Bible Commentary: Psalm 148

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Psalm 148

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Third in the series of five concluding Hallelujah Psalms, Psalm 148 is a creation hymn in which the whole of the created realm is called on to praise the Creator. "Whatever its original liturgical purpose, its placement here at the center of the five concluding hymns serves to complete the scope of the calls to praise with which the Psalter closes.... Two similarly constructed stanzas call on all creatures in the heavens (vv. 1-6) and all creatures beneath the heavens [i.e., on earth] (vv. 7-14) to join in the chorus of praise.... Both stanzas end with a couplet setting forth the motivation for praise. The second of these (vv. 12-14), made up of extended lines, clearly constitutes the climax" (Zondervan NIV Study Bible, introductory note on Psalm 148).

It is interesting to note that the word "praise" (hallel) is used 13 times in the psalm--once in the opening Hallelu Yah ("Praise the LORD") frame, once in the closing frame and 11 times in between. This is parallel in count to the final, closing psalm of the Psalter, Psalm 150. Yet while the final psalm is rather uniform in all its calls to praise, listing them in short statements one after the other (as we will later examine), Psalm 148 follows that pattern in only its first part. Observe in this song that the opening call to praise is followed by seven short calls to praise in the imperative (or command) mood (verses 1-4), followed then by one in the jussive subjunctive mood--that is, in the form of "let them" (verse 5). The second section of the psalm begins with a single imperative call to praise (verse 7), which is followed much later by another in the form of "let them" (verse 13) and then the use of "praise" as a noun (verse 14)--ending with the final closing call to praise.

The worship of God begins in the heavens (verse 1) with God's angels (verse 2), the celestial bodies (verse 3), and the "waters above the skies" (verse 4, NIV)--seemingly referring to the vapor of the earth's atmosphere (compare Genesis 1:7 Genesis 1:7And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.
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). Thus all three "heavens" mentioned in the Bible appear to be represented in this passage--the "heaven" of God's throne, the "heaven" of outer space and the "heaven" of earth's atmosphere. Note in this regard that the apostle Paul refers to the heaven of God's throne as the "third heaven" (2 Corinthians 12:2 2 Corinthians 12:2I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knows;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.
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).

In Psalms 148:2 Psalms 148:2Praise you him, all his angels: praise you him, all his hosts.
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, the word "hosts" seems to be paralleled with angels--which would follow the pattern of Psalms 103:20-21 Psalms 103:20-21 [20] Bless the LORD, you his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening to the voice of his word. [21] Bless you the LORD, all you his hosts; you ministers of his, that do his pleasure.
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. Yet this term (translated from the Hebrew sabaoth) in a broader sense designates groupings of forces or powers, such as armies (sometimes including Israel's armies). The word can even refer to the sun, moon and stars (Deuteronomy 4:19 Deuteronomy 4:19And lest you lift up your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven, should be driven to worship them, and serve them, which the LORD your God has divided to all nations under the whole heaven.
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; Psalms 33:6 Psalms 33:6By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.
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; Jeremiah 33:22 Jeremiah 33:22As the host of heaven cannot be numbered, neither the sand of the sea measured: so will I multiply the seed of David my servant, and the Levites that minister to me.
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). As these are mentioned next in Psalms 148:3 Psalms 148:3Praise you him, sun and moon: praise him, all you stars of light.
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, perhaps "hosts" is being used as a transitional term between angels and the heavenly bodies--especially as angels are compared to stars in other passages (see Job 38:7 Job 38:7When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?
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; Revelation 1:20 Revelation 1:20The mystery of the seven stars which you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which you saw are the seven churches.
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). Indeed, as the call to the hosts in Psalms 148:2 Psalms 148:2Praise you him, all his angels: praise you him, all his hosts.
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is the central one of the seven calls to praise (following the opening call), the term perhaps applies here to all the heavenly powers, both throngs of angels and the multitude of the stars that light the physical universe. The praise of the heavenly bodies is silent but undeniable, as their beauty, grandeur, enduring patterns of movement, and seemingly numberless count speak volumes about the One who made them (see Psalms 19:1-6 Psalms 19:1-6 [1] The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows his handiwork. [2] Day to day utters speech, and night to night shows knowledge. [3] There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard. [4] Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them has he set a tabernacle for the sun, [5] Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, and rejoices as a strong man to run a race. [6] His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit to the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.
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).

