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The Octagon Parish

Psalm 150

 

Speaker: Revd Andrew Stamp. Andrew was vicar of the Octagon for thirteen years. Before that he was a naval chaplain and vicar in three parishes in Portsmouth diocese. He has also been a tutor at two theological colleges and diocesan rural officer.

 

Hymn: Angel voices ever singing

 

Context The first three canticles (Benedictus, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis) were spoken or sung by three individuals in St Luke’s Gospel in the New Testament. They relate to a short period of time around the birth of Jesus.

 

The psalms are from the Old Testament, different in time and put together over a long period by many contributors. The psalms reflect the worship of the Jewish people over hundreds of years. They are called the Psalms of David but it would be wrong to think King David sat down with his quill and wrote them all. They were used in the worship in the Temple and later in synagogues.

 

Dating them precisely is impossible. There are psalms on the kings of Israel (1800-1900 BC), references to the waters of Babylon (the time of the exile around 587BC), the horrors of exile and worshipping God in a foreign land with no Temple. The psalms were their prayers, a way of keeping the Jewish faith and worshipping one God. Possibly people gathered together what they could remember during the exile, rather like in the last century some people went around collecting folk songs but we do not know.

 

When the exile was over and the descendants of the captives returned to Jerusalem they found the city destroyed and the Temple razed.

 

Eventually the Temple was rebuilt. The one hundred and fifty Psalms would have been taken into it and used in worship. It is likely that they were sung by the Levites, a group of professional assistants to the priests in the Temple (‘Levites’ as they were from the Hebrew tribe of Levi), with people participating in the repeats and refrains.

 

Psalm 150 

Praise ye the LORD. Praise God in his sanctuary: praise him in the firmament of his power.

Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.

Praise him with the sound of the trumpet: praise him with the psaltery and harp.

Praise him with the timbrel and dance: praise him with stringed instruments and organs.

Praise him upon the loud cymbals: praise him upon the high sounding cymbals.

Let every thing that hath breath praise the LORD. Praise ye the LORD


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The Book of Psalms, ends with this very short psalm of praise above. It is poetry set to music. It tells us to praise God in every way possible; this is not just a cerebral activity. Worship should encompass all the arts and reflect the whole of human emotion.

The psalm starts with an imperative ‘Praise’. It says how we should praise. His power extends up to the blue sky above.

 

V3-5 give some idea of worship in the Temple with its ‘orchestra’. There is a trumpet, not as we understand it but probably more like a shofar, a basic instrument rather like a ram’s horn that was also used for signalling in battle and would certainly have made a loud noise. The psaltery would have been sung. The harp was more like a lute or lyre. There are strings playing too and references to loud and high sounding cymbals. This worship was not a quiet motionless activity.

 

Ritual dances may well have been part of worship possibly to a drum beat or cymbal. King David is known to have danced before the Ark. Here we are told to ‘praise him with dance’.

 

Everything that has breath is to praise the Lord. Just as he gave us the breath of life so we are to use it to give back in praise. Our capacity to create came into us from the Lord. The idea is to use all our physical powers to praise him – all matter matters. Praise and worship are not just cerebral they are physical as well with the beating of drums and movement.

 

Psalm 98 says something similar emphasising that the whole of creation is involved. Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all the earth: make a loud noise…. Sing unto the Lord with the harp, and the voice of a psalm. With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise. Let the sea roar, and the fullness therof; the world, and they that dwell therein. Let the floods clap their hands, let the hills be joyful together’.

 

‘Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord. Praise ye the Lord.’ The whole creation will worship and give thanks, praising God in every way possible. That is the kernel of Psalm 150.

 

You can find this stained glass window by Marc Chagall (based on Psalm 150) in Chichester Cathedral and a description of it here


Organ recital: Malcolm Brinson spoke about the plainsong settings of the psalms and played a Toccata on 150th Psalm  by the Dutch composer Jan Mulder.

 

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