Rev. Slopsema is pastor of First Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Sing unto the LORD with thanksgiving; sing praise upon the harp unto our God: Who covereth the heaven with clouds, who prepareth rain for the earth, who maketh grass to grow upon the mountains. He giveth to the beast his food, and to the young ravens which cry.
Psalm 147 was composed at the time of the completion of the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah. What a blessing of God this was. The completion of the walls brought a peace and prosperity to Judah that she had not known since her return from Babylon.
And so the psalmist called upon Judah to give thanks. “Sing unto the LORD with thanksgiving; sing praise upon the harp unto our God.”
Interestingly, Judah must sing thanksgiving to the LORD not just for the prosperity that came with the restoration of the city walls but also for the acts of mercy He shows the lesser creatures and the creation in general. The LORD gives to the beast his food, and to the young ravens that cry. For this also they were to thank and praise God in song.
We too must sing songs of thanks and praise to this same God. The LORD who cares for His creatures and cared for Judah in her need has also provided for us. In response we are called to sing to the LORD songs of thanksgiving.
The psalmist speaks of God’s providential care of His creation. God covers the heavens with clouds and prepares rain for the earth. By the falling rain God makes the grass to grow on the mountains. In this way God provides food for the beasts of the field.
The psalmist makes special mention of God’s care for the raven. This is rather striking, since the raven was considered to be one of the least of God’s creatures. The raven is only a bird. Because it is a carrion feeder (eating the meat of dead animals), it was included in the abominations not to be eaten by Israel. It was unclean. Yet when the ravens cry, God feeds them. The raven has a loud, emphatic cry. This is especially true of the young, when they are hungry. God responds to their cry by giving them food.
The psalmist calls attention to God’s care of His creation, even of the least of His creatures, to assure us that God will certainly provide for us, His people.
Notice how the psalmist identifies God. He is the LORD. In the original you have the name “Jehovah.” This is God’s covenant name. By identifying God as Jehovah, the psalmist calls attention to the covenant that God has with His people. In the Old Testament this covenant was with Israel. In the New Testament all who belong to Jesus Christ belong to this covenant, regardless of nationality or ethnic background.
In harmony with all this the psalmist also speaks of Jehovah as “our God.” This too is covenant language. In the covenant Jehovah is our God, the God who loves us, cares for us, and provides for us in all our need.
It is in this context that the psalmist speaks of God’s care over His creatures in general and His care over even the least of His creatures in particular, the raven. Of how much more value are not we than the animals of the field? Certainly we mean much more to Jehovah than the lowly raven. It was not for the raven or for any of the other animals that God gave His Son to die on the cross. It was for us, that He might save us from our sins and live with us forever. If God provides for the animals of the field, He will certainly provide for us. And if God hears the cry even of the lowly raven, how much more will He not hear our cry and provide for us in all our needs?
From this Psalm we learn how Jehovah cares for and blesses His covenant people.
The situation for Judah was deplorable. Soon after her return from Babylon she had been opposed by the Samaritans. As a result the walls of Jerusalem were not rebuilt. This allowed her enemies to rob and plunder her at will. The situation was so bad that it was reported to Nehemiah that the citizens of Jerusalem were in great affliction and reproach (Neh. 1:2, 3).
Judah cried out to Jehovah her God for help. Jehovah responded by providing Nehemiah to rebuild the wall of the city and secure Judah’s safety. Under Nehemiah’s leadership the people managed to rebuild the city wall in only fifty-two days. And this was in spite of fierce opposition and threat from the enemy. This secured Judah’s safety and prosperity. The psalmist reflected on this in verses 13 and 14. Addressing Jerusalem the psalmist declared, “For he (Jehovah) hath strengthened the bars of thy gates; he hath blessed thy children within thee. He maketh peace in thy borders, and filleth thee with the finest of the wheat.”
What a blessing this was. As the psalmist declared in verse 13, Jehovah had blessed the children of Jerusalem by strengthening the bars of its gates. This was a blessing, first, because Jerusalem was now able to dwell securely and enjoy the fat of the land. It was a blessing, second, because now Judah was able to worship Jehovah her God in safety and security. And it was a blessing, finally, in that this new peace and prosperity were tokens of greater spiritual blessings in the heavenly Canaan.
Much of this also applies to the church of the New Testament.
Since we no longer live in the Old Testament, God’s covenant blessings are no longer connected to the earthly land of Canaan and prospering in the land.
But the fact is that Jehovah has prospered us as our covenant God. Our land enjoys unparalleled prosperity. Never have a people prospered as we have in earthly abundance. But, more importantly, Jehovah God has prospered us spiritually. He has given us His Son, Jesus Christ. And in Christ Jehovah God daily loads us with the blessings of salvation. Our sins are forgiven. We have a new life in which we are able to live at peace with God and enjoy Him forever. There is a promise of a better life to come when our earthly sojourn is finished. Yes, God does sometimes send war, sickness, poverty, persecution, and adversity of every kind. Yet He keeps us in the midst of all things. He upholds us and sustains us. He comforts us and even turns all suffering to our profit.
Truly we are a people that are blessed.
In response to all this the psalmist called Judah (and us) to thankfulness.
“Sing unto the LORD with thanksgiving; sing praise upon the harp unto our God.”
With these words the psalmist taught us several things about the thanksgiving we are to give to Jehovah for all His blessings.
First of all, the word “thanksgiving” itself teaches us something. It has the basic idea of pointing to. It instructs us that we must show our thanks to Jehovah God by pointing out all the goodness and blessings He has showered on us. To do this properly takes quite a bit of time. Jehovah God has loaded us with so many blessings.
Secondly, we are to thank God in song. We are instructed to sing unto the LORD with thanksgiving. Certainly we are to point out the many blessings of God to others in our conversation with them. And we are to recount these blessings in our prayers. But we are also to do so in song. A thankful people are a praying people. They are also a singing people. And Jehovah has given us the Psalms as an excellent tool to do this. “Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto Him with psalms” (Ps. 95:2).
Finally, we are to thank God by praising Him joyfully in song.
Notice that the psalmist mentioned singing praises to the LORD in the same breath that he spoke of singing unto the LORD with thanksgiving. “Sing unto the LORD with thanksgiving; sing praise upon the harp unto our God.” God is certainly to be praised by us for His many gifts. These words of praises, whether uttered in prayer or in song, are a proper expression of thanks to God.
And we are to sing these praises joyfully. The psalmist called us to sing praise on the harp. The psalmist added the idea of the harp to emphasize that we are to sing God’s praises joyfully. The harp was used only on festive occasions of joy and never in times of mourning. This is suggested by a comparison of a few Psalms. Psalm 149:2, 3 speaks of the use of the harp in times of great joy. “Let Israel rejoice in him that made him: let the children of Zion be joyful in their King. Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp.” But in the sorrow of the Babylonian captivity the people of God hanged their harps on the willows. Psalm 137:1, 2 speaks of this. “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.” Our psalmist calls us to sing praise upon the harp unto our God. It is a time of blessing in God’s grace and covenant. It is a time of joy and rejoicing. Let us celebrate in songs of praise and thanksgiving to our God.