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“In this splendid anthem the Psalmist calls upon the whole creation, in its two great divisions (according to the Hebrew conception) of heaven and earth, to praise Jehovah. Things with and things without life, beings rational and irrational, are summoned to join the mighty chorus. The Psalm is an expression of the loftiest devotion, and embraces at the same time the most comprehensive view of the relation of the creature to the Creator. Whether it is exclusively the utterance of a heart filled to the full with the thought of the infinite majesty of God, or whether it is also an anticipation, a prophetic forecast, of the final glory of creation, when, at the manifestation of the sons of God, the creation itself shall also be redeemed from the bondage of corruption (Romans 8:18-23), and the homage of praise shall indeed be rendered by all things that are in heaven and earth and under the earth, is a question into which we need not enter The former seems to my mind the more probable view; but the other is as old as Hilary, who sees the end of the exhortation of the Psalm to be, ‘Ut ob depulsam sœculi vanitatem creatura omnis, ex magnis officiorum suorum laboribus absoluta, et in beato regno œtenitatis aliquande respirans, Deum suum et lœta prœdieat et quieta, et ipsa secundum Apostolum to gloriam beatœ œternitatis assumpta.’
“The psalm consists of two equal parts—
“I. The praise of God in heaven (Psalms 148:1-6).
“II. The praise of God on earth (Psalms 148:7-12).”—Perowne.
GOD’S PRAISE IN THE HEAVENS
The opening verse of the Psalm “is not to be restricted merely to the angels. It is the prelude comprising all afterwards enumerated, angels, sun, and moon,” stars, highest heavens, and waters above the heavens. Notice—
I. The praise of God by heavenly beings.
“Praise ye Him, all His angels; praise ye Him, all His hosts.” “His hosts” we understand as signifying His angels, as in 1 Kings 22:19. The expression indicates
(1.) Their immense number. “The number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands” (Revelation 5:11).
(1.) Their disciplined order. Like a vast army they execute the commands of the Lord, their great Leader. The praise which they offer to God is—
1. Voluntary. They are intelligent beings, and possess moral freedom; and their worship is free, fervent, and joyous. The hosts of stars praise God without will; the hosts of angels praise Him in full and hearty exercise of their will.
2. Constant. The praise of God is the vital breath of their being. “Their worship no interval knows.” “They have no rest day and night, saying, Holy, holy, holy,” &c. And yet they ever rest; for all their service is refreshing and rapturous.
3. Thorough. They praise God with all their powers,—with their songs and their services; with their lips and their lives; with their reverent adoration (Isaiah 6:2-3), and their ready obedience (Psalms 103:20-21; Daniel 9:21-23).
I. The praise of God by heavenly bodies.
“Praise ye Him, sun and moon,” &c. (Psalms 148:3-6). “The heaven of heavens” is the highest heavens. “The waters above the heavens” are, we think, the clouds. (Comp. Genesis 1:7.) Thus in the first member of Psalms 148:4 the highest region of heaven is spoken of, and in the second member the lowest region of heaven. These heavenly bodies and places are called upon to praise Jehovah because they were,
1. Created by Him. “Let them praise the Name of Jehovah; for He commanded, and they were created.” How great is the power that created all these, and that with such perfect ease I He merely uttered His commands; and they came at once into existence. (Comp. Genesis 1:3; Psalms 33:6; Psalms 33:9.)
2. Sustained by Him. “He hath also stablished them for ever and ever.” Perowne: “And He made them to stand (fast) for ever and ever.” The stability and permanence of the heavenly bodies are owing to the omnipotent will of God. He commands, and they stand fast. “By Him all things consist.”
3. Governed by Him. “He hath made a decree which shall not pass.” Perowne: “ ‘He hath given them a decree, and they transgress it not:’ lit., ‘And none of them transgresses it;’ for the verb is in the singular, and therefore distributive.… The verb is never used elsewhere of the passing away of a law, but always of the transgression of a law.” “The law,” says Hengstenberg, “is the sphere of being which is appointed to each part of creation, and in which it is held by the Divine omnipotence; as, for example, the stars must pursue their course, the upper aud lower waters must remain continually distinct.” He has marked out the orbits in which the heavenly bodies “move; He has so bound them that they perform their revolutions with unerring accuracy in the very path which He has prescribed. So accurate are their movements that they can be predicted with exact precision; and so uniform, that any succession of ages does not vary or affect them.”
In thus fulfilling their course, and answering so perfectly the design of their Creator, they praise Him. As a faithful and masterly rendering of The Messiah is the most eloquent tribute to the splendid genius of Handel; as St. Paul’s cathedral is the grandest memorial of Sir Christopher Wren; so the stability and order, the serviceableness and beauty of God’s creations praise Him. They exhibit His power, and wisdom, and goodness, &c. “All Thy works shall praise Thee.” “The heavens declare the glory of God,” &c. (See Exposition of Psalms 19:1-6; Psalms 145:10.)
