Hallelujah for the Horn
Psalm 148 When I was a kid, my parents required me to go to church. My mom would try to wake me up gently and sweetly, tip-toeing into my dark bedroom and speaking softly in my ear, but if that didn’t work my dad would swing open the door, flip on the light-switch, and shout, “Let’s go! Time to wake up!” It was not a suggestion. It was a command.
High school came around, and school dances were often on Saturday nights. It didn’t matter if I was out until 2 in the morning. At 8:30, I was out of bed and wearily chomping on my Cheerios. There were no excuses for not waking up to worship God on Sundays.
Not only did my parents wake me up on Sunday mornings, but they also required me to sing. I was not allowed to stay quiet when the congregation sung, and I was not allowed to sit when everyone else stood. There were no good excuses for not worshiping God.
In our passage this morning, it seems like the psalmist is saying that there are no good excuses for not worshiping God. He requires us over and over and over again to, “Praise the LORD!” “Praise him!” “Praise him!” “Praise the LORD!” The whole psalm is just caked in command. And part of us just wants to shout back, “Hey, come on! Don’t you realize that praise has to erupt spontaneously, as we feel the Holy Spirit moving? Isn’t authentic worship something that bubbles out of us, not something imposed on us? You can’t just tell me to praise you! I have to want to do it!”
Now some of us might step off the train right here. We may want to agree with our outburst and say that God is in fact not demanding praise but rather inviting us to worship. The psalmist is not telling us we have to praise God, he is simply encouraging us to do it. But that is not a satisfying answer. For one thing, in Hebrew this passage is clear. The word ‘praise’ is an imperative, or a command, and each time it is used it is emphatic. There is no linguistic wiggle-room here. God commands us in his Word to praise him.
So then what do we do with our problem? Can we authentically praise God when he commands it? It feels an awful lot like my parents nudging me when I stopped singing in church. I might do it but it doesn’t really make me want to do it. It also feels like all those times when I would be sitting in the mini-van bucket seat across from my brother and punch him in the shoulder and my mom would tell me, “Say you’re sorry!” And I would grumble some apathetic apology under my breath. And I think most us know exactly what my mom would say next, “Say it like you mean it!”
Eugene Peterson has an interesting idea about God’s command that we praise him. This is what he writes:
We live in what one writer has called the 'age of sensation.' We think that if we don't feel something there can be no authenticity in doing it. But the wisdom of God says something different, namely, that we can act ourselves into a new way of feeling much quicker than we can feel ourselves into a new way of acting. Worship is an act which develops feelings for God, not a feeling for God which is expressed in an act of worship.
Now, I think that there is some deep truth in what Peterson says. Certainly, our passage this morning does not say “Praise the LORD, but don’t do it if you don’t feel like it!” No, the command stands, feelings or no feelings. But, there is something about this simple answer that doesn’t quite get at our experience. Many of us, during some period in our lives, have probably come to church week in and week out completely out of duty without “acting ourselves into a feeling.” Even though we sometimes can act ourselves into a new way of feeling, it doesn’t seem like a simple cause and effect and it certainly doesn’t work every time. Besides, Christians get enough flack for being hypocrites without living our spiritual lives by what might seem a little like the, “fake it ‘til you make it” principle.
Praise God that he did not tell us to fake it ‘til we make it, and he did not say, “your feelings don’t matter in worship,” in Psalm 148. He commanded us to praise him, Yes. There is no way out of that. We must be obedient to his commands. But he gives us at least three incredibly compelling reasons why we should praise him. Although God has every right to say, “Praise me because I said so,” he doesn’t.
In fact, in the first place we see that God’s command to praise is couched in another command, the command of creation.
for he commanded and they were created.
6 He set them in place for ever and ever;
he gave a decree that will never pass away.
God created and sustains the whole universe. He is the reason for our very existence. He fashioned the sun and moon; he carefully constructed every star in the sky. God filled the oceans with life, he sends the rain, the stormy winds do his bidding. Our God is the God who gave shape to mountains, growth to the plants, life to the animals, power to the kings, strength to the young, and wisdom to the old. Praise the LORD, The Creator of all things! Everyone and everything praise the LORD, YOUR God, the One to whom you owe your very existence.
In fact all things owe their existence to this Creator God. If you have noticed, this psalm contains two distinct sections; one of these sections starts with the phrase, ‘Praise the LORD from the heavens,’ and the other, ‘Praise the LORD from the earth.’ All things and people in the heavens and on earth are to praise the LORD. One commentator writes, “The anthem of praise is to ring out from heaven above, and to be answered from the earth below.” It’s like the when one half of the congregation echoes the other half in a praise chorus. Heaven and earth are to be joined in beautiful harmony in proclaiming the glory and splendor of the LORD.
