Praise the LORD! For it is good to sing praises to our God;
for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting. (Psalm 147:1)
Downcast? Brokenhearted? Feeling crushed and helpless? This psalm is for all of us. By faith, we must begin with praise and worship. Not by sight, by feeling, by happy circumstance, but by faith in God's word and his power and his goodness. Our faith may be feeble, but he delights in it and we must come in faith and give thanks for all that he is and has done for us.
The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (147:2-3)
Here is the promise. Our God is the covenant Lord (YHWH, or Yahweh, translated most often in smaller all-caps, LORD) who has come to us in the person of his Son, the Lord Jesus. He said, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." (Matt. 11:28) It is by his wounds that we are healed (Isa. 53:5; 1 Pet. 2:24). It is the Lord who builds up, restores community, gathers outcasts, heals the brokenhearted, and dresses our wounds. He himself was a wounded outcast. We must remember that this is the God we are dealing with.
He determines the number of the stars;
he gives to all of them their names. (147:4)
Now this is just mind-boggling. Abraham in 2000 BC was not able to count the stars (Gen. 15:5), and today, even with our amazing telescopes, we still do not know the number of stars in this universe! And yet, God has a name for each one. So, why would God have a name for each star if he didn't know about each one and care about each one? F. B. Meyer wrote this beautiful explanation of God's care for the stars...
"The myriad stars of heaven seem to make up one huge flock. Their Shepherd is God, who is driving them through space; or who watches them, as it were, resting on the heavenly slopes as a flock of sheep on the downs at night. And He has a name for each of them. Is it therefore to be supposed that He will not be as minute in His care of each one of us? Will He not have a name for each of us? Will He not number us when He tells the tale of His sheep, even as He numbers the hairs of our heads? This very morn He touched you with His staff and counted you. You are the destined object of His care." (F. B. Meyer, The Shepherd Psalm)
Great is our Lord, and abundant in power;
his understanding is beyond measure. (147:5)
His power, and his understanding, is "without measure". His knowledge and wisdom are simply -- and infinitely -- beyond us and above us. This should help us be more patient and steadfast in times when we ourselves feel confused and powerless. Which leads to the subject of humility...
The LORD lifts up the humble;
he casts the wicked to the ground. (147:6)
Humility is good, really. Being humbled is the prelude to being lifted up. Not so the wicked who oppose God and his people. Those who lift themselves up will be cast down. Keep your head (and attitude) down low; stay on your knees. That's a principle all through Scripture: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you." (1 Peter 5:5-7)
Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre! (147:7)
Again, here is a call to give thanks and to praise God, this time with a musical instrument. Good music, especially with God-honoring lyrics, can lift our spirits as we wait upon the Lord.
He covers the heavens with clouds;
he prepares rain for the earth;
he makes grass grow on the hills.
He gives to the beasts their food,
and to the young ravens that cry. (147:8-9)
God not only names the stars, he feeds the young ravens. He brings rain, he causes grass to grow, he feeds the beasts and the young birds.
Does he use natural means? Yes. Do some places have drought and some creatures die? Yes, actually, we all will die. The point here is that behind the processes of nature (which we might think are mechanical) is the personal, good providence of God. He didn't just set things in motion and then abandon the world. He oversees and cares for all of creation, from the stars to the baby birds. Jesus said, "Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God." (Luke 12:6)
His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,
but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love. (147:10-11)
This does not mean that God doesn't delight in the health and strength of horses or men. The strength of the horse and the strong legs of man most likely here connote an army arrayed in battle. (See Psalm 33:16-17.) God is not impressed with the brute physical strength of those who come against his people. We ourselves tend to want to respond with the same kind of force that comes against us, and here we are told that what truly pleases God is revering him (and not fearing others) and having confidence in his future working for our good, which is hope.
Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!
For he strengthens the bars of your gates;
he blesses your children within you.
He makes peace in your borders;
he fills you with the finest of the wheat.
He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.
He gives snow like wool; he scatters hoarfrost like ashes.
He hurls down his crystals of ice like crumbs;
who can stand before his cold?
He sends out his word, and melts them;
he makes his wind blow and the waters flow. (147:12-18)
Let's give thanks for all those good things he has given us... security, family, peace, food, and mainly, his sovereign control over all of creation. But let's also give thanks for what he will yet do in the future! Note that each couplet begins with "He". That is, God himself will lift up and bring healing. And note, these are action verbs... He will "strengthen..., bless..., make peace..., fill..., send out..., etc." God himself will come through for those who wait upon him.
He declares his word to Jacob,
his statutes and rules to Israel.
He has not dealt thus with any other nation;
they do not know his rules. Praise the LORD! (147:19-20)
The most wonderful thing that we can thank and praise God for is his holy Word. He has revealed his mind, and his will, and his promises to us. This is something that those outside of a covenant relationship with God do not have. So as God's covenant people we are to read his word, memorize his word, recall and meditate on his word, sing his word, believe his word, and share his word. To have God's verbally-inspired revelation is one of the greatest privileges we have in this life.