God Doesn't Admire Legs (Psalm 147:10-11)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Audio (12:00)

US 2004 postage stamp by Richard Sheaff and Lonnie Busch reminiscent of ancient Greek black-figure vases, such as a terracotta panathenaic amphora (ca. 530 BC) attributed to the Euphiletos painter, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Larger image.

To say that "God doesn't admire your legs," is shocking. Except, that is what the Psalmist tells us.

"10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse,
nor his pleasure in the legs of a man,
11 but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love."1 (Psalm 147:10-11, ESV)

Let's take a few minutes to understand what he is saying and why it is important to us.

War Horses and Chariots (Psalm 147:10a)

The words suggest a military context. Horses weren't generally used by the everyday man in Bible times. You might have a donkey to plow with and carry burdens. If you were better off, you might have a team of oxen to help you plow deeper and break up rocky soil. But the Hebrews didn't use horses much in agriculture. Rather, they were used in war.2

"His delight is not in the strength3 of the horse." (Psalm 147: 10a)

Foot soldiers were terrified by a cavalry charge of large war horses that could trample them down. Even more dangerous was a team of horses hitched to a war chariot, a fast-moving platform for archers who could rapidly break through the enemy's lines and bring deadly weapons up close.

Horses are the pride of a commander and strike fear into a soldier on the battlefield. But God is not impressed with the strength of horses. David wrote:

"Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God." (Psalm 20:7)

If you have horses and chariots, good! Or tanks or fighter aircraft. Great! There's nothing wrong with them. And you may actually need them for your military defense. But don't make them the object of your confidence.

Legs of the Man (Psalm 147:10b)

Yahweh isn't impressed with legs either.

"Nor his pleasure in the legs of a man." (Psalm 147:10, ESV)

Taking pleasure in the beauty of the symmetry of a well-formed human leg is not the point here. The Hebrew text refers to, literally, "leg of the man."4 This is not "men" in general, but "the man," the mighty man, the champion in war whose strong legs enable him to push forward against the enemy again and again and pursue him.5 Or the swift runner who carries the news of the battle.6

We are impressed with the weight-lifter whose massive legs and shoulders allow him to dead-lift 1,000 pounds (500 kg) or more.7 Or Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt who ran the 100-meter dash in 9.58 seconds.8 Amazing. God is happy to see us use the gifts he gives us. But God is not impressed by the extremes of human achievement.

Generating Genuine Pleasure and Delight (Psalm 147:10-11)

The Psalmist tells us now what does impress God. What gives him pleasure. Verses 10 and 11 use two Hebrew words that are near synonyms.

  • Hāpēsh -- "take delight in, be pleased with, desire." The basic meaning is to feel great favor towards something, to experience emotional delight."9
  • ṣâ -- "be pleased with, be favorable to," in verses 10b and 11a. The root frequently describes God's pleasure with his servants or their sacrifices. The noun is used in the sense of what is "well pleasing," of divine grace and favor.10

Too often we operate towards God in a negative sense, a legalistic sense. What can't I do? What does God prohibit? What would be crossing the limits of the law? This was the Pharisees' orientation. What can I get away with without actually breaking the law? But the Psalmist points us to the positive, to seeking what gives God real pleasure? What does he get a kick out of seeing in us?

The Apostle Paul tells us to make this a life-long study in our relationship with the Most High.

"Try to discern what is pleasing11 to the Lord." (Ephesians 5:10, ESV)

"Try to discern" (ESV), "find out" (NIV, NRSV), "proving" (KJV) translate a Greek word that means to test in order to learn the genuineness of something, then, to learn about something by experimenting and testing.12 Find out by practice what pleases Him and do more of that!

A really good hotel gains repeat visits from guests by finding out what they like and how they like it, and then bringing it to them without asking the next time they arrive. Delight the customer! Our customer is God himself!

Fearing God (Psalm 147:11a)

So what really makes God happy? The Psalmist mentions two qualities of character.

"The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love." (Psalm 147:11, ESV)

"Fearing" God sounds pretty negative. But we need to understand it. "Fear" here doesn't mean "terror." Rather it means something like, "be in awe of."13 A God-fearer is one who cares more about offending God than offending people. Some are swayed by the values of their peer group, their culture -- a very strong pressure indeed. But the one who fears God is swayed by what he or she knows about God -- what pleases him, what angers him.

I have a rule when I drive: Don't mess with buses and big trucks! They're much bigger than my car and can crush me if I don't respect them. The one who fears God knows that it is God's standards that count ultimately (Matthew 10:28).

I live in a culture that disrespects my God and his Christ more and more, in word and in deed. But I am a God-fearer. I respect the Lord. I am in awe of him, and today's passage tells me that this brings him pleasure.

