Thursday, May 9, 2013

Famous Last Words (Psalm 150:6)

Complete: “Let everything that hath breath _______________.” Praise the Lord (Psalm 150:6)

The Book of Psalms is comprised of 150 hymns. The psalter’s last five entries begin and close with the identical charge to “praise the LORD” (Psalm 146:1, 10, 147:1, 20, 148:1, 14, 149:1, 9, 150:1, 6). The book’s final offering is a simple, repetitive song comprised of six verses which repeatedly echo the clarion call to “praise the LORD” (Psalm 150:1-6). Each verse of the song begins with this edict and the song reiterates the command 13 times in varying grammatical forms.

Samuel Terrien (1911-2002) analyzes:

The final hymn of praise is composed of three quatrains, of two bicola each. The last of these appears to be shorter (Psalm 150:6b) since it summarizes the whole psalm with its summons to anyone who has breath (Psalm 150:6a). The naming of the deity moves from “God” to “the Lord” (Yahweh; Psalm 150:1 and Psalm 150:6), which indicates a movement from the theme of creation to that of salvation. The meter is regular (3+3), with the first stichos shorter (2+3). The imperative verb, “Praise God,” or “Praise him,” is used ten times, while the last exhortation to all creatures that breathe selects the optative (Psalm 150:6b). The orchestra is enlisted with seven groups of musical instruments, no doubt by respecting specific numbers. (Terrien, The Psalms: Strophic Structure and Theological Commentary (Eerdmans Critical Commentary), 928)

Cas J.A. Vos (b. 1945) encapsulates:

Psalm 150 focuses on praising God. The song begins and ends with the exclamation, ‘Praise the Lord!’ or ‘Praise Yahweh!’ (Yah, the last syllable of the exclamation hallelujah, is a variant of the divine Name, Yahweh). This also occurs in the last five songs of the Psalter (cf. Psalms 146-149). However, in Psalm 150, this exclamation occurs ten times with precise regularity....Each colon from verses 1 to 5 begins with the exclamation and is always placed with the third person, masculine singular suffix, except the first time, when El (God) is the object. The effect of this regularity is that the visual appearance of the words emphasises [sic] the nature of praise in this song...Psalm 150:6, the final verse, also contains an exhortation to praise and uses the same verb, but switches the word-order around and uses a different form, i.e. the third person, feminine, singular jussive. This is the only verse which does not consist of hemistichoi with equal meter (3+3), but which consists of a single four-word verbal clause. It is apparent that the song, which contains the same appeal thirteen times, in six verses and also has this appeal as its first and last words, is comprised almost exclusively of the motif of praise. (Vos, Theopoetry of the Psalms, 276-77)
Stephen B. Dawes classifies the psalter’s final piece:
Psalm 150 is...both an extended ‘call to praise’, in which the worshipping community is called to praise God for what he is and what he has done and express that praise by using all the musical instruments they have, and a doxology, a song which is itself an expression of praise to God. As such it forms a powerful crescendo to Psalms, crowning the shorter doxologies found at the end of Books 1-4. (Dawes, Psalms (SCM Studyguide), 35)
The psalter’s coup de grace is a symphony that invites consonance from a variety of instruments (Psalm 150:3-5). It would seem that no instrument is out of bounds when praising God. Reproducing the song as it was originally performed, however, is problematic.

Hans-Joachim Kraus (1918-2000) explains:

