With the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the rise of ISIS-K and the prospect of renewed acts of terrorism, we wonder what the future holds. Judith and I were living in close proximity to the Twin Towers, Downtown Manhattan on September 11, 2001.
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;…
What a warning! Princes refers to people of influence and power. The psalm is telling us that humanly speaking, we will never find long-term answers to our deepest desires – our security and our future. And yet, in a world that has turned its back on God, is our only hope found in the decisions and achievements of influential men and women?
It is significant that in Isaiah chapter 32, verse 5 we find a deeper layer of the theme, put not your trust in princes. Isaiah warns us that the fool, one who denies God, will no more be called noble. And there is an even more sombre meaning when we consider 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’s all rather depressing.
But the warning in Psalm 146 comes in the context of a big picture of God, for this 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 form a command to everyone: Praise the Lord.
This is the context of the warning in Psalm 146. No matter how powerful or rich, impressive or influential someone might be, they are still only human. The paths of human power and glory are transient for they 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 us 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 agree that we are not here by chance. The universe is the work of a supreme intelligence.
For example, Dr. John Lennox writes in God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? ‘To the majority of those who have reflected deeply and written about the origin and nature of the universe, it has seemed that it points beyond itself to a source which is non-physical and of great intelligence and power’.
Furthermore, God is truly 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. It speaks of God’s people as a whole. The righteous are those who are righteous by faith. They don’t put their trust in the influential or powerful. They put their trust in the God who is faithful, the God who has good news to offer, the God who offers hope and a future.
Now the psalmist is not saying that there is no place for human agencies. That’s not his point. His question is: ‘Where do you put your trust – in human princes or in God?’
When we open our minds and hearts to God, whose beauty and love are now perfectly revealed for us in Jesus Christ, God’s eternal Son, we will find Hallelujah rising 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.
Consider the biblical richness of the hymn from Keith and Kristyn Getty and Matt Papa:
‘What is our hope in life and death? Christ alone, Christ alone. What is our only confidence? That our souls to him belong.
‘Who holds our days within his hands? What comes, apart from his command? And what will keep us to the end? The love of Christ in which we stand! …
‘What truth can calm the troubled soul? God is good. God is good. Where is his grace and goodness known? In our great redeemer’s blood.
‘Who holds our faith when fears arise? Who stands above the stormy trial? Who sends the waves that brings us nigh, unto the shore, the rock of Christ? …
‘Unto the grave, what will we sing? Christ, he lives: Christ, he lives! And what reward will heaven bring? Everlasting life with him.
There we will rise to meet the Lord. Then sin and death will be destroyed. And we will feast in endless joy when Christ is ours for evermore!
‘O sing, Hallelujah! Our hope springs eternal. O sing, Hallelujah! Now and ever we confess, Christ our hope in life and death.’
You can listen to this timely hymn at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OibIi1rz7mw
To return to Psalm 146: The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Hallelujah! Praise the Lord!
A prayer: O God, the author and lover of peace, in knowledge of whom stands our eternal life, whose service is perfect freedom; defend us your servants in all assaults of our enemies, that surely trusting in your defense, we may not fear the power of any adversaries, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.