Praise the LORD, O my soul;
I will praise the LORD all my life;
I will sing praise to my God while I live.
The LORD keeps faith forever,
secures justice for the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets captives free.
The LORD gives sight to the blind.
The LORD raises up those who are bowed down;
the LORD loves the just.
The LORD protects strangers.
The fatherless and the widow he sustains,
but the way of the wicked he thwarts
The LORD shall reign forever,
your God, O Zion, through all generations! Alleluia.
(Psalm 146:1-2, 6-7, 8-10)
A hymn of someone who has learned there is no other source of strength except the merciful God. Only God, not mortal human beings (Ps 146:3–4), can help vulnerable and oppressed people (Ps 146:5–9).
146:1–2. The psalmist’s words sound particularly forceful if one thinks about the brevity of life on earth: “The contemplative life of the Prophet compels him—if such an expression may be used—to place himself at the end of time. There, seeing the frailty of all things, which because they are of this world wither with age, he dedicates himself to giving praise to God. The end of the world will come quickly to us all: it will come at the moment of our death, when the ties that bind us to everything around us are severed. We will then turn our desires to the activity that will be ours eternally—the giving of praise” (Cassidorus, Expositio psalmorum, 146).
146:5–9. Man may be frail, but God is powerful. The God proclaimed here is the God of Israel (“of Jacob”: cf. Ps 46:7); there is no other: he is the maker of all things. Moreover, it is he who shows mercy to those in every kind of need (vv. 7–9). Therefore he can always be relied on.
146:10. The psalmist’s God (“my God”: v. 2), is the God of Israel (v. 5) and the God of Zion (“thy God”: v. 10), of Jerusalem, to whom he proclaims God’s eternal kingdom.
The contrast between God and humankind is often used in psalms as a way of dealing with the problem of fear before human threats: Trust God and be unafraid of mortals. Here the contrast is used to address the problem of trusting in leaders to save us from the predicaments of human and historical existence.
The problem with human leaders is that they don’t “keep faith forever”; their plans and projects die with them. With their death the hopes of those who trusted in them are dashed. Perhaps Israel’s experience with its leaders is reflected in this wisdom. Their kings and officials were unable to deliver them from the dangers of existence and history. The exile set its seal on their ultimate inability.
The psalm does not say that leaders are unnecessary or not useful. It does warn against trusting them for salvation. Hope based on what passes away is doomed to disappointment. The temptation to put ultimate trust for salvation in human leaders and institutions is perennial. In Psalm 146, praise becomes a critique of such misplaced trust and a proclamation of the only right use of trust—in God who keeps faith!
– James Mays
May the virtues of faith, hope, and love go with you today – DV.