Treasury of David
PSALM 148The song is one and indivisible. It seems almost impossible to expound it in detail, for a living poem is not to be dissected verse by verse. It is a song of nature and of grace. As a flash of lightning flames through space, and enwraps both Heaven and earth in one vestment of glory, so does the adoration of the Lord in this Psalm light up all the universe, and cause it to glow with a radiance of praise. The song begins in the heavens, sweeps downward to sea creatures and all deeps-and then ascends again, until the people near unto Jehovah take up the strain. For its exposition the chief requisite is a heart on fire with reverent love to the Lord over all, who is to be blessed forever.
Verse 1. Praise the LORD. Whoever you may be that hear this word, you are invited, entreated, commanded, to magnify Jehovah. Assuredly he has made you, and, if for nothing else, you are bound, upon the ground of creatureship, to adore your Maker. This exhortation can never be out of place, speak it where we may; and never out of time, speak it when we may.
Praise the LORD from the heavens. Since you are nearest to the High and Lofty One, be you sure to lead the song. You angels, you cherubim and seraphim, and all others who dwell in the precincts of his courts, praise Jehovah. Do this as from a starting point from which the praise is to pass on to other realms. Keep not your worship to yourselves, but let it fall like a golden shower from the heavens on men beneath.
Praise him in the heights. This is no vain repetition; but after the manner of attractive poesy the truth is emphasized by reiteration in other words. Moreover, God is not only to be praised from the heights, but in them: the adoration is to be perfected in the heavens from which it takes its rise.
No place is too high for the praises of the most High. On the summit of creation the glory of the Lord is to be revealed, even as the tops of the highest Alps are tipped with the golden light of the same sun which gladdens the valleys. Heavens and heights become the higher and the more heavenly as they are made to resound with the praises of Jehovah.
See how the Psalmist trumpets out the word "PRAISE." It sounds forth some nine times in the first five verses of this song. Exultant exhortations are sounded forth in tremendous force—Praise! Praise! Praise! The drum of the great King beats round the world with this one note—Praise! Praise! Praise! "Again they said, Hallelujah." All this praise is distinctly and personally for Jehovah. Praise not his servants nor his works; but praise HIM. Is he not worthy of all possible praise? Pour it forth before HIM in full volume; pour it only there!
Verse 2. Praise him, all his angels. Living intelligences, perfect in character and in bliss, lift up your loudest music to your Lord, each one, of you.
Not one bright spirit is exempted from this consecrated service. However many you be, O angels, you are all his angels, and therefore you are bound, all of you, to render service to your Lord. You have all seen enough of him to be able to praise him, and you have all abundant reasons for so doing. Whether you be named Gabriel, or Michael, or by whatever other titles you are known, Praise the Lord. Whether you bow before him, or fly on his errands, or desire to look into his covenant, or behold his Son, cease not, you messengers of Jehovah, to sound forth his praise while you move at his bidding.
Praise him, all his heavenly hosts. This includes angelic armies, but groups with them all the heavenly bodies. Though they be inanimate, the stars, the clouds, the lightnings, have their ways of praising Jehovah. Let each one of the countless legions of the Lord Almighty show forth his glory; for the countless armies are all his, his by creation, and preservation, and consequent obligation.
Both these sentences claim unanimity of praise from those in the upper regions who are called upon to commence the strain, "all his angels, all his heavenly hosts." That same hearty oneness must pervade the whole orchestra of praising ones; hence, further on, we read of all stars of light, all deeps, all hills, all cedars, and all people. How well the concert begins when all angels, and all the heavenly host, strike the first joyful notes! In that concert our souls would at once take their part.
Verse 3. Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you stars of light. The Psalmist enters into detail as to the heavenly hosts. As all, so each—must praise the God of each and all. The sun and moon, as joint rulers of day and night, are paired in praise: the one is the complement of the other, and so they are closely associated in the summons to worship. The sun has his peculiar mode of glorifying the Great Father of lights, and the moon has her own special method of reflecting his brightness.
