Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 12: Psalms, Part V, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
The argument of this Psalm is the same with that of the former.
1. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power. 2. Praise him in, his might; praise him for the plenitude of his greatness. 3. Praise him with sound of trumpet, 306 praise him with psaltry and harp. 4. Praise him with timbrel 307 and pipe, 308 praise him upon chords, 309 and the organ. 310 5. Praise him upon cymbals of sound, praise him upon cymbals of jubilation 311 6. Whatsoever breathes, let it praise God. Hallelujah.
1. Praise God in his sanctuary. This psalm in general commends the spiritual worship of God, which consists in sacrifices of praise. By the sanctuary there is little doubt that heaven is here meant, as is often the case elsewhere. The second clause is exegetical, for the same thing is repeated. But for sanctuary we read רקיע, rekia, that is, the expanse of heaven, to which is added the epithet of power, because there we have a proof of the matchless power of God, so that we cannot look to the heavens without being lost in admiration. As to the interpretation which some give — Praise God, ye angels who inhabit the heavens, and ye men who dwell under the firmament, it is forced and unnatural; for the Psalmist, in order to awaken men who grow languid in God’s praises, bids them lift their eyes towards the heavenly sanctuary. That the majesty of God may be duly reverenced, the Psalmist represents him as presiding on his throne in the heavens; and he enlarges upon the same truth in the second verse, celebrating his power and his greatness, which he had brought under our notice in the heavens, which are a mirror in which they may be seen. If we would have our minds kindled, then, to engage in this religious service, let us meditate upon his power and greatness, which will speedily dispel all such insensibility. Though our minds can never take in this immensity, the mere taste of it will deeply affect us. And God will not reject such praises as we offer according to our capacity.
3. Praise him with sound of trumpet. I do not insist upon the words in the Hebrew signifying the musical instruments; only let the reader remember that sundry different kinds are here mentioned, which were in use under the legal economy, the more forcibly to teach the children of God that they cannot apply themselves too diligently to the praises of God — as if he would enjoin them strenuously to bring to this service all their powers, and devote themselves wholly to it. Nor was it without reason that God under the law enjoined this multiplicity of songs, that he might lead men away from those vain and corrupt pleasures to which they are excessively addicted, to a holy and profitable joy. Our corrupt nature indulges in extraordinary liberties, many devising methods of gratification which are preposterous, while their highest satisfaction lies in suppressing all thoughts of God. This perverse disposition could only be corrected in the way of God’s retaining a weak and ignorant people under many restraints, and constant exercises. The Psalmist, therefore, in exhorting believers to pour forth all their joy in the praises of God, enumerates, one upon another, all the musical instruments which were then in use, and reminds them that they ought all to be consecrated to the worship of God.
6. Whatever breathes, etc. As the word נשמה, neshamah, means breath, or blowing, and whatever is animate, or breathes, the words may be extended to every kind of living creatures, as we have seen in the preceding psalms that the declaration of God’s praises is assigned even to things wanting intelligence. But as men exclusively are often meant under the name of “flesh,” so we may very well suppose that the words have reference here to men, who, although they have vital breath in common with the brute creation, obtain by way of distinction the name of breathing, as of living creatures. I am led to think this for the following reason: As yet the Psalmist has addressed himself in his exhortations to the people who were conversant with the ceremonies under the law, now he turns to men in general, tacitly intimating that a time was coming when the same songs, which were then only heard in Judea, would resound in every quarter of the globe. And in this prediction we have been joined in the same symphony with the Jews, that we may worship God with constant sacrifices of praise, until being gathered into the kingdom of heaven, we sing with elect angels an eternal hallelujah.
“The trumpets of the last Temple were probably formed after the ancient model; and as these are represented among the spoils of that Temple on the Triumphal Arch of Titus at Rome, we are enabled to see that they were long straight trumpets, of a form which has always been and continues to be common... Trumpets and horns are the only instruments concerning which any directions are given in the law. ‘In the infancy of a state,’ says Burney, ‘a nation has but little leisure for cultivating music any otherwise than as it is connected with religious rites and the military art;’ and it is thus that he accounts for the fact, that (with the exception of Miriam’s timbrel) no instruments but horns and trumpets are noticed in the Law. And, indeed, it may be said that they are scarcely mentioned as musical instruments, but as suited to and employed for making signals, calls, and conveying instructions during the religious solemnities, and in the field of war... It is clear, however, that trumpets and cornets were introduced into the musical choirs in the time of David; while they still continued to be employed in their former service. The following particulars concerning the use of trumpets in the Temple will be useful, and are collected chiefly from Lightfoot’s ‘Temple Service.’ The trumpets were sounded exclusively by the priests who stood not in the Levitical choir, but apart and opposite to the Levites, on the other side of the altar, both parties looking towards it—the priests on the west side, and the Levites on the east. The trumpets did not join in the concert; but were sounded during certain regulated pauses in the vocal and instrumental music ”—Illustrated Commentary upon the Bible..
