Psalm 146: He Who Keeps Faith Forever

During the course of this year, some 64 countries across the world will be going to the polls to elect new governments. In South Africa, where I live, we have just had a momentous election wherein the African National Congress (ANC) lost their majority for the first time since 1994. Naturally, there is much uncertainty and fear in the air as we head into unchartered territory. How should Christians respond in times of political uncertainty? How ought we to view the “princes” that God has appointed to govern us? In answering these questions, let us look at Psalm 146 which leads us to hope in our God who never fails us.

Psalm 146 is the first of the final five psalms of the Psalter. These concluding psalms are all psalms of praise, all beginning with, “Praise the Lord!” In his book, Learning to Love the Psalms, Robert Godfrey observes that each of these final five psalms “recapitulates and fulfills” the theme of each of the five books of the Psalter.1 Since the first book of the Psalter (Psalms 1–41) is primarily concerned with the king’s confidence in God’s care, this theme is precisely what we see in Psalm 146. This psalm praises God for his care over his people, showing how he “keeps faith forever” (v. 6).2

Like all the final five psalms, Psalm 146 opens with, “Praise the Lord!” This is an instruction to us—an imperative—calling us to do something, and that is to praise God. Not only this, but praising God should consume our whole lives: “I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being” (v. 2).

Worshipping God, giving praise to him, is the point of our lives as believers in Christ. This is one of the most fundamental things that separates us from those who do not believe. We are called to live our lives, not primarily for ourselves, but for the glory of God, to glorify God with our whole lives (Westminster Shorter Catechism 1).

But this psalm also refers to worship that is more specific—the participation in weekly Lord’s Day worship together with the visible church. This is where we are able to praise the Lord in song and prayer, hear his Word, receive the sacraments, and be built up in our faith through these ordinary means of grace. This is where—and only where—our covenant-keeping God renews his covenant promises with us every week, by meeting us and communing with us by his Word and through his Spirit. This is why the Lord’s Day worship is so important; indeed, it ought to be the high point of our week.

In verse 3, there appears a shift in the psalm. From lifting up our hearts to praise God in the first two verses, verses 3 and 4 draw a contrast between the eternal, faithful God, and the finite, typically unfaithful princes of this world. Many of us look to government and civic leaders as sources of hope. We think that they will provide us with employment, health care, justice, food, liberty, and security. Now, they certainly do bear a responsibility to provide some of these things in their God-ordained role (Rom 13:4–5, Westminster Confession of Faith [WCF] 23.2). There is a temptation, however, to place too much hope in them. Perhaps we think that if only we had a good president, then everything would be fine. Some put their hopes in the current government, while others pin our hopes on the opposition party taking over. We can be tempted to imagine that if only our chosen leader was in power, it would result in paradise on earth.

In stark contrast to this attitude, the psalmist declares, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (v. 3). Our hopes and dreams should not be set on our civic leaders and governments. Yes, we should honor our leaders as 1 Peter 2:17 exhorts us to do. But honoring our leaders does not mean that we pin our hopes on them. The reality is that every government across the political spectrum—from capitalist to communist, right wing to left wing to centrist—or in any part of the world, is fundamentally corrupt and sinful. Some are more so than others, and some systems are better than others, to be sure. But if we believe in the total depravity of mankind, then we must expect that all our leaders will ultimately disappoint us. The sobering reality history teaches us is that power left unfettered tends toward tyranny, oppression, and injustice. This is just unfortunately the nature of our sinful world.

Not only do they fall short because of corruption, but in verse 3, we also see that princes will inevitably fail and disappoint us because they cannot give us what we crave the most. What is that? True salvation and true hope. The reason for this lies in verse 4: “When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.” They cannot give us true hope because every single human leader is finite and frail. One day their breath will depart. They are finite. They have limited resources. They may see themselves as strong men and powerful, but in the greater scheme of things, their lives are just a breath, a passing shadow (Psalm 144:4). One day they will die and return to the earth and all their plans will perish with them.

Regardless of who our leaders are—love them or loath them—as believers in Christ, we need to keep things in perspective. We are to certainly honor our leaders and pray for them, but we are not to put our hope in them, as they will always disappoint us. Instead, our hope is to be placed in someone much greater, who will never let us down.

In stark contrast to the princes and leaders of this world is our God. As we have just seen, the princes of this world will always disappoint us. But verses 5 and 6 go on to say, “Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever.”

Those who hope in the God of Jacob are “blessed.” Why? Unlike the princes of this world, our God really cares for us. We saw in verse 4 that the princes of this world are finite—their breath will depart and they will one day die. They are here today and gone tomorrow. Yet here, we see that our God is infinite (v. 6). His reign is eternal, lasting through all generations (v. 10).

Because of this, he is all-powerful; he made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. He is the Creator of all, speaking everything into being through the power of his Word. Therefore, his power and resources are limitless. Nothing is too hard for him; indeed, nothing is impossible for him. In Matthew 6:30, our Savior tells us, “But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” God truly sustains his creation, and especially his own people.

