Mizmor 145: Transcendence and Immanence

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Several structures have been proposed for the psalm, each highlighting different themes and messages. Two possibilities follow:

Structure I: God is Great, God is Good

I. Outline

The following outline divides the psalm into four stanzas, framed by a prelude, interlude and postlude.1 Click here for a visual representation of the structure.

A. Prelude: Individual Blessing  (verses 1-2)

  • Stanza 1: Transcendence: Hashem's Greatness (verses 3-6)
  • Stanza 2: Immanence: Hashem's Goodness (verses 7-9)

B. Interlude: Blessing of the Righteous (verse 10)

  • Stanza 3: Transcendence: Hashem's Kingship (verses 11-13)
  • Stanza 4: Immanence: Hashem's Benevolence (verses 14-20)

C. Postlude: Universal Blessing (verse 21)

II. Analysis

This structure is based on both the content and guiding words of each unit.

  • The frame – The root "ברכ" appears four times in the chapter, twice in the beginning (verse 1), once in the middle (verse 10) and once at the end (verse 21).2 The changing context of the phrase points to a progression from the individual to the universal, as first the psalmist blesses Hashem (אֲבָרְכֶךָּ), then the community of righteous (וַחֲסִידֶיךָ יְבָרְכוּכָה) and finally all flesh (וִיבָרֵךְ כׇּל בָּשָׂר).  These verses, thus, serve to frame the psalm, comprising its introduction, interlude and conclusion.
  • Stanza 1 – In verses 3-6 the root "גדול" appears three times, twice in the beginning and once at the end of the unit, framing the section.  The theme pervades the verses as synonyms (גְבוּרֹתֶיךָ, נִפְלְאֹתֶיךָ, נוֹרְאֹתֶיךָ) evoke the same message of Hashem's might and grandeur.
  • Stanza 2 – This stanza is framed by the word "טוב" (appearing in both verse 7 and 9).  It appropriately revolves around Hashem's caring, being marked by words connoting mercy (חַנּוּן וְרַחוּם, אֶרֶךְ אַפַּיִם, גְדׇל חָסֶד).
  • Stanza 3 – This subsection reverts back to the theme of Hashem's transcendence introduced in stanza 1, highlighting Hashem's kingship, with variations of the word "מַלְכוּת" appearing four time in the three verses.
  • Stanza 4 – The fourth stanza elaborates on stanza 2, providing many examples of Hashem's caring.  It is marked by the guiding word "כל" which appears 10 times in the section,3 and emphasizes the scope of Hashem's benevolence.

III. Key Idea

This structure highlights how the psalm switches back and forth between  describing Hashem's transcendence and immanence, demonstrating how, despite Hashem's grandeur and greatness, he is not distant but rather "close to all that call to Him."

Structure II: Alternating Voices of Praise

I. Outline

The following outline divides the psalm into four stanzas, each including a call to praise and an answering call. The last verse of the chapter serves as a conclusion. Click here for a visual representation of the structure.

  • Stanza 1: Call of the Individual (verses 1-3)
    • Call to Praise (verses 1-2)
    • Answering Call: Hashem is Great (verse 3)
  • Stanza 2: Call of the Individual and Community  (verses 4-9)
    • Call to Praise (verses 4-7)
    • Answering Call: Hashem is Caring (verses 8-9)
  • Stanza 3: Call of the Community (verses 10-14)
    • Call to Praise (verses 10-13)
    • Answering Call: Hashem is Caring (verse 14)
  • Stanza 4: Universal Cry of Need (verses 15-20)
    • All Turn to God in Expectation (verses 15-16)
    • Confirmation Call: Hashem Cares (verses 17-20)
  • Conclusion (verse 21)

II. Analysis

  • Speaker  – This structure is built off changes in speaker, with each stanza alternating between a section which address Hashem in the second person (those entitled, "call to praise") and those which address Him in the third person (those entitled, "answering call").
  •  Content – The second person sections of each stanza speak of a group of people who will praise Hashem, while the third person units provide the content of that praise. The final stanza is somewhat exceptional in speaking not of praising Hashem, but how all turn to God in the hopes that He will provide for them.  The expectation is met with a cry of confirmation, that Hashem does indeed listen and watch over His loyal followers..
  • Progression – In each unit, progressively more people are called to to praise Hashem. First, the individual alone extols Hashem (אֲהַלְלָה), then he together with others (אָשִׂיחָה /  יֹאמֵרוּ), until "all of Hashem's creations" (כׇּל מַעֲשֶׂיךָ ) thank him. 

