Psalm 146 begins and ends with Praise the Lord! (Hallelujah, in Hebrew). It’s a hymn of praise for the God who is faithful, the God who cares about the needy, and the God who sets people free. This psalm, along with all the psalms, would have been well known by Jesus and his first disciples. And this psalm carries a message for us today, as well. I want to look particularly at verses 7-9 of Psalm 146. Here are those verses again:
He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free, the LORD gives sight to the blind, the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down, the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.
God did these things for Israel in the past. And God did these things through Jesus Christ while he walked the earth. And God’s will is to continue to do these things through all his people, who are the body of Christ.
The acts of God recited in vv 7-9 point to events in the history of Israel. In verse 7: ‘He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free’ – the most obvious event remembered here is the Exodus. In Egypt, the Israelites were oppressed as slaves. Moses led them out into freedom and into the desert, where they became hungry. God heard their cries and sustained them with manna from heaven. Freedom from oppression and the provision of food – this is attributed to God by the Israelites.
In verse 8, the psalmist writes, ‘the LORD gives sight to the blind’. But among the miracles written about in the Old Testament, the recovery of sight is absent. I couldn’t find any examples of the Lord giving sight to the blind in the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the Lord giving sight to the blind was not a reality, but a promise. And it was associated with the Messiah who was to come. It was prophetic. Isaiah prophesied sight for the blind as did our psalmist here in Psalm 146.
Verse 8 continues: the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
the LORD loves the righteous. God loves righteousness because that is one of God’s main attributes. To be righteous is to live your life guided by the qualities of justice, integrity, sincerity and equity. In the Old Testament, Noah, Abraham, and Job were called righteous. In varying situations, ‘righteousness’ means being right, doing right, and putting things right. It includes ‘frustrating the ways of the wicked’ by creating order out of disorder, and unity out of disunity.
Verse 9 says: The LORD watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked. God's love and concern for people who are disadvantaged is obvious throughout the Old Testament. God’s covenant with Israel included the obligation not to abuse the weak or defenceless, as we see in Exodus 22: "Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry”.
The Law of Moses contained several rules for the fair treatment of orphans, widows and foreigners, for example in Deuteronomy 24: ‘Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you from there. ...When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.’
So we see that this short Psalm touches on several aspects of Jewish history. The ‘God of Jacob’ rescued Israel from oppression, hunger and slavery, and formed a covenant with his people, that they would be a blessing to all the nations of the earth. And for us as Christians, if we reframe this psalm and view it in the light of Jesus Christ, we recognise a connection between what God has done for Israel and what God has done for us through Jesus Christ. Through Jesus, God came to rescue all people from spiritual oppression, hunger and slavery, when we turn to him. In Luke chapter 4, Jesus stands up in the synagogue in Nazareth and reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah (61):
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour." Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, "Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."
Everything Jesus did had both a spiritual dimension and an earthly dimension. When we’re released from spiritual blindness, we see the greater purpose to which our earthly good works contribute. We understand that God’s kingdom is breaking in, and that God wants our lives to be formed into this Kingdom shape, where Jesus reigns.
Today we can have a real impact on people’s lives – by giving our time, our talents, or our money. Through charitable organisations such as Open Doors, Christian Aid, the Barnabas Fund and the Ark, as individual Christians and through the Church, we can uphold the cause of the oppressed and the unfairly imprisoned. We can give food to the hungry and sight to the blind. We can arrange hospitality for refugees and the homeless, and we can care for orphans and for widowed people. Selfless giving of time, talents, and money for the sake of the kingdom of God aligns us with the will of God.
In the short space of Psalm 146, we remember God’s saving grace in the past, and are pointed towards the reign of Christ and our responsibilities as his disciples. Under the New Covenant, we are the body of Christ. We are to seek out the lost and fight the corner for the oppressed. We are to feed the hungry and liberate those enslaved by the things of this world. When this happens through Christ’s church in the world, it’s a sign of his kingdom breaking in on earth, and he is to be praised. Hallelujah! Amen.