support. James described pure and undefiled religion in the presence of our God and Father as this: “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).
E. He is eternal. To those who find his mercy, their pleasure will never cease for they will never tire of praising him or run short of new and engaging visions of his perfection that provide ever fresh reasons for such praise.