Blessed Worship (Phil Johnson)

Psalm 134   |   Sunday, March 13, 2016   |   Code: 2016-03-13-PJ

Open your Bibles to Psalm 134. This morning we say

farewell to lots of friends who have been here for the

Shepherds' Conference. We're also wrapping up a series on

the Psalms of ascent that I began back in April of 2012.

That's the longest and most frequently-interrupted series I

have ever done in the 20 years I have been teaching in

GraceLife. It's actually only a total of 16 messages (because I

did two messages on Psalm 127), so if I had stayed with the

series nonstop, we should easily have been able to finish in

less than a year. But we've interspersed those 16 messages

with several other series shorter series; we've often been

interrupted by holidays and special events and my travel

schedule; and I have purposely taken it slowly and in small

bits because I like variety, so we have been working through

these psalms at an easy paceCand now we have finally

reached the fifteenth and final psalm in this group of short

psalms that constitute a little book of praise choruses within

the larger book of psalms.

And this is the only subset of psalms ordered and arranged

in this fashionCa group of psalms set apart, all sharing a

common inscription. All fifteen psalms labeled "A Song of

Ascents" are organized sequentially, and that inscription that

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appears nowhere else in Scripture. Most (but not all) of the

psalms have inscriptions. Some say "To the choirmaster" or

"A Psalm of David," or something else. The inscriptions often

tell us who the author was or what occasion it was written

for, or what style it is to be sung in. And the inscriptions are,

we believe, part of the inspired text. So they are important.

The fact that these fifteen psalms are organized as one unit in

the canon is therefore likewise important. It's not by accident

that they appear all together like this.

If you're looking at Psalm 134, you should have the

inscription, as always, at the beginning of verse 1: "A Song of

Ascents." The King James Version always translates it "A

Song of degrees." The Hebrew word has an interesting range

of meanings, and fifteen psalms after we started this series, I

don't think we have actually discussed in any detail what the

word ascents, or the King James Version word degrees

literally means.

It's a four-letter Hebrew word, maalah ("mah-al-AW"),

meaning, literally, "things that come up." It can refer to

thoughts that come to mind. Or it can refer to an upward

grade on a long road, or stairs going up, or the simple idea of

ascending. It would apply to any kind of uphill journey. So

there's enough ambiguity in the inscription that we can't be

totally certain what it means. A few commentators have

theorized that it could be talking about the style in which

these psalms were sungCso that either the tune or the tempo

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or the volume or even the mood of each of these songs was

supposed to rise in a climactic progression, like a crescendo,

or an ever-rising series of key changes, or a melody that

starts low and goes up.

That doesn't really seem to fit the content of all the

psalms, though. Most of them are short and focused. Our

psalm for today is only three verses with one very specific

theme. It's hard to imagine styling it musically in any way

that would evoke the idea of an upward progression.

Then there's the possibility that this inscription,

essentially meaning, "songs of things that come up" might

signify that these are random thoughts that just popped into

the psalmist's mind, so he dashed off these short verses about

them. That might not sound too far-fetched, until you read

the psalms and realize that they nearly all share a handful of

themes in commonCand it is a very focused set of topics.

This is not a wild mix of random thoughts, it's a collection of

choruses all about worship. Most of them (as we have noted

before) mention Zion, or the Temple, or the city of

Jerusalem. They all have praise as a major theme. They

include notes of penitence, some facts of Jewish history,

some points of doctrine, some celebratory comments about

the blessing of family life, prayers to God for help, thanks to

God for His grace, and even imprecatory remarks against the

enemies of God. And in that sense they include a good bit of

diversity. But the one central theme that ties them all

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together is worship, and specifically the formal and corporate

worship that takes place in Jerusalem, on Mount Zion, in the

Temple complex.

Therefore, the vast majority of commentators believe

these fifteen psalms were a collection of choruses set aside

especially to be sung by pilgrims making the uphill Journey

to Jerusalem for the annual feasts. That would make perfect

sense of the inscription: "A Song of Ascents"Cbecause

Jerusalem is situated in an elevated region, and no matter

where you are coming from, you have to go uphill to get


The psalms of ascent were filled with themes that directly

pertained to that ascending journey. The brevity and

simplicity of these psalms makes them very easy to

memorize. All of them are therefore suited to group singing,

even in groups that include children. And the annual

pilgrimages to Jerusalem always included lots of young

people, because it was the highlight of every Jewish

adolescent at age twelve (when he formally became bar

mitzvahC"a son of the law") to travel to Jerusalem for the

first time to participate in the feasts. This was a major rite of

passage. Luke 2, you'll recall, includes the record of Jesus'

first pilgrimage to Jerusalem at that very age. Luke 2:41:

his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the Feast of

the Passover.

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42 And when he was twelve years old, they went up

according to custom.

Notice the expression, "they went up." A journey of ascent.

