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November 1, 2009
Psalm 146

Psalm 146 is a suitable psalm to be a companion to the reading from Ruth 1. It not only mentions the plight of the orphan and widow at the end, the feature of Ruth 1, but focuses on a hope centred in God.

Psalm 146 introduces the great final doxology at the end of the book of Psalms, Pss 146-150. The collection may have originally had some liturgical context, but in its present context, the collection is introduced by Ps 145:21, ‘My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.’ Pss 146-150 then describe ‘all flesh’ praising Yahweh. There seems to be movement in the subject matter through these five psalms. Each of the psalms adds to the voices which praise Yahweh – first the psalmist (Psalm 146), then Jerusalem (Psalm 147), then all in heaven and earth (Psalm 148), then the faithful in Zion and Israel (Psalm 149), and finally ‘everything that breathes’ (Psalm 150). Various dimensions of praise are evident in this movement – personal, community, political, and liturgical.

Each psalm begins and ends with Halleluyah, ‘Praise Yahweh’ or ‘Praise the Lord’. The collection is literally an expression of all parts of creation proclaiming praise. However, at the start in Psalm 146 we have not quite reached those cosmic dimensions. This is an individual psalm, an ‘I’ psalm, where one individual sings that praise. If we are to take our leave from Psalm 145 itself we might imagine that this is the praise of King David. In any case it is a reminder that the praise of God is itself something that starts in both small and sometimes lonely places. Ruth’s commitment to her mother-in-law, Naomi, is an example of such small praise that has not only the potential but the promise of becoming praise proclaimed and heard in every corner of the universe.

Early in this final collection of hymns, there is also a focus on the various praiseworthy qualities of the Lord. Psalm 146 extends the catalogue of descriptive phrases already found in Psalm 145. Psalms 146-150 are then linked together through a number of catchwords and motifs. For example, the address to Zion in Ps. 146:10 is picked up again in Ps. 147:12, with a further reference to Zion in 149:2 and the location of Psalm 150 in the sanctuary itself (v. 1). The focus on the Lord’s ‘name’ also ties Psalms 145 and 146 together. ‘All flesh’ will bless the Lord’s name (Ps. 145.21b) and in Psalm 146 we hear the name of the Lord no less than eleven times.

The themes and thoughts of this final great doxology are by no means new in the book of Psalms. Psalm 146:3 echoes those earlier psalms which question placing trust in princes and others who seem to have power to offer salvation. We might want to replace ‘princes’ with such things as political parties, financial security, or national security policies. Psalm 3 addresses the same issue. Verse 4 recalls Psalm 104 with human breath returning to earth. Also the mention of the futility human plans brings to mind Psalm 2 with its mention of those who plot against the Lord and his anointed. Finally, v. 9 recalls Ps. 1:6 with its mention of the way of the wicked perishing.

Psalm 146 begins (vv 1-2) with a vow to praise the Lord by the psalmist in the 1st person singular. Praise is a life-long enterprise for this psalmist. There is a two-fold aspect to this statement as it unfolds in the greater collection of Psalms 146-150. It is something to which the psalmist commits her/himself ‘life-long’, but praise of the Lord is also something that the whole of life of the individual here proclaims. Praise is not just the aim of life, but life is praise.

Praise is also related to trust and confidence and so the psalmist turns to the ‘negative’ side of this statement in v. 3, in terms of those in whom one ought not to put their trust, or whom they should praise. It is useless trusting in human leaders because they are temporary (vv. 3-4). While the individual psalmist says these words they are spoken to the community at large.

A blessing formula in v. 5 then introduces a list of divine attributes, for which the Lord ought to be praised. The first part of the list relates to the creative work of the Lord. Then the list moves to matters of truth and justice, and finally bread for the hungry. Verses 7b-9 speak of the Lord’s dealing with those who are bowed down, finishing with care for the orphan and widow. This latter care is contrasted with the way of the wicked. Finally, v. 10 ends the psalm with a statement about the Lord's kingship and the final halleluyah.

Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship:

The whole psalm could be adapted for the prayer of adoration:

1 Praise the LORD!
    Praise the LORD, O my soul!
2 I will praise the LORD as long as I live;
    I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
Praise the God of Jacob,
    6 who made heaven and earth, the sea,
and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever;
    7 who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
    The LORD sets the prisoners free;
8 the LORD opens the eyes of the blind.
    The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
the LORD loves the righteous.
    9 The LORD watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow.
    Praise the LORD!
Some verses could also be sued in the prayer of confession in conjunction with the Kyrie.
The psalmist says:
Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When we place our trust in things of no substance
Lord have mercy.

The LORD executes justice for the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry,
and sets the prisoners free.
When we neglect the plight of those in need,
Christ have mercy.

The LORD watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow.
When we fail to see loneliness in our midst,
Lord have mercy.

Finally, v. 5 can be incorporated into the final blessing:
Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD their God,
for the LORD will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
And now the blessing of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Be with you now and forevermore.
Old Testament reading: Ruth 1:1-18

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