with Tony W. Cartledge

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Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21

The LORD is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings.” – Psalm 145:17

Justice Always Counts

Christians gather for worship on Sundays and at other times. Songs of praise and prayers of thanksgiving are typical elements of worship – but some people participate more than others.

Have you noticed this? While many of us remain rather staid in our worship, other believers embrace the community’s praise with their whole heart. They may sing with eyes closed or face lifted upward, and with arms that are raised toward heaven or moving with the music. Their verbal and non-verbal language offers openhearted gratitude to God.

The author of Psalm 145 was one of these people. He or she held nothing back in expressing full-bodied praise to the God of justice, love, and mercy. In today’s study we consider the first five and last five verses of the psalm.

Praise and meditation(vv. 1-5)

Psalm 145 is an individual psalm of thanksgiving, designated in its superscription as ledawid, which could be translated as “of David,” “to David,” or “for David.” The author put a lot of effort into its composition: like seven other psalms (9-10, 25, 34, 47, 111, 112, and 119), it is written as an acrostic. Each verse begins with a sequential letter of the Hebrew alphabet (or alefbet), from alef to tau.

The author’s purpose in this rather artificial construction was not to be pretentious, but probably to provide a memory key for those who might wish to memorize the psalm for use in worship or their own devotional lives.

Some have suggested a more symbolic purpose: though one could not use every word to praise God, constructing an acrostic guaranteed that one had used all the letters – out of which all the words could be made!

Careful readers will note that the author speaks in the first person (“I”), but alternates between addressing God as “you” (second person) before switching to third person (“he”) when praising God’s attributes.

The psalmist begins by declaring his intention to praise God: “I will extol you, my God and King” (v. 1a), he says, then moves to a special interest in praising or blessing God’s name (vv. 1b-2), which amounts to exalting or acclaiming God before others (see “The Hardest Question” online for more). The Hebrews spelled God’s revealed name as yhwh, which was probably pronounced as “Yahweh,” and is rendered in English translations by the name LORD in all capital letters.

“Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever,” the psalmist said (v. 2). Still, he faced the same problem confronting a tourist in Glacier National Park who tries to put into words the majesty of a towering mountain above a glittering glacial lake surrounded by verdant greenery: words fail. Fortunately, the acrostic form called for the verse to begin with a gimel, so he chose the word gadōl, usually translated as “great.” “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; his greatness is unsearchable” (v. 3).

Lacking sufficient vocabulary to describe the magnitude of God’s reality, the singer turned to a declaration that God’s praise would be perpetual: “One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts” (v. 4).

As humans who are unable to see God with our eyes, we perceive the divine presence indirectly, in God’s “works” and “mighty acts,” from the wonder of creation to Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and God’s care in the wilderness. The psalmist calls on his hearers to pass the knowledge of God’s extraordinary deeds on to the next generation, establishing a chain of faithful witnesses so God’s redeeming work would not be forgotten.

Old Testament narratives speak of various persons who believed they had seen God appearing in human form. Genesis 3-4 draws an image of God walking in the garden and talking with Adam and Eve. Hagar believed God appeared to her as she languished in the desert (Gen. 16:13). Abraham and Sarah entertained three strangers, who turned out to be a manifestation of God and two angels (Genesis 17). Jacob wrestled with “a man” through the night, but concluded his opponent was Yahweh and claimed “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved” (Gen. 32:30). Moses famously asked to see God’s glory and was granted a vision of the divine afterglow (Exod. 33:19-33). In other texts, Moses is said to have spoken with God “face to face” (Exod. 33:1; Num. 12:8; Deut. 5:4, 34:10).

These were rare exceptions until the coming of Christ, when those who witnessed his life and ministry could later come to believe they had seen God in the flesh. For most people, including us, the best we can hope for on this earth is to see God’s wonder reflected in God’s works, and in the love of God’s people. Thus, the psalmist continued: “On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate” (v. 5). He builds on the same theme in vv. 6-7.

The wonders of nature speak to many of us: standing by the seemingly limitless ocean or in the midst of tall mountain peaks reminds us of God’s power. Feeling the spray from a towering waterfall or watching bighorn sheep in a rocky canyon speak of God’s beauty. Enjoying the companionship of loved ones, holding babies, and watching little ones grow shout of God’s care and offer of relationship.

