Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Hallelujah to the Sustainer of All Things, the Restorer of Jerusalem
It is the tone of the restoration-period of Ezra and Nehemiah that meets us sounding forth out of this and the two following Psalms, even more distinctly and recognisably than out of the nearly related preceding Psalm (cf. Psa 147:6 with Psa 146:9). In Psalms 147 thanksgiving is rendered to God for the restoration of Jerusalem, which is now once more a city with walls and gates; in Psa 148:1-14 for the restoration of the national independence; and in Psa 149:1-9 for the restoration of the capacity of joyously and triumphantly defending themselves to the people so long rendered defenceless and so ignominiously enslaved.
In the seventh year of Artachshasta (Artaxerxes I Longimanus) Ezra the priest entered Jerusalem, after a journey of five months, with about two thousand exiles, mostly out of the families of the Levites (458 b.c.). In the twentieth year of this same clement king, that is to say, thirteen years later (445 b.c.), came Nehemiah, his cup-bearer, in the capacity of a Tirshâtha (vid., Isaiah, p. 4). Whilst Ezra did everything for introducing the Mosaic Law again into the mind and commonwealth of the nation, Nehemiah furthered the building of the city, and more particularly of the walls and gates. We hear from his own mouth, in Neh 2:1 of the Book that is extracted from his memoirs, how indefatigably and cautiously he laboured to accomplish this work. Neh 12:27 is closely connected with these notes of Nehemiah's own hand. After having been again in the meanwhile in Susa, and there neutralized the slanderous reports that had reached the court of Persia, he appointed, at his second stay in Jerusalem, a feast in dedication of the walls. The Levite musicians, who had settled down fore the most part round about Jerusalem, were summoned to appear in Jerusalem. Then the priests and Levites were purified; and they purified the people, the gates, and the walls, the bones of the dead (as we must with Herzfeld picture this to ourselves) being taken out of all the tombs within the city and buried before the city; and then came that sprinkling, according to the Law, with the sacred lye of the red heifer, which is said (Para iii. 5) to have been introduced again by Ezra for the first time after the Exile. Next the princes of Judah, the priests, and Levite musicians were placed in the west of the city in two great choirs (תּודת)
(Note: The word has been so understood by Menahem, Juda ben Koreish, and Abulwald; whereas Herzfeld is thinking of hecatombs for a thank-offering, which might have formed the beginning of both festive processions.))
and processions (תּחלכת). The one festal choir, which was led by the one half of the princes, and among the priests of which Ezra went on in front, marched round the right half of the city, and the other round the left, whilst the people looked down from the walls and towers. The two processions met on the east side of the city and drew up in the Temple, where the festive sacrifices were offered amidst music and shouts of joy.
The supposition that Psa 147:1 were all sung at this dedication of the walls under Nehemiah (Hengstenberg) cannot be supported; but as regards Psalms 147, the composition of which in the time of Nehemiah is acknowledged by the most diverse parties (Keil, Ewald, Dillmann, Zunz), the reference to the Feast of the Dedication of the walls is very probable. The Psalm falls into two parts, Psa 147:1-11, Psa 147:12, which exhibit a progression both in respect of the building of the walls (Psa 147:2, Psa 147:13), and in respect of the circumstances of the weather, from which the poet takes occasion to sing the praise of God (Psa 147:8, Psa 147:16). It is a double Psalm, the first part of which seems to have been composed, as Hitzig suggests, on the appearing of the November rain, and the second in the midst of the rainy part of the winter, when the mild spring breezes and a thaw were already in prospect.