In the closing couplet of this section, God's creation of all these things through the power of His word along with His perpetual establishment of them through natural laws is the basis for praise (Psalms 148:5-6 Psalms 148:5-6 [5] Let them praise the name of the LORD: for he commanded, and they were created. [6] He has also established them for ever and ever: he has made a decree which shall not pass.
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).

The next section starts with a call to praise from the earth (verse 7). Rather than constantly repeating the word "praise" as in the first section, the opening call to praise God in verse 7 is issued collectively to all things listed in verses 7-12. As the previous section left off with the waters above the heavens, this section begins with the waters below the heavens in the mention of "great sea creatures and all ocean depths" (verse 7b, NIV).

Next mentioned is a diversity of weather phenomenon (verse 8)--classed not in the heavenly realm but with things on earth because their impact is felt on the ground. "Fire" here is most likely a reference to "lightning" (NIV), as in other passages. Note that these things are pictured as "fulfilling His word"--their existence and the fact that they follow laws He has set, as well as His direct command at times, serving to glorify God (compare Psalms 147:15-18 Psalms 147:15-18 [15] He sends forth his commandment on earth: his word runs very swiftly. [16] He gives snow like wool: he scatters the hoarfrost like ashes. [17] He casts forth his ice like morsels: who can stand before his cold? [18] He sends out his word, and melts them: he causes his wind to blow, and the waters flow.
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).

Mountains, trees and animals in all their natural wonder also join in the chorus of praise (Psalms 148:9-10 Psalms 148:9-10 [9] Mountains, and all hills; fruitful trees, and all cedars: [10] Beasts, and all cattle; creeping things, and flying fowl:
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). Though they cannot speak, they all declare the design of the Master Designer.

We then come at last to the pinnacle of God's earthly creation, mankind, described here as all nations and their leaders (verse 11) as well as all individual human beings--male and female, young and old (verse 12).

In the conclusion of this section (verses 13-14), two reasons are given for all to join in the praise of the name of the "LORD" (i.e., Yhwh--"He Is Who He Is"). First is that His name alone is exalted above the earth and heavens just described (verse 13). His name designates Him alone, in contrast to the created realm, as eternal and uncreated, having life in Himself. Moreover, He is the very Creator and Sovereign Ruler of all His creation.

The second basis for praise here is God's exalting of the "horn" (symbolizing strength) of His covenant people, His saints, for He has empowered them to declare His praise on behalf of the whole earthly creation (verse 14)--in this psalm and throughout the entire Psalter. The word translated "saints" here is hasidim, the singular form of this word being related to hesed, used of God's loving devotion. The saints here, then, are those who are faithfully devoted to God in return--the pious. (From this word, incidentally, derives the designation "Hasidic" Jews, denoting the orthodox Jewish community.) The faithful here are further defined as "the children of Israel , a people near to Him" (same verse). This special relationship was spotlighted at the end of the previous psalm (Psalms 147:20 Psalms 147:20He has not dealt so with any nation: and as for his judgments, they have not known them. Praise you the LORD.
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), the focus there being on God giving His statutes and judgments to Israel and not any other nation. That blessing and the special status here of being near to God are both found in Deuteronomy 4:7-8 Deuteronomy 4:7-8 [7] For what nation is there so great, who has God so near to them, as the LORD our God is in all things that we call on him for? [8] And what nation is there so great, that has statutes and judgments so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?
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. "Israel" in the psalm's conclusion should be understood in the ideal sense of those who remain in covenant with God, as opposed to those who are cut off through disobedience. Today, "the Israel of God" is synonymous with the Church of God (compare Galatians 6:16 Galatians 6:16And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and on the Israel of God.
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). Thus true Christians serve as God's priesthood and spiritual nation to declare His praises on behalf of all the earth.

The concluding focus on Israel and the hasidim serves to introduce the next psalm, as we will see.