Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, February 24th, 2024
the First Week of Lent
There are 36 days til Easter!
For 10¢ a day you can enjoy StudyLight.org ads
free while helping to build churches and support pastors in Uganda.
Click here to learn more!

Bible Commentaries
Psalms 145

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-21

Psalms 145:1-21

This is an acrostic psalm. Like several others of that kind, it is slightly irregular, one letter (Nun) being omitted. The omission is supplied in the LXX by an obviously spurious verse inserted in the right place between Psalms 145:13 and Psalms 145:14. Though the psalm has no strophical divisions, it has distinct sequence of thought, and celebrates the glories of Jehovah’s character and deeds from a fourfold point of view. It sings of His greatness (Psalms 145:1-6), goodness (Psalms 145:7-10), His kingdom (Psalms 145:11-13), and the universality of His beneficence (Psalms 145:14-21). It is largely coloured by other psalms, and is unmistakably of late origin.

The first group of verses has two salient characteristics-the accumulation of epithets expressive of the more majestic aspects of Jehovah’s self-revelation, and the remarkable alternation of the psalmist’s solo of song and the mighty chorus which takes up the theme and sends a shout of praise echoing down the generations.

The psalmist begins with his own tribute of praise, which he vows shall be perpetual. Psalms 145:1 recalls Psalms 30:1; Psalms 34:1. We "exalt" God, when we recognise that He is King, and worthily adore Him as such. A heart suffused with joy in the thought of God would fain have no other occupation than the loved one of ringing out His name. The singer sets "forever and aye" at the end of both Psalms 145:1 and Psalms 145:2, and while it is possible to give the expression a worthy meaning as simply equivalent to continually, it is more in harmony with the exalted strain of the psalm and the emphatic position of the words to hear in them an expression of the assurance which such delight in God and in the contemplation of Him naturally brings with it, that over communion so deep and blessed, Death has no power. "Every day will I bless Thee"-that is the happy vow of the devout heart. "And I will praise Thy name forever and ever"-that is the triumphant confidence that springs from the vow. The experiences of fellowship with God are prophets of their own immortality.

Psalms 145:3 a-is from Psalms 48:1, and b is tinged by Isaiah 40:1-31, but substitutes "greatness," the keynote of the first part of this psalm for "understanding." That note having been thus struck, is taken up in Psalms 145:4-6, which set forth various aspects of that greatness, as manifested in works which are successively described as "mighty"-i.e., instinct with conquering power such as a valiant hero wields; as, taken together, constituting the "splendour of the glory of Thy majesty," the flashing brightness with which, when gathered, as it were, in a radiant mass, they shine out, like a great globe of fire; as "wonders," not merely in the narrower sense of miracles, but as being productive of lowly astonishment in the thoughtful spectator; and as being "dread acts"-i.e., such as fill the beholder with holy awe. In Psalms 145:5 b the phrase rendered above "records of His wonders" is literally "words of His wonders," which some regard as being like the similar phrase in Psalms 65:3 (words or matters of iniquities), a pleonasm, and others would take as they do the like expression in Psalms 105:27, as equivalent to "deeds of the Divine wonders" (Delitzsch). But "words" may very well here retain its ordinary sense, and the poet represents himself as meditating on the records of God’s acts in the past as well as gazing on those spread before his eyes in the present.

His passing and repassing from his own praise in Psalms 145:1-2, to that of successive generations in Psalms 145:4 others in Psalms 145:6, is remarkable. Does he conceive of himself as the chorus leader, teaching the ages his song? Or does he simply rejoice in the less lofty consciousness that his voice is not solitary? It is difficult to say, but this is clear, that the Messianic hope of the world’s being one day filled with the praises which were occasioned by God’s manifestation in Israel burned in this singer’s heart. He could not bear to sing alone, and this hymn would lack its highest note, if he did not believe that the world was to catch up the song.

