Psalm 150: Let Everything That Has Breath

One of the universal problems we face in religion is that we tend to make God in our image and are not content to be remade into the image and likeness of God. We judge the spirituality of others by our own standards, which are usually culturally-dependent, and we ourselves do not always tend to spend a great deal of time examining what sort of biblical culture we are to develop if we are truly God’s followers. We quibble about whether one type of music or another is Christian, or whether drums and guitars are the devil’s music [1].

Most of the time this sort of judgment is made by people without any sort of knowledge of biblical worship practices. And clearly, the desire for decorum and order is a godly one. We ought not to confuse stuffiness with decorum, or to consider anything that engages us on an emotional level as automatically suspect. If God made all of us, He made our hearts as well as our minds, and therefore our passions and our intellectual achievements are godly to the extent that they honor Him and conform with His moral standards. All parts of ourselves belong to Him and are to give Him honor and praise, and this means that much maligned arts like dance and rhythm themselves serve a godly purpose.

All this is well and good, and the debate about the sorts of arts that are godly usually exists on a level of analogy or assumptions, and not based on actual scriptures. Is there any sort of part of the Bible where God tells us how He wants to be worshiped? Is there any passage where the Bible tells us the sorts of instruments and worship practices that He accept and expects from us? Indeed there is. And we find this in Psalm 150. Fortunately, this psalm is both a short psalm that happens to be reasonably specific, which makes it a bit puzzling that this verse is not cited more often in discussions about what worship practices are acceptable to God.

Praise Him With Loud Cymbals

Psalm 150 is a short psalm that closes the canonical book of Psalms [2] with a call for praise to all Creation, as well as all sorts of musical instruments and other worship practices that are not often part of our Western cultural repertoire. When we look down on the way others worship God because it does not conform with our ideas about how God should be worshiped, and we have not taken the time to examine how God commands that we should be worshiped, we have to examine whether the fault is in others or ourselves. Sometimes in our well-meaning attempts to avoid overly ecstatic and clearly pagan worship practices, we can be like the Pharisees who tried to put a hedge around the law, which ended up making it seem as if it is more important for many self-professed believers to look and feel righteous rather than love God and our fellow man as God commands.

Psalm 150:1-6 reads: “Praise the Lord! Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty firmament! Praise Him for His mighty acts; praise Him according to His excellent greatness! Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; praise Him with the lute and harp! Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! Praise Him with loud cymbals; praise Him with clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise the Lord!”

In examining godly worship practices as commanded by Psalm 150, let us break the psalm down into its parts and then examine them in some detail. First, let us note that we are commanded to praise God both at the beginning and at the end of the Psalm. Praise is not an optional activity, but rather a commanded one. Why is this so? It is all too easy to take the blessings of God for granted. When we are blessed, we do not always recognize the hand of God in our happiness or success, and we think ourselves receiving what we are owed. That which God gives as His free gift of grace we often calculate as merit. By giving praise to God for all that we possess, for all belongs to Him, we have a proper understanding of our standing with God, and that is not as beings who have the right to make demands of God, but rather as unworthy penitents who receive God’s good gifts even though we do not deserve them, and even though we cannot do anything to deserve them. For that we ought to be thankful and show gratitude for it. It is not too much to ask for all that we are given.

Once the need to praise God is established, Psalm 150 answers the question as to where God should be praised. He should be praised in His sanctuary and in His mighty firmament. God is both imminent and transcendent. He is both near to us (dwelling inside His believers), and far away from us (unable to be contained by the universe). He is both deeply concerned with our lives and hopes and dreams and also concerned with a far bigger picture than we can even conceive, much less comprehend. So God is to be praised in the sanctuary, in our safe and private and public places where we and those we trust are together, so that we are joined in worship with the whole body of Christ, as well as in the whole heavens, which are His handiwork, made to teach us His greatness.

