Psalm 150 – The Hallelujah Chorus
TEXT (Hebrew text at end)
Praise the Deity in His holy place; praise Him in the firmament of His power.
2. Praise Him for His mighty acts; praise Him according to His exceeding greatness.
3. Praise Him with a blast of a ram’s horn; praise Him with harp and lyre.
4. Praise Him with tambourine and dance; praise Him with strings1 and pipe.
5. Praise Him with resonating1 cymbals; praise Him with loud-clashing cymbals.
6. Let 2-everyone that breathes-2 praise the LORD.3
1. Hebrew uncertain.
2. Alternatively, “every breath” or “all of one’s being.”
3. Using the short poetic form of “LORD,” that appears at the end of “hallelujah.”
Psalm 150 ends Psalms, and it is clearly written as a conclusion. A round number of ten phrases, balanced one against the next, call for praise. The opening verse encompasses heaven and earth. (“His holy place” might be located in either and therefore both are implied.) The demand is all-embracing, including where, why, how, and who. (The “when,” i.e., now, is implied.) Even the Hebrew particle, the letter bet, takes on three different meanings: “in,” “for,” and “with,” a reflection of comprehensiveness.
The instruments in particular indicate encompassment: elsewhere in the Bible some are sounded by priests (ram’s horn); some are played by Levites (at least the harp and the lyre); some are associated with the
(those three, plus timbrels), others with secular music (e.g., strings, pipes); and some at times are specifically are associated with women (timbrels). Here one finds wind, percussion, and string instruments. Although the order cannot be certain owing to doubts about the precise nature of each instrument, there is certainly a sense of growing cumulative volume, a grand finale. Temple
The original context of composition is unknown, but as Psalm 150 stands, it clearly performs its role of completion in several ways. As the end of the group of psalms built around “hallelujah” (146 through 150, with 145 as an introduction), it echoes terms from all of them and seems to read as the fulfillment of the last verse of Psalm 145: “My mouth shall speak the praise of the LORD, and all flesh shall bless His holy name for all eternity” (so Hacham). As the final psalm of the fifth book, it serves much of the function filled by the doxologies that end the other four books. As the last poem in Psalms, it appropriately ends on a note of celebration, as all cares, concerns, or confusions are swept aside by a happier ending, a final word of praise. (There are commentators who make much of the absence of detailed reasons for praise, claiming that the psalm exhibits a theology of praise for its own sake, but this ignores the very nature of Psalm 150, which is clearly a completion of other pieces of literature that preceded it.) All join here – orchestra, voice (I assume that “praise Him” implies words as well), and dance – in the grand chorus of praise: “Hallelujah.”
An End to an End
One could not have wished for a more appropriate final verse for the final psalm. As in so many psalms, the last verse is surprising. Here, it is but half the length of all the other verses, and its content adds new considerations. Beyond that, however, this brief verse is multivalent, powerfully providing three separate yet complementary levels of meaning through only two words, a prodigious achievement (see note 2). With one phrase, the reader is told that all humanity, all of his own life force, and every single one of his breaths should praise God.
The reference to breath, of course, adds one more double implication, given the wind instruments noted before. The musical emphasis is a final appropriate touch to Psalm 150, which seems to say that, ultimately, God’s greatness goes beyond words and can only find full expression in or with music. As the final statement in Psalms, which is built totally on poetic grappling with words, this is an astounding, sobering, modest, and yet joyous declaration.
The author of these essays is Rabbi
Benjamin Segal, former president of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem and author of The Song of Songs: A Woman in Love (Jerusalem: Gefen, 2009). This material is copyright by the author, and may not be reproduced. If you are interested in using the texts for study groups, please be in direct contact with the author, at email@example.com.
(א) הַלְלוּיָהּ הַלְלוּ אֵל בְּקָדְשׁוֹ הַלְלוּהוּ בִּרְקִיעַ עֻזּוֹ:
(ב) הַלְלוּהוּ בִגְבוּרֹתָיו הַלְלוּהוּ כְּרֹב גֻּדְלוֹ:
(ג) הַלְלוּהוּ בְּתֵקַע שׁוֹפָר הַלְלוּהוּ בְּנֵבֶל וְכִנּוֹר:
(ד) הַלְלוּהוּ בְּתֹף וּמָחוֹל הַלְלוּהוּ בְּמִנִּים וְעֻגָב:
(ה) הַלְלוּהוּ בְצִלְצְלֵי שָׁמַע הַלְלוּהוּ בְּצִלְצְלֵי תְרוּעָה:
(ו) כֹּל הַנְּשָׁמָה תְּהַלֵּל יָהּ הַלְלוּיָהּ: