Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah, from the Heavens

Thomas Hanna Beveridge, 1860
Based on Psalm 148
Addressed to all creation, including one another
Hallelujah, praise Jehovah,Ps. 148:1
   from the heavens praise his name;Is. 49:13
praise Jehovah in the highest,
   all his angels, praise proclaim.Ps. 148:2; 103:20–21; Rev. 5:11–12
All his hosts, together praise him,
   sun and moon and stars on high;Ps. 148:3; 19:1–4
praise him, O you heav’ns of heavens,Ps. 148:4
   and you floods above the sky.
Let them praises give JehovahPs. 148:13
   for his name alone is high,
and his glory is exalted
   far above the earth and sky.1 Chr. 29:11; Ps. 113:4
Let them praises give Jehovah,Ps. 148:5
   they were made at his command;Ps. 33:6, 9; Rev. 4:11
them forever he established,Ps. 148:6; 89:36–37; Jer. 31:35–36; 33:25–26
   his decree shall ever stand.
From the earth, oh, praise Jehovah,Ps. 148:7
   all you seas, you monsters all,Gen. 1:21; Job 41
fire and hail and snow and vapors,Ps. 148:8; 18:12; 105:32; 147:16
   stormy winds that hear his call.Ps. 107:25; Matt. 8:24–27
Let them praises give Jehovah . . .
All you fruitful trees and cedars,Ps. 148:9; Is. 44:23; 55:12–13
   all you hills and mountains high,
creeping things and beasts and cattle,Ps. 148:10; Gen. 1:24–25; Is. 43:20
   birds that in the heavens fly,
kings of earth, and all you people,Ps. 148:11; 2:10–12; Rev. 7:9; 21:24
   princes great, earth’s judges all;
praise his name, young men and maidens,Ps. 148:12
   aged men, and children small.Matt. 21:15–16
Let them praises give Jehovah . . .

In Psalm 103:22, David calls upon all the Lord’s works to “bless the Lord!” Similarly, every congregation needs at least one sturdy hymn in which they summon not just themselves but all that exists, without exception, to praise God. Creation shares with us our chief longing—the praise of God—to which every right desire is subordinate. Whether we know it or not, the underlying reason why we desire salvation, holiness, fellowship, justice, pleasure, Jesus’s return, or any other good thing is because we long to see everything, in its own way, bring glory to God. “All Creatures of Our God and King” and “Let All Things Now Living” voice this longing nicely, but perhaps no option is better than for a congregation to sing a close paraphrase of Psalm 148, with its artful survey of a biblical cosmology: first the heavens (angels, celestial bodies, and the “waters above the heavens,” see Gen. 1:7) with an explanatory interlude (“for he commanded and they were created”), then the earth (sea, weather, land, plants, and animals), and, finally, people of all kinds, from kings to children. One can imagine a kind of antiphonal praise exchanged between sky above and earth below. From highest heavens to the monsters of the deep, creation is full of God’s glory.

When turning a Hebrew psalm to English verse, a poet must weigh for every line the relative importance of literal translation, natural English syntax, and poetic rhythm (that is, meter and rhyme). In the case of most psalm paraphrases all three of these items are compromised in degrees, based on the poet’s priorities. One hopes that some gains are made to compensate for the losses. In the case of this psalm paraphrase, the writer’s first priority is fidelity to the psalm’s exact wording. The departures from the exact wording of the psalm are hardly worth listing here, as a brief comparison between the two texts will show their infrequency and irrelevance. However, to accomplish this some convolutions in syntax are necessary. In normal speech we would not say “let them praises give Jehovah” but rather “let them give praises to Jehovah.” Not “them forever he established” but “he established them forever.” Not “princes great, earth’s judges all” but “great princes, all earth’s judges.” Almost as confusing as these inversions of syntax are the many independent clauses separated only by commas: a kind of run-on construction that grammarians call a comma splice. The first six lines of the last stanza commit the opposite error: they constitute not a run-on construction but a fragment. These lines lack a verb and object, but we understand them to be “praise Jehovah” without much effort, because these have been the verb and object for the entire hymn. The only thing that changes is the subject doing the praising.

Indeed, the syntactical errors in this hymn bother us less than one might expect given the troubles congregations face in other psalm paraphrases. This is because Psalm 148 is almost entirely a string of imperatives. In English, the construction of imperatives is among the least dependant on word order. We can say “Jim, go to the store,” or “go to the store, Jim,” or merely look at Jim and say “go to the store.” Older custom even allowed us to say “to the store you go.” Practically all of these orders are employed in the imperatives of the hymn above, but with almost no confusion.

The boisterous gospel-hymn style of W. J. Kirkpatrick’s PRAISE JEHOVAH proves a good match for a text that describes a cosmos astir with voices of all kinds. No staid, “churchly” melody could suggest universal jubilation (or “ululation,” as an ethnographer might put it) as do these rollicking dotted rhythms and melodic leaps. The repetitive rhythm and simple harmony are accessible to every voice in the congregation: young men and maidens, aged men, and children small. The tune abandons harmony altogether for a thunderous unison scale at “all his hosts, together praise him” in line 5, which reappears, transformed, in line 2 of the refrain. Line 3 of the refrain is sung three times in a row on ever higher pitches: “and his glory is exalted.” The word “glory” here is adorned by polyphony between the sexes, hinting at the richness of the glory but also depicting the plurality of voices which, after all, is the topic of the poem.