The 146th psalm is a psalm of praise. This much is evident from the opening verses: “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.” But what are we here praising the Lord for? The final verse explains by way of an exclamation: “The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord!” The eternal reign of the Lord is the cause of praise and exaltation in Zion.
The middle part of the psalm then contrasts the reign of the Lord and His kingdom with all earthly princes and kingdoms. Verses 3 and 4 are an elaboration of the kingdoms of men. Here is the reason why princes and the sons of men are not to be the object of trust and hope: they cannot save. It is helpful to recall the breadth of the biblical term “salvation.” Of course it is used for final salvation, but the word can also be used of temporal rescue. The psalms are full of prayers for deliverance from enemies temporal and eternal, physical and spiritual. So also here. Princes cannot be trusted because there is no salvation in them. Salvation, rescue, deliverance, always belongs to the Lord, even when He uses princes to accomplish it.
The verses are over almost as quickly as they begin, which is exactly the point. The plans of the sons of men perish with their breath. This is reminiscent of the book of Ecclesiastes with its continual reference to the vanity of things, and this vanity could also be translated “breath.” The plans of princes disappear like the vapor of breath in the winter air. The psalm does not contrast this fleeting breath of man with the Spirit-breath, the ruach of the Lord which goes out from him but never departs from him. While the breath of princes departs and fades away along with their plans, the Spirit of the Lord is eternal and accomplishes his plans.
The certainty of the Lord’s plans finds expression in verses 5 and 6. Over and against the emptiness of princes, the help of the God of Jacob is true blessedness, and hope in Him is never in vain. That the psalm invokes “the God of Jacob” here is not without significance. Jacob was helped by the Lord in his various trials and tribulations even as he wandered far and wide without the aid of any princes. The history of Jacob’s deliverance is only hinted at, though. What is explicit is the power and authority of the Lord as evidenced by His act of creation. This mighty act establishes the Lord as the Almighty one who is not limited as to what he can accomplish, since all that is exists at His will.
Then follows a list. While the verses about the princes of man are quickly over, this list of the kingdom of God goes on at length. Ten items describe what the Lord uses his power and authority to accomplish. In this list, we have a prophetic description of the work of Christ and His eschatological kingdom. As such, it is helpful as a prescription for what to look for in the New Testament and what to pray for and hope for in our day and in the age to come. Now we have these things by faith, but the day is coming when we will possess them by sight.
One final note on the use of this psalm. It is a critical psalm to have on our lips and in our hearts because of the growing trend of looking to politics as the be-all and end-all of human existence. While the hopes and dreams of many rise and fall with their chosen politician’s successes and failures, this psalm directs Christians to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It offers a helpful and hopeful correction for Christians who are dual citizens of the kingdom of heaven and earth. While the kingdoms of man are certainly critiqued and put in their subordinate place, it is mainly the remembrance of the kingdom of God and of Christ that is here praised and extolled. This is joy for all those who belong to spiritual Zion.