Psalm 150 is an exhortation to engage in the praise that was heard in the holy place and probably should be dated in a late time. The praise of Yahweh is intoned to music and dance...The method of playing and singing is still a great problem. Naturally, clear indications are missing. In general, it is assumed that the pentatonic system, without half-steps, was predominant, but various ways of singing and making music are considered possible. It is conceivable that individual instruments, thus, e.g. the horn, only had the significance of signaling the praise, while the other musical apparatus principally performed rhythmic leading tones. (Kraus, Psalms 60-150 (Continental Commentaries), 570)
Stanley L. Jaki (1924-2009) imagines:
This psalm is meant to sound as a symphony orchestra does when the conductor motions the whole choir and all the instruments to perform the final bars of a great composition. The verses of this psalm prompt us to do what the psalms urged from the start: to sing the praises of God who is in His holy place and, of course, in His place in the highest heaven. The Book of Psalms is a book of praises even when the psalmists groan. (Jaki, Praying the Psalms: A Commentary, 236)
The song ends with a doxology:
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:6 NASB)
John Stott (1921-2011) lauds:
This doxology forms a magnificent conclusion to the Psalter. As a summons to worship, it is unsurpassed in grandeur. Every verse is an invitation to praise, instructing us where, why, how, and by whom the praise of God should be expressed. (Stott, Through the Bible, Through the Year: Daily Reflections from Genesis to Revelation, 100)
Robert L. Alden (1937-1996) observes:
Each of the five books within the Psalter ends with a doxology. (Note Psalm 41:13, 72:18-19, 89:52, 106:48). Psalm 150 in its entirety is a doxology. It concludes not only the fifth book of the Psalter, but the entire collection of psalms...No other psalm is quite like it for its repetition of the summons to honor God. (Alden, Psalms, Volume 3: Songs of Discipleship (Everyman’s Bible Commentary), 109)
The psalm’s final doxology has been popularized in contemporary Christian music by Matt Redman (b. 1974). His composition, “Let Everything That Has Breath” (1998), has become a staple at many modern worship services.

Though the paean’s final verse continues with the hymn’s entrenched theme, the last line changes the established timing. This change of pace has precedent. John Goldingay (b. 1942) notes:

