by Gordon Franz
If King David were teaching a class on “Worship 101” today, he might begin the first lecture by saying: “Please unroll your third Psalm scroll toward the end, to the 145th psalm, and let’s see what lessons we can learn about worship from this psalm.” Perhaps he brought out his harp and sang the psalm through once while everybody was unrolling their scrolls! [One psalm scroll that was found at Qumran measured nearly 4 meters in length and that only had 48 psalms written on it (Sanders 1965:3)].
In this psalm, King David sees his God as the King of a glorious kingdom that will last forever and ever. He contemplates the Lord as King, His mighty acts and His attributes, so he can bless and praise the name of the LORD until “Thy Kingdom come.”
Title of the Psalm
The Hebrew superscription of this psalm reads: “Tehillah la-David” and is translated “Praise of David.” This is the only psalm that uses the word tehillah/praise in the superscription. The name for the Psalter, or book of Psalms, is derived from this superscription and is called Tehillim In Hebrew.
This is a beautifully arranged acrostic psalm. Each bicola verse (two lines in each verse) begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The first word of the first verse begins with “aleph”; the first word of the second verse begins with “bet”; the third, “gimel”; the fourth, “dalet”; and so forth, with the noticeable exception of the 14th letter of the Hebrew alphabet, “nun.” There is no verse beginning with this letter, it is missing! [If you have an NIV paraphrase, a verse 13b is added that begins with “nun” that was included in several psalm scrolls (11QP3) that were discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. More than likely David deliberately did not include a verse with “nun” for his purposes, one that may be unknown to us today].
This psalm is divided into four stanzas with two components in each stanza. Each stanza begins with a call for the people to praise the Lord and then gives the reason to do such, the cause for praise. The exception is the last stanza which reverses the two components. The reason for this is that verse 21 is part of an “inclusio” with verses 1 and 2 that frames the psalm. The psalm opens and closes with the same thought. Notice the four elements in each thought: The psalmist will (1) bless and (2) praise the (3) name of the Lord (4) forever and ever.
The LORD is Great. 145:1-3
David might continue his lecture by saying: “What we are doing everyday, and especially on the Lord’s Day, is just practice, or a dress rehearsal, for what we will be doing throughout eternity.”
I will extol You, my God, O King;
And I will bless Your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless You,
And I will praise Your name forever and ever.
Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
And His greatness us unsearchable.
King David did not compartmentalize his life into the secular and the sacred. He brought the spiritual aspect of his life into his everyday living experience. In the first two verses of this psalm, he instructs every believer to extol (to lift up), bless, and praise the name of the Lord everyday, for the rest of our life, and then on into eternity (145:1, 2). The Apostle John gives us a glimpse of how our daily practice of worship, and our weekly dress rehearsal of corporate worship, here on earth will pay off in eternity when he describes the scene around the throne of God and we will say with the myriads of angels: “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5:12).
In my first year of college, I had an English teacher who was proud to proclaim he was an atheist, and he wanted everybody to know it. During one class, he tried to make the case for the absurdity of Christianity. He said, “Imagine yourself in heaven for all eternity and you are singing praises to God for a thousand years. You think to yourself, ‘I have to do this for all eternity? I will get bored in Heaven.’ It is absurd to think that we will live for all eternity. We will get bored!” I thought to myself, “What are the alternatives? I’d rather be bored in heaven, than burning in Hell for all eternity with no way out!!!”
Rabbi Eleazar ben Abina said: “Whoever recites [the psalm] Praise of David [Tehillah of David, Psalm 145] three times daily, is sure to inherit the world to come” (BT Berakoth 4b). I would not agree with the rabbi’s theology because one inherits the world to come by putting ones trust in the Messiah, the Lord Jesus as ones Savior from sin; there are, however, some advantages to the practice of reciting this psalm thrice daily. If a believer in the Lord Jesus did read this psalm thrice daily they would first of all have the psalm memorized fairly quickly. David also provided a memory device in Hebrew: aleph, beth, gimel, dalet, and so forth. Secondly, they would come to a deeper appreciation of God’s attributes: His greatness, His graciousness, and His goodness. And finally, their daily application of this verse; blessing and praising the Lord; would prepare them well for what they will contribute and experience in eternity.