Hoping in God's Steadfast Love (Psalm 147:11b)

"The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him,
in those who hope in his steadfast love." (Psalm 147:11, ESV)

What does it mean to "hope in his steadfast love"? The Hebrew verb translated "hope in" or "put hope in" doesn't mean, "I hope that happens." Hoping that it might happen, but being resigned to the fact that it might not. Rather, this Hebrew verb refers to having a confident expectation that something will indeed come to pass. Trust. Solid faith.14

The focus of our trust is Yahweh's "steadfast love" (ESV, NRSV), "unfailing love" (NIV), "mercy" (KJV). These translate the Hebrew noun hesed, a difficult word to translate because we don't have a single English equivalent for it. Heath summarizes it this way:

"Hesed is the disposition of one person toward another that surpasses ordinary kindness and friendship; it is the inclination of the heart to express 'amazing grace' to the one who is loved.... It is a committed, familial love that is deeper than social expectations, duties, shifting emotions, or what is earned or deserved by the recipient."15

A Clash in Values

What we see in this passage is the familiar clash between the world's values and God's values. We humans love to keep score, whether in athletics or by salary or net worth or titles or houses or offices held. Being a winner! That's what our world admires.

In a discussion with Pharisees about their value of money, Jesus tells us

"What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight." (Luke 16:15b)


"What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8:36, ESV)

Money is important. Sex is important. Power is important in defense and just governance. But when money, sex, and power become the focus of our lives they come up short. They aren't good tools to measure us by.

Back in the glory days of mass evangelism I had people say to me: "Billy Graham will surely get a great reward when he gets to heaven!" My usual response was, "I hope so. But it may be that a poor widow who prays faithfully in her own small corner of the world will receive a greater reward than Billy Graham."

As the Lord whispered to Samuel when he was seeking which son of Jesse to anoint to be king:

"The Lord does not look at the things man looks at.
Man looks at the outward appearance,
but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)

We humans are a poor judge of the thoughts and intents of the heart -- even our own hearts.16 This is why the Apostle Paul tells us, "I don't even judge myself" (1 Corinthians 4:3). But the Scriptures instruct us, and gradually we begin to learn God's values and what pleases him.

Yes, God loves to see us use the gifts he gives us for purposes that serve him. Don't stop! Use your gifts for his glory! Just realize that what really touches God's heart, what really gives him deep pleasure is seeing his sons and daughters reverence him and day by day trust their whole lives to his steadfast and enduring love. Faith and love touch the very throne and the very heart of God. They are what please Him.

References and Abbreviations

[1] You can see Hebrew "synoptic parallelism" within each verse. But considering the two verses as a couplet, we see "antithetic parallelism," verse 10 the negative, verse 11 the positive.

[2] D.F. Morgan, "Horse," ISBE 2:760.

[3] "Strength" is gĕbûrâ, "might," from gābar, "prevail, be mighty, have strength, be great." The Hebrew root is commonly associated with warfare and has to do with the strength and vitality of the successful warrior (John N. Oswalt, TWOT #310c).

[4] "Legs of a man" (ESV, KJV, NIV 1984), "legs of the warrior" (NIV 1998), "speed of a runner" (NRSV), is three words: the definitie article, he, "the," the noun šôq, "leg," and the noun ʾîš, "man, husband, champion" (TWOT #83a).

[5] 2 Samuel 2:18-23.

[6] Isaiah 52:7; Nahum 1:15; 1 Samuel 4:12; 2 Samuel 18:19-27.

[7] As I write, the world record for the "standard raw dead-lift" is 1,015 lb. (460.4 kg.), set by Icelandic strongman Benedikt Magnússon in 2011.

[8] Berlin 2009.

[9] "Pleasure" (NIV), "delight" (ESV, NRSV), "delighteth" (KJV) in verse 10 is the Qal imperfect of ḥāpēsh (Leon J. Wood, TWOT #712; Holladay, 112, 2).

[10] "Pleasure" (ESV, NRSV), "delight" (NIV), "taketh pleasure" (KJV) in verse 10b and "takes pleasure" (ESV, NRSV), "taketh pleasure" (KJV), "delights" (NIV) in verse 11a is the Qal imperfect of ṣâ, "be pleased with, be favorable to" (TWOT #2207); "be pleased with" (Holladay, 345, 3; Gotlob Schrenk, eudokia, TDNT 2:743-744).

[11] "Is pleasing" (ESV, NRSV), "pleases" (NIV), "is acceptable" (KJV) is the adjective euarestos, "pleasing, acceptable." In the Greco-Roman world it is commonly said of things and especially of persons noted for their civic-minded generosity and who endeavor to do things that are pleasing (BDAG 403).

[12] The verb is the present nominative participle of dokimazō, "to make a critical examination of something to determine genuineness, put to the test, examine" (BDAG 255, 1).

[13] "Fear" is the adjective yārēʾ, "fearing, afraid" as in "God-fearer." The emphasis here isn't on terror as much as awe or reverence. A "God-fearer" will express his awe in practical righteousness or piety, obeying, walking in the Lord's ways (Andrew Bowling, TWOT #907a).

[14] "Hope" (ESV, NRSV, KJV), "put hope" (NIV) is the Piel participle of ḥal, "wait, hope," with "the idea of 'tarrying' and 'confident expectation, trust'" (Paul R. Gilchrist, TWOT #359).

[15] Elaine A. Heath, "Grace," DOTP 372. "Steadfast love" (ESV, NRSV), "unfailing love" (NIV), "mercy" (KJV) is the noun ḥesed. It means more than obligatory loyalty within a covenant relationship, as some have suggested. It is a love that includes acts of kindness and mercy. The images of the KJV's "lovingkindness" are not far from the fullness of meaning of the word (R. Laird Harris, ḥsd, TWOT #698a).

[16] 1 Corinthians 4:5; Hebrews 4:12-13.

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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