Some might say they trust their calculators, because they are always something they can count on. Others might not trust in stairs because they are always up to something! In all seriousness, in an age of social media–where fake news spreads at a rate of 6x the speed of real news and often real news is dismissed as “fake” because it doesn’t fit our narrative–how do we know who or what to trust? Psalm 146 shows us this issue is much older than the advent of social media. The psalmist is also very clear on who we should and should not trust.

First, the psalmist warns us about misplaced trust in human leaders. “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.” If you listen to the various news outlets or read the posts of your friends on social media, you would think presidents, senators, justices, and the like could save us. “This is the most important election of our lifetime!” Haven’t they been saying that every 2-4 years for a while now?! The president cannot save the United States. A Supreme Court justice cannot save us either. How long will Christians put their trust in the wrong places?

The psalmist tells us the hope we have in policies or promises that comes with such misplaced trust dies with the person. (Or in America, when they leave office . . . or worse, when they get elected or appointed.) The psalmist wanted to emphasize just how short-lived such trust is. He talked about the breath leaving the body and the body turning to dust. Such hope is just as ephemeral as a breath you cannot grasp; it crumbles just as dust slipping through your fingers. Now notice, the psalmist never says that leaders are not necessary or that they are useless. He simply emphasizes they are not our saviors and we shouldn’t act as if they are.

Second, the psalmist points to hopeful trust in God as our help. There is a transition that occurs in verse 5 with a beatitude. Happy is the person whose help is the God of Jacob. Notice it says “Jacob” and not what you would expect–“Israel” (Jacob’s later name). This subtle shift by the psalmist again emphasizes that we are not to trust in humans, for that type of hope is deceptive. (Jacob’s name means “deceiver.”) The beatitude elaborates, happy are those whose hope is in YHWH their God.

The hope is in the name of the God who made a covenant with his people precisely because he is faithful to the covenants he makes even when we humans fail on our end. Who is this God? Verse 6 tells us he is the powerful one, using the imagery of Genesis 1 to remind us he is the maker of heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything that resides in these spheres. Verse 10 tells us her is the permanent one, for his reign as eternal king is forever. But more important than his power or his permanence is that he is the faithful one. He is the one who keeps the faith even after every human leader dies and their plans (and our hopes in them) pass away.

Though he is the maker of heaven, earth, and the sea, to whom is he faithful? Who does he help and to whom does he bestow hope? Verses 7-9 tell us that it is to the ones that we might perceive to be lowly or even insignificant. It is the oppressed whose cause the Lord upholds. It is the hungry that he feeds and those who are bound that he liberates. It is the blind to whom he gives sight. It is those who bow down in humility that he lifts up and exalts.

The psalmist invokes the image of the righteous and the wicked. If God truly is the one who keeps the faith, then he must love the righteous and frustrate the ways of the wicked. Otherwise, “right” and “wrong” have no meaning and nothing in this world can be trusted, not even in God himself. Between the statements about God’s love for the righteous and his frustration of the ways of the wicked, we find three of the most vulnerable groups in the ancient world: the alien, the orphan, and the widow. They are the ones who normally live without hope in their circumstance. The alien has no clan or kinsman to protect him. The orphan has no family to watch over her. The widow has no husband to provide for her. But as the most significant statement of God loving the righteous and lifting up those bowed low–we are told that God watches over and sustains these most vulnerable members of society.

One last thing we might miss in English translations is a play of images through word choice. We are told that God “lifts up” those who are bent down by the cares of this world as well as those who voluntarily humble themselves in reverential submission. But when God encounters the wicked–the arrogant who take pride in their positions or stand tall in their sinful actions–God makes their ways “bent” (the image in the Hebrew word that we translate “frustrate). So great is his love for us and so faithful are his ways.

Third, we are called to a life of praise, that is, enacted trust. Five times we are called to praise. The psalm starts and ends with the exclamation, “Hallelujah!” (That is, “praise the Lord!”) The three other times (vv 1-2) define how we are to praise the LORD. We are to praise him with every part of our being (our “nephesh” translated “soul” in the NIV). We are to praise him throughout our life. We are to praise him continuously (so not just select parts of our life, but ever and always).

The prophet Amos tells us that true praise or worship of God is not through song or sacrifice. True praise is to live a life of justice and righteousness (5:21-24). Micah said it this way, we are to do justice, desire mercy, and to walk humbly with God (6:8). True worship of God is to love your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19:18). Occasionally, the Hebrew word translated “praise” can mean “shine,” which Jesus calls us to do. We are to be the light of the world, living out our faith in such a way as to lead others to glorify (that is, praise) our Father in heaven (Matt 5:16). Our vocation in this world is to be the “image of God” (Gen 1:27), so we should be living as we are told God acts in this psalm. We are to uphold the cause of the oppressed, give food to the hungry, set prisoners free, give sight to the blind, life up those bowed low, watch over foreigners, and sustain the fatherless and the widow (vv. 6-9). This is what we saw Jesus doing in his public ministry. It is also very close to Jesus’ description of those who will inherit the kingdom in the parable of the sheep and the goats.

In this election season, we must be careful not to run after politicians who promise us what we want to hear. We should consider whether their priorities are in line with the activity of God in this psalm. For God tells us in the book of Zechariah, it is “‘not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty” (4:6).

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“Who Can You Trust?” Psalm 146
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