III. The interest of godly men in God’s praise in the heavens.
The devout Psalmist calls upon the heavenly beings and bodies to praise Jehovah. We may not infer from this that they need any incitements from us to awaken their praise to God; but it is an evidence that pious souls would have Him praised universally. “When we call upon the angels to praise God,” says Matthew Henry, “we mean that we desire God may be praised by the ablest hands and in the best manner,—that we are sure it is fit He should be so,—that we are pleased to think He is so,—that we have a spiritual communion with those that dwell in His house above and are still praising Him,—and that we have come by faith, and hope, and holy love, to the ‘innumerable company of angels.’ ”
GOD’S PRAISE ON THE EARTH
Let us consider—
I. The variety of God’s praise on earth.
“Praise Jehovah from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps,” &c. The Psalmist calls upon every province of our world and every variety of life to celebrate the praise of God. He summons—
1. The inorganic creation. “Fire and hail, snow and vapour, stormy wind fulfilling His word; mountains and all hills.” “Mountains and hills” are mentioned probably because they are the most conspicuous objects on earth, and rise nearest to the heavens. The “stormy wind” is named, because in its wild course it seems to spurn all law, and to defy all control, and yet it fulfils the will of God and faithfully performs His behests. The “fire” is probably the lightning, and the “vapour” is not mist, but smoke, answering to fire as snow answers to hail.
2. The vegetable creation. “Fruitful trees, and all cedars.” Fruit-trees are mentioned in distinction from forest trees, and because of their usefulness. “The cedars are named because they especially proclaim the creative power of God through their greatness and majesty; on which account they are called the cedars of God in Psalms 80:10.”
3. The animal creation. “Praise Jehovah from the earth, ye dragons and all deeps.… Beasts, and all cattle, creeping things, and flying fowl.” The sea-monsters are named in particular, because “by their gigantic size they more especially proclaim the omnipotence of God’s creative power. The same end is served by the description of leviathan in the Book of Job.” By “beasts and all cattle” the poet probably intended to set forth wild and tame beasts; “those which roam the forests, and those which have been domesticated for the service of man.” “Creeping things and winged fowl” “are grouped together for a reason similar to that for which fruitful trees and cedars, and beasts and cattle, are grouped together, to embrace the whole. The expression embraces the loftiest and lowest; those which ascend farthest above the earth, and those which creep upon its surface.”
All these—the whole of the inorganic, of the vegetable, and of the animal creation—are summoned by the Psalmist to praise God. According as they fulfil the purposes for which they were created they may be said to unite in the great chorus of praise to God, inasmuch as in their sphere and measure they manifest the power, and wisdom, and goodness of God. (See Exposition of the preceding verses, and of Psalms 19:1-6; Psalms 145:10.)
4. The rational creation. “Kings of the earth, and all peoples,” &c. (Psalms 148:11-13) Perowne: “Man is mentioned last, as the crown of all. The first step (see Psalms 148:7) and the last are the same as in Genesis 1:0.” The Psalmist clearly intends to include all men in His summons to praise God.
(1.) Persons of all ranks. “Kings of the earth, and all people; princes, and all judges of the earth.” The rulers and the ruled; those who have much authority and those who have none; the high and the low. Those high in position and in authority are under special obligations to praise God, and those in the lowest position are not exempt from this obligation.
(2.) Persons of both sexes. “Young men and maidens.” Men by their strength and skill, women by their trust and tenderness, &c., must praise God.
(3.) Persons of all ages. “Both young men and maidens; old men and children.” “Those in the morning of life,” says Barnes, “just entering on their career; just forming their character—with ardour, elasticity, cheerfulness, hope;—let them consecrate all this to God:—let all that there is in the buoyancy of their feelings, in the melody of their voices, in their ardour and vigour, be employed in the praise and the service of God. Old men, with what remains of life, and children, with all that there is of joyousness—let all unite in praising God. Life as it closes, life as it begins, let it all be devoted to God.”
As the unreasoning creation praises God unconsciously, the rational creation should praise Him intelligently and voluntarily. By the songs of their voices, by the affections of their hearts, by the adoration of their spirits, and by the obedience of their lives, all men should praise God.