The first reason David gives for praising and blessing the Lord is because God is great (145:3). “Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable.” God’s greatness is beyond human comprehension because we are finite human beings trying to grasp the greatness of One who is infinitely greater than all of us. Thus, King David extols, blesses and praises his God the King.
The LORD is Great because of His Mighty Acts and His Attributes. 145:4-9
In the second stanza, King David tells us the reason why the Lord is great. It is because of His works and His mighty acts. The two mighty acts that David probably had in mind were the creation of the universe, the earth and all that is in it; and also the redemption of Israel from the House of Bondage in Egypt.
One generation shall praise Your works to another,
And shall declare Your mighty acts.
I will meditate on the glorious splendor of Your majesty,
And on Your wondrous works.
Men shall speak of the might of Your awesome acts,
And I will declare Your greatness.
They shall utter the memory of Your great goodness,
And shall sing of Your righteousness.
The LORD is gracious and full of compassion,
Slow to anger and great in mercy.
The LORD is good to all,
And His tender mercies are over all His works.
Our Jewish friends still practice verse 4 every year when the family gathers together for the Passover Seder. The youngest son asks the father four questions as to why this night is different than all other nights for them. The father responds by recounting the mighty acts of God concerning their redemption from Egypt: the ten plagues, the Passover Lamb, the unleavened bread, the departure in haste, the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, the Lord’s provision of the manna and water in the Wilderness of Sinai, and the awesomeness of God’s manifestation on Mount Sinai.
The Children of Israel did not deserve this redemption because they were worshiping the gods and goddesses of Egypt (Ezek. 16:26; 20:7-9). But God redeemed them out of Egypt by His grace and mercy because He was faithful to His covenant that He made with their fathers: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
For the believer in the Lord Jesus, we do not have a yearly Passover meal, but rather a weekly Lord’s Supper where we come together to remember the mightiest act of God: God taking on human flesh in the Person of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ; living a perfect, sinless life; dying and paying for all the sins of all humanity, being buried and rising from the dead. Before we were Christians, we did not deserve salvation. The Apostle Paul says we were dead in our trespasses and sins, we walked according to the course of this world’s system, and we followed after the lusts of our flesh (Eph. 2:1-3). Yet Paul goes on to say, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Eph. 2:4-5; cf. 2:8-9).
In this stanza, King David says he will do two things. First, “meditate on the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on Your wondrous works” (145:5). The word “meditate” is a different word that the word for meditate in Ps. 1:2 and Josh. 1:8. Here, the idea is to contemplate, and perhaps loudly so others can hear. We might say, “Musing out load.” Here is King David contemplating the majesty of the Great King, the Lord Himself, but he is also contemplating the Lord’s working in his life and in history. Second, he will declare the Lord’s greatness (145:6).
There is another group of people in this stanza, probably part of the “generation.” They declare Your mighty acts (145:4), speak of the might of Your awesome acts (145:6), utter the memory of your great goodness, and sing of your righteousness (145:7). The “righteousness” that they sing about is God’s fidelity to His attributes – He can never contradict His own character. The results is a number of things that He (who is omnipotent, omniscience, omnipresent, holy, righteous, just, all loving, etc.) can not do. An example is that He can not lie (Tit. 1:2). Lying goes against His nature and against His holiness.
The second reason David gives for praising and blessing the Lord is because of His works and mighty acts in creation and redemption. Included in this are His attributes of graciousness (hnie), compassion (rehom), slow to anger (erk afim), and great mercy (gadol hesed) toward His covenant people, but also His goodness (tov) and tender mercies (rehomeo) toward all His creatures (145:8-9, Hebrew words are transliterated in italic).
In Exodus 34, the LORD said to Moses, “The LORD, the LORD God, merciful (rehom) and gracious (hnon), longsuffering (erk afim), and abounding in goodness (rav hesed) and truth (amet), keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation” (34:6-7). David used four of the five attributes of God that are mentioned in Exodus 34. He apparently had this Torah portion committed to memory.
The prophet Jonah, after the people of Nineveh repented and God withheld His judgment on the city, uses the same language, in the same order, as recorded in Psalm 145. In anger he said: “For I know that You are a gracious (hnon) and merciful (rahom) God, slow to anger (erk afim) and abundant in lovingkindness (gadol hesed), One who relents from doing harm” (Jonah 4:2). Jonah knew the passages from the Torah, as well as Psalm 145, but did not apply them to his life!
