Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
This spirited Psalm of praise for the restoration of Jerusalem consists of three divisions, each beginning with a fresh call to praise.
i. Praise Jehovah the Restorer of Jerusalem, the omnipotent and omniscient Ruler of the universe, the moral Governor of the world (Psalm 147:1-6).
ii. Praise Him for His beneficent Providence towards all His creatures, and acknowledge that He delights not in physical strength but in reverent trust (Psalm 147:7-11).
iii. Praise Him for peace and prosperity. He who controls the forces of Nature has given Israel the revelation of His law which distinguishes it from every other nation (Psalm 147:12-20).
The thoughts of Jehovah’s special goodness to Israel, of His power and beneficence manifested in Nature, and of His moral government of the world are intertwined. As in the other Psalms of this group, thoughts and language are largely borrowed, especially from Psalms 33, Isaiah 40 ff., and Job; but they are recast into a new and vigorous song, breathing the spirit of hearty thanksgiving evoked by some special event. It must have been written at a time when Jerusalem was enjoying special tokens of the restoration of Jehovah’s favour; and it is a not improbable conjecture that it was composed for the Festival of the Dedication of the walls of Jerusalem celebrated by Nehemiah (Nehemiah 12:27-43). After the completion of the walls of Jerusalem Nehemiah summoned the Levites settled in the neighbourhood to assemble at Jerusalem. The Priests and Levites purified themselves, and then purified the people, and the gates, and the wall. Two processions were formed of the Priests and Levites with the princes of Judah: one accompanied by Ezra went to the right, the other accompanied by Nehemiah went to the left. On the east of the city the processions met, and went to the Temple, where sacrifices were offered in the midst of general rejoicings.
Whether the Psalm was composed for this or for some similar occasion at a later time, for example in the high-priesthood of Simon ben Johanan, who, like a second Nehemiah, restored the walls of Jerusalem (Sir 50:4), cannot be decided, but at any rate it may serve to illustrate the feelings of the time. Nehemiah 9:5-6 is in full accord with the spirit of this group of Psalms.
In the LXX the Psalm is divided into two; Psalm 147:1-11 forming 146, and 12–20 forming 147, in the LXX numbering; and the title Alleluia; of Haggai and Zechariah, is prefixed to both.
Praise ye the LORD: for it is good to sing praises unto our God; for it is pleasant; and praise is comely.1. The text of this verse seems to be in some confusion. The Hallelujah, which ought, as in the other Psalms of this group, to stand by itself as the summons of the precentor to the congregation (see on Psalm 104:35), here forms part of Psalm 147:1, the construction of which is otherwise awkward and anomalous. The LXX reads both Alleluia and Praise ye the Lord, as in Psalm 148:1; and it is probable that the verse should read thus:
Praise ye Jehovah, for it is good;
Make melody to our God, for it la pleasant;
Praise is comely,
or, for he is good … he is gracious (lit. pleasant, cp. Psalm 27:4). Cp. Psalm 135:3, on which this verse is based: line 3 is from Psalm 33:1.
1–6. Praise Jehovah, the restorer of Israel, the sovereign ruler of the world.
The LORD doth build up Jerusalem: he gathereth together the outcasts of Israel.2, 3. Jehovah’s goodness to Jerusalem.
doth build up] The restoration and repeopling of the city generally are meant, not merely the reconstruction of its houses and walls. It is regarded as a continuous process, still in progress.
he gathereth together &c.] Cp. Deuteronomy 30:1-4; Isaiah 56:8; Isaiah 11:12; Nehemiah 1:9.
This verse is imitated in the hymn in the Hebrew text of Sir 51:12 (6, 7). See p. 776.
He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds.3. Cp. Isaiah 59:1; Hosea 6:1. Israel, crushed with grief and despair, wounded with sorrow and shame in its exile, is meant. Nehemiah’s feelings (Psalm 1:4; Psalm 2:3) represent those of every true Israelite. Cp. Psalms 137. Possibly the further thought is implied that sorrow had wrought contrition (Psalm 51:17) and made restoration possible.
He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names.4, 5. An imitation of Isaiah 40:26; Isaiah 40:28. Jehovah’s omniscience and omnipotence are partly a ground for praise, partly an encouragement to trust Him. Cp. Psalm 146:6. He who knows each separate star will not lose sight of one single Israelite.
He telleth &c.] Either simply, he counteth the number of the stars, which to man seem innumerable (Genesis 15:5): or, he appointeth a number for the stars, i.e. as in Isaiah 40:26, “he bringeth out their host by number,” marshals them in order like a well disciplined army.
he calleth them all by their names] He giveth them all names; i.e. He knows them individually. The original passage in Isaiah 40:26, “calleth them all by name,” taken in connexion with the preceding clause, means rather that He summons them as the soldiers of an army are summoned when the roll is called.
Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite.5. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power] The language is borrowed from Isaiah 40:26.
his understanding is infinite] Lit. to his understanding there is no number, it is incalculable. Number is substituted for searching of Isaiah 40:28, perhaps to suggest a contrast to Psalm 147:5. He numbers the stars: His wisdom cannot be numbered. The Heb. of Sir 39:20 “Is there any number [i.e. limit] to his salvation” [or according to Schechter’s conjecture, understanding] may be borrowed from this passage.
The LORD lifteth up the meek: he casteth the wicked down to the ground.6. Jehovah’s power is manifested in His moral government of the world. Cp. Psalm 146:9. Though the language is general, it has obviously a special reference to the restoration of Israel and the humiliation of their oppressors.
lifteth up] Or as R.V. upholdeth, the same word as in Psalm 146:9.
the meek] Those who have learnt humility in the school of suffering.
casteth … down] Or, abaseth.
Sing unto the LORD with thanksgiving; sing praise upon the harp unto our God:7. sing praise] Make melody unto our God with harp, as Psalm 98:5 a.
7–11. A renewed call to praise Jehovah for His beneficence, and to recognise the conditions of His favour.
Who covereth the heaven with clouds, who prepareth rain for the earth, who maketh grass to grow upon the mountains.8. Cp. Psalm 104:13-14.
upon the mountains] Without man’s care and cultivation.
The LXX adds καὶ χλὁην τῇ δουλείᾳ τῶν ἀνθρώπων from Psalm 104:14, Vulg. ‘herbam servituti hominum,’ which appears in P.B.V. as and herb for the use of men.
He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry.9. Cp. Psalm 145:15; Job 38:41; Luke 12:24. Tristram, Nat. Hist, of Bible, p. 200, denies that there is any foundation for the notion that the raven turns its young out of the nest at so early a period that they are unable to provide for themselves. Perhaps the raven’s croak struck the Psalmist especially as an importunate cry.
He delighteth not in the strength of the horse: he taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man.10. 11. Based upon Psalm 33:16-18. Jehovah’s delight is not in physical strength, but in reverent trustfulness;—a thought of consolation, parallel to Psalm 147:6. Israel might look regretfully back to its ancient military power, or envy the forces of neighbouring nations; but it is by spiritual strength that its victories are to be won. The horse is the warhorse (Job 39:19): the man is the warrior, for whom strength and swiftness of foot were indispensable qualifications. Cp. Psalm 20:7; Psalm 18:33; Amos 2:14-15 : and the standing epithet in Homer for Achilles, “swift of foot.”
The LORD taketh pleasure in them that fear him, in those that hope in his mercy.11. those that hope in his mercy] Or, those that wait for his loving-kindness.
Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem; praise thy God, O Zion.12. Praise the Lord] Laud Jehovah.
thy God, O Zion] As Psalm 146:10.
12–20. Zion is summoned to praise Jehovah for the blessings of peace and prosperity. The Lord of Nature is He Who has endowed Israel with unique privileges.
For he hath strengthened the bars of thy gates; he hath blessed thy children within thee.13. he hath strengthened] The same word is used in Nehemiah 3:4 ff. of repairing or fortifying the wall and gates. All through Nehemiah’s narrative appears the conviction that “this work was wrought of our God.”
the bars of thy gates] There may be a particular reference to Nehemiah 3:3; Nehemiah 3:6; Nehemiah 3:13-15.
thy children] Zion is regarded as the mother of its inhabitants.
He maketh peace in thy borders, and filleth thee with the finest of the wheat.14. satisfleth thee with the fat of wheat] Fulfilling His ancient promises. Cp. Psalm 81:16; Deuteronomy 32:14.
He sendeth forth his commandment upon earth: his word runneth very swiftly.15, 16. A reminiscence of Isaiah 55:10-11. As in Psalm 107:20 the Word or command of God is personified. The word for commandment (lit. ‘saying’) is cognate with the verb spake in Psalm 33:9; Genesis 1:3, &c.
He giveth snow like wool: he scattereth the hoarfrost like ashes.16. “Snow must always have been rare in Central and Southern Palestine,” and “frost is very rare at Jerusalem.” Tristram, Nat. Hist. of Bible, p. 28. They would therefore be more striking phenomena than they are to us; and it has been plausibly suggested that the Psalm was composed in or after an exceptionally severe winter.
He casteth forth his ice like morsels: who can stand before his cold?17. his ice like morsels] Hail, like fragments or crumbs of bread.
He sendeth out his word, and melteth them: he causeth his wind to blow, and the waters flow.
He sheweth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and his judgments unto Israel.19, 20. Cp. Deuteronomy 4:7-8. The Lord, whose word all Nature obeys, has given Israel His word in the law; a privilege which distinguishes it from every other nation.
judgments] Or, ordinances.
He hath not dealt so with any nation: and as for his judgments, they have not known them. Praise ye the LORD.