Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah, O My Soul

Joint Committee on a Uniform Version of the Psalms in Meter, 1909
Based on Psalm 146
Addressed to oneself and to others
Hallelujah, praise Jehovah,Ps. 146:1
   O my soul, Jehovah praise;Ps. 104:35; Luke 1:46
I will sing the glorious praisesPs. 146:2; 75:9
   of my God through all my days.
Put no confidence in princes,Ps. 146:3; 118:9
   nor for help on man depend;Ps. 60:11; Is. 31:1
he shall die, to dust returning,Ps. 146:4; Gen 3:19; Eccl. 3:20
   and his purposes shall end.James 4:13–14
Happy is the man that choosesPs. 146:5
   Israel’s God to be his aid;
he is blessed whose hope of blessingPs. 130:7
   on the Lord his God is stayed.
Heav’n and earth the Lord created,Ps. 146:6; Gen. 1:1; Ex. 20:11; Ps. 121:2
   seas and all that they contain;Acts 4:24; 17:24
he delivers from oppression,Ps. 146:7; Ex. 3:9
   righteousness he will maintain.Ps. 9:4; 140:12
Food he daily gives the hungry,Prov. 10:3; Matt. 6:11; Luke 1:53
   sets the mourning pris’ner free,Ps. 102:20; Zech. 9:11
raises those bowed down with anguish,Ps. 146:8; 145:14
   makes the sightless eye to see.Matt. 9:27–31; Luke 4:18; John 9; Acts 26:18
Well Jehovah loves the righteous,Ps. 5:12; Prov. 15:9
   and the stranger he befriends,Ps. 146:9; Deut. 10:18
helps the fatherless and widow,Ps. 68:5
   judgment on the wicked sends.Ps. 9:16
Hallelujah, praise Jehovah,
   O my soul, Jehovah praise;
I will sing the glorious praises
   of my God through all my days.
Over all God reigns forever,Ps. 146:10; 2 Chr. 20:6; Ps. 47:2
   through all ages he is King;Ps. 135:13
unto him, your God, O Zion,Ps. 147:12
   joyful hallelujahs sing.

Of all grammatical constructions, perhaps the most ill-mannered is the unqualified imperative. It frequently appears in advertising slogans: “click here,” “try this,” “buy one now,” “just do it.” We may adopt it without discourtesy only when speaking to pets and very small children. Otherwise it is almost never a fitting construction to be used. Yet, there are exceptions to this rule. We might rightly use it toward a drowning man by shouting, “grab the rope” (or, perhaps less successfully, “try swimming”). In war, were we to observe our brother in arms standing beside an indented spot of earth looking suspiciously like the site of a landmine, we might, without any discourtesy, shout loudly, “don’t move.” In short, where the circumstance is serious and immediate action necessary, the construction can be forgiven. Praising Jehovah is just this serious. It is for this reason that the Psalms, and Psalm 146 in particular, are full of unqualified imperatives.

The paraphrase above begins with an unqualified imperative to the singer’s own soul. Here the lack of qualification needs no justification because we do not owe our own souls the conventional nicety of phrasing commands in the form of a question. The next imperative, while not a command to praise, is nearly as urgent as “grab the rope” because anyone who puts confidence in worldly leaders will have that confidence shaken at the expense of his own safety.

The internal verses describe the justification for the abrupt commands of the exterior verses. Merely bossing around, even of one’s own soul, will only do for a little while before the soul demands reasons for why it should do what you ask of it. So if your soul wants for a reason to praise Jehovah, this hymn gives her fourteen. The second stanza begins with two pairs of lines that seem to say the same thing. Yet there is a subtle difference. In the first pair, the faithful man is happy. In the second he is blessed. In the first his hope is based on the God of Israel, recalling the promises made to the patriarchs. In the second the hope is based on Jehovah God, the covenant-maker. The reason why that man is happy and blessed comes in the lines that follow—each gives a discrete benefit for trusting in God.

In the final stanza, we return to our opening imperatives (in the original version of the hymn, the stanzas were only half as long, and there were seven of them—an odd number—so the repeat here becomes necessary in order to fill the stanza-structure of the tune now used). In the final imperative we no longer address ourselves but one another, saying to all of Israel what we’ve been saying to ourselves. It is no more rude here than at the opening of the hymn because the matter is no less urgent.

Lowell Mason’s tune RIPLEY is simple and memorable, not least because three fourths of it is made up of the same musical period sung three times—in lines 1–2, 3–4, and 7–8:

RIPLEY measures 1–4

A quick ascent up the D major chord brings us prematurely to a climax on A. Descent back down to F-sharp, from where we came, is followed by another ascending third to suggest G major. But no sooner have we departed from D than we recover it, with oscillations around A and F-sharp, then back to D at the end of m. 2 for an arrival that is as premature as the early climax on A. This anticipates, however, the formulaic phrase-ending that brings the period to a satisfying conclusion. The numerous but predictable leaps, which all seem in a hurry to arrive at their logical destinations, make the melody as exuberant as the text. The effect is enhanced by a lively rhythm that music theorists call hemiola. Assuming that the half note has the beat, the second beat of the first measure feels wonderfully empty compared to the second beat of the second and third measures. The tune’s only other musical period—the setting for lines 5–6, is really just a single phrase repeated twice:

RIPLEY measures 9–10

Its implicit harmony is the same as the tune’s opening phrase, and its contour, from high D to A, is the mirror image of the opening phrase, from low D to A. The rhythms are also identical, making the tune as easy to follow as the imperatives of the text.