God’s Glory in All of Creation (Psalm 146-150)Bible Commentary / Produced by TOW Project
The final five psalms each begin with the shout “Praise the Lord!” As our survey of the psalms has shown, work is intended to be a form of praise to God. These five psalms depict a variety of ways in which our work can praise the Lord. In all of them we see that our work is grounded in God’s own work. When we work as God intends, we imitate, extend, and fulfill God’s work.
God executes justice for the oppressed (Ps. 146:7a). So do we, when we work according to God’s commandments, by God’s grace. God gives food to the hungry (Ps 146:7b). So do we. God liberates people in chains, as do legislators, lawyers, judges and juries. God restores sight to the blind, as do ophthalmologists, opticians and glassmakers. God lifts up those who cannot rise on their own, as do physical therapists, orderlies, elevator makers, and parents of infants (Ps. 146:8). The Lord watches over strangers, as do police and security workers, flight attendants, lifeguards, health inspectors, and peacekeepers. He takes care of orphans and widows (Ps. 146:9), as do foster parents, elder care workers, family lawyers and social service workers, financial planners, and boarding school workers. Praise the Lord! (Ps. 146: 10).
God gathers the outcasts (Ps. 147:2), as do Sisters of Charity, teachers in prisons, and community organizers. He heals the brokenhearted (Ps. 147:3), as do grief counselors, matchmakers, humorists, and blues singers. He counts the stars and gives them names (Ps. 147:4), as do astronomers, navigators, and story-tellers. He is abundant in power (Ps. 147:5a), as are presidents, chairpersons, admirals, parents, and political-prisoners-turned-statesmen. He has profound understanding (Ps. 147:5b) as do professors, poets, painters, machinists, sonar operators, and people whose autism gives them extraordinary powers of concentration on details. He lifts up the downtrodden, as do civil right activists and donors, and he breaks the power of the wicked, as do district attorneys, whistleblowers, and all those who walk away from gossip and speak up for co-workers being treated unfairly (Ps. 147:6).
God prepares the earth for the coming weather (Ps. 147:8), as do meteorologists, climate researchers, architects and builders, air traffic controllers. He feeds the animals (Ps. 147:9), as do ranchers and shepherds and boys and girls in rural villages. He strengthens the gates, protects the children, and preserves peace at the borders (Ps. 147:13-14a), as do engineers, soldiers, customs agents, and diplomats. He prepares the finest foods (Ps. 147:14b) as do cooks, chefs, bakers, winemakers, brewers, farmers, homemakers and two-career householders (mostly the women), recipe bloggers, grocers, truckers, and—in their own way—fast food workers, cafeteria ladies, and frozen dinner cooks. He declares his word—his statutes and ordinances (Ps. 147:19). Praise the Lord! (Ps. 147:20).
Unlike Psalms 146, 147, and 149, Psalms 148 and 150 do not depict God at work, but skip directly to our response of praise for the work he has already done. Psalm 148 speaks of God’s creation, as if the creation’s very existence is a praise to God. “Praise the Lord from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command! Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!” (Ps. 148:7–10). His creation makes our work fruitful, so it is fitting that we offer all the work we do as praise to him. “Young men and women alike, old and young together, let them praise the name of the Lord!” (Ps. 148:12-13). Praise the Lord! (Ps. 148:14).
The Lord takes pleasure in song, dancing, and the music of instruments (Ps. 149:2-3), as do musicians, dancers, composers, songwriters, choreographers, film scorers, music librarians, teachers, arts organization workers and donors, choir members, music therapists, students in bands, choruses and orchestras, garage bands, yodelers, laborers who sing at their work, music producers and publishers, YouTubers, hip-hop scratchers, lyricists, audio manufacturers, piano tuners, kalimba makers, acousticians, music app writers, and everyone who sings in the shower. Perhaps no form of human endeavor is more universal, yet more varied, than music making, and all of it derives from God’s own love of music.
The Lord takes pleasure in his people (Ps. 149:4a), as do all good leaders, family members, mental health workers, pastors, sales people, tour guides, coaches, party planners, and everyone who serves others. If situations oppress people or systems make it impossible for people to take wholesome pleasure in others, the Lord vanquishes the oppressors and reforms the systems (Ps. 149:4b-9a), as do social and corporate reformers, journalists, ordinary women and men who refuse to accept the status quo, organizational psychologists and human resource professionals, and—if conditions are extreme and there is no other way—armies, navies, air forces and their commanders. When justice and good governance is restored, the music can begin again (Ps. 149:6). Praise the Lord! (Ps. 149:9b).
The final psalm returns to music as our response to God’s “mighty deeds”, upon which all our activity and work are founded. Praise God with trumpets, lutes, harps, tambourines, strings, pipe, cymbals—both clanging and crashing— and dance. Coming as the climax of five songs full of work, and as the ultimate end of the entire collection of psalms, it gives the impression that music is very important work indeed. Not music for its own sake alone, however, but because it allows us to praise the Lord louder. We can take this both literally and metaphorically. From the literal perspective, we might hold music, dance and the other arts in a bit higher regard than is customary in the Christian community, which is not always welcoming to music (except within narrow borders) and the arts (at all). Or at the least, we might hold our own music and art in a bit higher esteem. If we cannot seem to find time to express our own artistic creativity, is it possible that we are missing the value of the songs that God puts in our hearts?
Metaphorically, could Psalm 150 be inviting us to go about our work as if it were a kind of music? We could probably all do with more harmony in our relationships, a steadier rhythm of work and rest, an attention to the beauty of the work we do and the people we work among. If we could see the beauty in our work, would it help us overcome work’s challenges, such as ethical temptations, boredom, bad relationships, frustration, and low productivity at times? For example, imagine you are so frustrated with your boss that you are tempted to stop doing your work well. Would it help if you could see the beauty in your work beyond your relationship with your boss? What kind of beauty does your work bring to the world? What beauty does God see in what you do? Is that enough to sustain you in difficult times or to lead you to make the changes you need to make in your work or the way you do it?
In any case, no matter how we perceive our work, God intends our work to praise him. The 150 psalms in the Bible cover every aspect of life and work from the darkest terrors to the brightest hopes. Some speak of death and despair, others of prosperity and hope. But the final conclusion of Psalms is praise. “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord! Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 150:6).