As happens in Psalm 148, a sequence of imperatives gives way to a jussive at the end (cf. also Psalm 149, though there the balance of imperatives and jussives is reversed)...I take the closing “praise Yah” as constituting the second colon of the final line as well as forming an inclusion with Psalm 150:1a, much as the opening “Praise Yah” was part of the opening line in Psalm 147 [Psalm 147:1] and even more as it was part of the closing line in Psalm 104 [Psalm 104:35]. (Goldingay, Psalms, Volume 3: Psalms 90-150 (Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms), 749)
The line encourages everything who has “breath” (ASV, ESV, KJV, NASB, NIV, NKJV) or “breathes”(HCSB, NLT, NRSV, RSV) to praise the Lord (Psalm 150:6). Willem A. VanGemeren (b. 1943) defines:
All God’s creation that “has breath” (n‘šāmâ, GK 5972)—particularly humankind (cf. Isaiah 2:22)—is summoned to praise the Lord (cf. Psalm 148:7-12). The word n‘šāmâ denotes all living creatures—all endowed with life by the Creator (Genesis 1:24-25, 7:21-22) but all distinct from the Creator (cf. Isaiah 2:22). (Tremper Longman III [b. 1952] and David E. Garland [b. 1947], Psalms (The Expositor’s Bible Commentary),1010)
Konrad Schaefer (b. 1951) expounds:
The change of person, “everything that breathes praise the LORD” (Psalm 150:6), sums up the universal command to praise. Breath (něšāmâh) is the vitality which all beings receive from God (Genesis 2:7; cf. Job 32:8, 33:4; Isaiah 42:5). If God were to withhold the breath, we would return to dust (Job 34:14-15; Psalm 104:29). The last line of the Psalter, addressed to all creatures, invites a simultaneity of praise with life. It might be paraphrased with a moral tone, “As long as you breath, praise God.” (Schaefer, Psalms (Berit Olam: Studies In Hebrew Narrative And Poetry), 345)
James L. Mays (b. 1921) posits:
The breath of life is, in the long last, the human being’s only possession, and in this the human being is dependent upon the LORD (Isaiah 2:22). No other use of breath could more right and true to life than praise of the LORD. No other sound could better speak the gratitude of life than praise of the LORD. So the psalm concludes with a vocative addressed to all of humanity calling for a simultaneity of praise with life. The final call echoes the promise that “all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever” at the end of Psalm 145 [Psalm 145:21]; the promise and the call form a significant inclusion around the fivefold “Hallelujah” that concludes the Psalter. (Mays, Psalms (Interpretation: a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 451)
Donald Williams (b. 1937) clarifies:
As this psalm and the Psalter concludes, there is a final exhortation, which refers us back to Psalm 150:1: “Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.” The animals have breath, they are to praise the Lord. The birds have breath; they are to praise the Lord. Humans have breath; they are to praise the Lord. This is the purpose of breath—the spirit (rûah) which God breathed into us (Genesis 2:7). We are to breathe it back to Him in praise as we offer the essence of our life up to Him. Indeed, as the psalm ends, “Praise the LORD!” (Williams, Psalms 73-150 (Mastering the Old Testament), 543)
William P. Brown (b. 1958) concurs:
The final psalm climactically enlists all living (i.e. breathing) creation, human and nonhuman alike, to join the orchestral chorus: “Let everything that breathes praise YHWH! Hallelujah!” (Psalm 150:6). In short, all of God’s works, animate and seemingly inanimate, that is, all “livingkind,” are to render praise and thanksgiving (Psalm 145:10). (Robert L. Foster [b. 1970] and David M. Howard [b. 1952], “‘Night to Night,’ ‘Deep to Deep’: The Discourse of Creation in the Psalms”, My Words Are Lovely: Studies in the Rhetoric of the Psalms, 64)
James Limburg (b. 1935) sets the parameters of this expression:
Psalm 104 indicates that those beings that God gives breath (Psalm 104:29) range from the tiniest creatures in the sea to birds and storks and wild asses and even sea monsters romping in the world’s oceans. If one could hear all the sounds of praise emanating from this blue planet, one would be able to detect not only the elegies of Duke Ellington [1899-1974] or the cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach [1685-1750] but also the gentle whir of a hummingbird’s wing or the sturdy cantus firmus and counterpoint of the humpback whale. (Limburg, Psalms (Westminster Bible Companion), 506)
The scope of this great symphony is all living things. Herbert Lockyer, Sr. (1886-1934) argues:
C.J. Ellicott [1819-1905] confines this sixth verse to Israel—“We naturally wish to give these words their largest intent, and to hear the Psalter close with a n invocation, ‘the earth with her thousand voices’ to praise God. But the Psalm so distinctly and positively brings us into the Temple, and places us among the covenant people engaged at their devotions, that we are compelled to see here a hymn specially suited to the close of the collection of hymns of the covenant, as the first and second were to begin it. It is, therefore, not all breathing beings, but only all assembled in the sanctuary, that are addressed; and the loud Hallelujah, with which the collection of Psalms actually closes, rise from Hebrew voices alone.”...Needless to say, we disagree with such a limitation for the simple reason that the poet said let “everything that hath breath praise the Lord’—which surely includes all animate beings, whether on earth or in Heaven. The Vulgate Version puts it, “Let every spirit praise the Lord.” Perhaps breath is used in contrast to the musical, material instruments, but creatures able to offer vocal, articulate, and intelligent praise. Beasts and birds have breath and in their own way magnify their Creator. So, let the gnat make music with the vibrations of its wings! (Lockyer, Devotional Commentary on Psalms, 791)
