Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Chorus of All Creation: Learning to Pray Psalm 148

The medieval monk St. Francis of Assisi (early 13th century) penned a hymn beginning with these words “All creatures of our God and King, Lift up your voice and with us sing.” Assisi was drawing on Ps 148 for inspiration; his opening lines capture aptly the theme of the psalm.

Ps 148 envisions a vast choir that includes singers from all parts of creation joining in the worship of the LORD. The exhortation “Praise the LORD” again brackets the psalm and serves to link Ps 148 with the other praise hymns of 146–150.

Ps 148 breaks neatly into two parts: vv. 1-6 and 7–14. In verses 1–6, the psalmist exhorts the heavens to praise the LORD; in verses 7-14, the psalmist speaks to the inhabitants of the earth. The assumption here is that the LORD stands outside each of these realms. As Creator, the LORD sits enthroned above the highest heavens and can look down upon all of his creation (113:4). Ps 148 imagines the heaven and earth praising the LORD.

Verse 1b offers a general exhortation to praise the LORD from the heavens. Verses 2–6 presents the specific of those invited. The psalmist calls out first to the angels and the inhabitants of heaven. They are to lift their voices to the king. Verses 3–4 then turn to the heavenly objects. Ps 148 calls out to the sun, moon, stars, and rest of the universe to join in praise. This is a reminder that, no matter how vast and spectacular our universe is, it is part of God’s creation and owes its existence and praise to God alone. Moreover, this is an implicit warning not to worship the creation no matter how beautiful and awe-inspiring it may be. Verses 5–6 emphasize God’s power and sovereignty over all creation.

Verse 7 shifts the perspective by calling on the earth and seas to praise the LORD. Verses 7–13 exhort all of the various inhabitants of the sea and earth to worship God. This section invites us to imagine all of God’s creatures to join the chorus of the heavens. This includes the sounds of wild animals, the singing of birds, and even the music of fish of the sea. Most of us have experienced the beautiful sights and sounds of the natural world. God’s declared his creation to be “very good” (Gen 1:31). This psalm describes an all creational celebration of the LORD.

Verses 11–12 focus on a call for humans to join in the heavenly and creational praise of the LORD. It is fitting that this psalm calls the kings and rulers of the earth to worship. This returns us to the theme of God’s reign introduced first in Psalm 2 and echoed in Ps 146. Verse 12 then includes all women and men of all ages. This psalm reminds us of Paul’s words in Philippians 2:10-11 “…every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is LORD,…’

Our psalm ends with a reminder in verse 14 of the special relationship that the LORD enjoys with God’s people. God’s people must worship too, but they worship in the understanding of their role and place within God’s mission. This role will be explored in detail in Ps 149.

How does this psalm imagine worship?

What is the significance of the psalmist inviting all creation to praise the LORD?

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