Let Everything That Has Breath Praise the Lord: Meditation on Psalm 150


psalm150

The Psalms have been frequently read, used, and treasured since their individual writing and corporate collection. God’s people throughout the ages have run to the Psalms for comfort, wisdom, joy, and worship. They have existed as a means of grace for the believer and a source for proper worship for the Church for centuries. Due to its placement, genre, content, and surrounding context, Psalm 150 can be understood as a psalm that can serve both of these purposes—a means of grace for the believer as well as a source of worship for the church. God is supremely glorious and therefore worthy of his people’s worship and this worship from his people should reflect his worthiness and glory.

Genre: A Unique Praise Hymn

The book of the Psalms as it appears in our English Bibles consists of 150 songs organized into five separate subsections called books. There is a great variety of types or genres of psalms that occurs within this ancient hymnbook (e.g. praise, thanksgiving, wisdom, penitential, imprecatory, and lament psalms). While all of the psalms—though some are obviously personal (e.g. Ps. 51)—call the entire congregation of Israel to worship, the praise and thanksgiving psalms most strikingly above the rest call for all of Israel to praise the LORD. The praise psalms are all similar in their proper address of the object or person of their adoration and worship (God). These psalms not only praise God, but they are specific in the motivation for their worship. Rather than repeating a Hallelujah chorus, the praise psalms of Israel state the reason for their praise.

Psalm 150 is such a praise psalm, however it is noticeably unique. While this psalm does include an address to the one who is being praised (YHWH, v. 1), there are no “actual clauses to give content to the praise of Yahweh.”[1] However, there are two expressions that indicate to the reader why the LORD is worthy of worship (v. 2). Willem Van Gemeren observes this very thing in his commentary.[2] This psalm is a very unique praise psalm in this regard and the author gives us little more than an elevated and beautiful exhortation to praise the LORD.[3] It seems to be in a category by itself.

Proper Placement

This makes sense due to the placement of this psalm. Psalm 150 is the closing bookend of the Psalter. This placement was not by accident. Just as the first entry in the Psalter is positioned with a purpose, so is the last. While the Psalter begins with a wisdom psalm pleading with Israel to be obedient to the law of God, the Psalter ends with a joyful and exclamatory, almost climactic psalm of praise imploring the congregation to worship. This indicates that “obedience is not the goal of Torah-keeping.”[4] Rather, praise and worship of and ultimate satisfaction and joy in the LORD God is the end to which the Psalter and the entire Old Testament is pointing. In this light, obedience to a God in whom we find joy will be viewed as much as a delight as it is a duty.

The placement of this psalm also serves as a summation of the praise due God. Throughout the Psalter, everything in all of creation has been called to give the Creator sacrifices of worship. Therefore, this final song to close out Israel’s hymnbook is not a farewell to praising the Lord. On the contrary, the psalm itself functions as a source of praise and “everything that the previous 149 psalms have affirmed about Yhwh offers the reasons and the content for this praise.”[5] There is no question left to ask. It is the LORD, the creator of heaven and earth, the One who performs mighty deeds and who is excellently great (v. 2), that is ultimately worthy of worship.

Content of Praise

The content of Psalm 150 itself gives the most evidence for why the author sought to show his readers the worthiness of God and the response his people should give.

The phrases “praise the LORD,” “praise God” and “praise him” occur thirteen times in six verses. This is no coincidence. The author did not just run out of exhortations and resorted to repeating the only one he knew or perhaps his favorite. This psalm functions as a chiasmus beginning with the exhortation to praise God in heaven (v. 1, A) and ending with the exhortation to praise God on earth (v. 6, A’). In the middle of these places of worship occur the reasons (v. 2, B) and means of worship (vv. 3-5, B’). The center of this chiasmus is the worthiness of God coupled with the delight and intensity with which his people should worship him. In heaven and on earth, God is to be praised both for what he does and for who he is. God’s abundant power and greatness call for a “symphonic hymn of praise”[6] from those in heaven and earth. Everyone is to exult in the greatness of YHWH!

