Praise Him! Praise Him! (Psalm 150)
One of England’s most enduring legends involves the Danish King Canute who ruled Britain from 1016 to 1035. He was such an imposing and successful king that never-ending praise was rendered to him. his courtiers were afraid to mutter anything to him but flatteries, and Canute grew tired of it.
One day in the year 1032, taking them down to the coast at Northampton, Canute placed his throne in the sand as the tide was coming in. As his advisors stood around them, Canute asked them, “You think I am the mightest of the mighty?” “Oh, yes, your majesty,” they replied. “You think I can stop the tide?” he asked. “Oh, yes, your majesty,” they again replied, a little doubtfully.
Looking at the ocean breakers, he said, “O sea! Stay! Come no further! I, Canute, ruler of the universe, command you.” But despise his commands, the tide continued to roll in until it was lapping at the feet of the men. It came to their knees, then, as the waves engulfed them, the king and all his men ran for safety. “You see,” said Canute, “how little I am obeyed. There is only one Lord over land and water, the Lord of the universe. It is to him and to him alone you should offer your praise.”
Slowly the king and his courtiers walked back into town where, at the cathedral, King Canute removed his crown and hung it in the church.
The ancient King of England made an important point: God, and God alone, is worthy of our adoration. We assemble each Lord’s day to offer our praise to God. But why do we praise God? Psalm 150 tells us. We assemble each Lord’s day to offer our praise to God. But how should we praise God? Psalm 150 tells us. We assemble each Lord’s day to offer our praise to God. But is there anyone else who ought to come and offer praise to God? Psalm 150 tells us.
Psalm 150 is the last of the so-called “Hallelujah” psalms, Psalms 146-150. These psalms all begin and end with “Hallelujah!” “Hallelujah” is a Hebrew word which literally means “Praise the Lord” and most English translations have “Praise the Lord” here.
Not only is Psalm 150 the final “Hallelujah” psalm, it is the final psalm. Whoever put the Book of Psalms together in its final form showed a great amount of skill. There is no other psalm as fitting to close out the book as this one. The Book of Psalms served as the hymnal for ancient Israel. Even today there are many hymns in our hymnal which come directly from this book. And, as a hymnal, the Book of Psalms reaches a crescendo in this psalm, where everything that breathes is called upon to praise God.
This morning, we want to explore the praise called for in this psalm.
The Motive for Praise, vv 1-2
“Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his exceeding greatness!”
God is to be praised in his sanctuary and in his mighty firmament. Hebrew poets would often give an idea in one line and repeat the very same idea in the next line, a practice known as synonymous parallelism. Thus, sanctuary and mighty firmament are probably to be seen as the same thing.
What is the firmament? The firmament often refers to the sky. “And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens and separate the day from the night’” (Gen 1:14). “And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the firmament of the heavens’” (Gen 1:20). Here, the parallelism with “sanctuary” probably should cause us to think of the firmament as heaven—Notice that the firmament is called heaven in Genesis 1:8.
Verse 1 should probably be seen as an admonition to the angelic beings in heaven to praise God. The rest of this psalm calls upon mankind to praise God, but the opening calls upon the angels to adore God. This demonstrates that every being—whether human or angelic—needs to praise God.
God is to be praised for his mighty deeds, for his exceeding greatness. Again, the Hebrew parallelism in this verse indicates that we should understand “mighty deeds” and “exceeding greatness” as referring to the same divine attribute.
Throughout Israel’s history, God demonstrated his mighty deeds and his exceeding greatness. From the plagues upon Egypt, to the crossing of the Red Sea, to the conquest of Palestine, to the military victories God gave the Israelites. God has continued to do mighty deeds in the Christian age: He sent his Son to die for man, he raised his Son from the dead, he forgives those who come to him through his Son, and he gives new life to those entangled in sin.
The good mighty deeds God has performed should serve as the motive of our praise. What mighty works has God performed in your life? Do you give him the praise he deserves?
