In this video, we explore Psalm 148 and God’s promise to raise up a king who will bring victory to Israel and rescue the world.
Carissa: “Praise the name of Yahweh,
for he has lifted up the horn of his people.”1
Jon: Okay, so what’s the deal with this horn? And why is God lifting it up?
Carissa: Great questions! These words come from the climactic conclusion of Psalm 148 in the Bible. Let’s check it out!
Carissa: First, let’s get our bearings. The Psalms scroll is a large collection of poems in the Hebrew Bible. There are 150 poems, or what we call psalms, which are arranged to tell a story.
Jon: The Psalms tell a story?
Carissa: Yeah. It begins with the promise of a coming king who will bring victory for Israel2. And it continues to tell the story of how God rescues David from his affliction and raises him up as king3. But then Israel falls to enemy nations, and the people are left without a king and without a home4.
Jon: So they need a king greater than David.
Carissa: Right. And so the Psalms then explore how Israel renews their trust in Yahweh as their King5, and that he will bring about his Kingdom through a future messianic King from the line of David.6.
Jon: Great—the story of the Psalms.
Carissa: Now the last five poems form the conclusion to the entire story, and they are all praise songs.
Jon: And this is where we find Psalm 148—right in the middle of these final five poems.
Carissa: Psalm 148, like all these five poems, begins and ends in the same way: Praise Yah!
Jon: Praise Yah. That must be short for Yahweh, the name that God revealed to Moses.
Carissa: Right! And this line is usually translated “praise the LORD,” but in Hebrew it’s “hallelu-Yah.”
Carissa: Sounds familiar, right?! Now today, when people sing the word hallelujah, they usually use it as a way to praise God.
Carissa: But in Hebrew, hallelu-Yah is not something you say to God. It’s something you say to other people when you invite them to praise God.
Jon: So, hallelu-Yah means, “Hey, you all over there, you should praise the Lord.”
Carissa: Exactly. Psalm 148 is a call for all the creatures in two realms to praise Yahweh—the realm of the sky and the realm of the land and everything that fills them.
Jon: “The sky and the land.” That sounds like the opening line of the Bible. “In the beginning, God created the sky and the land.”8
Carissa: Exactly! This psalm is summoning the entire cosmos and everything in it to praise their Creator.
Carissa: It begins with a call to the sky.
Jon: “Praise Yahweh from the skies;
praise him in the heights.”9
Carissa: And who is in the sky?
Jon: “Praise him all his messengers.”10
Carissa: That’s the word often translated “angels.”
Jon: “Praise him all his hosts.
Praise him, the sun and the moon;
praise him stars of light.
Praise him skies of skies
and the waters that are above the skies.”11
Carissa: Notice how the outer lines describe the spaces of the sky realm.
Jon: The skies above.
Carissa: And they surround the inhabitants of the sky in the middle.
Jon: Ah yes! The messengers and hosts—sun and moon and stars.
Carissa: And then we’re told why the skies should praise Yahweh.
Jon: “Let them praise the name of Yahweh,
for he commanded and they were created,
and he established them forever and ever;
a decree he gave and it will not pass.”12
Carissa: This is about the pathways of the stars, which don’t change. Every night they dance the same dance all by God’s command.
Carissa: Now, after this, the second realm is called to praise Yahweh—everything below the skies.
Jon: “Praise Yahweh from the land.”13
Carissa: And we get a list of things on the land that, while terrifying, are ultimately under God’s authority.
Jon: “Sea monsters and deep,
fire and hail, snow and smoke
stormy wind, doing his word.”14
So wait? These dangerous chaos creatures are following God’s command?
Carissa: Well, remember that in Genesis 1, the pre-creation state is depicted as a dark, stormy ocean.15 And as God creates light, he doesn’t get rid of the darkness. Rather, he contains it and separates it from the light.16 In the same way, God doesn’t eliminate the stormy ocean or the monsters in it, but he does confine them to the realm of the sea.17 In the Bible, chaos and disorder are limited and kept at bay by God’s powerful word. And because God is so much greater, even they are summoned to praise him.
Jon: Got it. Now, the next things called to praise Yahwweh are:
“Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars.”18
But how does a tree praise God?
Carissa: Yeah! God designed trees to stand tall and grow, to reproduce and bear fruit. When creation—even a tree—fulfills its purpose, it’s an act of praise and worship.
Jon: “Praise Yahweh
wild animals and all cattle
creeping things and winged birds.”19
Carissa: We should recognize this list from Genesis chapter one.20
Jon: And finally:
“Kings of the land and all the peoples,
princes and all judges of the land,
young men and also young woman,
elders with children.”21
Carissa: In other words, every kind of human—from the powerful to the weak, old and young, from every nation—everyone on the land is called to praise. And just like there was a reason given for the sky praise, now we get a reason for why the land should praise Yahweh.
Jon: “Let them praise the name of Yahweh,
for exalted is his name alone,
his majesty, above the land and the skies.
He has lifted up the horn of his people,
the praise of all his loyal ones, of Israel, a people near to him.”22
So we finally got here, the horn lifted up by God. What is this all about?
Carissa: This is an image of a bull lifting up its horns after winning a battle. The raised horn is a common biblical symbol of victory, especially of being rescued from oppression. Now, in this psalm, notice whose horn is being exalted.
Jon: The people of Israel. But what victory is God bringing about for them?
Carissa: This is where we need to connect Psalm 148 to the larger biblical story. It begins in Genesis, with God giving royal power to all humanity.23 But humans mess that all up.24 So God chooses one family, the Israelites, and promises that he’ll rescue all humanity through them.25
Jon: But the rest of the Torah and the Prophets show Israel surrounded by enemies on the outside, and on the inside, they’re corrupted by injustice and violence themselves.
Carissa: And so to bring victory to the whole world, God promises to first bring victory for them.
Jon: To “lift up their horn.”
Carissa: Right. And remember, the Psalms tell the story of God’s promise to raise up a king who will bring victory to Israel and rescue the world.
Jon: And that’s a great reason for praise.
Carissa: It is! Since all creation is going to be rescued by this king, it only makes sense that the land and the skies and everything in them are summoned to praise Yahweh.