There is a perpetual adoration of the Lord in the skies: it varies with night and day, but it ever continues while sun and moon endure. There is ever a lamp burning before the high altar of the Lord.
Nor are the greater luminaries allowed to drown with their floods of light the glory of the lesser brilliants, for all the stars are bidden to the banquet of praise. Stars are many, so many that no one can count the host included under the words, "all you stars"; yet no one of them refuses to praise its Maker. From their extreme brilliance they are fitly named "stars of light"; and this light is praise in a visible form twinkling to true music. Light is song glittering before the eye, instead of resounding in the ear. Stars without light would render no praise, and Christians without light rob the Lord of his glory.
However small our beam, we must not hide it: if we cannot be sun or moon we must aim to be one of the "stars of light", and our every twinkling must be to the honor of our Lord.
Verse 4. Praise him, you heavens of heavens. By these are meant those regions which are heavens to those who dwell in our heavens; or those most heavenly of abodes where the most choice of spirits dwell. As the highest of the highest, so the best of the best are to praise the Lord. If we could climb as much above the heavens as the heavens are above the earth, we could still cry out to all around us, "Praise the Lord!" There can be none so great and high as to be above praising Jehovah.
And you waters that be above the heavens. Let the clouds roll up volumes of adoration. Let the sea above roar, and the fullness thereof, at the presence of Jehovah, the God of Israel.
There is something of mystery about these supposed reservoirs of water; but let them be what they may, and as they may, they shall give glory to the Lord our God. Let the most unknown and perplexing phenomena take up their parts in the universal praise.
Verse 5. Let them praise the name of the LORD; for he commanded, and they were created. Here is good argument: The Maker should have honor from his works, they should tell forth his praise: and thus they should praise his name—by which his character is intended. The name of JEHOVAH is written legibly upon his works, so that his power, wisdom, goodness, and other attributes are therein made manifest to thoughtful men, and thus his name is praised.
The highest praise of God is to declare what he is. We can invent nothing which would magnify the Lord. We can never extol him better than by repeating his name, or describing his character. The Lord is to be extolled as creating all things that exist, and as doing so by the simple agency of his word. He created by a command—what a power is this! Well may he expect those to praise him, who owe their being to him.
Evolution may be atheistic; but the doctrine of creation logically demands worship; and hence, as the tree is known by its fruit, it proves itself to be true. Those who were created by command, are under command to adore their Creator. The voice which said "Let them be", now says "Let them praise."
Verse 6. He has also established them forever and ever. The continued existence of celestial beings is due to the supporting might of Jehovah, and to that alone. They do not fail, because the Lord does not fail them. Without his will these things cannot alter; he has impressed upon them laws which only he himself can change. Eternally his ordinances are binding upon them. Therefore ought the Lord to be praised because he is Preserver as well as Creator, Ruler as well as Maker.
He has made a decree which shall not pass. The heavenly bodies are ruled by Jehovah's decree: they cannot pass his limit, or trespass against his law. His rule and ordination can never be changed except by himself, and in this sense his decree "shall not pass". Moreover, the highest and most wonderful of creatures are perfectly obedient to the statutes of the Great King, and thus his decree is not passed over. This submission to law is praise. Obedience is homage; order is harmony.
In this respect the praise rendered to Jehovah from the "celestial bodies" is absolutely perfect. His almighty power upholds all things in their spheres, securing the march of stars and the flight of seraphs; and thus the music of the upper regions is never marred by discord, nor interrupted by destruction. The eternal hymn is forever chanted; even the solemn silence of the spheres is a perpetual Psalm.
