All Creatures of our God and King (Psalm 148)

Introduction

The Psalms have a unique place in scripture. They have been likened to a hymn book. But not just any old hymnbook. Whether we feel like worship or not, as we begin to recite the verses of the psalms, something begins to happen in our hearts. It is as if the saying of the words draws us in to praise. John Piper says, “Thanksgiving with the mouth stirs up thankfulness in the heart.”[1]

I don’t know about you, but I cannot read more than a few verses of Psalm 148 without wanting to sing the beautiful hymn  “All Creatures of our God and King”. It was written by William Henry Draper, based on a poem by Francis of Assisi, and set to a tune composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams.  But as we sing, or say, the words of this psalm, I also confess that I smile at the absurd idea that somehow we human beings can instruct the angels, the sun and moon, the weather, the mountains, the seas, reptiles, birds and animals, to praise God. Why? Because the scriptures tell us this is something which they already do, naturally and instinctively, all the time. [2] 

Psalm 19, for instance, begins with these words,

“The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Day after day they pour forth speech;
    night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
    no sound is heard from them.
Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
    their words to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4)

Let us look briefly at Psalm 148 and make three simple observations about praise – the who, the how and the why of praise.

1. Who is to Praise God?

We have already begun to answer – the answer is ‘all’ – all of creation. Michael Wilcox writes,

“The picture’s grandeur, its comprehensiveness, is highlighted by the repeated all – all angels, all stars, all depths, all hills, all cattle, all nations. Even all rulers: for the notion that Bible religion is today the concern only of a small and eccentric minority is quite blown away by this stupendous summons.”[3]

Nothing, and no one, is left out. The first stanza, verses 1-6 describes all that is in the heavens above, praising God.  The second stanza, verses 7-12 describes all that dwells on the earth below, praising God. Everything and everyone, in between, high and low, great and small, old and young, are included. Another hymn which comes to mind, inspired by this Psalm, was written by Stuart Townend.

It is called “Creation Sings the Father’s Song”.[4]  That is what it is. It is the father’s song, sung by creation that we are exhorted to sing also. When we see the wonder and beauty of creation, how can we not feel like praising God? There is something deeply, deeply wrong with us if we don’t. It is ironic that in some countries, such as communist China, religion is seen as a form of mental illness.  C.S. Lewis implies it is actually the other way around,

“A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.”  One reason this Psalm was written is because humanity is out of step with the rest of creation. How foolish and depraved to turn from worshipping our Creator to worship His creation. 

But that is what many, many people do. The apostle Paul writes to the Romans,

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.” (Romans 1:21-23)

The first question of the Westminster Confession asks,  “What is the chief end of man?” and the answer is “To glorify God and enjoy Him for ever.” As Don Carson says,

“Worship is the proper response of all moral, sentient beings to God, ascribing all honour and worth to their Creator-God, precisely because he is worthy, delightfully so.” 

The Psalm calls us to do the very thing that gives us life and health and wholeness, because it aligns us with our Creator and his plan and purpose for us – to know Him and make Him known.  As we read this psalm, we realise that when we praise God we are in harmony with the whole of creation. Who is to praise? Everyone and everything. What about the ‘how’?

2. How do we Praise God?

The answer here is implicit in every verse also. We sometimes make the mistake of assuming praise requires words or, better still, hymns and music. But think about it – how do the sun and moon praise God? How do hail and snow, or trees, or wild animals praise God? The answer is in fulfilling the purpose for which they were designed and created.  This is why the Apostle Paul writes to believers in Rome,

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2)

Worship is not something limited to one hour on Sundays.  Rick Warren says, “Work becomes worship when you dedicate it to God and perform it with the awareness of his presence.” 

Psalm 148 reminds us that we can and should praise God everywhere, all the time, with all of our being, in harmony with creation’s song.  We’ve looked at the who, the how. Finally,

3. Why are we to Praise God?

This is the most important question the Psalm answers. 

3.1 We praise God above all because of who God is

“Let them praise the name of the Lord, for at his command they were created, and he established them for ever and ever—he issued a decree that will never pass away… “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendour is above the earth and the heavens.” (Psalm 148:6-7, 13)

God is our Creator and sustainer of life. That is sufficient reason alone to praise God forever.  Francis Chan writes, “Isn’t is a comfort to worship a God we cannot exaggerate?” 

As the Apostle Paul summarises, “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36). We praise God above all for who He is. 

And secondly, but equal in importance:

3.2 We praise God for what God has accomplished for us

“And he has raised up for his people a horn, the praise of all his faithful servants, of Israel, the people close to his heart. Praise the Lord.” (Psalm 148:14)

Although a little enigmatic, that little word ‘horn’ means ‘king’ or ‘anointed one’, ‘strong one’ or better still, ‘Saviour’. 

The New testament reveals that the horn is the Lord Jesus. 

The father of John the Baptist, filled with the Holy Spirit prophesies what we also call the Benedictus.

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David” (Luke 1:68-69)

We praise God for creating us. We praise God for saving us by his grace and mercy. His mercy in not giving us what we do deserve. His grace in giving us what we don’t deserve.  No wonder the gospel has inspired so many songs and hymns.  

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.” (Ephesians 1:3-6)

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.” (1 Peter 1:3-4)

All of this is implicit in Psalm 148, and revealed fully and finally in the Lord Jesus Christ. I don’t know about you but I can certainly relate to this thought by Bishop N.T. Wright:

“The closer you get to the truth, the clearer becomes the beauty, and the more you will find worship welling up within you.” (N.T. Wright)

We have considered briefly the who, the how and the why of praise.  This psalm reminds us of the universality of praise. “all nations, all rulers on earth, young men and women, old men and children.” (Psalm 148:11-12).  

Although we may assume “All Creatures of our God and King” is a grown-up hymn, William Draper actually wrote it for his Sunday school children. It was first published in a school hymn book. And the same is apparently true of the most familiar of the English metrical versions, “Praise the Lord, ye heavens adore him.” 

Michael Wilcox points out that it first appeared in 1796, in a collection of hymns put together for use in one of the charitable institutions of the day, The Foundling Hospital in London, founded by a sea captain, Thomas Coram, for vulnerable children.  Michael Wilcox observes how this psalm, 

“…began with the angel, and ends with the children; as if to say that at these two extremes, you will find the most direct and articulate praises of God. The gospel record tells us that our Lord came to his birth amid the songs of angels, and went to his death amid the songs of children [on Palm Sunday]. There is something peculiarly apt about the fact that this psalm, of all psalms, should have been sung in this version first by an assembly of homeless, abandoned youngsters, who had been reached by Christian concern, and who, we may hope, responded to it with childlike faith.”[5]

May we too respond with child-like faith and join with all creation in singing praises to our God and Father for who he is and what he has done for us, in and through, the Lord Jesus Christ.


[1] John Piper, https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/434847-do-not-say-but-it-is-hypocritical-to-thank-god

[2] See also Psalm 66:4; Isaiah 55:12 and Revelation 5:13

[3] Michael Wilcox, The Message of Psalms 73-150 (IVP, Leicester) p.282.

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hf8xKiC1dq0

[5]  Wilcox, op.cit.,

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