Friday, March 24, 2017

Music and dancing at church? Exegesis of Psalm 150

How should modern Christianity apply Psalm 150?

Psalm 150

Scripture Meaning
1 Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty firmament! Praise the LORD (Hallelujah). The sanctuary is the temple. Walter Zorn notes that an alternative translation is "Praise God for his holiness" and argues that it is a better translation because the rest of the psalm focuses not on where to praise God but on who should praise God (537); namely, everybody is called to praise the LORD.
Firmament: "Praise him in relationship to the 'expanse of his power (cp. Psalm 19:1)'" (Zorn 538). I am leaning towards the heavenly sanctuary understanding, as signified by the earthly temple in Jerusalem.
2 Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his surpassing greatness! More reasons to praise the LORD. He is mighty and great! Alternatively, "Praise Him 'with' (the recitation of) His mighty acts" (Berlin and Brettler).
3 Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise with signaling instruments (trumpet) and musical instruments (lute and harp).
4 Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! If a call to worship is in mind (with the trumpet), this verse describes the processional to the temple for worship. This verse correlates to the Songs of Ascents (Psalms 120-134). The dancing would have been a kind of marching in a pseudo-synchronized way with the sound of the tambourine. If the sanctuary in verse 1 describes God's heavenly sanctuary, then this processional is totally symbolic as are the described instruments and the dancing. The point is the call to sincere praise, not instruments and dancing.
5 Praise him with clanging cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Praise him with noise makers. This list of instruments are not instructions to the choir director. Their meaning has to do with the priority the worshiper gives to praising God.
6 Let everything that breathes praise the LORD! Praise the LORD! Call to all the animals to praise the LORD. All creatures (Berlin and Brettler). Recall Psalm 148:10. In Genesis 7:22, everything with breath means every creature on the earth. In Joshua 11:14, the Hebrew word means every human being in a collection of towns. Whatever the literal meaning, the applicable meaning is that everyone should answer the call to praise the LORD (Psalm 145:21).

The suggested elements of this praise (trumpets, harps, tambourines, dancing, etc) are not commands but they are strongly temple-based and locally cultural to Jerusalem. Since all humans are invited to join in the activities, the poetic call to worship might have been composed by a party that believed everyone should be invited to temple worship―Jews, half-Jews and Gentile converts to Judaism. Alternatively, the psalmist is inviting people everywhere to praise the LORD, even if the temple is inaccessible.

This psalm does not authorize introducing any of these elements into the Christian worship services. These elements are temple-centric. The Jews did not even transport these elements into their synagogue worship services. Christians, today, can apply this psalm today by offering their most earnest praise to God.


Berlin, Adele and Marc Zvi Brettler. "Psalms Notes." The Jewish Study Bible. Oxford, 2004. Olive Tree Bible Software electronic resource.

Zorn, Walter. "Psalms, Volume 2." The College Press NIV Commentary. College Press, 2004. Print.

When I set out to write this article, I had come to the conclusion that verse 6 was a call to animals to praise the LORD. As the article developed, it became evident that the who of verse 6 is ambiguous but the interpretation is pretty clear. The article went in a completely different direction than I had originally planned. -ns

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