But greatness, majesty, splendour, are not the Divinest parts of the Divine nature, as this singer had learned. These are but the fringes of the central glory. Therefore the song rises from greatness to celebrate better things, the moral attributes of Jehovah (Psalms 145:7-10). The psalmist has no more to say of himself, till the end of his psalm. He gladly listens rather to the chorus of many voices which proclaims Jehovah’s widespread goodness. In Psalms 145:7 the two attributes which the whole Old Testament regards as inseparable are the themes of the praise of men. Goodness and righteousness are not antithetic, but complementary, as green and red rays blend in white light. The exuberance of praise evoked by these attributes is strikingly represented by the two strong words describing it: of which the former, "well forth," compares its gush to the clear waters of a spring bursting up into sunlight, dancing and flashing, musical and living, and the other describes it as like the shrill cries of joy raised by a crowd on some festival, or such as the women trilled out when a bride was brought home. Psalms 145:8 rests upon Exodus 34:6. {compare Psalms 103:8} It is difficult to desynonymise "gracious" and "full of compassion." Possibly the former is the wider, and expresses love in exercise towards the lowly in its most general aspect, while the latter specialises graciousness as it reveals itself to those afflicted with any evil. As "slow to anger," Jehovah keeps back the wrath which is part of His perfection, and only gives it free course after long waiting and wooing. The contrast in Psalms 145:8 b is not so much between anger and lovingkindness, which to the psalmist are not opposed, as between the slowness with which the one is launched against a few offenders and the plenitude of the other. That thought of abundant lovingkindness is still further widened, in Psalms 145:9, to universality. God’s goodness embraces all, and His compassions hover over all His works, as the broad wing and warm breast of the mother eagle protect her brood. Therefore the psalmist hears a yet more multitudinous voice of praise from all creatures; since their very existence, and still more their various blessednesses, give witness to the all-gladdening Mercy which encompasses them. But Creation’s anthem is a song without words, and needs to be made articulate by the conscious thanksgivings of those who, being blessed by possession of Jehovah’s lovingkindness, render blessing to Him with heart and lip.

The Kingship of God was lightly touched in Psalms 145:1. It now becomes the psalmist’s theme in Psalms 145:11-13. It is for God’s favoured ones to speak, while Creation can but be. It is for men who can recognise God’s sovereign will as their law, and know Him as ruler, not only by power, but by goodness, to proclaim that kingdom which psalmists knew to be "righteousness, peace, and joy." The purpose for which God has lavished His favour on Israel is that they might be the heralds of His royalty to "the sons of men." The recipients of His grace should be the messengers of His grace. The aspects of that kingdom which fill the psalmist’s thoughts in this part of his hymn, correspond with that side of the Divine nature celebrated in Psalms 145:1-6 - namely, the more majestic-while the graciousness magnified in Psalms 145:7-10 is again the theme in the last portion (Psalms 145:14-20). An intentional parallelism between the first and third parts is suggested by the recurrence in Psalms 145:12 of part of the same heaped together phrase which occurs in Psalms 145:5. There we read of "the splendour of the glory of Thy majesty"; here of "the glory of the splendour of Thy kingdom,"-expressions substantially identical in meaning. The very glory of the kingdom of Jehovah is a pledge that it is eternal. What corruption or decay could touch so radiant and mighty a throne? Israel’s monarchy was a thing of the past; but as, "in the year that King Uzziah died," Isaiah saw the true King of Israel throned in the Temple, so the vanishing of the earthly head of the theocracy seems to have revealed with new clearness to devout men in Israel the perpetuity of the reign of Jehovah. Hence the psalms of the King are mostly post-exilic. It is blessed when the shattering of earthly goods or the withdrawal of human helpers and lovers makes more plain the Unchanging Friend and His abiding power to succour and suffice.

The last portion of the psalm is marked by a frequent repetition of "all," which occurs eleven times in these verses. The singer seems to delight in the very sound of the word, which suggests to him boundless visions of the wide sweep of God’s universal mercy, and of the numberless crowd of dependents who wait on and are satisfied by Him. He passes far beyond national bounds.