And it is his splendor that is so much greater than that of those commanded to praise him. As the Creator of all things, it follows that God is far greater than anything in universe. His name alone is exalted, and his splendor is above the earth and the heavens. This psalm had an interesting way of leading its ancient hearers to that conclusion. The sea and its creatures are to praise the LORD, and immediately after this even weather systems are commanded to praise him. Well, in the ancient Near East, it is likely that the image of the ocean depths would remind Hebrew listeners of the pagan god, Yam, and the extreme weather would remind them of Baal, who was said by the neighboring religions to have conquered the sea god Yam through this wind and rain. But notice that the wind does Yahweh’s bidding, and praise of Yahweh is demanded from the sea and the wind. The LORD is exalted over all things we humans might be tempted to praise.
We see kings, princes, and rulers, listed three times in parallel ways, commanded to praise God. The repetition underscores that fact that no matter how exalted one might be in this world, they are still a part of this world and as such are required to worship their Creator, whose name alone is exalted. All heavenly bodies, all angels, all weather, all waters, all land, all creatures, every king, prince, and ruler, all young men and young women, old people and children (and don’t forget you mid-lifers) are put in the same position and given the same command: PRAISE The LORD! Hallelujah!
Now, at this point we run into another problem. So God is powerful, God has created us and all things, but sometimes things don’t seem very good. I mean, God is responsible for our existence but many of us have those days when we are not too happy that we exist.
Recently, as I was flipping channels on the TV, I happened across the show HOUSE, a drama about a sarcastic and disrespectful doctor who solves the most perplexing medical dilemmas. In this episode, a man by the name of John Henry, a famous paraplegic jazz trumpet player, eagerly signs a “Do Not Resuscitate” order, meaning that if he were to begin to die the doctors would not be allowed to save him. You see, a medical condition has snatched his air away from him. His lungs are failing to accept enough oxygen to breathe comfortably, let alone play the trumpet. And sadly, the trumpet is the one thing that makes his life worth living. He decided that not existing was better than existing the way he was.
In this fallen and broken world, we may not always feel like praising the LORD simply because he is the Creator and the Exalted One. If you have lost your home, experienced the death of a loved-one, struggled through a painful divorce, or haven’t found meaningful work to do in months, you may know what I mean. You’re aware that God is powerful, but that awareness does not necessarily comfort you all by itself. There has got to be something else, something more. Even though God deserves our praise simply because he is our Creator, there are those times when even this reason seems to fall short of making us desire to worship God. Again we may fall back on the command to praise. We may acquiesce to the duty without having the delight.
But…God’s people, those who are near to him, be comforted, be encouraged, because God has given us…a horn? To be honest, I can’t help thinking about a rhinoceros or a unicorn, and whether the horn is on my nose or my forehead I’m not thinking that’s going to make my life any better.
Of course, that is not the kind of horn the psalmist is talking about. A better example is the animal horn used as a wind instrument: a horn blown upon victory in battle or upon the return of the king. This horn, in the Hebrew culture was a symbol of power, prosperity, and victory. And in this psalm God reveals to us that he has provided such power, prosperity, and victory in a special way for his people, for us. But in a world where many of God’s people are trampled under the feet of the powerful, enslaved to poverty while the wicked prosper, and acquainted with defeat, what can God mean by raising up for us a horn?
Our horn is Jesus Christ. Jesus empowers us by his coming to earth, we prosper from his death on the cross, and his resurrection from the grave claims our victory over sin and death for all of eternity. No matter what life circumstance we are in, the Bible assures us that Jesus has come to earth, taken our punishment on himself, and given us new life in his resurrection. The world may see us as powerless, poor, and defeated, but we know that we have true power, prosperity, and ultimate victory because of the work of Jesus our Messiah. Paul puts it this way in Ephesians chapter 1, “Praise be to God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”
I am glad that God issues us a command to praise him, so that we will worship even when we don’t feel like it. But I am even more glad that God gave us reasons to praise him, our Creator, the Exalted One, the one who provides for us, a horn. Like the jazz trumpet player John Henry, our life is not worth living without our horn, but our horn is no brass instrument. Our horn is Jesus Christ. Hallelujah for the Horn! Jesus, and the spiritual blessings we find in him as God’s people, are reasons to Praise the LORD that require a response from our hearts. How else could we respond to such a gift but in authentic worship? Hallelujah for the Horn! Praise the LORD!