Worship as Remembrance: Reflections on Psalm 146

By:

John Darrow

Hallelujah: Worship as Remembrance

About three years ago I began running on a regular basis. I love running for two reasons: It has contributed to a healthier lifestyle for myself, and it allows me to think.

A lot. I think a lot. Maybe too much.

I often tell people it is a blessing and a curse. I’m that guy that creates unrealistic scenarios in his head on a regular basis. You know that guy? Yeah, it is probably you as well, except I do it all the time.

But often this ability to think and over analyze the details of life generates thoughts of remembrance. I don’t think it is unhealthy remembrance, just remembrance of the good times I’ve had with family and friends, or remembrance of a loved one I’ve lost when I hear a song on the radio. I know I am not the only one who experiences these forms of remembrance. I know because when I have this discussion with people I can see that joyful look in their eye, as they are also experiencing their own form of nostalgia concerning a loved one or an event that they long to return to.

So too, in Psalm 146, the Psalmist is calling his own community to remembrance, specifically, remembrance of Yahweh’s faithfulness throughout their own history. This remembrance is designed to instill in them songs of praise, much the same as the Psalmist has declared, “Hallelujah! Praise Yahweh!” (146:1).

The Psalmist remembers that this community has returned from exile because of their unfaithfulness, and lest they should continue the patterns of their forefathers, he reminds them not to trust “human beings” (146:3; Heb: adam), since their plans will fail and will result in a return to the “ground” (146:4; Heb: adamah). The deliberate play on words between “human beings” and “ground” brings to remembrance the origin of mankind in general and their ultimate fate in particular (cf. Gen. 2:7, 3:9): mankind’s time on earth is fixed and limited, even the really important humans, and to the ground they shall return.

In contrast, however, the Psalmist brings to the foreground the positive attributes of Yahweh, and why trusting in him is of absolute importance. For one, the Psalmist reminds the community of Jacob’s commitment to Yahweh’s faithfulness as he was facing destruction at the hands of his brother Esau, thus calling Yahweh “the God of Jacob” (146:5a; cf. Gen. 32:7-12) in order to remind him of the promise and covenant he made to his grandfather Abraham. It was in this dire situation that Jacob shows how Yahweh was his “hope” and his “help” (146:5). These two attributes of Yahweh reveal how magnificent it is that the God who is the “maker of heaven and earth” and all that it contains (146:6) is the same God who condescends to be a promise-maker and covenant-keeper.

Think about this for a second, it is quite humbling. We are often reminded that in comparison to the grand scope of the cosmos we are but a small, insignificant piece of the puzzle (if we can even be considered a piece of the puzzle at all). Yet, while this may be true on the one hand, on the other we see that the same God who is making all things is the same one providing help and hope to those whose life span involves approximately seventy years.

This is an incredible view of our God!

Yet, it is Yahweh’s commitment to this “help” and “hope” which the Psalmist focuses his attention upon for the remainder of this hymn. In 146:7-9, he provides a list of participial phrases which describe Yahweh’s constant activity of justice on behalf of the “socially marginal and powerless.”[1]

He is “the one making heaven and earth” (v. 6)

He is “the one bringing about justice for the oppressed” (v. 7)

He is “the one giving food to the hungry” (v. 7)

He is “the one setting free those who are bound” (v. 7)

He is “the one opening the eyes of the blind” (v. 8)

He is “the one raising up those who constantly bending down” (v. 8)

He is “loving the righteous” (v. 8)

These participial phrases are a strategic way for the Psalmist to show how Yahweh is constantly committed to remaining the only true advocate for his people. It is also the Psalmist’s way of showing how Yahweh’s people need to care for the things that Yahweh cares for. In other words, righteousness is not merely a spiritual position, but is intertwined with his redemptive activity in the lives of his people.

Yet, the reality is Israel needed to be constantly reminded of these things after Psalm 146 was penned. True righteousness and commitment to faithfulness to Yahweh fell upon hard times, as Israel was never truly free.

Thus enter the good news: Jesus became the ultimate fulfillment of these gracious attributes of Yahweh. In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus proclaims in the Nazareth synagogue, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the Lord’s favor.” As he concludes his sermon, he exclaims that this passage, which was first proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 61:1-2), is now “fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

What is the significance?

Israel concludes Psalm 146, “Praise Yahweh, since as King he reigns forever” (146:10). While the Church responds with a hearty “Amen!” she wants to clarify what is meant by “Yahweh is King!” Paul confidently asserts, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col. 1:19-20).

Therefore the Church responds with an addendum, “Yahweh, as reflected through the cross of Christ, is our King!”

Let us continue in the tradition of Psalm 146 as we remember Yahweh and his faithfulness, particularly through his act of redemption through Jesus on the cross. Through Jesus and his crucifixion we are constantly reminded of our salvation, and equally are commissioned to participate in the righteousness of God by being an advocate for those who are hopeless and helpless here on earth.

 

[1] Walter Brueggemann, The message of the Psalms: A theological commentary (Augsburg: Minneapolis, 1984), 163.

John Darrow

Community Pastor

john@communionsd.com
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