Psalms 145:14 begins the grand catalogue of universal blessings by an aspect of God’s goodness which, at first sight, seems restricted, but is only too wide, since there is no man who is not often ready to fall and needing a strong hand to uphold him. The universality of man’s weakness is pathetically testified by this verse. Those who are in the act of falling are upheld by Him; those who have fallen are helped to regain their footing. Universal sustaining and restoring grace are His. The psalmist says nothing of the conditions on which that grace in its highest forms is exercised; but these are inherent in the nature of the case, for, if the falling man will not lay hold of the outstretched hand, down he must go. There would be no place for restoring help if sustaining aid worked as universally as it is proffered. The word for "raises" in Psalms 145:14 b occurs only here and in Psalms 146:8. Probably the author of both psalms is one. In Psalms 145:15-16, the universality of Providence is set forth in language partly taken from Psalms 104:27-28. The petitioners are all creatures. They mutely appeal to God, with expectant eyes fixed on Him, like a dog looking for a crust from its master. He has but to "open His hand" and they are satisfied. The process is represented as easy and effortless. Psalms 145:16 b has received different explanations. The word rendered "desire" is often used for "favour"-i.e., God’s-and is by some taken in that meaning here. So Cheyne translates "fillest everything that lives with goodwill." But seeing that the same word recurs in Psalms 145:19, in an obvious parallel with this verse, and has there necessarily the meaning of desire, it is more natural to give it the same signification here. The clause then means that the opening of God’s hand satisfies every creature, by giving it that which it desires in full enjoyment.

These common blessings of Providence avail to interpret deeper mysteries. Since the world is full of happy creatures nourished by Him, it is a reasonable faith that His work is all of a piece, and that in all His dealings the twin attributes of righteousness and lovingkindness rule. There are enough plain tokens of God’s character in plain things to make us sure that mysterious and apparently anomalous things have the same character regulating them. In Psalms 145:17 b the word rendered loving is that usually employed of the objects of lovingkindness, God’s "favoured ones." It is used of God only here and in Jeremiah 3:12, and must be taken in an active sense, as One who exercises lovingkindness. The underlying principle of all His acts is Love, says the psalmist, and there is no antagonism between that deepest motive and Righteousness. The singer has indeed climbed to a sun-lit height, from which he sees far and can look down into the deep of the Divine judgments and discern that they are a clear-obscure.

He does not restrict this universal beneficence when he goes on to lay down conditions on which the reception of its highest forms depend. These conditions are not arbitrary; and within their limits, the same universality is displayed. The lower creation makes its mute appeal to God, but men have the prerogative and obligation of calling upon Him with real desire and trust. Such suppliants will universally be blessed with a nearness of God to them, better than His proximity through power, knowledge, or the lower manifestations of His lovingkindness, to inferior creatures. Just as the fact of life brought with it certain wants, which God is bound to supply, since He gives it, so the fear and love of Him bring deeper needs, which He is still more (if that were possible) under pledge to satisfy. The creatures have their desires met. Those who fear Him will certainly have theirs; and that, not only in so far as they share physical life with worm and bee, whom their heavenly Father feeds, but in so far as their devotion sets in motion a new series of aspirations, longings, and needs, which will certainly not be left unfulfilled. "Food" is all the boon that the creatures crave, and they get it by an easy process. But man, especially man who fears and loves God, has deeper needs, sadder in one aspect, since they come from perils and ills from which he has to be saved, but more blessed in another, since every need is a door by which God can enter a soul. These sacreder necessities and more wistful longings are not to be satisfied by simply opening God’s hand. More has to be done than that. For they can only be satisfied by the gift of Himself, and men need much disciplining before they will to receive Him into their hearts. They who love and fear Him will desire Him chiefly, and that desire can never be balked. There is a region, and only one, in which it is safe to set our hearts on unattained good. They who long for God will always have as much of God as they long for and are capable of receiving.

But notwithstanding the universality of the Divine lovingkindness, mankind still parts into two sections, one capable of receiving the highest gifts, one incapable, because not desiring them. And therefore the One Light, in its universal shining, works two effects, being lustre and life to such as welcome it, but darkness and death to those who turn from it. It is man’s awful prerogative that he can distil poison out of the water of life, and can make it impossible for himself to receive from tender, universal Goodness anything but destruction.

The singer doses his song with the reiterated vow that his songs shall never dose, and, as in the earlier part of the psalm, rejoices in the confidence that his single voice shall, like that of the herald angel at Bethlehem, be merged in the notes of "a multitude praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest."

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 145". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/teb/psalms-145.html.
adsFree icon
Ads FreeProfile