The Music of Praise, vv 3-5
“Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with timbrel and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!”
The psalmist here lists several musical instruments to be used in the praise of God In fact, this is the most complete list of musical instruments used to praise God anywhere in the Old Testament. It may have been that the different instruments did not sound until their name was mentioned in the recitation of this psalm; that could have created a crescendo effect where everything is coming together to praise God.
I would sincerely hope that you don’t need me to draw a distinction between the worship given here and the worship in which we engage. Obviously, instruments were used in Old Testament worship, and since this is inspired, I don’t know how you can arrive at any conclusion other than this is what God wanted.
Of course, we no longer live under the Old Testament, and this passage no longer applies as it did then. The New Testament passages concerning music only mention the singing of praise; hence, that’s the only thing I have the authority to do.
In the early church, the idea of using musical instruments in worship was anathema, and early Christian writers struggled with how to understand this psalm. Notice what Clement of Alexandria, one of the greatest minds in early Christianity, said about Psalm 150:
The Spirit, distinguishing the divine liturgy from this sort of revelry, sings: “Praise him with the sounds of the trumpet,” and indeed he will raise the dead with the sound of the trumpet. “Praise him on the psaltery,” for the tongue is the psaltery of the Lord. “And praise him on the cithara,” let the cithara be taken to mean the mouth, played by the Spirit as if by a plectrum. “Praise him with tympanum and chorus” refers to the Church meditating on the resurrection of the flesh in the resounding membrane. “Praise him on strings and the instruments” refers to our body as an instrument and its sinews as strings from which it derives its harmonious tension, and when strummed by the Spirit it gives off human notes. “Praise him on the clangorous cymbals” speaks of the tongue as the cymbal of the mouth which sounds as the lips are moved. Therefore he called out to all mankind, “Let every breath praise the Lord,” because he watches over every breathing thing he has made.
I hope you noticed what Clement did: he allegorized the instruments called for in this passage. Clement, and other early Christians, were so opposed to instrumental music that they tried to explain away even the instruments in the Old Testament.
Since instruments are no longer the way to praise God, what can we learn from this passage?
Music plays an important part of worship.
The Old Testament often connected music and worship. For example, “David and all the house of Israel were making merry before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals” (2 Sam 6:5). The Book of Psalms illustrates the importance of music in Israel’s history, for the book is a collection of songs.
Music is an important part of our worship, as well. Through the singing of praise, we are able to express to our God our love and our appreciation for what he has done.
Man ought to worship God through music.
The psalmist here called upon mankind to praise God through music.
We need to praise God in music, as well. The New Testament exhorts us to sing praise unto God. “Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart” (Eph 5:19). “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16).
We need to offer that vocal praise to God. It is troubling that some of us do not sing when we are given that opportunity. God has done so much, and he is worthy of so much praise. Let us not be silent when we are led in singing, but let us lift up our voices in praise to God!
The Multitudes of Praise, v 6
“Let everything that breathes praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!”
According to this psalm, everything with breath is to praise God. Psalm 148 calls upon inanimate objects as well as living things to praise God: “Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!” (Ps 148:3-4). How are animals (certainly included in “everything that breathes”) to praise God? This is simply poetry saying that God is so high and worthy of praise that every living things ought to join the chorus of his praise.
There is an important lesson here for us: We ought all join saints from all over the globe and praise our Maker!
If we do not worship as regularly as we ought, are we praising God the way we ought to be? Let’s be honest: There are many among us who will come and worship when it’s convenient, but otherwise they won’t. Let’s be honest: There are many among us who will not come on Sunday evening. If everything that breathes ought to praise God, don’t’ you think you ought to come and join that praise?
If God is worthy of our vocal praise, don’t you think we ought to give him that praise throughout our lives? Should not our entire lives be lived to praise our God? should not the activities in which we engage bring honor to his name rather than dishonor? Is your life one that is praising God, or do you need to come this morning and begin living such a life?