John Eaton (b. 1927) agrees:
In keeping with the psalm’s economy of wording, the summarizing conclusion says much in few words. Much indeed, for it summons every ‘breath’, meaning every creature given life by God, to praise him. Concluding a psalm that has addressed all in the heavens and in the temple, symbolic centre of the universe, this last summons will be meant with all the scope of 96, 98 and 148. Every being in which the Creator has breathed his life (cf. Genesis 2:7) is to direct that life to him, rejoicing to know and behold him, to trust him, to honour his will, to testify to him and to exalt him above all else. (Eaton, The Psalms: A Historical and Spiritual Commentary, 485)
Craig C. Broyles (b. 1953) cautions:
The psalm closing the book of Psalms concludes with a summons that extends to the farthest reaches beyond the chosen people of God: Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. No one is to be barred from the worship of God, though we must be mindful this verse is an invitation, not a statement. Yahweh in his greatness is worthy of a concert by an orchestra and choir that include every creature. (Broyles, Psalms (Understanding the Bible Commentary Series), 519)
Paul Westermeyer (b. 1940) sees the open invitation as characteristic of the justice inherent in the psalms:
Justice is on every page of the Psalter...Justice is sung throughout the psalms. Justice and song lead back and forth to one another, and the whole Psalter with all its concerns for justice leads to the song of praise in Psalm 150 toward which the whole cosmos is moving. The telos of praise to God contains justice within it as part of its very essence. (Westermeyer, Let Justice Sing: Hymnody and Justice (American Essays in Liturgy), 30-31)
All living creatures are invited to praise the Lord. George A.F. Knight (1909-2002) prescribes:
This psalm is in no sense a mere shout of empty and superficial praise. It sounds forth praise from the heart of a world that has discovered the cost to God of the world’s redemption, that has in fact glimpsed that in the heart of the Living God there is a Cross. Consequently it summons us in our turn to praise God, not only with our lips, but with our lives...The total pattern of God’s redemptive plan of activity has been glimpsed and fitted into the liturgy of Israel. What, then, is there left for not just Israel, but for everything that breathes, except to shout the one comprehensive word “Hallelujah!” (Knight, Psalms, Volume 2 (Daily Study Bible Series), 365)
Strikingly, no reason for this praise is cited. Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933) documents:
Psalm 150 lacks the usual rhetorical movement and development of Israel’s hymns. The hymn structure of Old Testament praise characteristically includes a summons to praise and the reasons or motivations for praise...Obviously both the summons and the reasons can be endlessly multiplied and restated...Psalm 150 is remarkable because it contains no reason or motivation at all. It is the only psalm that completely lacks motivation. It is the most extreme and unqualified statement of unfettered praise in the Old Testament. Psalm150 is situated literally at the end of the process of praise. It is also located theologically at the end of the process of praise and obedience, after all of Israel’s motivations have been expressed and no more reasons need to be given. By Psalm 150, Israel fully knows the reasons for praise, perhaps learned through the course of the book of Psalms. At the end of the book, Israel will not restate them. Instead, this psalm is a determined, enthusiastic, uninterrupted, relentless and unrelieved summons that will not be content until all creatures—all life—are “ready and willing” to participate in an unending song of praise that is sung without reserve or qualification. The psalm expresses a lyrical self-abandonment, an utter yielding of self, without vested interest, calculation, desire, or hidden agenda. This praise is nothing other than a glad offer of self in lyrical surrender to the God appropriately addressed in praise. The one who speaks in this psalm is utterly ceded over to God in praise. The Psalter, in correspondence to Israel’s life with God, when lived faithfully, ends in glad, unconditional praise: completely, and without embarrassment or distraction, focused on God. No characterization of God is given; it is enough that the one to be praised is fully and utterly God and therefore must be praised. (Brueggemann, The Psalms and the Life of Faith, 192-93)
Nancy L. deClaissé-Walford (b. 1954) concludes:
This “unfettered” praise is only possible at the end of the story of the Psalter. The postexilic community must understand where it has come from...and where it is going...before it can participate in the praise of YWHH the king. Thus the Psalter becomes a story of survival in the changed and changing world with which the postexilic Israelite community is confronted. (Reading from the Beginning: The Shaping of the Hebrew Psalter, 103)
It is clear that circumstance does not affect the admonition to praise God. There is always motivation for worship. One of those reasons is implicit in the description of the worshipers, namely that they possess the very breath to do so.

