Psalms 147:5 Commentary

Part of the ongoing Verse Quick Reference project.

Psa 147:5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.

Psalms 147:5 is often quoted as God’s understanding is “infinite” (“beyond measure”). James Dolezal makes much use of this idea:

What, then, is the reason for God’s incomprehensibility? It chiefly rooted in the infinity of God’s being. John Owen explains this ontological basis for the doctrine:

God, in his own essence, being, and existence, is absolutely incomprehensible. His nature being immense, and all his holy properties essentially infinite, no creature can directly or perfectly comprehend them, or any of them. He must be infinite that can perfectly comprehend that which is infinite; wherefore God is perfectly known unto himself only—but as for us, how little a portion is heard of him.[3]

Inasmuch as only God’s knowledge is infinite (Ps. 147:5), he alone is adequate to comprehend himself.
Dolezal, James. Worshipping the Incomprehensible God 19 MAR 2014

To Dolezal and those who use this verse in the same way, the wording is describing God as the “infinite being” of pure perfection, immutability, simplicity, and incomprehensibility. But the same wording for “infinite” is used of mundane situations:

NKJ Gen 41:49 Joseph gathered very much grain, as the sand of the sea, until he stopped counting, for it was immeasurable.

The same pare of words “without measure” is used both of God’s “understanding” and of the amount of grain that Joseph collected. In the case of Joseph, no one disagrees that the phrase is just referring to a very large, but finite, amount. With what justification is Psalms 147 translated as “infinite”, importing into the word all the concepts of pure perfection, immutability, simplicity, and incomprehensibility? The context does not warrant this:

Psa 147:2 The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel.
Psa 147:3 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.
Psa 147:4 He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.
Psa 147:5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.
Psa 147:6 The LORD lifts up the humble; he casts the wicked to the ground.

In context, God does things. God builds, God gathers, God heals, God counts, God names, God lifts, and God casts. This is an active God doing things in real time, not the pure simplicity and incomprehensibility Dolezal would like.

The word for understanding is often tied to power acts. “Understanding” is cleverness and skillfulness. In Psalms 136, God makes the heavens via His “understanding”. In Job 26, God is said to “smite the proud” through his “understanding”. In Hosea 13, people build idols through their “understanding”. Translating the word as “understanding” rather than “competence”, “capability”, “skillfulness”, or even “cleverness” is a poor choice which leaves the verses lacking in intelligibility.

Psalms 147:5 is better understood as a testament to God’s competence and capability. This is not about metaphysics or “perfect knowledge” or any forced theology on “infinite”. In fact, the same hyperbolic concepts are applied to the amount of “understanding” that King Solomon had:

1Ki 4:29 And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and breadth of mind like the sand on the seashore,

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