Sunday School Lessons

One Word in Another Language Can Change a Lot

How are your foreign language skills?  I’ve tried to learn other languages, from taking multiple years of Spanish in High School, to having others try to teach me spoken phrases, and it just doesn’t seem to stick.  I have found that being able to say “hello”, “goodbye”, “please”, and “thank you” will get me pretty far in many countries, but I’m still dependent upon friends or colleagues to translate, unless the other country (or at least their airport) was kind enough to post subtitles in English.  (On the other hand, computer programming languages seem to come pretty naturally to me.  I’m not sure what that says about how my brain is wired, though!)

However, Psalm 150 starts and ends with a Hebrew word or phrase that many people – including me – know and recognize: “Hallelujah”.  Translated into English, it means something like “Praise the LORD” (referring to the God of the psalmist specifically, who we know as Yahweh of both the Jewish and Christian faiths).

Praise the LORD.

Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens.

Psalms 150:1 NIV

Spoken as praise, “Hallelujah” is something that we can say or sing to glorify God.  Spoken as an instruction, “Hallelujah” is something that we can tell others, to tell (or remind) them to praise God themselves.

Psalm 150:1-5 gives us more details about where, why, and how we should praise God:

Where we should praise God: The psalmist mentions praising God “in his sanctuary” and “in his mighty heavens”.  In the Hebrew poetic style of parallelism, these might be referring to the same place.  However, while we might be able to praise God while we are in a sanctuary (i.e., of a building here on earth), these places – especially the “mighty heavens” – seem to be place(s) where God is when we praise Him, rather than where we are when we praise God.  A commentary [Zorn, p.537-538] suggests that the “sanctuary” and “mighty heavens” here represent God’s attributes: His holiness, power, and glory.  In that case, these examples are two more illustrations of the next point…

Why we should praise God: God should be praised not only for what He has done (“his acts of power”), but for the fact – the reality – that He is great.  This isn’t what I naturally gravitate towards when I worship God: it’s easier for me to give praise to God for what He has done in the past, and to give thanks for what He has done for me specifically.  However, there is plenty of God’s greatness to praise, independently of what He does.  Perhaps we might think of it this way: God’s mighty acts are merely an outpouring of who He is (e.g., His power, faithfulness, love, holiness, etc.), and so it makes sense to praise the source of these blessings, not only the results.

How we should praise God: Now, I don’t think that this psalm provides us with a prescription for the specific kinds of musical instruments that we should praise God with.  Even the instruments that we have today with the same name may or may not be the same ones that were originally described in this Psalm.  However, this list appears to span the main categories that we might classify instruments into today: brass (trumpet…even if it was made of a ram’s horn, as the Lookout mentioned), strings (harp, lyre, strings / stringed instruments), percussion (timbrel / tambourine), and woodwind (flute).

In the end, though, it seems like the answers to Where, Why, and How are pretty broad, and perhaps intentionally so.

We should praise God wherever we are, with our praises reaching to and acknowledging wherever He is.  (Yes, He is omnipresent, but He is also described as being in certain places, whether literally, illustratively, or metaphorically.)

We should praise God both for what He does and for who He is.

We should praise God with all kinds of musical instruments.  Unlike the dietary requirements in the Law of Moses, there don’t seem to be any “clean” or “unclean” instruments when it comes to praising God.  A commentary wrote that, “what [the psalmist] says about how has more to do with the earnestness and spirit of the praise than with technique.” [Zorn, p.539; emphasis in original]

May we praise God with the wide scope that this Psalm calls us to, and not let anything in this world limit us.

From Sunday School lesson prepared for November 27, 2022


  • The Lookout, November 27, 2022, © 2022 Christian Standard Media.
  • Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
  • The College Press NIV Commentary, Psalms, Volume 2, Walter D. Zorn, © 2004, College Press Publishing Co., Joplin, MO.

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