From Learning to Love the Psalms
With Psalm 150, we come to the culmination of praise. Here, we have praise without a shadow or deflection of attention from God. Thirteen times the call to praise is repeated. The psalmist is full of joy and delight in the Lord for his great salvation.
The fullness of praise in Psalm 150 is a fitting summary of the themes of Book Five of the Psalter, where God’s salvation of Israel is reviewed and the call to praise is often repeated. At the heart of the first psalm in Book Five, Psalm 107, we read, “Tell of his deeds in songs of joy,” (v. 22b). At the heart of the first of David’s last eight psalms of the Psalter, we read, “For they have heard the words of your mouth, and they shall sing of the ways of the Lord,” (Psalm 138:4b-5a). At the heart of Psalm 145, the last of David’s psalms, we read, “They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom and tell of your power,” (v. 11). Psalm 150 does tell of his deeds and speak of his glory: “Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness!” (v. 2) The theme of God’s greatness particularly ties Psalm 150 to Psalm 145, Psalm 145 uses the same words for God’s greatness in verses 3–4 and 6 that we find in Psalm 150:2. Psalm 150 recapitulates the fifth book of the Psalter.
The focus of the psalm is the Lord, who three times is called by his covenant name, Yahweh. God is praised for the covenant salvation that he has provided for his people. From this redeemed people, the praise of God will fill everything. This psalm encourages us to believe that there will be a day when all struggles of faith will be over and all enemies of God will be judged. Someday, there will be a new Heaven and a new Earth in which righteousness and praise will dwell. The spirit of this psalm is the spirit of the well-known words of Paul: “We are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God,” (Romans 8:16b-19). This psalm gives words to that hope of the revelation of God’s glory.
This psalm is a song of comprehensive praise. Where do we praise him? Everywhere. Why do we praise him? For all his works. How do we praise him: In all ways. Who praises him? All people. This praise of God pervades all human experience.
Where do we praise him? First, we are to praise him in his sanctuary. The temple as the official place of meeting between God and his people remains a central location for praise. For Christians, this temple is fulfilled in the Heavenly temple, where even now we worship the Lamb upon his thrown, (see Hebrews 12:18-24; Revelation 5:6-14). We still need regular meetings and specific focus for our praise in our times of worship.
Second, we are called to praise him in his mighty heavens or, more literally, his mighty firmament. It is not only on Earth with its worship that we are to praise the Lord, but in the heavens also praise is to ring out. The angels, the saints in glory, and the Heavenly lights are here enlisted in praise. Perhaps we hear an echo of Psalm 148:1-4. Everywhere on Earth and in Heaven the Lord is to be praised.
Why are we to praise the Lord? Psalm 150 gives a very short summary of the reasons for praise that fill the Bible: “Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness,” (v. 2). In all God’s acts, he shows his power and greatness. In his acts of creation and providence. He has displayed his “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature,” (Romans 1:20). Especially in his acts of salvation, he has shown his eternal love, his mercy and kindness to his people. In Jesus Christ, we see his greatest act of power and of provision for the salvation of his own. We need to reflect on these acts so that they will lead us on to praise: “I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands,” (Psalm 143:5). Then we will declare with the psalmist: “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable,” (Psalm 145:3).
How are we to praise the Lord? Nearly half the psalm, (vv. 3-5), speaks of ways to praise him. At first, these ways may strike us as strange. We may have expected to have words of song or prayer given to us for God’s praise. Instead, we are told to praise him with various wind, string, and percussion instruments and with dancing. Is this psalm encouraging wordless praise with every kind of musical instrument that we can find? Is the psalmist directing us to a transcendent ecstasy beyond words, best offered by instruments and dancing? Such a suggestion would seem to violate the pattern of praise we find everywhere else in the Bible. So then how are we to understand the references to the instruments and dancing in Psalm 150?
These references are meant to be evocative of the history, celebrations, and worship of Israel throughout its national existence. These instruments and the dancing are chosen here as allusions to and reminders of the powerful saving acts of God in the past. As Book Five recapitulates the history of God’s saving work for Israel thematically and chronologically, Psalm 150 recapitulates that history through the connections of these instruments to various events and occasions in the life of Israel.