God’s worthiness should be evident in the manner in which the congregation worships their Maker and Master. God’s supreme greatness and power flows over into the souls of those whom he has redeemed (Israel in the immediate context). The response is delightful and intense worship. Just as the repetition of “praise the LORD” phrases indicates God’s supreme worthiness, the repetition of the instruments used to worship God indicates the great delight and devotion his people are to give him. John Calvin comments, “this multiplicity of songs was enjoined that God might lead his people from vain pleasure to a holy and profitable joy.”[7]

God’s greatness therefore not only attests to his glory, but also to his people’s joy. Sacrificial worship to God is a means for holy worship and holy joy. God is glorified and his people are satisfied in praising the LORD. Due to our sin, the psalmist calls us to praise the LORD in order to find a satisfying and lasting joy.[8] Every means of worship is called forth from heaven and earth to magnify the glory of YHWH.[9] In the words of Calvin, “we cannot apply ourselves too diligently to God’s praise.”[10] Though terms of adoration or satisfaction are not explicitly used by the psalmist, the author makes his point clear through the emphasis on a multiplicity of instruments of melodious sound that devotion and delight in God from the congregation are what is desired.

It therefore seems clear from the genre, placement, and content of Psalm 150, that the psalmist intends his readers to understand the magnitude of God’s worthiness of praise and the delightful duty of the worshiper to diligently praise God by showing that the end of living under God’s grace under the Law was joyful praise of God. Exaltation of God’s glory and the joy of man meet in this closing hymn of the Psalter. The final expectation of the Old Testament is therefore “not finally obedience, but adoration.”[11]

Implications

There are many implications that flow from this meaning and interpretation of Psalm 150 that are vital to both the Christian as an individual and the corporate body of Christ as a whole.

Firstly, Christians must view our obedience to God with lenses of delight. Our obedience to God should not be viewed as a begrudging duty given to a distant King. No, our devotion to this sovereign King, who resides in utter omnipotence that we cannot take in,[12] should be delightful, joyful, and satisfying. When we realize that our joy will be found in glorifying the greatness and power of YHWH, our obedience to him and praise of him will be exceedingly intense in love and adoration. Our worship to God on Sunday morning should not be dull, boring, or unenthusiastic. Rather, our offerings of worship should be joyful and exciting responses of adoration of the LORD for who he is and what he has done. And this has nothing to do with musical style.

Secondly, the Church must be diligent in gospel proclamation among all peoples. There is no distinction given by the Psalmist: “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD” (v. 6)! John Calvin asserts this in his commentary:

“The Psalmist implies that the day will come when the songs of Zion will resound throughout the world, uniting Gentile believers in harmony with his ancient people, until, gathered into heaven, we sing with elect angels an eternal Hallelujah.[13]

We must proclaim the gospel to all without exception, because God will extend his saving grace to a remnant from all peoples (not every person without exception) who will be satisfied in glorifying the LORD God (Rev. 7:9).

Thirdly, our modern-day worship services must continue and forever be God-centered. Praise and worship among the people of God must always be focused on and directed to Yahweh. This should impact our choice of worship hymns and contemporary songs to sing. They should be rooted in the Word of God that outlines the “mighty deeds” of God as well as his “excellent greatness” (v. 2). Any hymns or worship songs focused on our circumstances or ourselves have no place in congregational worship of God. God-centeredness in worship services is vital to proper praise of the LORD.


 

[1] John Goldingay. Psalms 90-150, in vol. 3 of Psalms in Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, ed. Tremper Longman III (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 747.

[2] “In contrast to other hymns, Psalm 150 is an enlarged introit, lacking the descriptive praise” Willem Van Gemeren, Psalms, in vol. 5 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein et al., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 878

[3] John Goldingay. Psalms 90-150, in vol. 3 of Psalms in Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, ed. Tremper Longman III (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 746

[4] Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), 167

[5] John Goldingay. Psalms 90-150, in vol. 3 of Psalms in Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, ed. Tremper Longman III (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 747

[6] Arthur Weiser. The Psalms: A Commentary. OTL. London: SCM, 1959. p. 841 as cited in Willem Van Gemeren, Psalms, in vol. 5 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein and Richard P. Polcyn (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 879

[7] John Calvin. Commentary on the Psalms, Abr. ed. David C. Seale (Carlisle: Banner of Truth Trust, 2009), 659

[8] Ibid. 659

[9] John Goldingay. Psalms 90-150, in vol. 3 of Psalms in Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, ed. Tremper Longman III (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 748

[10] John Calvin. Commentary on the Psalms, Abr. ed. David C. Seale (Carlisle: Banner of Truth Trust, 2009), 659

[11] Walter Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1984), 167

[12] John Calvin. Commentary on the Psalms, Abr. ed. David C. Seale (Carlisle: Banner of Truth Trust, 2009), 659

[13] Ibid. 659


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their dog, Simba. You can follow him on Twitter @Mat_Gilbert.

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