III. Key Ideas

  • This structure presents the psalm as comprising two different voices speaking, the narrator who calls on others to praise Hashem, and those who answer his call and proceed to do so. The Mizmor serves as a fitting introduction to the last 5 psalms of the book which continue to extol Hashem.
  • If one focuses on the lines of praise recited by the second voice, one notes that the first stanza highlights the extent of Hashem's greatness while all the others focus on Hashem's caring, as expressed by His kindness, support of the weak and fallen, and His closeness to those who seek Him.  The message that emerges is similar to that which was expressed via the first structure discussed above: Hashem's greatness lies in His very closeness to His creations.4

Literary Devices

Guiding Words and Frame

  • ברך – See discussion in "Structure I" above that the multiple mentions of this root might frame the psalm.
  • גדול, טוב  and מלכות – See "Structure I" above that clusters of these guiding words might form the basis for each stanza as the poem alternates between highlighting Hashem's greatness and kingship with His benevolence.
  • מעשה – Variations of the noun "מעשה" repeat four times in the psalm, twice referring to Hashem's deeds (v. 4 and 17), once in the context of Hashem's mercy on His creations (v. 9), and once to express how all Hashem's creatures bless him (v. 10).  The repetition highlights the causal relationship – Hashem is blessed by His creations due to His deeds on their behalf.
  • כל – The word "כל" appears 17 times in the unit, emphasizing both the comprehensiveness of Hashem's care and the universal praise that He receives.
  •  תְּהִלַּת י״י / תְּהִלָּה לְדָוִד – The RokeachCommentary to the Siddur (p.163-165)About R. Elazar HaRokeach notes that the last line of the psalm contains echoes of the opening verse. The parallel highlights a progression from beginning to end. While the psalm opens with a general statement that what follows will be praise,5 it ends with explicit mention of praise to Hashem. While initially it is an individual who blesses, at the end it is all. Finally, it is not just God's name which is blessed, but His holy name.


There are several examples of alliteration in the psalm:

  • מַלְכוּתְךָ מַלְכוּת כׇּל עֹלָמִים וּמֶמְשַׁלְתְּךָ בְּכׇל דּוֹר וָדֹר – The letters מ,ל, ך each appear six times in this line whose subject is Hashem's sovereignty.
  • קָרוֹב י"י לְכׇל קֹרְאָיו – The similarity in sound between "קָרוֹב" and "קֹרְאָיו" underscores that it is those who cry out to Hashem who find His closeness.
  • שַׁוְעָתָם יִשְׁמַע וְיוֹשִׁיעֵם – The repetition of the letters ש, מ, ע reinforces the message of the phrase: Hashem hears the cries of his followers.
  • שׁוֹמֵר י"י אֶת כׇּל אֹהֲבָיו וְאֵת כׇּל הָרְשָׁעִים יַשְׁמִיד – Here, the similarity in sound points to a contrast in fate.  The evil are destroyed, while loyal followers are guarded.


  • Alphabet – The psalm is written as an acrostic, going through the alphabet, but missing the letter nun.6 The acrostic might have been meant to express the totality of the praise found therein (from beginning to end).  Alternatively, like many acrostics, it might have served as a memory aid.
  • Missing nun – R. Yochanan in Bavli BerakhotBerakhot 4bAbout Bavli Berakhot suggests that the psalmist did not want to recall a negative verse beginning with the letter nun: "נָפְלָה לֹא תּוֹסִיף קוּם, בְּתוּלַת יִשְׂרָאֵל".
  • מלך inverted – R. Elazar HaRokeachCommentary to the Siddur (p.163-165)About R. Elazar HaRokeach notes that verses 11-13 center on the theme of Hashem's kingship and appropriately, the initial letters of those verses form an inverse acrostic spelling "מלך". In addition, as the line beginning with the letter "כ" stands in the exact center of the psalm,  the theme of Hashem's sovereignty is all them more stressed, suggesting that it lies at the center of the psalm's message.


Verse 8 alludes back to Hashem's thirteen attributes introduced in Shemot 32 and repeated often in Tanakh.  Significantly, this list focuses only on those attributes which emphasize Hashem's grace,7 omitting mention of Hashem's punitive traits and that of "truth". The replacement of the standard "וְרַב חֶסֶד" with "וּגְדׇל חָסֶד" further makes the reader recall Bemidbar 14:19:  "סְלַח נָא לַעֲוֺן הָעָם הַזֶּה כְּגֹדֶל חַסְדֶּךָ".‎8

Use of Synonyms

The chapter is rich in synonyms, where multiple words are used to express both the calls to praise (ישבח, יגידו, אשיחה, יאמרו, אספרנה, ירננו,יודוך, ידברו, יברכוך, ) and the content of that praise: Hashem's grandeur (גבורותיך, נפלאותיך, נוראותיך, גדולתך, מלכותך), caring (חנון, רחום, ארך אפים, גדל חסד, צדיק, קרוב) and actions (סומך, זוקף, משביע, ישמע, יושיעם, שומר). The multiple expressions of the same idea give the reader a sense of endless action, that praise is continuously being heaped on One who continuously cares.

Historical Background

The psalm does not contain any clues which might help place it in a historical context. It is possible that it was always meant to be a general hymn of praise, unconnected to a specific trigger event. An anonymous Northern French commentatorTehillim 145About Anonymous Northern French Commentary, nonetheless, attempts to place it in a historical context, suggesting that the psalm was sung by David after he was at rest from his enemies.  He suggests that the psalm contains several veiled references to Shaul, as David highlights how Hashem has mercy on all, even Shaul  who had sinned against David.