A Meditation on Psalm 146

Kevin J Youngblood

The Lord sets the prisoners free;

the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.

The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;

the Lord loves the righteous.

The Lord watches over the sojourners;

he upholds the widow and the fatherless,

but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

(Psalm 146:7b-9)

I was struck this morning by the repetition of the divine name in this brief space of two-and-a-half verses. Five consecutive occurrences of YHWH as subject in five consecutive clauses is unusual for Hebrew syntax and thus catches the eye. Much more common is the syntax of v. 9 where the first clause introduces YHWH as subject and the subsequent clauses in the verse refer back to YHWH with the pronoun “he.”

While it is true that I am a grammar geek, my point is not the unusual syntax itself but the theology to which it points. To the best of my knowledge, this is the highest concentration of close occurrences of the divine name anywhere in Scripture. The rhythm of the prayer at this point has shifted to the repetition of the divine name in tandem with a myriad of gracious acts attributable only to YHWH, only to Israel’s deity.

The significance of this is best appreciated in light of Israel’s ancient Near Eastern context. Israel’s neighbors typically thought in terms of a division of labor between a council of gods. Each deity had his/her jurisdiction and specialty. Ba’al, for example, was a fertility god whose specialties were precipitation, sex, and abundant crops. Mot, on the other hand, governed the underworld and specialized in deaths, burials, and perhaps even famine. Ba’al and Mot were often portrayed in Canaanite lore as in opposition with each other. Mot, for example, annually killed Ba’al and dragged him to the underworld for the winter months. You get the idea.

This psalm dares to limit itself to only one divine name. This prayer evokes one deity for every need, especially those of the lowliest positions who were in no position to sacrifice thus meeting the deities’ needs. Only YHWH sets prisoners free. Only YHWH opens blind eyes. Only YHWH lifts backs bent with overwhelming burdens of oppression, worry, and unsustainable approaches to life. Only YHWH consistently protects and provides for widows and orphans.

Oh, by the way, whose jurisdiction were widows and orphans among the pantheons of Israel’s neighbors? Who is the god of widows and orphans? Which deity was in charge of social services? If you’re stumped, it’s okay. So am I. I cannot think of one.


Thank you for being the God of widows and orphans. Help me to prioritize them and their needs as you do. Make me an agent of your love, care, and attentiveness to them. Father, we bid you come and set prisoners free. Lord Jesus, we bid you come and open blind eyes. Holy Spirit we bid you come and straighten bent backs by lifting the burdens that have weighed us down. O, YHWH, Triune God, give shelter to the refugees of this world. For there are so many and their number grows daily. Finally, Lord, judge the wicked. For you alone know who they are.