“Praise him with trumpet sound,” (v. 3). The trumpet was used to summon the people to worship and to accompany the regular sacrifices of the altar, (Numbers 10:10). It was used for special religious occasions such as the Day of Atonement, (Leviticus 25:9), and the moving of the ark to Jerusalem, (2 Samuel 6:15). The trumpet also called Israel to battle, (Joshua 6; Judges 7), and marked the anointing of Solomon as king, (1 Kings 1:34, 39). Praise with the trumpet evoked great times of worship and of victory for Israel.
“Praise him with lute and harp!” These instruments were often associated with times of rejoicing. For example, Laban said to Jacob: “I might have sent you away with mirth and songs, with tambourine and lyre,” (Genesis 31:27). They were used to celebrate victory in battle, (1 Chronicles 20:28), and to accompany prophecy and sacrifices, (1 Samuel 10:5; 1 Chronicles 25:1-6; 2 Chronicles 29:25). They were part of the dedication of the temple, (2 Chronicles 5:12), and the dedication of the new walls of Jerusalem, (Nehemiah 12:27). David used the harp to soothe the spirit of Saul, (1 Samuel 16:16, 23). Praise with the harp and lyre or lute evoked jubilant times for God’s people.
“Praise him with the tambourine and dance,” (v. 4). Here is rejoicing especially at times of harvest and of military victories.
“Praise him with the strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals!” (vv. 4-5) The strings and pipes or flutes are general terms for string and wind instruments. They are used in various settings to express rejoicing. The cymbals were used to accompany the sacrifices in the temple, (2 Chronicles 29:25), and as part of the procession that went with the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem, (2 Samuel 6:5).
The one point in Old Testament history that most nearly parallels the call to praise in these verses of Psalm 150 is that solemn moment of joy and victory when David took the ark up to Jerusalem. This event represented one of the high points of redemptive history. David, after a great military triumph, was taking the ark, where God dwelt in a special way, into Jerusalem, the holy city, where God had promised to dwell forever. All of these pointers – king, ark, holy city – are fulfilled in Christ. All of these instruments, celebrating and reminding us of God’s goodness and mercy, are also fulfilled in Christ.
In Christ, the praise of David and Israel is still the praise that we Christians, as part of the one people of God, need to offer to God. We read, “And David and all Israel were rejoicing before God with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and cymbals and trumpets,” (1 Chronicles 13:8). These instruments, then, in Psalm 150 should lead us not only to remember the various ways in which God showed his great power for his people, but should also encourage us to praise our Christ in all the circumstances of our lives with all our might. Our praise must not be purely formal or half-hearted. We must be whole-hearted and utterly devoted to our God.
Finally, who is to praise the Lord? The answer is simple: “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord!” (v. 6) Here is a call to all the creatures to whom God at creation gave the breath of life to join in his praise. This call includes animals, but it is focused, of course, on man, who bears the image of God and who was created specifically for fellowship with him. Here, too, a theme of Psalm 145 returns. Psalm 145 celebrates in detailed form the blessing of God on all who belong to him, humans and the rest of creation, (especially vv. 9-12). It also warns: “But all the wicked he will destroy,” (v. 20).
This final call to perfect praise is the fulfillment of human life and hope. And, in these days while we still wait for the full revelation of that perfection, this call is evangelistic in character. Those who do not yet use the breath that God has given them to praise him are called to join with all the redeemed in that praise. It is not too late to swell the chorus of those who sing praise to the Lamb. The perfection of praise here is a glorious conclusion to God’s own inspired book of praises. Praise the Lord.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
- What covenant name makes the Lord the focus of this psalm? How does this psalm encourage belief that there will be a day when all struggles of faith will be over and all enemies of God will be judged? What encourages you most about this coming day?
- What makes this psalm a song of comprehensive praise? How do the instruments and the dancing listed here allude to and remind us of the saving acts of God in the past?
- How does the final call to praise the Lord in this psalm serve as a call to perfect praise as the fulfillment of human life and hope? In what ways is this call evangelistic in nature?