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In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Psalm 150 – Praise our God!

What is the function of Psalm 150? Clearly it serves as a conclusion to the Psalter. It also looks as if the psalm is designed to create an aspiration for and an anticipation of a world in which nothing happens apart from praise. Certainly the psalm does not mention anything else. Where is that wonderful place where there is nothing but praise of the Lord? The answer is the new heavens and new earth. We know much more about it than did the people of the Old Testament period. Yet like them, we have our spiritual ups and downs. But this psalm reminds us that there is a place where those experiences will be gone, and where nothing but praise will take place.

Who should be praised (v. 1)? The answer is obvious – the Lord should be praised. Here he is addressed as Yahweh, a special name that stresses his eternity and his covenant fidelity. He is also referred to as El (God) in verse 1, probably in reference to his power (the name means ‘strong one’), which the psalmist focuses on in verses 1 and 2. After all, he is the One who controls the whole universe, both what is below and above the visible heavens.
Where should he be praised (v. 1)? The author mentions two possible places: ‘Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens!’ Right away we have to decide whether we have two names for the same location or whether we have two different locations. After all, there is obviously a sense in which heaven is a sanctuary. Yet it is likely that the psalmist is referring to two different places, because it is unlikely that his references to musical instruments describe what is going on in heaven. So one location of worship is the Jerusalem temple and the other is heaven, meeting together in spiritual harmony. You may want to read Hebrews 12:18ff now.

Why should he be praised (v. 2)? His mighty deeds are his works of creation, of providence and of redemption. The Israelites would recall that he made the worlds, that he chose their forefathers to begin his people, that he delivered them from slavery in Egypt, that he provided them with the Promised Land, that he restored them from captivity in Babylon, and numerous other details. What about ourselves? We too worship him as the Creator, as the Controller of our circumstances, and as the Saviour of sinners.

How should he be praised (vv. 3-5)? Often we come to the psalm and ask what does it mean for me today without asking what it would have meant to the one who composed it and to those who first read it. The one thing that is clear is that he is not describing worship in a twenty-first century church, but is describing what took place in the sanctuary of Israel in Jerusalem.

So what took place in the sanctuary in Jerusalem? It is straightforward to identify three specific groups, although others may also be included. Priests played the trumpets (2 Chron. 29:26) and the Levites played lutes, harps and cymbals (2 Chron. 29:25) when sacrifices were offered in the temple, and the women played tambourines and danced, often in celebration of victory in battle. So it can be argued that the point the psalmist is stressing is that in the sanctuary God should be praised by those who understand the significance of the sacrifices in the worship of God and who rejoice in the victories he has achieved. And today we praise him for the sacrifice of Jesus and his subsequent victories.

Who should praise him (v. 6)? The final verse of the Psalter is a call for universal praise. Perhaps it is a prayer from the psalmist for his contemporaries that they would come and praise his Lord. Maybe it is a holy longing for that new world in which nothing but praise will occur from all its inhabitants. Probably it is both a prayer and a longing, similar to the statement in the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Your kingdom come.’ And it is a most suitable expression with which to close the Book of Praises.

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