Theme: God’s Care for Everything
In this week’s lessons, we are shown an abundance of reasons for which to praise the LORD.
Scripture: Psalm 147:1-20
Reflections on how God brought the exiles back from distant Babylon and reestablished them in a rebuilt Jerusalem leads the psalmist to reflect on God’s power, seen in his numbering and naming of the stars. Truly, “[God’s] understanding has no limit,” he writes (v. 5).
The major point of this stanza (vv. 4-6) is not that God cares for the stars, though he does, but that the one who is great enough to number and name the stars also concerns himself for us who are insignificant and weak by comparison. We would expect God to have created the stars. Who else could have created them? But that God should sustain even the most humble of his creatures while saving them from the wicked, who would destroy them, and casting the wicked down—that is most remarkable and is worthy of the humble and godly person’s praise.
Mary struck this note in her Magnificat, crying, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:52, 53). So did Saint Augustine, when he began his Confessions by joining the second half of verse 5 with the first part of Psalm 145:3, writing, “Great art thou, O LORD, and greatly to be praised; great is thy power, and of thy wisdom there is no end.”1 For all his great brilliance, Augustine knew himself to be among the humble whom God had lifted up.
Many commentators begin a second section of the psalm here, as I said, since in verse 7 we find another invitation to praise God, in this case to “sing to [him] with thanksgiving.”
Why should we do this? The answer given in verses 7-9, in addition to God’s care for his people (vv. 1-3), including those who seem to be least significant (vv. 4-6), is because God cares for the animal creation too. The sequence of thought is this: 1) God covers the earth with clouds, 2) the clouds give forth rain, 3) the rain causes the grass to grow, 4) the grass is food for the cattle, and 5), not only are the cattle provided with food, but all other creatures too, including even baby ravens. This is an example of a delicacy of thought and a sensitivity to nature on the part of the psalmist. He has spoken of Jerusalem and its people early in the psalm; he is one of those people. He will speak of the city again in verses 12-14, rejoicing in its security and peace. But here, before he does, he thinks of the animals and of God’s care for them.
Most of us do not have this sensitivity to the rest of creation, unless we have a pet or belong to some “save the animals” organization. But we are the poorer for it.
A few weeks before I first preached the sermon that appears as this week’s study, I was preaching on Psalm 145 and called attention to David’s resolve to praise God “for ever and ever.” I said that he was expecting to praise God in heaven since “for ever and ever” means more than simply “until I die.” After the service was over a woman asked me if that meant that there would also be animals in heaven since the last verse of the same song says, “Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever” (v. 21). When I hesitated, she reminded me that in Revelation Jesus is described as coming out of heaven riding on a white horse. That was a new line of thought for me. I don’t know whether there will be horses or other animals in heaven or not. I think that most of the images in Revelation are figurative, and as far as I can determine, the animals do not have eternal souls, as we do. But I suppose God could create animals to bring variety to heaven, just as he has done here.
Yet that is not the point of my referring to this conversation. What interested me was this woman’s sensitivity to animals and her interest in and concern for them. When I came to Psalm 147 and thought about this, I realized that she is closer to the psalmist’s frame of mind than I was. For both she and the psalmist would be thanking God for his care of the animal creation.
1Saint Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine, in A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, ed. Philip Schaff (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1974), vol. 1, p. 45.
What idea is found in this psalm and in Mary’s Magnificat?
How did Augustine begin his autobiography? What does this show us?
Explain the sequence in vv. 7-9 by which God provides for his creation.
Application: Thank God for his care of animals. Ask the Lord for a sensitivity and concern for them as well, and look for ways to demonstrate that.