The Hallelujah, as in Psa 135:3, is based upon the fact, that to sing of our God, or to celebrate our God in song (זמּר with an accusative of the object, as in Ps 30:13, and frequently), is a discharge of duty that reacts healthfully and beneficially upon ourselves: "comely is a hymn of praise" (taken from Psa 33:1), both in respect of the worthiness of God to be praised, and of the gratitude that is due to Him. Instead of זמּר or לזמּר, Psa 92:2, the expression is זמּרה, a form of the infin. Piel, which at least can still be proved to be possible by ליסּרה in Lev 26:18. The two כּי are co-ordinate, and כּי־נעים no more refers to God here than in Psa 135:3, as Hitzig supposes when he alters Psa 147:1 so that it reads: "Praise ye Jah because He is good, play unto our God because He is lovely." Psa 92:2 shows that כּי־טוב can refer to God; but נעים said of God is contrary to the custom and spirit of the Old Testament, whereas טוב and נעים are also in Psa 133:1 neuter predicates of a subject that is set forth in the infinitive form. In Psa 147:2 the praise begins, and at the same time the confirmation of the delightful duty. Jahve is the builder up of Jerusalem, He brings together (כּנּס as in Ezekiel, the later wozd for אסף and קבּץ) the outcasts of Israel (as in Isa 11:12; Isa 56:8); the building of Jerusalem is therefore intended of the rebuilding up, and to the dispersion of Israel corresponds the holy city laid in ruins. Jahve healeth the heart-broken, as He has shown in the case of the exiles, and bindeth up their pains (Psa 16:4), i.e., smarting wounds; רפא, which is here followed by חבּשׁ, also takes to itself a dative object in other instances, both in an active and (Isa 6:10) an impersonal application; but for שׁבוּרי לב the older language says נשׁבּרי לב, Psa 34:19, Isa 61:1. The connection of the thoughts, which the poet now brings to the stars, becomes clear from the primary passage, Isa 40:26, cf. Isa 40:27. To be acquainted with human woe and to relieve it is an easy and small matter to Him who allots a number to the stars, that are to man innumerable (Gen 15:5), i.e., who has called them into being by His creative power in whatever number He has pleased, and yet a number known to Him (מנה, the part. praes., which occurs frequently in descriptions of the Creator), and calls to them all names, i.e., names them all by names which are the expression of their true nature, which is well known to Him, the Creator. What Isaiah says (Isa 40:26) with the words, "because of the greatness of might, and as being strong in power," and (Isa 40:28) "His understanding is unsearchable," is here asserted in Psa 147:5 (cf. Psa 145:3): great is our Lord, and capable of much (as in Job 37:23, שׂגּיא כּח), and to His understanding there is no number, i.e., in its depth and fulness it cannot be defined by any number. What a comfort for the church as it traverses its ways, that are often so labyrinthine and entangled! Its Lord is the Omniscient as well as the Almighty One. Its history, like the universe, is a work of God's infinitely profound and rich understanding. It is a mirror of gracious love and righteous anger. The patient sufferers (ענוים) He strengthens (מעודד as in Psa 146:9); malevolent sinners (רשׁעים), on the other hand, He casts down to the earth (עדי־ארץ, cf. Isa 26:5), casting deep down to the ground those who exalt themselves to the skies.
With Psa 147:7 the song takes a new flight. ענה ל signifies to strike up or sing in honour of any one, Num 21:27; Isa 27:2. The object of the action is conceived of in בּתּודה as the medium of it (cf. e.g., Job 16:4). The participles in Psa 147:8. are attributive clauses that are attached in a free manner to לאלהינוּ. הכין signifies to prepare, procure, as e.g., in Job 38:41 - a passage which the psalmist has had in his mind in connection with Psa 147:9. מצמיח, as being the causative of a verb. crescendi, is construed with a double accusative: "making mountains (whither human agriculture does not reach) to bring forth grass;" and the advance to the thought that God gives to the cattle the bread that they need is occasioned by the "He causeth grass to grow for the cattle" of the model passage Psa 104:14, just as the only hinting אשׁר יקראוּ, which is said of the young of the raven (which are forsaken and cast off by their mothers very early), is explained from ילדיו אל־אל ישׁוּעוּ in Job loc. cit. The verb קרא brev ehT .tic .col boJ ni , κράζειν (cf. κρώζειν), is still more expressive for the cry of the raven, κόραξ, Sanscrit kârava, than that שׁוּע; κοράττειν and κορακεύεσθαι signify directly to implore incessantly, without taking any refusal. Towards Him, the gracious Sustainer of all beings, are the ravens croaking for their food pointed (cf. Luk 12:24, "Consider the ravens"), just like the earth that thirsts for rain. He is the all-conditioning One. Man, who is able to know that which the irrational creature unconsciously acknowledges, is in the feeling of his dependence to trust in Him and not in himself. In all those things to which the God-estranged self-confidence of man so readily clings, God has no delight (יחפּץ, pausal form like יחבּשׁ) and no pleasure, neither in the strength of the horse, whose rider imagines himself invincible, and, if he is obliged to flee, that he cannot be overtaken, nor in the legs of a man, upon which he imagines himself so firm that he cannot be thrown down, and which, when he is pursued, will presumptively carry him far enough away into safety. שׁוק, Arab. sâq, is the leg from the knee to the foot, from Arab. sâqa, root sq, to drive, urge forward, more particularly to urge on to a gallop (like curs, according to Pott, from the root car, to go). What is meant here is, not that the strength of the horse and muscular power are of no avail when God wills to destroy a man (Psa 33:16., Amo 2:14.), but only that God has no pleasure in the warrior's horse and in athletic strength. Those who fear Him, i.e., with a knowledge of the impotency of all power possessed by the creature in itself, and in humble trust feel themselves dependent upon His omnipotence - these are they in whom He takes pleasure (רצה with the accusative), those who, renouncing all carnal defiance and self-confident self-working, hope in His mercy.
