Summary: There is more to giving praise than praising
Called to Give Praise: An Exposition of Psalm 148
The 148th Psalm belongs to a subsection of 5 psalms in the Psalter. The Book of Psalms was basically their hymnbook. Like our hymnals, groups of like songs are put together in the same section, even though they were written by different authors at different times. An example of this is that most hymnals put Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving songs into the same section of the hymnal. Other hymnals which are more liturgical also group songs for Advent, Lent, and other parts of the Christian year. Like most hymnals, there is a variety of Psalms. There are psalms of repentance, psalms in times of war, psalms for deliverance, psalms of thanksgiving and praise, psalms which recap Israel’s history, and others which are used for teaching.
What groups Psalms 146-150 together is that each psalm begins and ends with “Praise ye the LORD” which is the translation of “Hallelujah.” I have included the Old English “ye” here because it is plural. Using “you” does not make a distinction between the singular. Whereas it is perfectly acceptable to praise the LORD individually, the use of the plural calls the congregation to praise the LORD as a group. This provides for these psalms to be sung or chanted in worship.
We do not know when these psalms were written. Psalm 147:4 talks about the return of exiles, so this acts as a hint that they may have been written after the return from the Babylonian captivity. Since these psalms may or may not have been written in the same period, it is hazardous to make a solid claim as to when this particular psalm was written. But this is fine, as there is nothing in the psalm which requires some historical event to explain it. There is a timeless element to the psalm, and it is just as appropriate today as it ever was before.
Even though Psalm 148 would be classified as a psalm of praise, this isn’t all there is to the psalm. Some would take the call to praise as an end in itself. The very last words of the Psalter says: Let everything that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD. Certain questions have to be asked. Whom do we praise? Why do we praise? Who is to praise? How are we to praise? The very act of praise is worship which is a contraction of “worth” and “ship.” Each of the five psalms answer these questions in similar but also different ways. Let us now take a look at Psalm 148 in particular.
The “Praise ye the LORD” which begins the psalm is a comprehensive statement without qualifications. The rest of the psalm provides these qualifications. The first qualification is in the first verse. It is Yahweh and not some other god or gods who is to be praised. Yahweh is the covenant name for the God of Israel. It is the name by which the LORD introduced himself at the burning bush. It’s basic meaning is “I AM.” This is a very short sentence with a profound meaning. It is a comprehensive statement about God. We add adjectives like “holy,” “great,” “love,” “the almighty” and such to give a greater description. Yahweh allows us to do this, but we must recognize that there are not enough adjectives we can accumulate to describe Him. Adjectives are limiters, and Yahweh is without limits. We do the best we can in our songs and confessions but must remember that I AM encompasses far more than we can think.
The psalm then calls for praise from all entities in a general top to bottom approach. The call to praise starts from the highest heaven, then to earth, and even to the deepest abyss. The Hebrews had a three-tier conception of heaven. Yahweh lived in the highest of these heavens. There He was attended by angels and his hosts (armies). They are called to praise Yahweh. Then the sun, moon and stars are called to join in the chorus of praise. How do inanimate objects give praise? Perhaps the best way to answer this is to say that they give praise by being what they were ordained to be. We read in the 119th Psalm that the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth His handiwork. The sun, moon and stars form the second heaven.
The lowest of the three heavens what we call the sky. Between the sky and outer space was a firmament from which the rains came. We call this firmament the “clouds.” All of heaven joins in the chorus of praise.
The psalm now answers the question why the heavens are to give praise. It is because Yahweh is the creator of all. All of heaven and earth are His; therefore, they are to render our praise for who He is. He has established them for all eternity.