Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Hallelujah of All Heavenly and Earthly Beings
After the Psalmist in the foregoing Hallelujah has made the gracious self-attestation of Jahve in the case of the people of revelation, in connection with the general government of the almighty and all-benevolent One in the world, the theme of his praise, he calls upon all creatures in heaven and on earth, and more especially mankind of all peoples and classes and races and ages, to join in concert in praise of the Name of Jahve, and that on the ground of the might and honour which He has bestowed upon His people, i.e., has bestowed upon them once more now when they are gathered together again out of exile and Jerusalem has risen again out of the ruins of its overthrow. The hymn of the three in the fiery furnace, which has been interpolated in Dan 3:1 of the Book of Daniel in the lxx, is for the most part an imitation of this Psalm. In the language of the liturgy this Psalm has the special name of Laudes among the twenty Psalmi alleluiatici, and all the three Psalms which close the Psalter are called αἶνοι, Syriac shabchûh (praise ye Him).
In this Psalm the loftiest consciousness of faith is united with the grandest contemplation of the world. The church appears here as the choir-leader of the universe. It knows that its experiences have a central and universal significance for the whole life of creation; that the loving-kindness which has fallen to its lot is worthy to excite joy among all beings in heaven and on earth. And it calls not only upon everything in heaven and on earth that stands in fellowship of thought, of word, and of freedom with it to praise God, but also the sun, moon, and stars, water, earth, fire, and air, mountains, trees, and beasts, yea even such natural phenomena as hail, snow, and mist. How is this to be explained? The easiest way of explaining is to say that it is a figure of speech (Hupfeld); but this explanation explains nothing. Does the invitation in the exuberance of feeling, without any clearness of conception, here overstep the boundary of that which is possible? Or does the poet, when he calls upon these lifeless and unconscious things to praise God, mean that we are to praise God on their behalf - ἀφορ ᾶν εἰς ταῦτα, as Theodoret says, καὶ τοῦ Θεοῦ τὴν σοφίαν καταμανθάνειν καὶ διὰ πάντων αὐτῷ πλέκειν τὴν ὑμνῳδίαν? Or does the "praise ye" in its reference to these things of nature proceed on the assumption that they praise God when they redound to the praise of God, and find its justification in the fact that the human will enters into this matter of fact which relates to things, and is devoid of any will, and seizes it and drags it into the concert of angels and men? All these explanations are unsatisfactory. The call to praise proceeds rather from the wish that all creatures, by becoming after their own manner an echo and reflection of the divine glory, may participate in the joy at the glory which God has bestowed upon His people after their deep humiliation. This wish, however, after all rests upon the great truth, that the way through suffering to glory which the church is traversing, has not only the glorifying of God in itself, but by means of this glorifying, the glorifying of God in all creatures and by all creatures, too, as its final aim, and that these, finally transformed (glorified) in the likeness of transformed (glorified) humanity, will become the bright mirror of the divine doxa and an embodied hymn of a thousand voices. The calls also in Isa 44:23; Isa 49:13, cf. Psa 52:9, and the descriptions in Isa 35:1., Isa 41:19; Isa 55:12., proceed from the view to which Paul gives clear expression from the stand-point of the New Testament in Rom 8:18.