Verse 7. Praise the LORD from the earth. The song descends to our abode, and so comes nearer home to us. We who are "terrestrial bodies", are to pour out our portion of praise from the golden globe of this favored planet. Jehovah is to be praised not only in the earth but from the earth, as if the adoration ran over from this planet into the general accumulation of worship. In verse 1 the song was "from the heavens"; here it is "from the earth". Songs coming down from Heaven, are to blend with those going up from earth. The "earth" here meant is our entire globe of land and water: it is to be made vocal everywhere with praise.
You sea creatures, and all deeps. It would be idle to inquire what special sea creatures are here meant; but we believe all of them are intended, and the places where they abide are indicated by "all deeps." Terrible beasts or fishes, whether they roam the earth or swim the seas, are bidden to the feast of praise. Whether they float amid the teeming waves of the tropics, or wend their way among the floes and bergs of polar waters—they are commanded by our sacred poet to yield their tribute to the creating Jehovah. They pay no service to man; let them the more heartily confess their allegiance to the Lord. About "sea creatures" and "deeps" there is somewhat of dread, but this may the more fitly become the bass of the music of the Psalm. If there be anything grim in mythology, or fantastic in heraldry—let it praise the incomprehensible Lord.
Verse 8. Lightning and hail. Lightning and hailstones go together. In the plagues of Egypt they cooperated in making Jehovah known in all the terrors of his power. Lightning and ice morsels are a contrast in nature, but they are combined in magnifying the Lord.
Snow and vapors. Offsprings of cold, or creations of heat, are equally consecrated to his praise. Congealed or expanded vapors, falling flakes or rising clouds, should, rising or falling, still reveal the praises of the Lord.
Stormy winds fulfilling his word. Though rushing with incalculable fury, the storm wind is still under law, and moves in order due, to carry out the designs of God. It is a grand orchestra which contains such wind instruments as these! He is a great leader who can keep all these musicians in concert, and direct both time and tune.
Verse 9. Mountains and all hills. Towering steeps and swelling knolls alike declare their Creator. "All hills" are to be consecrated; we have no longer Ebal and Gerizim, the hill of the curse and the hill of the blessing—but all our Ebals are turned to Gerizims. Tabor and Hermon, Lebanon and Carmel, rejoice in the name of the Lord. The greater and the lesser mounts are one in their adoration. Not only the Alps and the mountains of the Jura thunder out his praise; but our own Cotswolds and Grampians are vocal with songs in his honor.
Fruitful trees, and all cedars. Fruit trees and forest trees, trees deciduous or evergreen, are equally full of benevolent design, and alike subserve some purpose of love. Therefore for all and by all let the great Designer be praised. There are many species of cedar, but they all reveal the wisdom of their Maker. When kings fell them, that they may make beams for their palaces, they do but confess their obligation to the King of trees, and to the King of kings, whose trees they are. Varieties in the landscape are produced by the rising and falling of the soil, and by the many kinds of trees which adorn the land: let all, and all alike, glorify their one Lord. When the trees clap their hands in the wind, or their leaves rustle in the gentle breath of Zephyr, they do to their best ability sing out unto the Lord.
Verse 10. Beasts, and all cattle. Animals fierce or tame; wild beasts and domestic cattle—let all these show forth the praises of Jehovah. Those are worse than beasts who do not praise our God. More than brutish are those who are willfully dumb concerning their Maker.
Creeping things, and flying birds. The multitudes that throng the earth and the air; insects of every form and birds of every wing are called upon to join the universal worship. No one can become familiar with insect and bird life without feeling that they constitute a wonderful chapter in the history of divine wisdom. The minute insect marvelously proclaims the Lord's handiwork; when placed under the microscope it tells a wondrous tale. So, too, the bird which soars aloft displays in its adaptation for an aerial life an amount of skill which our balloonists have in vain attempted to emulate.
True devotion not only hears the praises of God in the sweet song of feathered minstrels, but even discovers it in the croaking from the marsh, or in the buzz of "the blue fly which sings in the window pane." More base than reptiles, more insignificant than insects, are songless men!
