Ps 144 Commentary
Ps 144: words and music (c) Noel Donnelly. Recorded by Grace Buckley
Psalm 144 / 145 Commentary
Psalm 144 is is an ABC of praise to God as King. When Mgr Ronald Knox translated it into English he cleverly started every line with the consecutive letters of the English alphabet. He had fun but made a good teaching point. He appreciated that each Hebrew verse begins with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet, probably as a memory-aid. Ps 144 is what’s known as an acrostic psalm. As it covers the A to Z of praise it symbolises the compete breadth of all possible praise to God.
The Dead Sea Scrolls tell us that their practice was to sing a refrain or community response after every verse: “Blessed be the Lord, and may God’s name be blessed for ever!”
That gives us the feel of this joyful hymn of praise: a community rejoices together with enthusiasm and love.
The psalm is also composed as a sandwich: the last verse more or less repeats what was sung in verse one.
Let’s focus now on the nutritious filling in this sandwich.
Verses 8-14 tell us why God’s goodness is to be praised, and it echoes almost word for word the reply of God to Moses in Exodus 34:6. “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” Our psalmist similarly sings about the Lord as kind, brimming over with compassion, slow to anger, abounding in love. Verse 14 says that God is a support for anyone who stumbles. We can picture God as a caring mother tenderly picking up a child who has fallen. The psalm continues with the Lord supporting anyone who has been humiliated; and he provides food for the starving “with an open hand” (verse 16), not tight-fisted ; he is reliable (verse 17) and is near (verse 18), ready to satisfy our every need, to hear our cries and save and protect each one of the singers (verse 19). That’s what God is like, says psalm 144!
Verse 13 recognises God as a king who rules his kingdom with care. We can echo this in the Lord’s Prayer when we pray, “thy kingdom come!” The psalm points us on how we today can make this kingdom come: made in the image of God, weamazingly are kings or carers: like God, we can try to pick up those who have stumbled in life; encourage the neighbour who has been humiliated in some way; give food with an open generous hand to our foodbanks or Mary’s Meals; be near and listening, really listening, to society’s outcasts around us, perhaps socially distancing but certainly not humanly distanced from our needy neighbour. Psalm 144 is a meaty sandwich to bite into.