In what settings have you sensed the divine presence most keenly?

Justice and love(vv. 17-21)

The central section of Psalm 145, like Psalm 11, recalls the classic description of Yahweh’s self-revealed character as “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (v. 8, reciting the confession of Exod. 34:6). The following verses build on that, celebrating God’s goodness and compassion (vv. 9-10), God’s power and kingdom rule (vv. 11-13a), and God’s faithfulness to those who struggle and fall but look to God for deliverance and daily sustenance (vv. 13b-16).

The closing verses assigned for this study add to the theme by praising God’s justice and care for the faithful: “The LORD is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings” (v. 17). Thoughts of divine justice often raise the unpleasant image of judgment, but God’s justice is tempered by God’s kindness: the word translated as “kind” is hasîd, the adjectival form of the noun hesed, commonly used to describe God’s faithful loving-kindness or “steadfast love.” The word became so associated with God’s character that when the adjective was applied to a person, it could be translated as “godly” or “pious.”

Verses 18-20 introduce a string of affirmations about God’s care and those to whom such care is directed. Note the connections: God is near, not to everyone, but “to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth” (v. 18). Likewise, God “fulfills the desire,” not of all people, but “of all who fear him” – God “hears their cry, and saves them” (v. 19). Finally, Yahweh keeps a shepherd-like watch, not for all, but “over all who love him” (v. 20a). In contrast, “the wicked he will destroy” (v. 20b).

While the psalmist’s praise connects God’s loving care to those who “call on him in truth,” “fear him,” and “love him,” the promises are surprisingly universal: though he writes as a Hebrew and quotes from God’s self-description to Moses, he makes no explicit mention of Israel. The promise of deliverance and care is not limited to Israel, but to all people who love and trust Yahweh.

Craig C. Broyles has astutely noted: “While this psalm opens the door of salvation to all, it may close it for some. Their favor with God rests not on their ethnicity but on their sincerity. The line is not drawn between Israel and the nations but between all who love him and all the wicked” (Psalms, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series, [Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2012], p. 508).

It is common for thanksgiving psalms to both begin and end with words of praise, and this one is no exception. The psalmist began with a pledge to bless and praise God’s name forever and ever in vv. 1-2, and closed with a promise that “My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD, and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever” (v. 21).

Note again the universality of praise: it is not enough for the psalmist alone to praise God, or even for the past and future people of Israel to offer their benison: he sees a day when “all flesh” will join in a celebration of God’s “holy name” that will last “forever and ever.”

Think again about your favorite way to offer praise and thanksgiving to God. Consider worship music: Do you get into praise songs that tend to evoke a more emotional or physical response, or do you prefer traditional hymns? Apart from public worship: Do you prefer quiet meditation on the wonders of God’s handiwork, or does it feel more right to voice your praise?

Words alone may be inadequate to express our praise to God, but in public settings, words remain the best things we have. Consider writing a short psalm of your own. Try starting as the psalmist did: “I will extol you, my God and King …” Where would you go from there? NFJ

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Adult Teaching Resources

Download the PDF for November 6, 2016 teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide, Digging Deeper, and Hardest Question pages.

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Additional Links/Resources
Read Scripture online: Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21



Parent Prep

There are times when our students can’t put what they are feeling or thinking into words. Sometimes this is because they haven’t experienced something like this before and they don’t truly know what they are feeling at the time. Other times they may not be able to put their experiences in words because they don’t want to; they may be embarrassed or think that what they have done will get them in trouble. One of the things that we have to do is to help our students find the words that describe their experiences. You don’t need to put words in their mouths but help them find the words that they need. A good way to do this is to share your own experiences. This way they can draw connections between what has happened to them and what they are hearing from you.

Teaching Resources | Download

Download the PDF for youth teaching resources. This PDF contains the FIT Teaching Guide for this lesson.

Encourage youth to check out this video ahead of the lesson.

“Praise the Lord” from Gun Crazy via www.youtube.com

Additional Links/Resources
Read Scripture online: Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21