The call does not rise step by step from below upwards, but begins forthwith from above in the highest and outermost spheres of creation. The place whence, before all others, the praise is to resound is the heavens; it is to resound in the heights, viz., the heights of heaven (Job 16:19; Job 25:2; Job 31:2). The מן might, it is true, also denote the birth or origin: ye of the heavens, i.e., ye celestial beings (cf. Psa 68:27), but the parallel בּמּרומים renders the immediate construction with הללוּ more natural. Psa 148:2-4 tell who are to praise Jahve there: first of all, all His angels, the messengers of the Ruler of the world - all His host, i.e., angels and stars, for צבאו (Chethמb) or צבאיו (Kerמ as in Psa 103:21) is the name of the heavenly host armed with light which God Tsebaoth commands (vid., on Gen 2:1), - a name including both stars (e.g., in Deu 4:19) and angels (e.g., in Jos 5:14., Kg1 22:19); angels and stars are also united in the Scriptures in other instances (e.g., Job 38:7). When the psalmist calls upon these beings of light to praise Jahve, he does not merely express his delight in that which they do under any circumstances (Hengstenberg), but comprehends the heavenly world with the earthly, the church above with the church here below (vid., on Psa 29:1-11; Ps 103), and gives a special turn to the praise of the former, making it into an echo of the praise of the latter, and blending both harmoniously together. The heavens of heavens are, as in Deu 10:14; Kg1 8:27, Sir. 16:18, and frequently, those which lie beyond the heavens of the earth which were created on the fourth day, therefore they are the outermost and highest spheres. The waters which are above the heavens are, according to Hupfeld, "a product of the fancy, like the upper heavens and the whole of the inhabitants of heaven." But if in general the other world is not a notion to which there is no corresponding entity, this notion may also have things for its substance which lie beyond our knowledge of nature. The Scriptures, from the first page to the last, acknowledge the existence of celestial waters, to which the rain-waters stand in the relation as it were of a finger-post pointing upwards (see Gen 1:7). All these beings belonging to the superterrestrial world are to praise the Name of Jahve, for He, the God of Israel, it is by whose fiat (צוּה, like אמר in Psa 33:9)
(Note: The interpolated parallel member, αὐτὸς εἶπε καὶ ἐγενήθησαν, here in the lxx is taken over from that passage.))
the heavens and all their host are created (Psa 33:6). He has set them, which did not previously exist, up (העמיד as e.g., in Neh 6:7, the causative to עמד in Psa 33:9, cf. Psa 119:91), and that for ever and ever (Psa 111:8), i.e., in order for ever to maintain the position in the whole of creation which He has assigned to them. He hath given a law (חק) by which its distinctive characteristic is stamped upon each of these heavenly beings, and a fixed bound is set to the nature and activity of each in its mutual relation to all, and not one transgresses (the individualizing singular) this law given to it. Thus ולא יעבר is to be understood, according to Job 14:5, cf. Jer 5:22; Job 38:10; Psa 104:9. Hitzig makes the Creator Himself the subject; but then the poet would have at least been obliged to say חק־נתן למו, and moreover it may be clearly seen from Jer 31:36; Jer 33:20, how the thought that God inviolably keeps the orders of nature in check is expressed θεοπρεπῶς. Jer 5:22, by way of example, shows that the law itself is not, with Ewald, Maurer, and others, following the lxx, Syriac, Italic, Jerome, and Kimchi, to be made the subject: a law hath He given, and it passes not away (an imperishable one). In combination with חק, עבר always signifies "to pass over, transgress."
The call to the praise of Jahve is now turned, in the second group of verses, to the earth and everything belonging to it in the widest extent. Here too מן־הארץ, like מן־השּׁמים, Psa 148:1, is intended of the place whence the praise is to resound, and not according to Psa 10:18 of earthly beings. The call is addressed in the first instance to the sea-monsters or dragons (Psa 74:13), i.e., as Pindar (Nem. iii. 23f.) expresses it, θῆρας ἐν πελάγεΐ ὑπερο'χους, and to the surging mass of waters (תּהמות) above and within the earth. Then to four phenomena of nature, coming down from heaven and ascending heavenwards, which are so arranged in Psa 148:8, after the model of the chiasmus (crosswise position), that fire and smoke (קטור), more especially of the mountains (Exo 19:18), hail and snow stand in reciprocal relation; and to the storm-wind (רוּח סערה, an appositional construction, as in Psa 107:25), which, beside a seeming freeness and untractableness, performs God's word. What is said of this last applies also to the fire, etc.; all these phenomena of nature are messengers and servants of God, Psa 104:4, cf. Psa 103:20. When the poet wishes that they all may join in concert with the rest of the creatures to the praise of God, he excepts the fact that they frequently become destructive powers executing judicial punishment, and only has before his mind their (more especially to the inhabitant of Palestine, to whom the opportunity of seeing hail, snow, and ice was more rare than with us, imposing) grandeur and their relatedness to the whole of creation, which is destined to glorify God and to be itself glorified. He next passes over to the mountains towering towards the skies and to all the heights of earth; to the fruit-trees, and to the cedars, the kings among the trees of the forest; to the wild beasts, which are called חחיּה because they represent the most active and powerful life in the animal world, and to all quadrupeds, which, more particularly the four-footed domestic animals, are called בּהמה; to the creeping things (רמשׂ) which cleave to the ground as they move along; and to the birds, which are named with the descriptive epithet winged (צפּור כּנף as in Deu 4:17, cf. Gen 7:14; Eze 39:17, instead of עוף כּנף, Gen 1:21). And just as the call in Ps 103 finds its centre of gravity, so to speak, at last in the soul of man, so here it is addressed finally to humanity, and that, because mankind lives in nations and is comprehended under the law of a state commonwealth, in the first instance to its heads: the kings of the earth, i.e., those who rule over the earth by countries, to the princes and all who have the administration of justice and are possessed of supreme power on the earth, then to men of both sexes and of every age.
