Do me a favor and please read Psalm 147.
From the opening “praise the Lord” to the closing “praise the Lord” the unknown psalmist recognizes, declares, and finds hope in the God of creation and restoration. And not simply because God creates and restores but because they, the psalmist (whomever they are), and all those who hear his praises, they all are benefactors of God’s goodness, grace, and work.
Upon reading this psalm we find some clues that help us understand the context of its voice and place. So while we don’t know who or when this was written we do see that the psalmist praises God for gathering in the exiled people of Israel (vs 2). So that alone should narrow this down to sometime after the captivity of the Jews in Babylon. Some attribute it to the time period of Haggai (around 520 BC) or Zechariah (518 BC) while others more towards Nehemiah’s time (445 BC) as the writer praises God for returning, rebuilding, and watching over. But while we may have discrepancies about WHEN or WHO wrote it – the praise-ness of it and REASON for it still remains. The people have returned when all was felt to be lost.
So much of Israel’s life was dependent on where they were as God’s presence was associated with his temple and location. So if you were NOT near the temple and were in captivity then you felt that God had abandoned you, forsaken you, forgotten you, and left you on your own. It may be hard for us to fathom this but your place seemed to dictate God’s care. And so if you’re in captivity, if you’re in a foreign land and you’re there for a long time then it was only natural for the people’s thoughts to turn towards abandonment.
Can we relate? Most definitely.
When we’ve been in a rough patch for quite some time it’s really easy to wonder, “God – where are you? Have you forgotten me?” When we’ve been sick for a while or have lost a loved one then our minds easily begin to wonder if God still cares – or why he didn’t save our loved one from death. With all this death, starvation, destruction, and harm in the world one easily can wonder where the God of salvation is and why he isn’t saving. It’s simply too easy for our minds to quickly go from knowing and remembering that God is always near – to associating our current place/space with God’s apparent abandonment of us or others.
What the psalmist does here though, is acknowledge that they were wrong (even though they don’t blatantly state it). Their praise reflects this understanding that God has NOT abandoned, forsaken, or moved on. That the God of creation who provides food for the cattle (vs 9) and covers the sky with clouds and makes it rain (vs 8) is the same God who blesses his people (vs 13), restores them from exile (vs 2), sends his word of hope to them (vs 18), and helps his people along their journey to know, fear, love, and draw close to him (vs 19-20).
For the Christian this psalm should remind us once more that God does not abandon. That even when we feel we have been exiled by God it’s simply not true. If God is anything He is the one who restores. If God is anything He is the one who brings hope. If God is anything He is the one who provides. If God is anything He is the one who makes all of creation exist and function. And so while all of this psalm is joyful and praise-worthy – there is an incompleteness to it because you and I, believers in Christ, are encouraged to see this psalm in the light of Christ.
For the people of Israel during this time hope was not only restoration but hope was the good news of coming back home. That captivity is done, oppression is removed, and hope is restored. But that was just temporary as captivity, oppression, and fear would always be there. What they needed, what WE needed, was a finality to the captivity. A finality to the oppression by removing the whips, chains, and hatred that existed. We need a finality and removal of the fear. Enter: Jesus Christ as He is the one who does all those things for us.
So our encouragement is to read this psalm through the lens of Jesus. Read this psalm with the understanding that God created creation FOR, and THROUGH, his Son. That God sustains the humble, casts out the wicked, and returns singing and dancing to his people BECAUSE of what Christ has done upon the cross and through the grave.
So “praise the Lord” all you people. For you have NOT been abandoned or forsaken. You have been restored into the arms of the God who loves, the God who creates, the God who gives you peace.
Some questions to think about:
- If we KNOW that God doesn’t abandon or forsaken then why does it feel like he does when we are in those dark spaces for so long?
- Have you ever been in that space of feeling abandoned by God? How did you get through it? What helped you remember that his Spirit was with you?
- How can you encourage someone who is in that dark space? How can you remind them of God’s presence even then?