Psalm 148

In Psalm 148 we hear a great cosmic role call in which the entire creation is addressed and summoned to its place in the circle of God’s praise. The cry, “Praise the LORD!”, pours down over the universe from top to bottom like a flood, as the different spheres of God’s creative work are each invited to lend their voices to the song. The exhortation is first given to the heights of heaven, the angelic armies, and the sun, moon and stars (vv.1-4); from there it descends to the creatures of earth and the depths of the sea, as weather and geography and flora and fauna are all addressed (vv. 7-10); and finally the whole human creation, of every age and position, is commanded to lift its voice and exult in the Maker of all things (vv.11-12). There is no planet, no grain of soil, no tadpole, no oxygen molecule, no man, woman or child, to whom this joyful summons isn’t issued, and who is not to yield to it in raptured obedience.

This command isn’t, however, one that is bare and irrational; there are three crucial reasons given as to why we and all things are to praise the LORD.

First of all, it is because he is the creator and preserver of the universe. The LORD is the one who with total freedom and ease, and therefore with sheer delight, has called absolutely everything that is into being from nothing by his word of command, and in every given moment he is the one who holds it back from chaos – it is established (vv.5-6). The irreducible dependence of all created things upon the LORD that follows from this, and the divine power, wisdom and goodness that are displayed by the very fact of creation’s existence, are the logic of this liturgy: it is the grateful chorus that must erupt from those who recognise they are, only inasmuch as the LORD in his ungrudging generosity is pleased that they are. This is the wholly spontaneous and necessary joy of the creature that is summoned in mercy before the presence of its Maker – necessary in that such praise constitutes the creature’s conformity to its nature, spontaneous in that such conformity constitutes the creature’s freedom as the creature of this God. What is more, that the cosmos in its entirety is called to share in this praise removes the possibility of such conformity and freedom being found in some end other than the LORD. As long as all things are called to worship, not one of them can be ultimate; as all things are made by the LORD, so all things are made for him, and for him only; and so the final end of each of creation’s members cannot ultimately be found within creation’s bounds. A key guard, then, against the idolatry that would posit just such an immanent end, is this universal doxology.

The second reason for the LORD’s praise is the uniquely exalted glory of his name (v.13). There is none other like him, none that can match the perfection and bright beauty of his transcendent holiness, none that sits upon a higher throne. Hence it is fitting that kings, princes and rulers are specifically included within the summons to praise him (v.11). Before this God, there is no earthly power that can legitimately claim an absolute position, and so the proper posture of even the highest political ruler is not that of a god, but of a servant – one standing not over the people, be they man or woman, young or old, but rather prostrate alongside them, acknowledging the high glory of the one in whose hands the government truly rests.

And thirdly, the people of the LORD praise him because he has “raised up a Horn for them” (v.14) – that is, a strong Saviour, who has delivered them (cp. Lk. 1:69). The one who is so highly exalted is the very same one who has also come near in order to bring his people close to him, to redeem them, and to make them his own – the LORD of creation is also the LORD of the covenant. And in fact, when that LORD acts to execute this deliverance definitively, it will be revealed that the Horn who is raised up to rescue God’s covenant people, and the Word of command through which everything has been created, are one and the same – Jesus the Word, who is the firstborn over all creation, and the firstborn from the dead (John 1:1; Col. 1:15-20).

And that is not all. In this psalm, worship rings out from what seems to be every conceivable corner, and yet when the deliverer finally comes the theatre of praise is opened even more widely. Here in Psalm 148, three spheres of the cosmos are summoned to the song: the heavens, the sea, and the earth. There is one that is missing: Sheol, the place of the dead, under the earth. Of course, from the perspective of the Psalter, this isn’t all that surprising – part of what makes Sheol Sheol is the fact that it is specifically the place where the LORD is not praised (Pss. 6:5; 30:9; 115:17; cf. Isa. 38:18). And yet, as Peter Leithart has recently noticed, when in the fullness of time and in fulfilment of his word the LORD raises the Horn up, not just figuratively by really – from the dead, from Sheol, and to his right hand – then at last this fourth sphere is also burst open, and the tongues within it are unloosed, as it too is swept into the praise of the One seated on the throne and the Lamb (Rev. 5:13; cp. Phil. 2:9-11). The Psalmist asks, ‘Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the shades rise up to praise you? Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon?’ (Pss. 88:10-11). When the Horn is raised up, the answer is finally given, in fulfilment of the deepest longing of Psalter itself (Pss. 16:10; 49:15), and what is in fact an almost universal call to praise begun in Psalm 148 is at last made complete.