All the beings mentioned from Psa 148:1 onwards are to praise the Name of Jahve; for His Name, He (the God of this Name) alone (Isa 2:11; Psa 72:18) is נשׂגּב, so high that no name reaches up to Him, not even from afar; His glory (His glorious self-attestation) extends over earth and heaven (vid., Psa 8:2). כּי, without our being able and obliged to decide which, introduces the matter and the ground of the praise; and the fact that the desire of the poet comprehends in יהללוּ all the beings mentioned is seen from his saying "earth and heaven," as he glances back from the nearer things mentioned to those mentioned farther off (cf. Gen 2:4). In Psa 148:14 the statement of the object and of the ground of the praise is continued. The motive from which the call to all creatures to Hallelujah proceeds, viz., the new mercy which God has shown towards His people, is also the final ground of the Hallelujah which is to sound forth; for the church of God on earth is the central-point of the universe, the aim of the history of the world, and the glorifying of this church is the turning-point for the transformation of the world. It is not to be rendered: He hath exalted the horn of His people, any more than in Psa 132:17 : I will make the horn of David to shoot forth. The horn in both instances is one such as the person named does not already possess, but which is given him (different from Psa 89:18, Psa 89:25; Psa 92:11, and frequently). The Israel of the Exile had lost its horn, i.e., its comeliness and its defensive and offensive power. God has now given it a horn again, and that a high one, i.e., has helped Israel to attain again an independence among the nations that commands respect. In Ps 132, where the horn is an object of the promise, we might directly understand by it the Branch (Zemach). Here, where the poet speaks out of his own present age, this is at least not the meaning which he associates with the words. What now follows is an apposition to ויּרם קרן לעמּו: He has raised up a horn for His people - praise (we say: to the praise of; cf. the New Testament εἰς ἔπαινον) to all His saints, the children of Israel, the people who stand near Him. Others, as Hengstenberg, take תּהלּה as a second object, but we cannot say הרים תּהלּה. Israel is called עם קרבו, the people of His near = of His nearness or vicinity (Kster), as Jerusalem is called in Ecc 8:10 מקום קדושׁ instead of קדשׁ מקום (Ew. 287, a, b). It might also be said, according to Lev 10:3, עם קרביו, the nation of those who are near to Him (as the Targum renders it). In both instances עם is the governing noun, as, too, surely גּבר is in גּבר עמיתי ni, Zac 13:7, which need not signify, by going back to the abstract primary signification of עמית, a man of my near fellowship, but can also signify a man of my neighbour, i.e., my nearest man, according to Ew. loc. cit. (cf. above on Psa 145:10). As a rule, the principal form of עם is pointed עם; and it is all the more unnecessary, with Olshausen and Hupfeld, to take the construction as adjectival for עם קרוב לו. It might, with Hitzig after Aben-Ezra, be more readily regarded as appositional (to a people, His near, i.e., standing near to Him). We have here an example of the genitival subordination, which is very extensive in Hebrew, instead of an appositional co-ordination: populo propinqui sui, in connection with which propinqui may be referred back to propinquum = propinquitas, but also to propinquus (literally: a people of the kind of one that is near to Him). Thus is Israel styled in Deu 4:7. In the consciousness of the dignity which lies in this name, the nation of the God of the history of salvation comes forward in this Psalm as the leader (choragus) of all creatures, and strikes up a Hallelujah that is to be followed by heaven and earth.