< December 29, 2019 >

Commentary on Psalm 148

 

Psalm 148 is third in a set of five hymns bounded by “hallelujah” concluding the psalter.

This hymn focuses on creation and God’s sovereignty, particularly God’s design for creation to harmoniously coexist and praise God.

Whereas other hymns, like Psalm 146, vividly recall Israel’s experiences of marginality, oppression, and suffering, Psalm 148 reflects a transition to summons for praise, or rather, an entirely positive view of creation disconnected from the lived reality of suffering. This shift away from human pain and injustice toward idyllic order might function as a proclamation of God’s intent for creation, or it may be an intentional forgetting of their pain following the exile. Either way, this praise of God separated from human passion shapes the people who rely on its formula for worship, ushering status quo and complacency rather than transfigured renewal.

The first section of Psalm148, verses 1-6, focuses on praise from heavenly beings and from the heavens themselves. Reminiscent of Genesis 1-2, this psalm celebrates God’s nature and purposes, revealed in creation. Can you imagine if when congregations read Genesis 1-2, rather than falling into scientific skepticism or prooftexting battles, they burst into songs of praise for how God created all that is? How does the season of Advent potentially change our perspective on collective praise?

The second section, Psalm 138:7-14, focuses on praise from earthly creatures and objects, both animate and inanimate. Stars best serve God by shining brightly, and the wind by blowing. Everything best serves God simply by being what it was created to be. Creation exists symbiotically, under the sovereignty of God.

Just as each element of creation honors God best by existing as created, so humankind can best fulfill God’s command by living as God created us to live. Our purpose in life is to praise God alongside of and as part of God’s creation. From animals to the natural elements, from the sun and the moon, and from the most powerful leaders to the youngest child playing outside, this psalm calls creation to join together in praise of God. Humans might be tasked with stewardship of creation, but as servants rather than as having dominion. Humanity best honors God when it serves creation. As commentator James Limburg paraphrased, “Praise is the business of all that exists.”

Psalm 148 models a fully inclusive invitation to praise God. Israel will be one of many participants in praising God. Humans are partners with multitudes of others, including creation itself, in praise. This recalls Genesis 1 and Genesis 9, where all living things and the earth itself praise God and exist in relationship with God. In the New Testament, Jesus teaches that if humanity ceased to praise God, the very rocks would cry out in praise. Being the people of God has never been an exclusive opportunity, but rather, God has always invited all of creation to live in sacred, covenant relationship with God.

The placement of this psalm near the end of the psalter is critical for orienting readers. Life will continue to have ups and downs, ecstasy and tragedy, harmony and division, and yet, God calls us to live in praise. Holiday seasons will usher in a mixture of celebration and mourning. By orienting and reorienting ourselves to praising God’s creation, we not only remember God’s promises, but we literally re-member ourselves according to God’s design of harmonious creation of loving community.

How does God’s creation guide us in how we are to relate to each other and to creation itself? What is the role of prayer in reorienting ourselves toward God’s plan for creation and our part within that larger pageant? As we enter the season of Advent, what does it mean to join with all creation in praise of God? How does anticipation of Jesus’s birth unite creation and reorient us to God’s design?

Are there times when harmony interferes with justice? Can disharmony at times be pleasing to God? If so, what does authentic praise look like in moments of justice-centered disharmony? What does reconciliation look like, and how can prayer and praise be part of reaching and achieving reconciliation? How do our commitments to justice and community influence our decisions about how we spend our holidays?

The Christmas holidays are especially difficult for many believers. What grief are you and your congregation bringing into worship during Advent? How does this grief isolate you from others, and how can it bring you together with others? How do experiences of trauma and suffering shape us theologically, psychologically, and physically, and can our answer to this question different at this time of year? How might traumatic experiences and suffering influence the way we worship? As we praise God for all that God has done and is doing, how do we hold our experiences in tension with God’s promises, and to which promises in particular?

Are there “good” and “bad” ways to praise (or to celebrate the holidays), or can God be glorified in all forms of praise/celebration? Are there particular songs, movements, or postures to which you repeatedly turn for spiritual formation and comfort during Advent, or throughout the year? What traditions have been most meaningful to you?


References:

Brueggemann, Walter, Israel’s Praise: Doxology against Idolatry and Ideology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988).

Cotter, Jim, Psalms for a Pilgrim People (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse, 1998).

deClaissé-Walford, Nancy, Introduction to the Psalms: A Song from Ancient Israel (St. Louis, Chalice Press, 2004).

Mays, James L., Preaching and Teaching the Psalms (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006).

Mays, James L. Psalms: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994).

Limburg, James, Psalms (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000).

McCann, J. Clinton, “Psalms,” In The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol 4, ed. by Leander E. Keck, et al. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996).

Reid, Stephen Breck, Listening In: A Multicultural Reading of the Psalms (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997).