At some point Psalm 145:21 may have been the final doxology of Psalms. It makes a similar point to Psalm 150:6.
Psalm 145:21 appears as the concluding doxology of Book V in the Psalter. Books I-IV conclude with independent doxologies attached to the final psalms in those books. It is natural that Book V would also conclude with a doxology.
However, there are five more Psalms (146-150). If Book V concludes with Psalm 145, what is the function of the final five? I think they are concluding doxologies (or praises ) for the whole book.
It is as if the final editor (whoever he/she/they may be) of Psalms was unwilling to end the Psalter on a two-line doxology. The journey through the Psalter is a difficult one. It is filled with lament and protest, but it moves toward praise and exults in the character and redeeming acts of God. The Psalter must end with praise…..and praise….and praise. There are not enough words.
Each of the final five Psalms begin and end with the Hebrew phrase often transliterated as Hallelujah (praise Yahweh, or praise the Lord). The word “praise” occurs thirty-six times in the final five psalms, and twelve times in the final psalm (150). The editor(s) concludes the Psalter with resounding praise–almost as if it is unceasing praise. So, the structure of the Psalter might look something like this.
Introduction: Psalm 1
- Book I (Psalms 2-41) Doxology: 41:13
- Book II (Psalms 42-72) Doxology: 72:18-19
- Book III (Psalms 73-89) Doxology: 89:52
- Book IV (Psalms 93-106) Doxology: 106:48
- Book V (Psalms 107-150) Doxology: 145:21
Conclusion: Psalms 146-150
The final psalm–of the traditional Hebrew text–uses the verb “praise” twelve times. Every line in the psalm contains the verb. Eleven of them are imperatives (commands), but the next to last is a jussive, that is, an invitation to join the praise (150:6).
The repeated exhortation to praise constitutes a demand that arises from the story the Psalmists have told throughout their journey with God in the previous psalms, a journey with many hills and valleys. That journey ends, however, in praise.
God has sustained the Psalmists. God has not abandoned them, even though sometimes they thought God had. Yahweh is faithful, and from creation to Exodus to renewal in the post-exilic era, God has redeemed Israel and demonstrated the excellence of the divine character.
That praise begins in the the divine, heavenly sanctuary–in firmament that shields the earth–but it encompasses what God has done upon the earth, God’s “mighty deeds.” The praise in Psalm 150 has no content. Instead, it has a standard. We are called to praise God in ways that reflect God’s mighty deeds (God’s redemptive acts) and the excellence of God’s character.
The mighty deeds have demonstrated God’s presence and revealed God’s character. Our praise must be congruent with God’s story, the faithful and redemptive ways in which God has patiently continued to love Israel. We know who God is, and this demands praise. Hallelujah, the call to praise Yahweh, is the call to engage the covenant God of Israel, the one who has acted in faithful love for the people called out of Ur and Egypt, and returned from Babylon.
In the divine sanctuary (which probably includes the temple court as a mirror of the heavenly one), how is this praise embodied?
Interestingly, nothing is explicitly said about the use of words, though I think the call to “praise” involves words. Rather, the mood and atmosphere of praise is connected to instrumentation, to the sounds of artistic, exuberant, and bold string, percussion, and wind instruments. Israel praised God with (through or by) these instruments. They were no mere aids but means.
- Trumpets–usually used to mark movements within the liturgy, to announce significant moments, events, and transitions (much like bells are used in some liturgical churches).
- Harp and lute, or “strings and pipe,”–the use of wind and string instruments as means of praise, as acts of praise of themselves.
- Tambourines and dancing–we see the joy of the Exodus in the praise of God (cf. Exodus 15:20), and that joy continued in the celebration of God’s redemptive acts and faithful character.
- Cymbals–perhaps also used to mark movements within the liturgy, but also to dramatically heighten the bold character of the praise. The cymbals are loud and resounding; this is no soft, solemn, or silent praise.
As one student commented, the instruments reflect how bold and enthusiastic this praise is. We might imagine the priests blowing the trumpets and clashing the cymbals at dramatic moments in the liturgy while a Levitical band (strings and pipes) provides the music that accompanies the words of praise are sung by a Levitical choir. In the midst of this offering by the priests and Levites, the congregation taps their tambourines and dances in the temple court in praise of Yahweh, their faithful covenant God.
This praise is the fruit of a life lived under the Torah of God and tutored by the prayers and thanksgivings of the Psalmists. Living in humble submission, absorbing the values and language of the psalms, and obedient to the Torah or story of God, praise is the fruit of such a life. Prayer leads to praise, and obedience leads to adoration.
Indeed, this is the fundamental identity of everything that breathes; humanity is homo liturgicus. The final line of the Psalter, except the inclusio “Praise the Lord,” invites all creation (“every breath” as in Genesis 7:22), to join the chorus of praise. As in Psalm 148, the cosmos–whether in heaven or on earth–is invited to praise God.
God gives breath, and that breath ought to return to God in praise. The breath in us is, in fact, the Spirit of God moving through us (see Job 27:1). As such, breath returns to God who gave it.
As the Orthodox theology Schmemann wrote, “every breath is communion with God,” and the Psalmist invites “every thing that breathes” to say, Hallelujah!
So, as people who sing, pray, and mediate on the psalms, we join the chorus of praise that reverberates throughout the cosmos,even though we have traversed many valleys and dark places to get to this point.
Our every breath is both an invitation to praise and a form of praise!