Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This beautiful and animated psalm closes the series of the Hallelujah Psalms Ps. 146-150, and appropriately also closes the entire volume. Its author is unknown, but in respect to the object for which it was composed there can be no uncertainty. It was manifestly designed, whoever wrote it, to occupy the very place which it does occupy - to complete the volume devoted to praise. Praise is the suitable ending of the book; praise is what the Spirit of inspiration meant to secure in the heart and on the lips. In the review of the whole there is occasion for praise. In view of all that has been disclosed about God, about his religion, about the manifestations of his mercy and grace to his people, there is occasion for praise. After all that has been experienced, observed, and recorded in this book - all of trial, sorrow, temptation, conflict, disappointment, sickness, bereavement, persecution, war, captivity, bondage, exile, tears, pain, darkness, trouble - there is, as the result of the whole, as there will be at the end of our own troubled and chequered lives, occasion for exultation, praise, triumph - songs, rejoicings, raptures, hallelujahs. This psalm, then, made up wholly of expressions of gratitude and praise, is an appropriate close to the entire Book of Psalms. So may our lives close, when its varied scenes are over, with thanksgivings and praises, as a proper expression in view of the past, and as emblematic of the uninterrupted employment that awaits us in the heavens.
Praise ye the Lord - See the notes at Psa 146:1.
Praise God in his sanctuary - His holy place; the place where he dwells. The allusion here is, probably, to the temple, the place of his abode on earth.
Praise him in the firmament of his power - The whole expression is equivalent to earth and heaven; Praise him on earth; praise him in heaven. The word rendered firmament is the same which is used in Gen 1:6. It properly means an expanse - a thing spread out. The verb from which the word is derived means to beat; then, to beat out - that is, to spread out by beating, as gold is; and then, simply to spread out, to expand. Compare Psa 136:6; Isa 42:5; Isa 44:24. In Syriac the word means to make firm; but this idea is not necessarily in the Hebrew word. The idea of a firmament as something firm is derived from the Septuagint - in Gen 1:6, στερέωμα stereōma - in this place, ἐν στερεώματι en stereōmati. The Hebrew, however, merely means "an expanse" - something spread out, as the heavens seem to us to be "stretched out;" and the call here is on all that dwell above that expanse - in heaven - to unite with those on earth in his praise. It is called "the expanse of his power" because it is in the heavens - in the sun, the moon, the stars - that the power of God seems to be principally displayed.
Praise him for his mighty acts - See the notes at Psa 145:4 : "One generation shall praise thy works to another, and shall declare thy mighty acts." The Hebrew word is the same. The reference is to that which displays the power of God; the things which manifest his omnipotence.
Praise him according to his excellent greatness - Hebrew, the multitude of his greatness. Let the praise in elevation correspond with this; let it be such as shall properly express this; let all be employed that will contribute to make this known, or that will be appropriate to this. Hence, the psalmist proceeds to call on all to make use of everything, by instrument and voice, that would in any manner set forth the praise of God.
Praise him with the sound of the trumpet - Margin, cornet. In this verse and the verses following there is an allusion to the instruments of music which were commonly employed in Hebrew worship. The idea is, that all these - all that could properly express praise - should be used to celebrate the praises of God. Each one, with its own distinct note, and all combined in harmony, should be employed for this purpose. Most of these instruments, and many more, are now combined in the organ, where the instruments, instead of being played on by separate performers, are so united that they can be supplied with wind from one source - the bellows - and all played by one performer. Thus one mind directs the performance, securing, if skillfully done, perfect unity and harmony. This instrument was unknown to the Hebrews. Among them, each instrument had its own performer. The trumpet was principally used to call the people together, but it was also an important instrument among those used by the bands of musicians that performed in the temple, as its tones are now important ones in the organ.
Praise him with the psaltery and harp - Hebrew, the נבל nebel and כנור kinnôr. See these instruments described in the notes at Isa 5:12. The word here rendered psaltery is there rendered viol - "And the harp and the viol," etc.