How are you praising God? What different ways can you think of to praise God? For what reason do you praise God? Is anyone excluded from the invitation to praise God in Psalm 150:6? Who benefits more from this praise, the creation or the Creator?

The Book of Psalms concludes on a decidedly high note. Eugene H. Peterson (b. 1932) praises:

The Psalter concludes in a cannonade of praise: booming salvos of joy shake the air with “artful thunder” (Ralph Waldo Emerson [1803-1882], “Merlin”). Every means (eight instruments are listed) is put to use for the great end. Every creature is enlisted as a voice in the climactic chorus. (Peterson, Praying with the Psalms: A Year of Daily Prayers and Reflections on the Words of David, 365)
Psalm 150 is strategically placed at the end of the book. Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933) determines:
As a poem for the conclusion of the collection, this psalm is a good match for Psalm 1. We have suggested that Psalm 1 is a formal and intentional introduction to the Psalter. It asserts in a decisive way that life under torah is the precondition of all these psalms. In relation to that, Psalm 150 states the outcomes of such a life under torah. Torah-keeping does arrive at obedience, yet obedience is not the goal of torah-keeping. Finally, such a life arrives at unencumbered praise. As Israel (and the world) is obedient to torah, it becomes free for praise, which is its proper vocation, destiny, and purpose. In this light the expectation of the Old Testament is not finally obedience, but adoration. The Psalter intends to lead and nurture people to such a freedom that finds its proper life in happy communion that knows no restraint of convention or propriety. That is the hope for Israel and for all creation. (Brueggemann, The Message of the Psalms: A Theological Commentary, 167)
James L. Mays (b. 1921) ratiocinates:
As the final psalm in the Psalter, the 150th tells us something about the book...The book the began with a commendation of Torah of the LORD as the way of life ends here with an invitation to praise of the LORD as the use of life. The correspondence between the repeated verb “praise” (hillel) and the title of the book in Hebrew, “Praises” (tehillim), argues that those who gave the book its name understood the book itself to contain the praises of the LORD offered to all that have breath. The book is the language by which life can say its dependence and obligation and gratitude to the LORD. Hallelujah! (Mays, Psalms (Interpretation: a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 451)
The verse and its charge serve as a fitting end to the psalter. Robert Alter (b. 1935) declares:
Appropriately, the psalm and the book conclude on a note of universalism: Not Israel alone but every living thing is exhorted to praise the God of all creation. From this grandly resonant conclusion, one can see how the Book of Psalms has spoken to people through the ages across the borders of nations, languages, and sectarian divisions. (Alter, The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, 516)
The psalm’s invitation is to participate in an activity that persists from this world into the next: worship. Walter Brueggemann (b. 1933) affirms:
In such singing, we are in the company of the abiding singing of the saints of the world (Revelation 4:10-11). That singing in the age to come, however, is already underway in this age among those for whom this narrative is re-performed. It is no wonder that life in this re-performed poetry culminates in such unrestrained praise; it is no wonder that the Psalter ends in the same way, as do our lives in the presence of God, (Dave Bland [b. 1953] and David Fleer [b. 1953], “Psalms in Narrative Performance”, Performing the Psalms, 29)
The verse serves not only as an invitation, but an objective; the Westminster Catechism affirms, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

Artur Weiser (1893-1978) explicates:

The keynote of all the last hymns of the Psalter has been that of a song of praise, and at the very end the great swells into a mighty final chord. The last psalm is simply and solely a call to sing the praise of God...In praising God the meaning of the world is fulfilled. To praise the abundance of his power is the purpose which links together the most diverse voices in heaven and on earth in a tremendous symphonic hymn of praise. In that prose the members of the cult community join; for them it is given in a special way to bear witness to God’s mighty deeds, which entail the realization of salvation, their salvation, which at the same time implies the salvation of the whole world. It accords with this train of thought that in conclusion ‘everything that breathes’ is called upon to join the praise of God, who as the Lord of the world has revealed himself in power. (Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary (The Old Testament Library), 841)
J. Clinton McCann, Jr. (b. 1951) supports:
In short, praising God is the goal of every living thing, the goal of all creation! The Hebrew for “everything that breathes” is kōl hanněšāmâ (literally, “all the breath”). The word breath recalls the Genesis traditions: the creation of humanity (Genesis 2:7) and the flood story in which the proper goal of human and animal life was not realized (see Genesis 7:22). Against this background of destiny gone awry, Psalm 150 teaches us that the proper mode of existence for humankind and all creation is relatedness to God. In short, to live authentically is to praise God, and to praise God is to live. (McCann, A Theological Introduction to the Book of Psalms: The Psalms as Torah, 56)
In the psalter’s concluding hymn, praise resounds and receives the final word. It is a good ending.

Whose “famous last words” are you familiar with? What is your favorite last line of a book or song? What would you want your last words to be? How would you wish to use your last breath?

“I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.” - C.S. Lewis (1898-1963), Reflections on the Psalms, p. 95

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