Expositor's Bible Commentary
Praise ye the LORD. Praise ye the LORD from the heavens: praise him in the heights.Psalm 148:1-14THE mercy granted to Israel (Psalm 148:14) is, in the psalmist’s estimation, worthy to call forth strains of praise from all creatures. It is the same conception as is found in several of the psalms of the King (Psalm 93:1-5; Psalm 94:1-23; Psalm 95:1-11; Psalm 96:1-13; Psalm 97:1-12; Psalm 98:1-9; Psalm 99:1-9; Psalm 100:1-5), but is here expressed with unparalleled magnificence and fervour. The same idea attains the climax of its representation in the mighty anthem from "every creature which is in heaven and on the earth, and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them," whom John heard saying, "Blessing and honour and glory and power unto Him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb forever and ever." It may be maintained that this psalm is only a highly emotional and imaginative rendering of the truth that all God’s works praise Him, whether consciously or not. but its correspondence with a line of thought which runs through Scripture from its first page to its last-namely, that, as man’s sin subjected the creatures to "vanity," so his redemption shall be their glorifying-leads us to see prophetic anticipation, and not mere poetic rapture, in this summons pealed out to heights and depths, and all that lies between, to rejoice in what Jehovah has done for Israel.
The psalm falls into two broad divisions in the former of which heaven, and in the latter earth, are invoked to praise Jehovah. Psalm 148:1 addresses generally the subsequently particularised heavenly beings. "From the heavens" and "in the heights" praise is to sound: the former phrase marks the place of origin, and may imply the floating down to a listening earth of that ethereal music; the latter thinks of all the dim distances as filled with it. The angels, as conscious beings, are the chorus leaders, and even to "principalities and powers in heavenly places" Israel’s restoration reveals new phases of the "manifold wisdom of God." The "host" (or hosts, according to the amended reading of the Hebrew margin) are here obviously angels, as required by the parallelism with a. The sun, moon, and stars, of which the psalmist knows nothing but that they burn with light and roll in silence through the dark expanse, are bid to break the solemn stillness that fills the daily and nightly sky. Finally, the singer passes in thought through the lower heavens, and would fain send his voice whither his eye cannot pierce, up into that mysterious watery abyss, which, according to ancient cosmography, had the. firmament for its floor. It is absurd to look for astronomical accuracy in such poetry as this; but a singer who knew no more about sun, moon. and stars, and depths of space, than that they were all God’s creatures and in their silence praised Him, knew and felt more of their true nature and charm than does he who knows everything about them except these facts.
Psalm 148:5-6 assign the reason for the praise of the heavens-Jehovah’s creative act, His sustaining power and His "law," the utterance of His will to which they conform. Psalm 148:6 a emphatically asserts, by expressing the "He," which is in Hebrew usually included in the verb, that it is Jehovah and none other who "preserves the stars from wrong." "Preservation is continuous creation." The meaning of the close of Psalm 148:6 b is doubtful, if the existing text is adhered to. It reads literally "and [it?] shall not pass." The unexpressed nominative is by some taken to be the before mentioned "law," and "pass" to mean cease to be in force or be transgressed. Others take the singular verb as being used distributively, and so render "None of them transgresses." But a very slight alteration gives the plural verb, which makes all plain.
In these starry depths obedience reigns; it is only on earth that a being lives who can and will break the merciful barriers of Jehovah’s law. Therefore, from that untroubled region of perfect service comes a purer song of praise, though it can never have the pathetic harmonies of that which issues from rebels brought back to allegiance.
The summons to the earth begins with the lowest places, as that to the heavens did with the highest. The psalmist knows little of the uncouth forms that may wallow in ocean depths, but he is sure that they too, in their sunless abodes, can praise Jehovah. From the ocean the psalm rises to the air, before it, as it were, settles down on earth. Psalm 148:8 may refer to contemporaneous phenomena, and, if so, describes a wild storm hurtling through the lower atmosphere. The verbal arrangement in Psalm 148:8 a is that of inverted parallelism, in which "fire" corresponds to "smoke" and "hail" to "snow." Lightning and hail, which often occur together, are similarly connected in Psalm 18:12. But it is difficult to explain "snow and smoke," if regarded as accompaniments of the former pair fire and hail. Rather they seem to describe another set of meteorological phenomena, a winter storm, in which the air is thick with flakes as if charged with smoke, while the preceding words refer to a summer’s thunderstorm. The resemblance to the two pictures in the preceding psalm, one of the time of the latter rains and one of bitter winter weather, is noticeable. The storm wind, which drives all these formidable agents through the air, in its utmost fury is a servant. As in Psalm 107:25, it obeys God’s command.
The solid earth itself, as represented by its loftiest summits which pierce the air; vegetable life, as represented by the two classes of fruit-bearing and forest trees; animals in their orders, wild and domestic; the lowest worm that crawls and the light-winged bird that soars, -these all have voices to praise God. The song has been steadily rising in the scale of being from inanimate to animated creatures, and last it summons man, in whom creation’s praise becomes vocal and conscious.
All men, without distinction of rank, age. or sex, have the same obligation and privilege of praise. Kings are most kingly when they cast their crowns before Him. Judges are wise when they sit as His vicegerents. The buoyant vigour of youth is purest when used with remembrance of the Creator; the maiden’s voice is never so sweet as in hymns to Jehovah. The memories and feebleness of age are hallowed and strengthened by recognition of the God who can renew failing energy and soothe sad remembrances; and the child’s opening powers are preserved from stain and distortion, by drawing near to Him in whose praise the extremes of life find common ground. 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.
Psalm 148:13 gives the reason for the praise of earth, but especially of man, with very significant difference from that assigned in Psalm 148:5-6. "His name is exalted." He has manifested Himself to eves that can see, and has shown forth His transcendent majesty. Man’s praise is to be based not only on the Revelation of God in Nature, but on that higher one in His dealings with men, and especially with Israel. This thief reason for praise is assigned in Psalm 148:14 and indeed underlies the whole psalm. "He has lifted up a horn for His people," delivering them from their humiliation and captivity, and setting them again in their land. Thereby He has provided all His favoured ones with occasion for praise. The condensed language of Psalm 148:14 b is susceptible of different constructions and meanings. Some would understand the verb from a as repeated before "praise," and take the meaning to be "He exalts the praise [i.e., the glory] of His beloved," but it is improbable that praise here should mean anything but that rendered to God. The simplest explanation of the words is that they are in apposition to the preceding clause, and declare that Jehovah, by "exalting a horn to His people," has given them especially occasion to praise Him. Israel is further designated as "a people near to Him." It is a nation of priests, having the privilege of access to His presence; and, in the consciousness of this dignity, "comes forward in this psalm as the leader of all the creatures in their praise of God, and strikes up a hallelujah that is to be joined in by heaven and earth" (Delitzsch).