The Words of Psalm 147
We return to the Psalms of praise as providing the words for our nurture. The opening phrase of Ps. 147 is clear and inviting. “It is good (tob) that one sing praise (zamar) to our God (elohim). Then come the interesting words: “ na’iym (pleasant) and naveh (comely, seemly, becoming) is praise (tehillah).” We have seen two of these words: na’iym is the “pleasant” in Ps. 133:1, “Behold how good and pleasant (na’iym). . .” and in a dozen other places. The verb for being pleasant is נָעֵם, naem. Perhaps the most memorable and moving appearance of naem in the Bible is in II Sam. 1:26, where David laments Jonathan’s death with the words, “My brother (ach) Jonathan, you have been exceedingly (meod) pleasant/lovely (naem) to me (liy).”
We have also seen tehillah, “praise,” derived as it is from halal, “to praise.” Fully new to us is נָאוֶה, naveh, though it really has to be related to naem. In its ten appearances it means “lovely, comely, seemly.” Ps. 33:1 connects it also with tehillah, when it mentions that tehillah is naveh or “becoming” for the upright (yashar). Prov. 17:7 tells us that “excellent” (yether) speech (saphah—really “lips/tongue/language”) is not naveh for a fool (נָבָל, nabal—interestingly, the verb related to nabal, spelled nabel, נָבֵל means “to wear away, be foolish, fade away” and several other things). Back to Prov. 17:7, “nor are lying/false (sheker) lips (saphah) (fitting) for a prince (נָדִיב, nadib).” A similar thought is in Prov. 19:10, but there we have “luxury/exquisite delight” (תַּעֲנוּג, taanug) is not naveh for a fool” but this time the fool is a כְּסִיל, kesil. It would be tempting now to enter deeply into the world of the fool, since the Scriptures have a lot to say about him, but for now I will just point to Ps. 49:10 where the wise die, but also the kesil and the בַּעַר (baar, brutish/senseless/stupid) perish. Kesil has the related verb that we should learn—כָּסַל, kasal, “to be foolish,” though surprisingly it is a hapax. One would think that with all the foolishness in the world, this word would have been considerably developed. כְּסִיל, kesil is also a constellation, Orion, which appears 4x. Oh, by the way, the verb that lies behind the “delight” of taanug is עָנַג, anog. But this can have a range of meanings that include to be “soft” or “delicate” (describing a person— Deut. 28:56) or to “delight,” such as in the memorable “Delight (anog) in the Lord, and he will give (nathan) you the desires/requests/petitions (מִשְׁאָלָה, mishalah) of your heart (leb).”
We need to return to our exposition of Psalm 147. Verse 2 tells us that the “Lord (Yahweh) bullds up (banah) Jerusalem, and gathers (כָּנַס, kanas) the outcasts (דָּחָה, dachah is the verb meaning to “reject” or “drive away” or “thrust down”, but here it is “those rejected” or “outcasts”) of Israel.” It is a bold and hopeful thought, that the drawing power of God will reconstitute a community decimated by exile. We also have dachah as “outcasts” of Israel in Is. 11:12 and 56:8, but most of its other eight appearances are in the “thrust away” category (e.g., Jer. 23:12; Ps. 118:13). “Gather” is most familiarly “asaph” but here it is kanas (11x), and the two verbs appear as a hendiadys in Eccl. 2:26.
Verse 3 reads, “He heals (rapha) the broken (shabar) in heart (leb) and binds up (chabash) their wounds (עַצֶּבֶת, atstsebeth). עַצֶּבֶת comes from that powerful verb atsab, that has to do with suffering grief, hurt, or pain, but the noun can also be rendered “sorrows/pains/wounds.” Once we enter into the sad but rich world of suffering, we have a variety of words to capture that multi-form experience. Verse 4 says, “He counts (מָנָה, manah) the number (מִסְפָר, mispar) of the stars (kokab); he calls (qara) all of them (kol) by name (shem).” Again, a brilliant and powerful description of the glory of God. Fifteen new words so far.
Verse 5 continues our story: “Great (gadol) is our Lord (adon) and mighty/great (rab) in power (koach); there is no (ayin) number/limit (mispar) to his understanding (tebun).” All the words are familiar, and we luxuriate in them. Verse 6 says, “He is the one lifting up (עוּד, ud) the humble (anav), but Yahweh casts down (shaphel) the wicked (rasha) to (ad) the ground (erets).” The verb rendered “lift up” really doesn’t mean that, but it has to mean that by its context. Ud appears 44x, and here are some of the translations: “warn/admonish” or “witness/testify” or “call upon.” Never does it mean “lift up.” Perhaps it is best to render it here “God bears witness to the lowly” (by helping them. . .).
Verse 7 reads: “Sing (עָנָה, anah) to the Lord (Yahweh) with thanksgiving (תּוֹדָה, todah, derived from yadah, meaning "to throw/cast”), sing praises (zamar) to the Lord with the harp (kinnor).” Just as in verse 6, where we had problems rendering ud as “lift up,” so we have trouble with anah as “sing.” It appears 329x in the Bible, and usually means “answer” or “speak” or “testify” and so it is a bit hard to get to “sing” here, but it is in parallel construction with zamar, so that does it. Verse 8 has it: “Who covers (kasah) the heavens (shamayim) with clouds (ab), who establishes/prepares (kun) rain (matar) for the earth (erets) which makes things grow/sprout up (צָמַח, tsamach) and grass (חָצִֽיר, chatsir) on the mountains (har).” tsamach is a particularly memorable and powerful verb, for it is the first verb for “growing/sprouting” in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:5). Then, after the first disobedience, God said it was not only fruitful things that grow up but “thorns” (קוֹץ, qots) and “thistles” (דַּרְדַּר, dardar) sprout up (tsamach; Gen 3:18).
Verse 9 gives us familiar words: “Who gives (nathan) to the beasts (behemah) its food (lechem) and to the young of the ravens (oreb) which (asher) cry (qara). Verse 10 continues: “Not in strength (geburah) of the horse (sus) does he delight (חָפֵץ, chaphets; the same word and spelling, חָפֵץ, chaphets, is an adjective meaning “delight/pleasure”) nor (lo) in the legs (שׁוֹק, shoq) of man (ish) does he take pleasure (ratsah). We continue right along with verse 11, “Yahweh takes pleasure (ratsah) in those fearing (yare) him, who hope (יָחַל, yachal) for his mercy (chesed).”