Psalm 147:1-11 (NRSV)
Praise the Lord!
How good it is to sing praises to our God;
for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.
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 downtrodden;
he casts the wicked to the ground.
Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving;
make melody to our God on the lyre.
He covers the heavens with clouds,
prepares rain for the earth,
makes grass grow on the hills.
He gives to the animals their food,
and to the young ravens when they cry.
His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;
but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love.
If studying this Psalm, one might note its probable post-Exilic context and analyze its interwoven ideas from other Scriptures. When reading spiritually, what matters more is how a present-day reader is brought into God’s presence and message. Although God is always “at home” to and with us, we aren’t always awake. Deliberately saying “I’m reading for spiritual practice” makes the words pop into deep crevices of my heart and mind, energizing my whole body to react with gratitude and resolve.
For this to work best, I seek passages that speak to my present situation and past experiences. Some Psalms are too focused on specifics of Israel’s history. Some express God’s love and justice only in parallel with pleas that God bless us “righteous” believers while punishing our “unjust” enemies. Are people that simple, either Good or Evil? I have enough to discuss with God about my own faith and doubt, worthy and despicable words and deeds. I’ll trust God to decide how to deal with others. In 147:6, I hope that even some “wicked” may be “downtrodden” and lifted up rather than cast down.
While seeking beauty and meaning in Psalm 147, I also invited memories of deeply feeling God’s presence and care for me and all Creation. I found those in v.4-5, which pair God’s greatness, power, and understanding with individual attention to the innumerable stars within and beyond our vision. (Isaiah 40:26 offers an even more poetic version.) God permeated my many starry sky memories: 1)the open-mouth awe elicited by myriads of twinkling and falling stars at a quiet Goblin Valley Utah campsite; 2) the phenomenon of midnight sun and stars going up and down behind mountains in Tyin, Norway; 3) my father hauling a large telescope to a hillcrest in Arlington on clear nights to see evidence of something/someone beyond his understanding; and 4) the calming effect on my “comatose” mother of my reading her favorite Scriptures, including Psalms 147 and 40, until she went to God.
Another person’s wake-up part of Psalm 147 will be different, but may also reveal God’s desire to smile, cry, and share memories with you, and even to suggest an addition to your Disciple To Do list. (Mine was to add stick-on fluorescent stars to art stuff I’m assembling for Afghan children.)
Dear Lord, help me to read the Psalms with an openness to your personal message. Transform my reactions to the words into morsels of advice and encouragement to enliven me in times of future challenge. Thank you for the opportunity to discuss and apply Scripture through the fellowship, worship, and mission of LPC within our building, community, and the world. Amen.
Carroll Leslie Bastian
For further star musings:
Art: Although many artists have painted night skies, Googling star paintings always leads to Vincent Van Gogh’s overly-popular “Starry Night” or lesser known “Starry Night Over the Rhone.”
Music: The words aren’t very relevant to Psalm 147, but the beauty of Don McLean singing “Vincent (Starry Starry Night)” is irresistible: Video Link
Poetry: Google Gerard Manly Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur” and “The Starlight Night”