The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

My Notes on Psalm 146

Posted by Dim Bulb on January 29, 2011

As with most of my notes this post has been constructed hastily and, no doubt, somewhat sloppily, but I think the reader may find some useful food for thought and reflection in what follows.

Psalm 146 is the first of the so called Simple Hallel Psalms which constitute the final five songs of the Psalter (146-150).  Psalms 113-118 are often called the Egyptian Hallel, Psalm 120-136 are called the Great Hallel or Songs of Ascent. Sometimes the term Great Hallel is used for Psalms 135-136 or for 136 alone.  Psalms 146-150 are called the Simple Hallel.

146:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!

The capitalized LORD in the RSV indicates that the text is using the divine name YWHW which appears twice in the opening verse and eleven times all together in this Psalm. In addition, the term Elohim (RSV, God) is used three times (vss. 2, 5, 10), and brings to a total of fourteen the number of direct references to God. 14, a multiple of 7, probably has covenant significance.  The Hebrew word for covenant oath is sheba, which is derived from the same root as the word seven שׁבע (shâba‛). To make a covenant was to “seven” one’s self: ויאמר  אברהם  אנכי  אשׁבע׃ “And Abraham said ‘I will swear‘” (Gen 21:24). It is the God of the covenant who is here being praised for his fidelity to his promises in that covenant.

O my soul!. The Hebrew word translated here as soul is נפשׁ (nephesh). the word originally referred to a living beings breath and so came to have the meaning of living being, vitality, self, person, etc. Here, in light of the next verse, it probably means something like “my living self.”

146:2 I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have being. See Ps 104:33.

As long as I livewhile I have being.  The Hebrew for live is חי (chay), and for being it is עוד (‛ôd). Both words are used in parallel with soul נפשׁ (nephesh) in verse 1 and all are used in connection with the theme of praise. The Psalmist’s whole life will be one of praise, he will exist to praise God. Concerning the prayer of praise the the Catechism of the Cahtolic Church, articles 2639-2643. The focus by the psalmist on  his existence (my soul, as long as I live, while I have being) prepares for verse 3, and especially for verse 4.

146:3 Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no help.

Put not your trust in princes. The Hebrew word translated here as trust (תבטח) originally referred to a quick movement towards a point of refuge or security, but human beings are dust (see next verse and comments there).

In whom there is no help. The Hebrew seems much more expressive: In whom there is emptiness of rescue, deliverance, safety, etc.

146:4 When his breath departs he returns to his earth; on that very day his plans perish. See Ps 39:5-6;

When his breath departsBreath is רוּח (rûach), like the words in verses 1 and 2 it is synonymous with life. The meaning of man’s life is bound up with reliance on God, it is not founded on other men.

He returns to the earth. The reference to breath and the phrase he returns to his earth show the psalmist has in mind Gen 2:7~then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being, and Gen 3:19~In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

On that very day his plans perish.  The creator God keeps faith forever (vs 6); the Lord will reign forever…to all generations (vs 10), but a king and his plans will soon pass away. Every living being will have “that very day” on which this life will cease to be, but God continues on forever. The contrast between the permanence of God and the creaturely status of man is the subject of Psalm 90, see especially verses 1-6.

His plans perish. The Hebrew noun(עשׁתּנה = ‛eshtônâh, pronounced esh-to-naw) is found only here in the Bible, it comes from a verb (עשׁת) meaning to be smooth, to glitter, after being polished. A man’s plan’s, no matter how finely or carefully crafted they are, will eventually perish אבד (‘âbad)  literally, wander away.

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

Happy. The Hebrew word is אשׁר (‘esher), it comes from a semetic stem which when used as a verb means to walk or go forward (Isa 3:12; 9:15; Prov 4:14; 23:19). In its noun form it means footstep. The polished plans of man will “wander” (perish, vs 4) but the man whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God is on the right journey (see the journey motif of psalm 1 which begins with the word “happy”).

God the creator and faithful one (verse 6) can be trusted at all times and in every situation, no matter how dire or life threatening (verses 7-9). He is the God (Elohim) of Jacob (Gen 28:10-22; Gen 35:1-15; Ex 2:23-24) and the LORD (YHWH, see Ex 3:4-18), i.e., the faithful God of the covenant promises.

