This is one of the great creation hymns of the Psalter. Though in grammar it is made up almost completely of calls to praise in the imperative ("Praise!") or jussive ("Let them praise!"), the extended call itself is heard already as praise.
The psalm has two main parts, the first referring to the heavens (vv. 1-6), the second to the earth (vv. 7-14). It encompasses everything above and beneath; all creatures should and do praise the Lord.
The call to the heavens, the sun, the moon, and the stars to praise God reminds us (and them) that they are not themselves gods (unlike the notions of most of the ancient world). Though glorious and amazing, they are all creatures of God, whom God has established and whose boundaries God has fixed (v. 6). They praise God by doing what God has formed them to do, giving heat and light, marking the seasons, providing rain, contributing their own part to the goodness of God's own cosmos (v. 3-4).
Things of earth, too, praise the Lord--not only cute and lovely things, but sea monsters, fire, snow, stormy winds, and wild animals. The psalm reminds us that everything is God's, even those things that can be awesome and out of control. Even those things thought in the ancient world to represent chaos and evil (sea monsters, the deeps) are God's. Though the Old Testament distinguishes between clean and unclean animals for eating, "unclean" animals, too (like "creeping things," v. 10), are part of God's good creation and offer their own praise. Humans, too, are part of the same list, all of them. Not only Israel, God's chosen ones, but "kings of the earth and all peoples" belong to God and praise God. How, when they would not even have known God's name? In the same way that the sun and moon, the hills and the mountains, the fruit trees and flying birds do--by being what they were made to be and doing what they were made to do. Creation praised God by being creation, and it is good--all of it. Wind and snow can get out of control and cause damage; people can lose sight of their limits and do great harm--and then their praise is muted; but all of them were made with purpose and made for praise, and the psalm rejoices in that.
At the end, the psalm moves to Israel, to God's faithful ones, who have their own unique role in praising God because they know God's name; they are "close to him" and can tell God's story (v. 14), another form of praise. But they can never separate themselves from other people or from the whole nonhuman creation; they can only join the praise it already gives forth.
1 Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
2 Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his host!
3 Praise him, sun and moon;
praise him, all you shining stars!
4 Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!
5 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for he commanded and they were created.
6 He established them for ever and ever;
he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.*
7 Praise the Lord from the earth,
you sea monsters and all deeps,
8 fire and hail, snow and frost,
stormy wind fulfilling his command!
9 Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
10 Wild animals and all cattle,
creeping things and flying birds!
11 Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
12 Young men and women alike,
old and young together!
13 Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for his name alone is exalted;
his glory is above earth and heaven.
14 He has raised up a horn for his people,
praise for all his faithful,
for the people of Israel who are close to him.
Praise the Lord!
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011