In the lxx this strophe is a Psalm (Lauda Jerusalem) of itself. The call goes forth to the church again on the soil of the land of promise assembled round about Jerusalem. The holy city has again risen out of its ruins; it now once more has gates which can stand open in the broad daylight, and can be closed and bolted when the darkness comes on for the security of the municipality that is only just growing into power (Neh 7:1-4). The blessing of God again rests upon the children of the sacred metropolis. Its territory, which has experienced all the sufferings of war, and formerly resounded with the tumult of arms and cries of woe and destruction, God has now, from being an arena of conflict, made into peace (the accusative of the effect, and therefore different from Isa 60:17); and since the land can now again be cultivated in peace, the ancient promise (Ps 81:17) is fulfilled, that God would feed His people, if they would only obey Him, with the fat of wheat. The God of Israel is the almighty Governor of nature. It is He who sends His fiat (אמרתו after the manner of the ויּאמר of the history of creation, cf. Psa 33:9) earthwards (ארץ, the accusative of the direction). The word is His messenger (vid., on Psa 107:20), עד־מהרה, i.e., it runs as swiftly as possible, viz., in order to execute the errand on which it is sent. He it is who sends down snow-flakes like flocks of wool, so that the fields are covered with snow as with a white-woollen warming covering.
(Note: Bochart in his Hierozoicon on this passage compares an observation of Eustathius on Dionysius Periegetes: τὴν χιόνα ἐριῶδες ὕδωρ ἀστείως οἱ παλαιοὶ ἐκάλουν.)
He scatters hoar-frost (כּפור from כּפר, to cover over with the fine frozen dew or mist as though they were powdered with ashes that the wind had blown about. Another time He casts His ice
(Note: lxx (Italic, Vulgate) κρύσταλλον, i.e., ice, from the root κρυ, to freeze, to congeal (Jerome glaciem). Quid est crystallum? asks Augustine, and replies: Nix est glacie durata per multos annos ita ut a sole vel igne acile dissolvi non possit.)
(קרחו from קרח; or according to another reading, קרחו from קרח) down like morsels, fragments, כפתּים, viz., as hail-stones, or as sleet. The question: before His cold - who can stand? is formed as in Nah 1:6, cf. Psa 130:3. It further comes to pass that God sends forth His word and causes them (snow, hoar-frost, and ice) to melt away: He makes His thawing wind blow, waters flow; i.e., as soon as the one comes about, the other also takes place forthwith. This God now, who rules all things by His word and moulds all things according to His will, is the God of the revelation pertaining to the history of salvation, which is come to Israel, and as the bearer of which Israel takes the place of honour among the nations, Deu 4:7., 32-34. Since the poet says מגּיד and not הגּיד, he is thinking not only of the Tra, but also of prophecy as the continuous self-attestation of God, the Lawgiver. The Ker דּבריו, occasioned by the plurals of the parallel member of the verse, gives an unlimited indistinct idea. We must keep to דברו, with the lxx, Aquila, Theodotion, the Quinta, Sexta, and Jerome. The word, which is the medium of God's cosmical rule, is gone forth as a word of salvation to Israel, and, unfolding itself in statutes and judgments, has raised Israel to a legal state founded upon a positive divine law or judgment such as no Gentile nation possesses. The Hallelujah does not exult over the fact that these other nations are not acquainted with any such positive divine law, but (cf. Deu 4:7., Baruch 4:4) over the fact that Israel is put into possession of such a law. It is frequently attested elsewhere that this possession of Israel is only meant to be a means of making salvation a common property of the world at large.