Even beyond that, we have hope because God “keeps faith forever” (v. 6). This phrase gets to the heart of this psalm. Unlike the princes of this world who will all let us down and break their promises, our God is forever faithful. He promises to care for us. This speaks of his providential care for all our needs (Heidelberg Catechism 27), but more importantly, this speaks of his promise to faithfully preserve those of us in Christ in our salvation (WCF 17). Because he keeps faith forever, if we are in Christ, he will never let us go or abandon us. Yes, the Bible promises us troubles in this life, but God’s promise is that he will be with us in those troubles and preserve us for eternal life. Though we may be buffeted by persecution, temptations, sickness, tragedies, and doubts, in Christ, our salvation is secure. Nothing and no one can pluck us from his hand (Rom 8:38–39). God himself chose us for salvation in Christ before the creation of the world (Eph 1:4). His plans never fail; God always achieves what he sets out to do (Isa 46:10). We cannot scuttle the plans of God. Paul declares in 2 Timothy 2:13, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” Our God indeed keeps faith forever!

The tendency of the princes of this world, however, is to commit injustice, to oppress people, to be corrupt, and to let evildoers and the corrupt go unpunished. Not so with our God. He rules with perfect justice, as he truly cares for us.

God executes justice for the oppressed (v. 7), and verse 9 says he brings the way of the wicked to ruin. Instead of letting evildoers off the hook, our God will set all wrongs right. All of us who have endured evil and injustice from others, whether it be abuse, oppression, theft, or violence, will one day get justice from God. Romans 12:19 says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” Our God will avenge evil, precisely because he is good and he cares for us—he is not indifferent to our suffering.

God also promises to feed us with food (v. 7). The Hebrew word used here is actually the word for bread. This speaks of God’s provision for us, as our Good Shepherd who feeds his sheep. God’s care for his people is expressed in a multitude of ways in verses 7–9: he is the One who sets the prisoners free, opens blind eyes, lifts up the lowly, loves the righteous, watches over the sojourner, the immigrant, and the refugee, and he upholds the widows and the fatherless—all those who have had a hard life. This is a wonderful picture of the heart of our God, that his reign is not at all oppressive and brutal like many princes of the world. It is good and just. He watches over and cares for the very least of us, serving us his people, not lording it over us.

Practically speaking, though, how do we see God do all of these things? We see God’s care for his people, as shown here in Psalm 146, expressed most clearly in Jesus, God’s promised Messiah. In chapter 4 of Luke’s Gospel, as Jesus begins his earthly ministry, he reads from Isaiah 61:1–2, which prophesies the coming of the Messiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Psalm 146 ultimately points to and reveals Jesus Christ. Jesus is the One who fulfils all these messianic expectations that both Isaiah 61 and Psalm 146 describe. Jesus is this promised divine Messiah, our Good Shepherd who truly cares for us.

Jesus is our eternal Creator. He is the One who created the heavens and the earth and the seas and all that is in them (Ps 146:6). As John 1:3 declares, “All things were made through him [Jesus], and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

Jesus keeps faith forever (v. 6). Jesus faithfully preserves his people and will himself raise us up with him to eternal life. Philippians 1:6 declares, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Jesus cares for his people (vv. 7–9). We see this throughout his earthly ministry: he opened blind eyes, he gave bread to the hungry, he set those oppressed by demons free, and he ministered to those who realized their need, whether the sinner, the widow, the sojourner, or the fatherless.

Jesus will execute perfect justice when he returns (v. 7). Second Corinthians 5:10 says, “For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” No longer will the evildoers and the corrupt evade justice. Under Jesus’ perfect reign, he will right every wrong, and punish all evil, for he is good and just.

Jesus demonstrates his care for us by forgiving sinners. Though we all deserve to face God’s justice because all of us have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory, Jesus went to the cross and was crucified in our place, for our sins. Because he rose again on the third day, he has forgiven us, removed our sins as far as the east is from the west, making peace between us and God.

Our disappointments with the princes of this world and their inability to care for us, their propensity to oppress us, and their inability to provide for us should give us a greater yearning for the One whose reign is absolutely perfect and just. Jesus’ reign is good news! “The Lord will reign forever, our God in Zion, to all generations! Praise the LORD!” (v. 10). This is indeed reason to praise the Lord and worship him forever. It is only Jesus Christ who really cares for us through his abundant provision for us, in his keeping faith forever and in his gracious forgiveness of our sins and promise of eternal life.

Notes

  1. W. Robert Godfrey, Learning to Love the Psalms (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2017), 232.
  2. Godfrey, Psalms. 234.

©Antonio Coppola. All Rights Reserved.


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    Post authored by:

  • Antonio Coppola
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    Rev. Antonio Coppola (M.Div. Westminster Seminary California) is the pastor of Covenant Waterfall Presbyterian Church in Durban, South Africa. He is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian and Reformed Church of South Africa. He is also the manager of the Mukhanyo Durban Advanced Learning Centre.

    More by Antonio Coppola ›

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