Verse 11. Kings of the earth, and all people; princes, and all judges of the earth. Now the poet has reached our own race, and very justly he would have rulers and subjects, chieftains and magistrates, unite in worshiping the sovereign Lord of all. Monarchs must not disdain to sing, nor must their people refrain from uniting with them. Those who lead in battle and those who decide in courts, must neither of them allow their vocations to keep them from reverently adoring the Chief and Judge of all. All people, and all judges, must praise the Lord of all.
What a happy day it will be when it is universally acknowledged that through our Lord Jesus, the incarnate Wisdom, "kings reign and princes decree justice"! Alas, it is not so as yet. Kings have been patrons of vice, and princes ringleaders in folly. Let us pray that the song of the Psalmist may be realized in fact.
Verse 12. Both young men, and maidens; old men, and children. Both sexes and all ages are summoned to the blessed service of song. Those who usually make merry together are to be devoutly joyful together. Those who make up the ends of families, that is to say, the elders and the juveniles, should make the Lord their one and only end. Old men should by their experience teach children to praise; and children by their cheerfulness should excite old men to song.
There is room for every voice at this concert: fruitful trees and maidens, cedars and young men, angels and children, old men and judges—all may unite in this oratorio. None, indeed, can be dispensed with; for perfect Psalmody we must have the whole universe aroused to worship, and all parts of creation must take their parts in devotion.
Verse 13. Let them praise the name of the LORD. All that is contained in the name or character of Jehovah is worthy of praise, and all the objects of his creating care will be too few to set it forth in its completeness.
For his name alone is excellent. It alone deserves to be exalted in praise, for alone it is exalted in worth. There is none like unto the Lord, none that for a moment can be compared unto him. His unique name should have a monopoly of praise. His glory is above the earth and Heaven: it is therefore alone because it surpasses all others. His royal splendor exceeds all that earth and Heaven can express. He is himself the crown of all things, the excellency of the creation. There is more glory in him personally, than in all his works united. It is not possible for us to exceed and become extravagant in the Lord's praise; his own natural glory is infinitely greater than any glory which we can render to him.
Verse 14. He also exalts the horn of his people. He has made them strong, famous, and victorious. His goodness to all his creatures does not prevent his having a special favor to his chosen nation. He is good to all, but he is God to his people. He lifts up the down trodden, but he in a peculiar manner lifts up his redeemed people. When they are brought low he raises up a horn for them by sending them a deliverer; when they are in conflict he gives them courage and strength, so that they lift up their horn amid the fray; and when all is peaceful around them, he fills their horn with plenty, and they lift it up with delight.
The praise of all his saints. He is their glory: to him they render praise; and he by his mercy to them evermore gives them further reasons for praise, and higher motives for adoration. He lifts up their horn, and they lift up his praise. He exalts them, and they exalt him. The Holy One is praised by holy ones. He is their God, and they are his saints; he makes them blessed, and they bless him in return.
Even of the children of Israel. The Lord knows those who are his. He knows the name of him with whom he made a covenant, and how he came by that name, and who his children are, and where they are. All nations are bidden in verse 11 to praise the Lord; but here the call is specially addressed to his elect people, who know him beyond all others. Those who are children of privilege should be children of praise.
A people near unto him, near by kin, and near by care; near as to manifestation and near as to affection. This is a highly honorable description of the beloved race; and it is true even more emphatically of the spiritual Israel, the believing seed. This nearness should prompt us to perpetual adoration. The Lord's elect are the children of his love, the courtiers of his palace, the priests of his temple—and therefore they are bound beyond all others to be filled with reverence for him, and delight in him.
Praise the Lord, or, Hallelujah. This should be the Alpha and Omega of a godly man's life. Let us praise God to the end, world without end.
The field of praise which lies before us in this Psalm is bounded at beginning and end by landmarks in the form of Hallelujahs, and all that lies between them is every word of it to the Lord's honor. Amen.