Have you ever sung in a choir or wanted to sing in a choir? This psalm invites all of us to sing in God’s Choir of Creation.[i] This includes those of us who are not able to carry a tune. You might be surprised with who else will be in the choir alongside of us.
Psalms 146, 147, and 149 deal with the work of God. In psalms 148 and 150, the psalmist directs our response of praise to God for the work he has done. Each of these last five psalms begin and end with the Hebrew word, hallelujah. While only The Message, and few other versions use hallelujah, we are most familiar with the English translation, ‘Praise the LORD!’ It has even become a popular acronym: PTL.
Yahweh is God’s own personal name. Moses was the first person to hear God self-identify by using that name. Yahweh is usually translated into English as LORD. It appears in Bibles with small capitals. The first letter is a regular sized capital letter, the other three letters are in smaller capitals: LORD. David Guzik refers to this psalm as “both an exclamation of praise to Yahweh and an encouragement to praise Him.”[ii]
Notice the progression of the praise from the heavens in verses 1-4:
First and foremost, the LORD God is to be praised. Next, his heavenly creation, which are ‘the heights.’ Then comes God’s ‘angel armies.’ Chris Tomlin sings about God’s Angel Armies.[iii] The heavenly bodies, that is, the sun, moon and stars follow in praising God. The ‘heaven of heavens’ is where God dwells, what we refer to as heaven. The ‘water above the heavens’ is how the ancient Hebrews referred to rain.
The sun, moon, and stars praise God by simply being what they were created to be. They either shine or reflect light. So too, we need to be what we were created to be: beings with the image of God stamped on us. We praise God when we live cruciform lives – cross shaped lives – reflecting the Light of the world in our lives. Salvador’s song, Shine, compares the moon’s ability to reflect light with the Christian’s responsibility to reflect the Light of God to those around us.[iv]
Verses 5-6: Not only did God create the heavenly ‘stuff’ of angels, suns, moons and stars, but God also decreed that they would continue because God said so. It is God who determines our existence and the existence of all things he has created. More than one hundred years ago, Charles Spurgeon wrote: “Therefore the LORD ought to be praised because he is Preserver (Sustainer) as well as Creator, Ruler as well as Maker.”[v]
It is powerful to consider how the entire creation praises the LORD. The sad truth is that so many people choose to find their own gods, often in created things themselves, such as the sun, moon, stars, angels and even animals. James Montgomery Boice warns: “The problem is that in our fallen state we seek our own substitutes for God. If we do not worship the angels, animals, or nature, we worship the only being left, which is ourselves.”[vi] It is in Christ that we are able to turn our praise to our Creator God.
Now observe the progression of the praise from the earth in verses 7-12:
First, praise comes from the earth. Next, marine life is invited to praise the LORD. The elements of fire, hail, snow, clouds and wind are to praise the LORD. This is followed by praise from mountains, hills, as well as the plants and animals that live on the land: fruit trees, cedars, wild and domesticated animals, and all things that creep and fly. Finally, people are to praise the LORD. All the kings and their subjects, princes, judges, people of all ages are to praise LORD. This ranges from children to youth and the elderly, both male and female.
Roy Clements tells us about our fellow choir members:
The psalmist explores just about every area of human knowledge to catalogue the potential members of his cosmic congregation. He begins in the field of cosmology: angels, stars and waters above the skies. Then, when he has satisfied himself that he has exhausted the celestial realm, he turns to the terrestrial. Marine biology: great sea creatures and all ocean depths. Meteorology: lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding. Geomorphology and dendrology: mountains and hills, fruit trees and all cedars. Zoology and ornithology: wild animals, cattle, small creatures and flying birds. And to cap it all, political geography, sociology and anthropology: kings of the earth, all nations, princes and rulers, young men and maidens, old men and children.
What an incredible ensemble! Claus Westermann once observed, “It is praise which binds humans with all other creatures.” Bill Staines represents many of our creature choir members in his song, All God’s Children Got a Place in the Choir.[vii] YouTube has a variety of offerings of this delightful song.
Verse 8 names fire as a choir member. Fire can give light in the dark. It can warm. It can cook. It can burn and it can destroy. So how can fire praise the LORD? Gerhard Frost tells us:
We sat together,
this tall man and a tiny child,
before the fireplace.
Enthralled with this, her first,
and looking up at me,
she said, “It’s clapping!”
I would’ve said, “It’s crackling,”
and so would you ―
victims of the dulling years ―
but who is right?
Who had really heard?
Can fire praise by crackling?
No, she’s the one
who has found the word,
Indeed, it’s clapping,
“Praise the LORD!”[viii]
In verse 10, choir members include creeping things, in nine translations, and crawling things, in 27 versions. Just think, the most disgusting, repulsive, creepy-crawly thing you can think of actually praises the LORD. The psalmist opened the song inviting the inanimate creation to praise LORD which sets a fine example for the animate creation to praise the LORD. Notice how the psalmist moves from plant and animal life to humanity with the stamp of the Creator on us. If the rest of creation praises the LORD, then how much more should we, the image bearers of God praise theLORD. Alexander Maclaren could hear this praise: “The young man’s strong bass, the maiden’s clear alto, the old man’s quavering notes, the child’s fresh treble, should blend in the song.”[ix]
While a minority of people in our world praise the LORD, the Apostle Paul promises That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father. –Philippians 2:10-11. How unfortunate that does not currently happen.
In verse 13 the psalmist advances two reasons for why the earth should praise the LORD. First, the LORD deserves praise due to his exalted name. To be exalted means to be elevated in rank, position, and dignity. God’s name is elevated because God himself, in comparison to his creation, is elevated in character, in rank and in position. The second reason is due to the majesty and glory of the LORD, which is far above the glory of his entire creation, both in heaven and on earth. The Creator is greater than his creation. Hence, he has greater glory which deserves our praise.
Verse 14: Three groups of God’s faithful people receive special mention:
His saints – his godly ones.
The people of Israel
A people near to Him.
The NLT reads, “He has raised up a horn for His people.” In English, we think of horns as part of animals or things that we blow or beep. The farming community of the Old Testament understood that an animal’s horns protected the animal and represented its strength. The Israelites turned animal horns into musical horns called shofars. The priests blew shofars to assemble God’s people and call them to worship. Joshua used the shofars at Jericho. Shofars were also used to warn a city of danger.
A few versions refer to the horn as being the people of Israel whom God has made strong (see the CEB , the NET, theTLB, and the NLT). Others see the horn as being Israel’s king (see the GW, the ICB, the NOG, and the NCV). For believers, Christ is our strong Protector.
The psalmist describes his saints, the people of Israel, which is today’s Church, as those who are near God. Larry Crabb, in his book The Pressure’s Off, explains how we often approach the Christian life in a formulaic way: If we do A and B, then God we will get C. Crabb explains that this is:
The Old Way of wanting to feel good not The New Way of wanting to know God[x]
The New Way holds a promise from God, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” –James 4:8. This promise applies to all those who follow God. This promise deserves our praise, which is directed to the LORD.
And here we end where we started. We, and all our fellow choir members, gladly praise the LORD with our entire beings! Let us raise a shout of Hallelujah! to our Creator God, Yahweh, the name above all names!
[i] Tennent, P. 217
[ii] Guzik, web
[iii] Tomlin, web
[iv] Ingram, web
[v] Spurgeon, P. 423
[vi] Boice, P. 1275
[vii] Celtic Thunder, web
[viii] Frost, P. 84
[ix] Maclaren, P. 301
[x] Crabb, P. 97