146:6 who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith for ever; see Nehemiah 9:6

The God who planned and made heaven and earth can be trusted, even if the plans of his creature, man, cannot: Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will be established (Prov 19:21).

1 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind:
2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?
3 Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.
4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.
5 Who determined its measurements — surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it?
6 On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone,
7 when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors, when it burst forth from the womb;
9 when I made clouds its garment, and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed bounds for it, and set bars and doors,
11 and said, `Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?
12 “Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place,
13 that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it?…40:1 And the LORD said to Job:
2 “Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it.” (See Job 38-41).

Who keeps faith forever. God’s ability to help and save is often associated with his power as Creator (Ps 121:2; 124:8). “Creation is the foundation of all God’s saving plans, the beginning of the history of salvation” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #280).

And creation is intimately connected with covenant: “Thus the revelation of creation is inseparable from the revelation and forging of the covenant of the one God with his People. Creation is revealed as the first step towards this covenant, the first and universal witness to God’s all-powerful love. And so, the truth of creation is also expressed with growing vigour in the message of the prophets, the prayer of the psalms and the liturgy, and in the wisdom sayings of the Chosen People” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #288).

146:7 who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free;

The LORD. The God of the covenant who demands justice for the oppressed and food to the hungry, see Deut 24:14-22, and who sets the prisoners free (Zech 9:11-12).

It was the job of the rulers to execute justice for the oppressed, but they often failed (Isa 1:23-27). The oppressed refers to any class of people subject to being taken advantage of, such as widows, orphans, and aliens (see Ex 22:21-22), these will be expressly mentioned in verse 9 of the psalm.

God the creator and faithful one (verse 6) can be trusted at all times and in every situation, no matter how dire or life threatening (verses 7-9). He is the God (Elohim) of Jacob (Gen 28:10-22; Gen 35:1-15; Ex 2:23-24) and the LORD (YHWH, see Ex 3:4-18), i.e., the faithful God of the covenant promises.

146:8 the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.

Note the threefold use of the LORD who

Opens the eyes of the blind. See Matt 11:5; Isa 29:18-19.

Lifts up those who are bowed down. Bowed down reflects the Hebrew (כּפף), which is somewhat synonymous with the word translated “oppressed” in verse 7. There the word used refers primarily to those oppressed by human beings, here the word means any manner of affliction which the business of daily living might bring: sorrow, sickness, anxieties, cares, etc.

Loves the righteous. He loves those who do what is right (i.e., what is in accord with his will), who fulfill all righteousness (Matt 3:15, 25:31-46).

146:9 The LORD watches over the sojourners, he upholds the widow and the fatherless; but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

Sojourners…widow…fatherless. As noted above these three classes are the proverbially oppressed. None of these classes are necessarily synonymous with the economically poor, and the earlier reference to rulers indicates (vs 3) that the Psalmist probably has in mind those abused by the miscarriage of law.

Upholds the widow and fatherless.   Similar to the thought that God lifts up those who are bowed down (vs 8).

The way of the wicked he brings to ruin. Brings to ruin translates the Hebrew עות, a word which sometimes has moral connotations (subvert in Ps 119:78, pervert in Job 34:12). The basic meaning of the word is “to bend backward”.  Those who oppress (literally, press down) others (vs 7), or who take advantage of those bowed down (vs 8) will be themselves twisted or bent backward by God. Those who subvert others in this life will find themselves subverted in the next life by the hand of God.

146:10 The LORD will reign for ever, thy God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD!

The Psalm ends as it began, with a call to Praise the LORD, the covenant God who reigns for ever and to all generations in contrast to the passing reign of a prince in whom there is no help. When his breath departs he returns to his earth; on that very day his plans perish (vss 3-4). No wonder then that man ought to praise the LORD as long as he lives, and sing praises to God as long as he has being (vs 1).

3 Responses to “My Notes on Psalm 146”

  1. […] My Notes on Today’s Psalm (146). […]

  2. […] My Notes on Today’s Psalm (146). […]

  3. […] My Notes on Today’s Responsorial (Ps 146). […]

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