The obvious next question about praise is what should we praise God for. And the psalmist answers this question very briefly, that we should praise God for His mighty acts and for His excellent greatness. That is, we should praise God for what He does and for what He is. We have to recognize that God is worthy of praise on both counts. It is easy to neglect the greatness of God and expect God to work as we demand of Him. It is also easy to focus so much attention on being that we forget about God’s actions in time and in history. We must recognize the balance between God’s doing and being and find the same sort of balance ourselves, respecting other people for both who they are as the children of God and what they do in their love and consideration for us.

So, once we know to praise God, as well as where and why we praise Him, how do we praise God? We are to praise Him with the sound of the trumpet, the lute and the harp, the timbrel and dance, stringed instruments and flutes, and with loud and clashing cymbals. Let us note that this means that both music and dance are commanded ways of praising God. In addition, we are to praise God with all kinds of instruments, woodwinds (flutes), brass (trumpets), string (harps, lutes), and percussion (timbrels, loud and clashing cymbals) are all listed. This means that we cannot object to religious music on the count that it involves dancing, or that it involves instruments like guitars and drums. For if God commands us to praise him with dance and with string instruments and loud percussion instruments, who are we to tell God what is pleasing to Him?

Let us spend a little more time examining this point. All too often we want to draw lines that cut off whole parts of existence from being able to serve God. We say that guitars and drums cannot serve God, that dance and drink are sinful. We forget that Jesus Christ’s first miracle was to change water into wine, that God commands us to dance to praise Him here in Psalm 150, and that God commands us to praise Him with all kinds of musical instruments. There is no vessel that is unworthy of praising God, and it means that instead of asking, “Can this genre of music or this instrument or this medium of art praise God,” we ought to ask a different question, “Is the way we are going about praising God actually praising Him?” Once we recognize that God can be praised in every sort of human activity and that no art form or genre of music or instrument is too humble to praise Him, we can then ask the more substantial question of our own motives in performing and praising God in the way that we do. For God searches our hearts and motives. Not every kind of music or musical instrument or art form in general may please us. But if we do it in a godly fashion, it ought to please the Eternal, and that is what matters.

Finally, we come to the close of this psalm, which tells us that everything that has breath is to praise God. That means everything, including every human being and every air-breathing animal. The birds and frogs, as well as peoples of all tribes and nations, are to praise God with their voices. The praise of different tribes or different species is quite different, but God does not demand to be praised only in a way that is appropriate to those of us that are a bit prim and uptight northern and western Europeans, but he accepts the humble praise of the rooster or the skunk, as well as those nations who worship with a variety of tongues and instruments. God created a great amount of diversity in human and animal life (to say nothing of plant life or other forms of being), and this diversity is to be used to serve and praise Him.

Conclusion

It is noteworthy that the book of Psalms ends with a psalm that focuses on our need to praise God. All too often we are very fussy and very precise about what we find pleasing when it comes to religious music or art. All too often we assume ourselves to be the arbiters of what is and what is not acceptable to God. However, as in all other areas of life, we are subject to the standards of God, and we are not the determiners of what is right and wrong for ourselves or for others. While we must remember to praise God and not serve our own lusts with any sort of art we create to honor God (a lesson we could all stand to better follow), we cannot mark off the worship of other peoples or genres of art and music that we do not appreciate simply because of our own backgrounds and personal tastes. We instead ought to let everything that has life and breath praise God in the way and form that God created it.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/08/17/the-devils-music-christian-contemporary-music-and-its-critics/

[2] This is not to imply that there are not other worthy psalms, like Psalm 151, only that these psalms, even if genuine, were not included for whatever reason. Psalm 151 is a perfectly unobjectionable psalm in two parts, but at the same time it tends to break the flow of the tightly organized book of Psalms, and therefore the psalm was not recorded down in the final versions of the Jewish scriptures, even if it was kept around in places like Qumran.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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9 Responses to Psalm 150: Let Everything That Has Breath

  1. Nathan, it has been a long time and lost track of your articles. While focusing on what I have to do to get the job done, I am so glad to read your article. Well, I’m glad you were inspired to write it. Psalm 150 caught my attention due to familiarity. I wanted to see what you have to say before beginning my short summary for my Professor certification. Sure enough, your article provided a peace of mind and a jump start. Indeed, you are correct in terms of diversity where people here neither recognize nor respect. This would includes many Christians, although the Apostle Paul calls for sensitivity.

