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January 3, 2010
Psalm 147:12-20

Psalm 147 along with Psalm 148 which we read last week, is part of the great doxology (Psalms 146-150) at the end of the Book of Psalms. This doxology is held together in number of ways. Each psalm begins and ends with Halleluiah. Moreover, a series of catchwords and motifs are repeated through the series. For example, the address to Zion in Ps. 146:10 is picked up again in Ps. 147:2, 12, with a further reference to Zion in 149:2 and the location of Psalm 150 in the sanctuary (v. 1).

Early in this final doxology there is also a focus on the various qualities of Yahweh. Ps 147:3-6 gives a catalogue of qualities which is continued in vv. 8-9. The theme of Yahweh’s word is also strong with reference to the command of Yahweh (v. 15) in relation to creation (cf. vv. 18-19). Finally, Yahweh is trustworthy (Ps. 147:4-5, 15-18; cf. 148:5-6) and faithful to his exiled people (Ps. 147:2-3; cf. 148:14 and 149:4).

Yahweh’s kingship is reiterated throughout Psalms 146-150. The point is underlined in Ps. 147.10 with the use of holy war language (cf. Ps. 145:1; 146:3-4, 10). Yahweh’s strength does not lie in horses, which were used in late Old Testament times with war chariots, or with infantry.

Psalm 147 begins with a statement of how good it is to sing praise to the Lord. He is indeed worthy of praise. The whole psalm then creates a catalogue of the praiseworthiness of Lord. Verse 2 states that the Lord builds Jerusalem gathering its outcasts. This sounds as though it goes back to exile; a theme repeated in the Old Testament and Psalm readings over Advent and Christmas. Then we read a series of clauses in vv. 3-6 describing a mixture of divine qualities including healing, creating heavens, understanding, supporting the poor, defeating the wicked. Yahweh rebuilds Jerusalem and gathers its outcasts. In vv. 8-9 there are images of Yahweh as sustainer.
Verse 7 calls the people to sing again with thanksgiving while vv. 10-11 conclude the section with a statement of Yahweh’s delight, first negatively and then positively. His delight is in those who fear and hope in God.

It is at this point that the lectionary reading begins. Verse 12 returns to speak of Jerusalem, this time calling on Jerusalem to rejoice. Verses 13-14 tell of Yahweh’s benefit to Jerusalem only to then get back into general praise of Yahweh’s activities in nature. It returns to the people of Jacob in vv. 19-20 with reference to them being the only ones to whom Yahweh declares his word. The theme of word is strong in the last section as noted above. The psalm then returns to speak of Jacob with reference to the divine word again.

In summary, the psalm in its three sections focuses on Jerusalem in terms of the Lord building up the city concentrating on the themes of healing and restoration. The middle section focuses on thanksgiving and speaks about sustenance. Finally, the psalm returns to the topic of Jerusalem but with an emphasis on the divine word spoken to Jacob. Praise of Yahweh is at the heart of the psalm. Praise is the fitting response for such a God. Praise is worthy of the God present with us in Jesus Christ.

Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship:

Verse 1 would make an excellent call to worship.

For a prayer of adoration the first half of the psalm could be used with a little adaptation. Verse 1 and 7 could be said by the leader of worship while the congregation respond with vv. 2-6 and 8-11 respectively.

The psalm can also be adapted in the prayers of intercession. The prayer could begin introduced with v. 1. The second part of v. 1 (‘How good it is to sing praises to our God for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.’) could then be used as a congregational refrain after the leader offers prayers based on each of the three sections of the psalm as below.

a. Following vv. 1-6 the prayer could  consider ways in which God has healed the broken-hearted and lifted the downtrodden. Thanks are given to God for his work with others. Prayer could then be offered for those who are still broken-hearted and seek God’s healing.

b. Following vv. 7 to 11, the leader could consider the gracious bounty of the Lord in creation. Praise is given to God who has made and provides for his creatures. Prayer could then be offered that God may provide for those people and creatures that do not at present share that provision.

c. Finally following vv. 12 to 20, the leader could consider the word of the Lord by which he grants us peace and by which he judges us. Prayer could be offered for the desire and ability to hear that word. Prayer could then be made for those who do not at present know the peace God promises.

Old Testament reading: Jeremiah 31:7-14

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