Lord of the Stars, Healer of Hearts (Psalm 147)
I’ve never witnessed the destruction of my city, place of worship, or been driven from my home by pagan hordes and held captive for seventy years. Neither have you. There are no words to describe the physical, emotional and spiritual devastation of such an experience. So I won’t try. But let’s look on the upside. Try to envision how you would feel upon your release from bondage, together with the opportunity to return home and rebuild your city and church.
If you find it hard to imagine such heights of exhilaration and ecstasy, you needn’t worry. You would feel and respond and act precisely the way the Israelites did when they returned to Jerusalem following their seventy years captivity in Babylon. We know how they felt and what they thought because Psalms 147, 148, 149, and 150 were most likely written at that time as an expression of their joy and celebration.
There is little in the Psalms that can compare with these final four hymns when it comes to the depths of delight and the heights of exultation they embody. Unlike many of the psalms we’ve examined, in these you’ll find no lament, no sorrow, no complaint, not a shadow of doubt or fear or despair. They are pure, unalloyed exultation.
Psalm 147 is actually three psalms in one. The first hymn is found in vv. 1-6, the second in vv. 7-11, and the third in vv. 12-20
(1) The first of these three hymns begins appropriately with a call to praise: “Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting” (v. 1).
Don’t be afraid to enjoy God. Singing and celebrating the supremacy of Yahweh is “good” and “pleasant” and “fitting”, if for no other reason than that is what we were created to do. Fish swim in the water, birds fly in the air, and the redeemed revel in God!
Are there reasons for such reveling? What is it about God and what he’s done that warrant such worship? The answer follows immediately:
“The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. The Lord lifts up the humble; he casts the wicked to the ground” (vv. 2-6).
The reference in v. 2 is surely to the actual events that transpired in Nehemiah’s day when the people returned to rebuild the city. What’s truly remarkable is that God is not simply concerned with physical walls but with spiritual wounds. Earthly kings distance themselves from the lowly, but our God condescends to bring aid to the shattered and suffering. Said Spurgeon:
“Behold, the Most High has to do with the sick and the sorrowful, with the wretched and the wounded! . . . Few will associate with the despondent, but Yahweh chooses their company, and abides with them till he has healed them by his comforts. . . . He himself lays on the ointment of grace, and the soft bandages of love, and thus binds up the bleeding wounds of those convinced of sin” (3:B:415).
This is your God: he lovingly heals the crushed in spirit and powerfully assigns the stars their place in the heavens! He knows every hair on our heads and calls the stars by name (cf. Isa. 40:26)! Spurgeon again says it best:
“From stars to sighs is a deep descent! From worlds to wounds is a distance which only infinite compassion can bridge. Yet he who acts a surgeon’s part with wounded hearts, marshals the heavenly host, and reads the muster-roll of suns and their majestic systems. O Lord it is good to praise thee as ruling the stars, but it is pleasant to adore thee as healing the broken heart!” (3:B:415).
How wonderful that he is both the Lord over stars and the healer of hearts, but if he had to choose one or the other, there would be no hesitation. Our God would let every star in every galaxy disintegrate and disappear before he would abandon or neglect so much as one of his children, struggling and immature and frail though they be.
He is “great” (v. 5), “abundant in power” (v. 5), and his knowledge knows no bounds (v. 5); yet he stoops to lift up the humble and to bring judgment on the wicked (v. 6). His greatness isn’t an excuse to ignore the humble but the very reason why he regards them with such compassion.
(2) Yet again, now in the second hymn, we are called upon to “sing to the Lord with thanksgiving” and to “make melody” “on the lyre” (v. 7).
This time the ground of our praise is rooted in the providential care God displays for the work of his hands (vv. 8-9). He causes clouds to form. He determines their shape and size and the duration of their existence. If they should give rain, praise him! If the grass should grow, praise him! If the beasts are fed, praise him! If the ravens should eat, praise him! Nothing is left to chance or happenstance. Mother Nature didn’t do it: Father God did.
The temptation to be impressed with military might and human ingenuity is strong (v. 10). Resist it! God’s delight is elsewhere. He “takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love” (v. 11). God revels in your holy reverence. He finds inexpressible joy when he, not money or power or political gain, is the object of your hope. God delights in this because it magnifies his supremacy and all-sufficiency to be and do for his people what mere earthly stuff cannot. And we delight in it because we find a satisfaction in him that nothing in this world could hope to supply.
(3) In this third and final hymn (vv. 12-20), the focus continues on God’s providential power among men and especially in nature. He is the author of peace, the source of food, the creator of snow, the origin of hail, and the one who breathes wind.
Even beyond that is the fact that his covenant people have been the unique recipients of his law. The revelation of his “rules” (vv. 19-20; cf. Psalm 119) is a far greater display of his affection for us than all the wonders of nature combined. Do you feel loved of God, knowing that he cared enough to speak truth and righteousness to your heart in his holy Word? Do you not see that his affection is deep and profound precisely because he has forbidden to you those things that would diminish your capacity to experience fullness of joy, things that would ultimately destroy your soul?
I say this because people are not naturally inclined to equate rules with love. They consider the many “Thou Shalt’s” and “Thou Shalt Not’s” of Scripture to be indicative of God’s efforts to deprive us of joy through the imposition of all manner of restrictions and regulations. What we so often fail to see, however, is that God has commanded nothing but what is conducive to our maximum spiritual satisfaction. He forbids us only that which would diminish our capacity to enjoy him to the fullest.
And thus as the psalm began (“Praise the Lord!” v. 1), so it appropriately ends (“Praise the Lord!” v. 20). This is the pattern we will see yet again in the final three psalms, to which we turn in the concluding meditation.