Psalm 148 – “Hymn of the Heavens and Earth”

young_old_smHebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Psalm 148 is a grandiose call for the heavenly powers and the earthly entities to praise God. It ends with the hope that God will raise Israel’s status in the world.

II. Photo

The psalmist calls on people of all ages to praise God: “[Praise the Lord,] youths and maidens alike, old and young together!” (v. 12)
III. Important Verses
vv. 1-6: Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise Him on high… Praise Him, sun and moon, praise Him, all bright stars… Let them praise the name of the LORD, for it was He who commanded that they be created. He made them endure forever, establishing an order that shall never change.
vv. 11-12: [Praise the Lord,] all kings and peoples of the earth, all princes of the earth and its judges, youths and maidens alike, old and young together.

IV. Outline
1a. Superscription
1b-5a. Summons for the heavenly bodies to praise God
5b-6. Hymnic rationale
7-13a. Summons for the earthly bodies to praise God
1b. Hymnic rationale
14. Wish

V. Comment
Psalm 148 has two major units: the first calls upon the heavenly powers to praise God (vv. 1-6), and the second calls upon the earthly bodies to do the same (vv. 7-13). Both sections begin with the words “praise the LORD” (vv. 1, 7) and close with the words “Let them praise the name of the LORD” (vv. 5, 13). But, there are differences between the two sections: the word halel “praise” occurs 8 times in the first section but only twice in the second. Also, while the first section lists 7 bodies to praise God, the second lists 23 groups of beings. Another key difference is that the first section uses imperative verbal forms while the second uses vocatives.

The first section has a similar meaning to Psalms 19 and 29: Ps. 19 begins by saying “The heavens declare the glory of God, the sky proclaims His handiwork,” and Ps. 29 begins by saying “Ascribe to the LORD, O divine beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.” The vocabulary of this section is found elsewhere (e.g. Gen 1:9, 37:9, Ps 136:8-9, 68:13, 103:20-21, etc.), but nowhere else is such a large list of heavenly bodies compiled. The mention of “his messengers” and “his hosts” in v. 2 refers to heavenly figures, not humans (cf. Isa. 24:21 which clarifies this, “In that day, the LORD will punish The host of heaven in heaven And the kings of the earth on earth.”).

The second section calls upon 23 groups to praise God: first the mythical powers, then the forces of nature, and then humans. While there are other lists of creatures in Tanakh (e.g. Job 38:22-30 and Gen. 1:20-25), the list here is clearly the largest.  The group of humans includes kings, nations, princes, judges, young men, young women, old people, and boys. It seems to be a descending hierarchy: the kings are listed first and the young boys last. Interestingly, the list does not include groups like the priests/Levites, or even social categories like the downtrodden and oppressed.

The vocabulary of the Psalm has affinities to other passages in Tanakh. For example, Gunkel pointed to a parallel between vv. 9-10, 13 to Genesis 1-2: compare v. 9 to Gen. 1:11, v. 10 to Gen. 1:24-25, and v. 13 to Gen. 2:4.