Praise him with the timbrel - Hebrew, תף tôph. See this described in the notes at Isa 5:12. It is rendered tabret and tabrets in Gen 31:27; Sa1 10:5; Sa1 18:6; Isa 5:12; Isa 24:8; Isa 30:32; Jer 31:4; Eze 28:13; timbrel and timbrels in Exo 15:20; Jdg 11:34; Sa2 6:5; Ch1 13:8; Job 21:12; Psa 81:2; Psa 149:3; and in the margin in Jer 31:4. The word does not occur elsewhere. It was an instrument that was struck with the hands.
And dance - See this word explained in the notes at Psa 149:3. Dancing among the Hebrews seems to have accompanied the timbrel or tabret. See Exo 15:20,
Praise him with stringed instruments - מנים minniym. This word means strings, from a verb which means to divide; and the proper reference would be to slender threads, as if they were divided, or made small. It is nowhere else applied to instruments of music, but might be properly applied to a harp, a violin, a bass-viol, etc. The word strings is indeed applied elsewhere to instruments of music Psa 33:2; Psa 144:9; Sa1 18:16; Isa 38:20; Hab 3:19, but the Hebrew word is different. Such instruments were commonly used in the praise of God. See the notes at Psa 33:2.
And organs - Hebrew, עוגב ‛ûgâb. See this word explained in the notes at Job 21:12. It occurs elsewhere only in Gen 4:21; Job 21:12; Job 30:31; in all of which places it is rendered organ. The word is derived from a verb meaning to breathe, to blow; and would be applicable to any wind-instrument. It here represents the whole class of wind-instruments. The word organ is a Greek word, and is found in the Septuagint in this place; and hence, our word organ has been introduced into the translation. The Greek word properly denotes
(a) something by which work is accomplished, as a machine;
(b) a musical instrument;
(c) the material from which anything is made;
(d) the work itself. (Passow, Lexicon).
Our word organ, as used in music, suggests the idea of a combination of instruments or sounds. That idea is not found in the Hebrew word. It denotes merely a wind-instrument. Neither the Hebrews nor any of the ancient nations had an instrument that corresponded with the organ as we now use the term.
Praise him upon the loud cymbals - literally, "the cymbals of sound" or hearing. That is, Let there be audibly expressed joy. The allusion here is to an instrument of music that was most distinctly heard in union with other instruments. The sound of the cymbal would be most clearly audible in its accompaniment of the other instruments referred to, as the sound of cymbals, or as the "triangle" would be now. The Hebrew word rendered cymbal means a tinkling, clanging, ringing, as of metal, or of arms; then, a whirring, as of wings (compare the notes at Isa 18:1); then, any tinkling or clanging instrument, as a fish-spear or harpoon; then, cymbals, instruments of music. The cymbal, as now used, is an instrument of brass, in a circular form, like a dish, producing, when two are struck gether, a sharp, ringing sound - Webster. An instrument of this kind is evidently referred to here. The word occurs in the Bible in the following places only: Deu 28:42, rendered locust; Sa2 6:5, rendered, as here, cymbal; Job 41:7, rendered fish-spears; and Isa 18:1, rendered shadowing with.
Praise him upon the high-sounding cymbals - The cymbals of joyful voice. On the word teruah, rendered high, see the notes at Psa 89:16. A loud, lofty sound or shout, as on the reception of a conqueror, is the idea here; and the sense is, that the praise of God was to be celebrated with that which would in the highest sense express joy and triumph.
Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord - All living things in the air, the earth, the waters. Let there be one universal burst of praise. Let his praises be celebrated not only with instruments of music, but let all living beings unite in that praise; let a breathing universe combine in one solemn service of praise.
Praise ye the Lord - Hallelu-jah. Thus, at the end of all the trials, the conflicts, the persecutions, the sorrows, the joys recorded in this book, the psalmist gives utterance to feelings of joy, triumph, transport, rejoicing; and thus at the end of all - when the affairs of this world shall be closed - when the church shall have passed through all its trials, shall have borne all its persecutions, shall have suffered all that it is appointed to suffer - when the work of redemption shall be complete, and all the ransomed of the Lord shall have been recovered from sin, and shall be saved - that church, all heaven, the whole universe, shall break forth in one loud, long, triumphant Hallelujah. "The ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs, and everlasting joy upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness; and sorrow and sighing shall flee away," Isa 35:10.