See footnote 293, Psalm 149:3.
See footnote 292, Psalm 149:3.
The original word is במנים “This word occurring nowhere else, it is impossible to ascertain what kind of instrument this was, but as Edwards, upon the authority of Rabbi Hannase makes, it a stringed instrument, and the word is probably derived from מנה, to number, probably it was so called from the extraordinary number of strings which it had; and perhaps it was the decachord, mentioned in Ps 33:2, which, having ten strings, might be called Minim, κατ ἐξοχὴν, as consisting of the greatest number of strings in use among the Jews.” — Dimock.
The Hebrew name is עגב, ougab. This instrument is equal in antiquity to the כנור, kinnor, both being mentioned in Ge 4:21, as the invention of Jubal. These are the two first musical instruments the invention of which is recorded in Scripture, and the only ones mentioned before the deluge. Subsequently they are almost always mentioned in connection with each other. The ougab was not that complicated instrument which goes by the name of the organ in the present day. Calmet supposes it to have been a flute which consisted of a number of pipes, of unequal thickness and length, set close or joined together, which gave harmonious sound when blown into, by moving them successively under the lower lip. Such is the common opinion, and there seems no ground to dispute its correctness. This instrument was the small organ or syrinx, or fistula Panis of antiquity; its invention having been ascribed to Pan, the great sylvan god, who was usually figured with the instrument in his hands. According to the fable, he formed it of reeds which grew by the river, and played upon it while his goats were feeding on the banks; which shows that it was regarded as properly a pastoral instrument, and as such it seems to be mentioned by Job. (Job 21:11, 12.) The principle of its construction is so simple, that it is among the most widely diffused of musical instruments. It is in common use in the island of New Amsterdam, in the South Seas, as flutes and drums have been found in Otaheite and New Zealand, an uncontestable proof that these are instruments which tribes the most barbarous and the most remote from each other naturally invent. The number of tubes, as represented on ancient monuments, varies from seven to eleven.
Of the Hebrew musical instrument called צלצל, tsiltel, or “cymbal,” as Calvin here renders it, and as it is rendered in the Septuagint and Vulgate, two kinds are here mentioned — צלצלים, “tsiltelim,” or, “cymbals of sound,” and “tsiltelim,” or “cymbals of jubilation.” The specific difference between these two sorts of the same instrument is not accurately marked. The latter were probably of a larger size than the farmer, or made of such a shape or of such metals as to emit a louder sound. The former are translated by French and Skinner, “the soft cymbal.” The literal translation of the Hebrew is, “cymbals of hearing,” i.e., say these critics, “cymbals which when struck do not overpower the voices of the singers.” They translate the latter, “the loud cymbals.” The ancient cymbals were two convex or hollow plates of brass or other metal, as silver or copper, made in the form of cups, which were held in each hand, and which being struck against each other produced a sharp clanging. sound. Some, however, think that the word tsiltzel exclusively denotes the sistrum, and that cymbals, properly speaking, are denoted by the word שלישים shalishim, in 1Sa 18:6, which is, equally with the other, rendered cymbala by the Septuagint and the Vulgate, and which our authorized version translates “instruments of music.” It is difficult to decide as to these two opinions; but it seems admitted on all hands that both cymbals and sistrums were in use among the Jews. The sistrum was a concave plate of sonorous metal, and of an oval configuration, crossed by bars of the same metal with reverted ends. These bars moved freely in the holes through which they passed, and when the instrument was shaken by the handle to which it was fixed, the reverted ends striking upon the body of the instrument produced the sound. It had generally three or four transverse bars. It was much used by the Egyptians in their religious services, and actual specimens of it of an ancient date have been discovered. See volume 3