    Coming from multi-cultural background, I see the problem from the Anglo-stuffiness standpoint of which a lot of that stems from ignorance concerning the indigenous world. Recently, a certain Anglo-American friend asked me a question as to why she has not only been taught history, and this she has noticed for quite some time and has been bothersome. Answering her own question, she said to me, “We Americans do not know our history because we do not have lineage. I certainly do not have a lineage.” Precisely correct, I have noticed, especially in my travels to over 20 countries, noticing that even the indigenous get around the world, other than having lineages that I identify with thereby know where they come from. In fact, it did not even surprised me to meet Native American Indians in the Holy Land where I also lived. Yet, to the majority here that do not travel abroad, they would find this shocking. Nevertheless, the rest of the world are at least Bi-lingual with if not built-in, at least acknowledge cross-cultural relations, which are recognized by the United Nations. Thus, we can certainly see the difference here compare to the well world-traveling Europeans.

    What I found rather interesting is that, few years ago, my European classmate from Central Germany, whose church sent her as volunteer in the Holy Land mentioned the Native Americans to have participated in one of the Jewish holidays in October (Feast of Trumpets?) in Jerusalem. The Native Americans were performing their rain dance, which only meant that these were their traditions in their Pre-Christian Period. But will they be accused of still adhering to their pagan rituals? What does the Jerusalem Council have to say in Acts 15? If this is wrong, how do we explain the fact that the Apostle Paul had to withstand the Judaizers that were telling the Gentiles that unless they become circumcised they will NOT be saved? Where in the New Testament does it say that the Greek and Roman early Christian converts, of whom were ethnically Europeans, have to look like Jews (e.g. Greco-Roman men with short hair had to grow with long beard to look Bedouin sheep herders). Do you see that this craziness could be dangerous that could change or alter one’s cultural traditions?

    Certainly, there is a correlation between ignorance and lack of sensitivity to cultural traditions. The bottom line is that, despite the lack of knowledge, the people here in America need to realize that the world is created with diversity, like it or not. Diversity, as you say, means many nations of the world with customs and traditions since the beginning that even with the Gospel movement retained them thereby will vary simply be different. So, who are we to say that the rest of the world, and I mean “non-western” nations that have been in existence for thousands of years or centuries, compare to our less than 250-year old country that rose into world power all of sudden have the right to tell the world how to live or act? How much do even American Christians know about the Bible’s ancient cultural backgrounds let alone where their parents or grandparents come from?

    If the Native Americans perform a rain dance because this is how they relate to their praise and worship, who are the white folks to say they are wrong? After all, Psalm 150 is neither western literature nor western tradition. Rather, the Scriptures are ancient Near Eastern or what is known today as Middle Eastern, although it has universal application because God the Creator is a universal God that deliberately created diversity. Once again, thanks for blessing all of us with your gift of writing that give us all something to think about. In His Name.

    • Nathan, forgive me for the grammar errors. Not only it is very late, I had technical malfunction. Earlier it could not post, and accidentally sent this one instead of my backup that had been proofread. I am certain you got the message. Thanks for your understanding. Have a blessed day.

      • I am no stranger to technical issues. Today the electricity was off for a couple of hours and the water is still off. So, believe me, I am sympathetic myself.

    • Thanks for your comments. Truly many people are ignorant of biblical customs, and conflate their own cultural traditions with a view of what God commands and prohibits, and so an examination of Psalm 150 is useful in correcting that natural imbalance for those who are interested.

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