The LORD is Great Because His Kingdom is an Everlasting Kingdom. 145:10-13
In the third stanza we see the Lord’s saints join in corporate worship to bless the Lord because of the glorious majesty and mighty power of His Kingdom.
King David would have joined in this company of saints because he has already been contemplating the glory and power (mighty acts) of the Lord in his personal life. Now he joins the saints for public worship. As they sing:
All Your works shall praise You, O LORD,
And Your saints shall bless You.
They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom,
And talk of Your power,
To make known to the sons of men His mighty acts,
And the glorious majesty of His kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And your dominion endures throughout all generations.
Believers in the Lord Jesus might likewise contemplate our position in Christ. As the Apostle Paul said, “And raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6-7).
The third reason David gives for praising and blessing the Lord is because He has an everlasting kingdom. Politicians come and go, yet the Lord is the same; yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8), and He is sovereign and in control of His Kingdom forever! (Ps. 145:13). The prophet Daniel quotes this verse in Aramaic in Daniel 4:3 and 4:34.
The LORD is Great Because of His Care of all His Creatures and especially His Covenant People. 145:14-21
The two components of the first three stanzas have been reversed in the last stanza. He begins this stanza with the cause for praise and ends it with the final call to praise the Lord. One of the key words that appear in this stanza is the two letter Hebrew word “cal”, translated ten times in this section as all/every.
David concluded by singing:
The LORD upholds all who fall,
And raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look expectantly on You,
And You give them their food in due season.
You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.
The Lord is righteous in all His ways,
Gracious in all His works.
The LORD is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth.
He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;
He also will hear their cry and save them.
The LORD preserves all who love Him,
But all the wicked He will destroy.
My mouth shall speak the praise of the LORD,
And all flesh shall bless His holy name
Forever and ever.
In the final stanza, King David focuses on God’s care for His creatures and especially His covenant people. In verses 14-16 we see the Lord’s providential care of His creatures. In verses 17-20 we see the Lord’s righteous and gracious care of His covenant people. There are three groups of people within His covenant people: those who call upon Him, those who fear Him, and those who love Him.
King David concludes this psalm the same way he began it: “My mouth shall speak the praise of the LORD, and all flesh shall bless His holy name forever and ever” (145:21). In his last call to praise the Lord he adds his desire that all humanity shall join him in worshiping the King. The Apostle Paul saw that day clearly when he penned the words: “Therefore God has high exalted Him (the Lord Jesus) and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).
Until then, the Lord’s Supper is just a dress rehearsal until the gathering of all the saints around the Throne of Grace where we will be worshiping the Lamb of God for all eternity.
The first thing this psalm teaches us is that we are to prioritize our lives and get an eternal perspective on our existence here on earth. In eternity, we will worship the Lord forever, but we are to begin practicing that now, here on earth.
The second lesson this psalms teaches us is that worship is corporate. The Lord’s Supper is just a dress rehearsal to the gathering of all the saints around the Throne of Grace where we will be worshipping the Lamb of God for all eternity. The axiom: “Practice makes perfect” holds true in this case. Believers are afforded the opportunity every week to gather to worship the Lord. Our hearts should be prepared before we come to the Lord’s Supper and practice for eternity.
The third lesson this psalm teaches us is that the only way we are to know who God is and what He has done for us in salvation history is through His Word. It behooves us to be daily reading His Word so we can know who He is and what He has done. We must not be like Jonah, a prophet with an attitude, who knew the passages from the Torah, as well as Psalm 145, but did not respond in a positive manner to the Word of God!
Allen, Leslie C.
1983 Word Biblical Commentary. Psalms 101-150. Waco, TX: Word Books.
1974 The Psalms. London: Soncino. 11th Impression.
1975 Commentary on the Old Testament. Psalms. Vol. 5. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans.
1954 The Book of Psalms. Vol. 2. Dublin: Browne and Nolan.
Perowne, J. J. Stewart
1976 The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. Reprint of 1878 edition.
Sanders, J. A.
1965 Discoveries in the Judaean Desert of Jordan. The Psalms Scroll of Qumran Cave 11. Vol. 4. Oxford: At the Clarendon.
Van Gemeren, Willem
1991 Psalms. Pp. 3-880 in Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Vol. 5. Edited by F. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.