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). 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).

In Psalm 148:2, the word "hosts" seems to be paralleled with angels--which would follow the pattern of Psalm 103:20-21. 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; Psalm 33:6; Jeremiah 33:22). As these are mentioned next in Psalm 148:3, 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; Revelation 1:20). Indeed, as the call to the hosts in Psalm 148:2 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 Psalm 19:1-6).

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 (Psalm 148:5-6).

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 Psalm 147:15-18).

Mountains, trees and animals in all their natural wonder also join in the chorus of praise (Psalm 148:9-10). 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 (Psalm 147:20), 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. "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). 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.