II. The universality of God’s praise on earth.
The Psalmist calls for universal praise. In the first part of the Psalm he summons all the heavens and the heavenly bodies, and in the latter part of the Psalm everything upon earth, to join the grand anthem to the honour of God. The lower ranks of creation never fail to praise God. “The material world, with its objects sublimely great or meanly little, as we judge them; its atoms of dust, its orbs of fire; the rock that stands by the seashore, the water that wears it away; the worm, a birth of yesterday, which we trample under foot; the streets of constellations that gleam perennial overhead; the aspiring palm-tree fixed to one spot, and the lions that are sent out free;—these incarnate and make visible all of God their natures will admit,” and thus they praise Him. Man alone fails in the tribute of praise to God. But this summons to universal praise may be regarded as a declaration of—
1. God’s right. The homage of the universe is due to Him.
2. The good man’s desire. The cry of the heart of the godly man is, “Be Thou exalted, O God, above the heavens; Thy glory above all the earth.” “Give unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the people,” &c. (Psalms 96:7-9).
3. A fact which will be realised in the future. “All the ends of the world shall remember,” &c (Ibid. Psalms 22:27). “All the earth shall worship Thee,” &c. (Ibid. Psalms 66:4). “The earth shall be full of the knowledge,” &c. (Isaiah 11:9). “Unto Me every knee shall bow,” &c. (Isaiah 45:23; Romans 14:11).
III. The rationality of God’s praise on earth.
It is manifestly and sublimely reasonable that universal worship should be offered to God. The Psalmist adduces certain reasons for praising Him.
1. The glorious majesty of God. “Let them praise the Name of Jehovah; for His Name,” &c.
(1.) His majesty is supreme. “His Name alone is exalted.” “Who in the heaven can be compared unto Jehovah?” &c. (Psalms 89:6)
(2.) His majesty is universal. “His glory is above the earth and heaven.” As His majesty is universally manifest, His praise also should be universal.
2. The great goodness of God.
(1.) In bestowing prosperity upon His people. “He also exalteth the horn of His people,—the praise of all His saints.” The lifting up of their horn is the bestowment of power and prosperity upon His people. The line, “a praise for all His saints,” is of doubtful interpretation. Perowne: “This may either be
(1) in apposition with the whole previous sentence, viz., the lifting up of the horn is ‘a praise,’ a glory to His beloved (comp. Isaiah 61:3-11; Isaiah 62:7); or
(2) in apposition with the subject of the previous verb, God Himself is ‘a praise (i.e., object of praise) to,’ &c. So the LXX., ὓμνος, Jerome, laus. So the P. B. V. gives the sense: ‘All His saints shall praise Him.’ ” The latter seems to us the more probable interpretation. God had so blessed His people that praise to Him was especially binding upon them, and appropriate from them.
(2.) In bringing His people near to Himself. “The children of Israel, a people near unto Him.” The Israelites were blessed spiritually above other nations. “Unto them were committed the oracles of God.” “Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory,” &c. “But now in Christ Jesus ye” (Gentiles) “who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” In these things we have the most cogent reasons for praise to God. That man should praise Him is more than reasonable; it is obligatory; it is sacredly binding. Not to praise Him is to manifest an utter want of reverence, and to be guilty of basest ingratitude. “Praise ye the Lord.”
A SUMMONS TO UNIVERSAL PRAISE
We regard these verses as suggesting three aspects of God’s revelation of Himself:—
I. As adapted to persons of all ranks, and of the most varied duties.
“Kings of the earth, and all people; princes, and all judges of the earth.” God’s revelation of His mind and will must be adapted to these, or this summons to praise Him would be unreasonable. It is so adapted—
1. Because of its provision for the needs which they have in common. Kings and their subjects alike need pardon, long for immortality, &c. God reveals these, and the conditions upon which they may be obtained.
2. Because of its provision for the needs which pertain to their respective ranks and duties. It has messages for both kings and subjects, rich and poor, &c.
II. As adapted to persons of all ages.
“Both young men, and maidens; old men, and children.” He reveals Himself as moral Governor, wise and kind Father, infallible Guide, abiding and unchanging Friend, &c. “Children” can understand fatherhood; “young men and maidens” need guidance; “old men” can appreciate the Friend that knows neither change nor death; and to all beings of conscience moral government is intelligible.
III. As fitted to inspire the praises of persons of all ranks and ages.
“Let them praise the Name of Jehovah; for,” &c. Men of all ranks and ages are here called to praise God, because of—
1. The incomparable excellence of His character. “For His Name alone is exalted.”
2. The conspicuous display of His majesty. “His glory is above the earth and heaven.” And, we may add—
3. Because He confers rich and abundant blessings upon persons of all ranks and ages. No man can refuse to praise Him without incurring the guilt of blackest ingratitude. With heart, and voice, and life, let us praise the Lord.
A PEOPLE NEAR UNTO THE LORD
“A people near unto Him.”
I. They are near to Him because they are reconciled to Him by faith in Christ
II. They are near to Him because they live in habitual communion with Him.
III. They are near to Him because they seek conformity to Him.
IV. They are near to Him because they enjoy His protection.
V. They are near to Him because they shall be with Him for ever.—George Brooks.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 148". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany