Expositor's Bible Commentary
Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.Psalm 150:1-6THIS noble close of the Psalter rings out one clear note of praise, as the end of all the many moods and experiences recorded in its wonderful sighs and songs. Tears, groans, wailings for sin, meditations on the dark depths of Providence, fainting faith and foiled aspirations, all lead up to this. The psalm is more than an artistic close of the Psalter: it is a prophecy of the last result of the devout life, and, in its unclouded sunniness, as well as in its universality, it proclaims the certain end of the weary years for the individual and for the world. "Everything that hath breath" shall yet praise Jehovah. The psalm is evidently meant for liturgic use, and one may imagine that each instrument began to take part in the concert as it was named, till at last all blended in a mighty torrent of praiseful sound, to which the whirling dancers kept time. A strange contrast to modern notions of sobriety in worship!
The tenfold "Praise Him" has been often noticed as symbolic of completeness, but has probably no special significance.
In Psalm 150:1 the psalmist calls on earth and heaven to praise. The "sanctuary" may, indeed, be either the Temple or the heavenly palace of Jehovah, but it is more probable that the invocation, like so many others of a similar kind, is addressed to men and angels, than that the latter only are meant. They who stand in the earthly courts and they who circle the throne that is reared above the visible firmament are parts of a great whole, an antiphonal chorus. It becomes them to praise, for they each dwell in God’s sanctuary.
The theme of praise is next touched in Psalm 150:2. "His mighty deeds" might be rendered "His heroic [or, valiant] acts." The reference is to His deliverance of His people as a signal manifestation of prowess or conquering might. The tenderness which moved the power is not here in question, but the power cannot be worthily praised or understood, unless that Divine pity and graciousness of which it is the instrument are apprehended. Mighty acts, unsoftened by loving impulse and gracious purpose, would evoke awe, but not thanks. No praise is adequate to the abundance of His greatness, but yet He accepts such adoration as men can render.
The instruments named in Psalm 150:3-5 were not all used, so far as we know, in the Temple service. There is possibly an intention to go beyond those recognised as sacred, in order to emphasise the universality of praise. The horn was the curved "Shophar," blown by the priests; "harp and psaltery were played by the Levites, timbrels were struck by women; and dancing, playing on stringed instruments and pipes and cymbals, were not reserved for the Levites. Consequently the summons to praise God is addressed to priests, Levites, and people" (Baethgen). In Psalm 150:4 b "strings" means stringed instruments, and "pipe" is probably that used by shepherds, neither of which kinds of instrument elsewhere appears as employed in worship.
Too little is known of Jewish music to enable us to determine whether the epithets applied to cymbals refer to two different kinds. Probably they do; the first being small and high pitched, the second larger, like the similar instrument used in military music, and of a deep tone.
But the singer would fain hear a volume of sound which should drown all that sweet tumult which he has evoked; and therefore he calls on "everything that has breath" to use it in sending forth a thunder chorus of praise to Jehovah. The invocation bears the prophecy of its own fulfilment. These last strains of the long series of psalmists are as if that band of singers of Israel turned to the listening world, and gave into its keeping the harps which, under their own hands, had yielded such immortal music.
Few voices have obeyed the summons, and the vision of a world melodious with the praise of Jehovah and of Him alone appears to us, in our despondent moments, almost as far off as it was when the last psalmist ceased to sing. But his call is our confidence; and we know that the end of history shall be that to Him whose work is mightier than all the other mighty acts of Jehovah, "Every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."