Reflection on the Second Part of Psalm 147

God Speaks in Creation, History and Revelation, Says John Paul II

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CASTEL GANDOLFO, Italy, AUG. 20, 2003 ( Here is a translation of the address John Paul II gave at today’s general audience, which he dedicated to comment on the second part of Psalm 147 (verses 12-20). He gave the address in Italian.

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1. The Psalm just proposed for our meditation constitutes the second part of the preceding Psalm 146. However, the old Greek and Latin translations, followed by the liturgy, have considered it as an independent song, as its beginning distinguishes it clearly from the preceding part. This beginning has also become famous because it has often been put to music in Latin: “Lauda, Jerusalem, Dominum.” These opening words constitute the typical invitation of hymns of the Psalms to celebrate and praise the Lord: Now it is Jerusalem, personification of the people, which is seen to exalt and glorify its God (see verse 12).

Mention is made, first of all, of the reason why the praying community must raise its praise to the Lord. It is of a historic nature: It was he, the liberator of Israel from the Babylonian exile, who gave security to his people, strengthening “the bars of the gates” of the city (see verse 13).

When Jerusalem fell under the assault of King Nebuchadnezzar’s army in 586 B.C., the Book of Lamentations presented the Lord himself as judge of Israel’s sin, while he “marked for destruction the wall of daughter Zion. … Sunk into the ground are her gates; he has removed and broken her bars” (Lamentations 2:8,9). Now, however, the Lord rebuilds the Holy City; in the rebuilt temple, he again blesses his children. Thus mention is made of the work carried out by Nehemiah (see Nehemiah 3:1-38), who repaired the walls of Jerusalem, so that it would become again an oasis of serenity and peace.

2. In fact, peace, shalom, is evoked immediately, as it is contained symbolically in the very name of Jerusalem. The prophet Isaiah had already promised the city: “I will appoint peace your governor, and justice your ruler” (60:17).

But, in addition to rebuilding the walls of the city, blessing it and pacifying it in security, God offers Israel other fundamental gifts: which are described at the end of the Psalm. Indeed, the gifts of Revelation, of the Law, and of the divine prescriptions are recalled there: “The Lord also proclaims his word to Jacob, decrees and laws to Israel” (Psalm 147:19).

In this way, the election of Israel and its unique mission among the peoples is celebrated: to proclaim to the world the Word of God. It is a prophetic and priestly mission, as “what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:8). Through Israel and, therefore, also through the Christian community, namely the Church, the Word of God can resound in the world and become norm and light of life for all peoples (see Psalm 147:20).

3. Up to now we have described the first reason for praise to be raised to the Lord: It is a historical reason, linked, that is, to the liberating and revealing action of God with his people.

There is, moreover, another reason for exultance and praise: It is of a cosmic nature, namely, linked to the divine creative action. The divine Word bursts in to give life to being. Like a messenger, it runs through the immense spaces of the earth (see Psalm 147:15). And, suddenly, there is a flowering of marvels.

So winter arrives, which is described in its atmospheric phenomena with a touch of poetry: The snow is similar to wool because of its whiteness, the hoarfrost with its fine grains is like the dust of the desert (see verse 16), the hail is like crumbs of bread thrown on the ground, the ice congeals the earth and blocks the vegetation (see verse 17). It is a wintry picture that invites one to discover the wonders of creation, which will be taken up again in a very picturesque page in another biblical book, that of Sirach (43:18-20).

4. However, the action of the divine Word also makes spring reappear: The ice melts, the warm wind blows and makes the waters flow (see Psalm 147:18), thus repeating the perennial cycle of the seasons and, therefore, the same possibility of life for men and women.

Naturally, metaphorical readings of these divine gifts are not lacking. The “flower of the wheat” has made one think of the great gift of the eucharistic bread. What is more, Origen, the great Christian writer of the third century, identified that wheat as a sign of Christ himself and, in particular, of the sacred Scripture.

This is his commentary: “Our Lord is the grain of wheat that falls to the earth, and multiplies itself for us. But this grain of wheat is supremely copious. The Word of God is supremely copious, it encloses all delights in itself. All that you see, comes from the Word of God, in the same way as the Jews recount: when they ate the manna, it took on the taste in their mouth that each one desired. So also with the flesh of Christ, which is the word of the teaching, namely, understanding of the sacred Scriptures, the greater our desire, the greater the nourishment we receive. If you are holy, you find refreshment; if you are a sinner, you find torment” (Origen — Jerome, “74 omelie sul libro dei Salmi” [74 Homilies on the Book of Psalms], Milan, 1993, pp. 543-544).

5. Thus, the Lord acts with his Word not only in creation but also in history. He reveals himself with the silent language of nature (see Psalm 18[19]:2-7), but he expresses himself in an explicit way through the Bible, and in his personal communication through the prophets, and fully through the Son (see Hebrews 1:1-2). They are two different but converging gifts of his love.

This is why our praise should rise to heaven every day. It is our gratitude, which flowers at dawn in the prayer of lauds to bless the Lord of life and freedom, of existence and faith, of creation and redemption.

[Translation by ZENIT]

[At the end of the audience, the Holy Father gave this summary in English:]

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Today’s Psalm is an invitation to give praise to God for his role in history and creation. The Psalm sings of the divine action by which the Chosen People are freed from the Exile and by which Jerusalem, rebuilt and fortified, becomes a place of peace. It also evokes God’s gift of Revelation and the Law, which are a foundation for peace more solid than any walls. The Psalm praises the Word of God who transforms winter into spring and continues to offer us today his gift of new Life.

I offer a warm welcome to all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present at today’s audience, especially those from Scotland, the United States of America, Japan and Hong Kong. Upon all of you I cordially invoke joy and peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.

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