With concerns abounding over governments in the western world – concerns that spring from divisions in the wider community and divisions and disloyalty in the body politic – we might wonder what the future might hold.
Psalm 146:3 says: Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs he returns to the earth;… How appropriate is this warning. Those with influence and power will never have the perfect answers to our deepest concerns, our security and our future.
The psalm speaks of the mortality of princes. A deeper layer of the theme is found in Isaiah 32:5 which says that the fool, one who denies God, will no more be called noble. And there is an even more sombre meaning, drawn from God’s words to Adam in Genesis 3:19: “… You shall return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return”. It is all rather depressing.
But the warning comes in the context of a big picture about God. For Psalm 146 is the first of the cluster of five psalms that conclude The Book of Psalms. Each of these psalms opens and closes with one Hebrew word: Hallelujah.
Hallelujah brings together two Hebrew words: Hallel a verb meaning praise, and Jah which is a contraction of the word for God – Jehovah or Yahweh. Put together they are a command: ‘Praise the Lord’.
This is the context of Psalm 146’s warning. No matter how powerful or how rich, how impressive or influential someone might be, they are still only human. The paths of human power and glory always lead to the grave. Despite the passing of the centuries Psalm 146 has lost none of its relevance. Only one person is worthy of our unconditional trust: the Lord God Almighty.
Which brings us to the second theme of the Psalm: Blessing.
In verse 5 we read: Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God,… We put our trust in the God of good news.
And as the psalm continues to unfold, the focus is on God as creator, his faithfulness and his justice, his love and his commitment to give life and hope.
The notion of a creator God is aggressively dismissed today on social media and by opinion-shapers. Yet, some of the finest scientific minds are agreed that at the very least, we are not here by chance. The universe is the work of a supreme intelligence.
(You may want to read Henry F. Schaefer III, Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence (Apollos Trust: 2003) and John C. Lennox, God and Stephen Hawking (Lion, Oxford: 2011).)
Furthermore, God is the God of good news. In verses 7 and 8 we read: …who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets the prisoners free;.. He opens the eyes of the blind. He lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous. The oppressed, the hungry, the prisoners, the blind, and the righteous, as well as the sojourners or immigrants, the widow and the fatherless (verse 9), are the recipients of God’s help.
The flow of the sentence tells us that these are not different groups of people, but the same people. They are descriptions of the people of God as a whole. The righteous are those who are righteous by faith. They don’t put their trust in princes. They put their trust in the God who is faithful, the God who has good news to offer, the God of the gospel.
Now the psalmist is not saying that there is no place for human agencies. That’s not his point. The question he is asking is this, ‘Where do you put your trust – in human princes or in God?’
As we consider these words today we have even more reason to be confident in the God of whom the Psalm speaks, for we live on the other side of the birth of a baby whose name is Jesus. This baby grew up to reveal the power and authority we normally associate with divinity. He is the man from heaven. And even when he was struck down to die the most unjust of deaths, the chains of death could not hold him. Indeed, through his resurrection, we have the authentication of the words of the Psalm and the Bible as a whole.
When we open our minds and hearts to God, whose beauty and love are now perfectly revealed for us in this Jesus Christ, God’s eternal Son, we will find Hallelujah will rise to our lips, again and again. We will find that whatever our song of experience was in the past, it can now finish with Hallelujah, the heartfelt song of praise, of hope and of joy, to the one true God.
In the words of Psalm 146:10 – The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord!
And now that the Lord Jesus Christ has come we can truly sing: And he shall reign forever and ever. Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!