And this was the common custom of all Jewish


Here's what the Jewish Encyclopedia says about these


Every male Israelite was required to visit the Temple three

times a year [This, by the way, is a biblical mandate,

given in Exodus 23:17 ("Three times in the year shall all

your males appear before the Lord GOD,") and

Deuteronomy 16:16 ("Three times a year all your males

shall appear before the LORD your God at the place that he

will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread [That's a

week-long feast that starts with the celebration of the

Passover], at the Feast of Weeks [or Pentecost], and at the

Feast of Booths. They shall not appear before the LORD

empty-handed.") The Jewish Encyclopedia continues:] The

pilgrimage to Jerusalem [was made for each of] the three

festivals . . . Passover, [ShavUoth, (that's the feast of

Weeks, or Pentecost], and [SucCoth, the Feast of

Tabernacles. The pilgrimage] was called "re'iyah" (= "the

appearance"). The Mishnah says, "All are under

obligation, to appear, except minors, women, the blind,

the lame, the aged, and one who is ill physically or

mentally." A minor in this case is defined as one who is

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too young to be taken by his father to Jerusalem.

According to the Mosaic law every one should take an

offering, though the value thereof is not fixed . . . While

the appearance of women and infant males was not

obligatory, they usually accompanied their husbands and

fathers, as in all public gatherings. [Still reading from the

Jewish Encyclopedia:] The Talmud plainly infers that

both daughters and sons joined the pilgrims at the

Passover festival in Jerusalem.

So large numbers of young people, twelve years old and

older would be going up to the feasts every year. The

presence of so many juvenile pilgrims is even mentioned by

Matthew in His description of the final week of Jesus' earthly

ministry. It was Passover week. Jesus was in the Temple

complex, healing blind and lame people who came to Him.

And Matthew 21:15 says there were "children crying out in the

temple, 'Hosanna to the Son of David!' [and Matthew says

when the chief priests and Scribes heard that,] they were

indignant." This would not have been a random assortment of

little toddlers; these were the boys who had reached bar

mitzvah, (preteen boys on the doorstep of adulthood)

gathered in the Temple area to hear the teachers of the law,

just as Jesus himself had done at age twelve.

And the number of pilgrims flooding into Jerusalem for

every festival is astounding. A Roman governor, Gessius

Florus (who was a contemporary of the apostle Paul),

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calculated the number of Jewish Pilgrims who came from

outside Judea to Jerusalem for Passover one year. He arrived

at his figure by taking an inventory of the lambs that were

sacrificed. It came to just over a quarter-million lambs. (He

had a fairly exact number: 256,500 lambs.) Moses' law

required that the whole lamb must be eaten, so this Roman

politician figured a minimum of ten persons per lamb must

have participated. That yields a figure of 2.56 million people.

The total population of Judea could not have been more than

100,000, so if you subtract them from the total figure, it

means at least 2.4 million of the worshipers in town for

Passover that year were pilgrims who had come from a

distance. That's a lot of people who need food and lodging

and all the necessities of life, and since the pilgrims came

three times a year, dealing with visiting worshipers was a

major business in the city. They knew how to handle large


That figure of two and a half million pilgrims was tallied

less than a decade before Jerusalem was sacked by the

Roman army. And lots of those who came for the festivals

were traveling from as far away as the Euphrates River.

Many risked their lives to come, because Rome saw these

mass gatherings of Jewish people as a serious threat.

But this was the way of life in ancient Israel, and the

annual pilgrimages were major events on every Israelite's

calendar. That's why even though there is no external record

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anywhere indicating that these psalms of ascent were

specifically set aside to be sung on the pilgrim journey,

Jewish and Christian commentators alike are generally in

agreement that that's what this collection of songs was used

for. So we've been referring to them as "Pilgrim psalms," and

they make perfect sense in that light. There is no better

explanation for why these fifteen psalms may have been

grouped together in the canon like this.

This, then, (Psalm 134) is the last in order of the fifteen

psalms of Ascent, and it is fittingly an invocation of blessing

on people who have come to worship. It's another very short

(3-verse) psalm, very brief, and it's theme is the blessedness

of worship.

In fact, notice as I read it that the word "bless" appears in

each of the three verses. Verses 1 and 2 urge worshipers to

bless the Lord, and verse 3 calls on YHWH to bless the


Also, you'll see, I think, that this psalm seems to have

been written for antiphonal voices. Verses 1 and 2 are for the

first voice (or set of voices). It seems to be the voice of the

pilgrims who have come to the Temple, and voice 3

apparently answers their call to worship. Verse 3 seems to be

spoken or sung by the people mentioned in verse 1, namely

the "servants of the LORD, who stand by night in the house of

the LORD." These are the priests and Levites who work the

night shift at the Temple. So the pilgrim worshipers sing

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verses 1-2, and the Temple workers on duty at night answer

with verse 3.

Here's the psalm:

A SONG OF ASCENTS. Come, bless the LORD, all you

servants of the LORD, who stand by night in the house of

the LORD!

2 Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the LORD!

3 May the LORD bless you from Zion, he who made

heaven and earth!

Both Charles Spurgeon and Walt Kaiser suggest that this

psalm is purposely placed last in the list of Pilgrim psalms

because it is the farewell benediction, sung when the

celebration is over, just as the worshipers begin their journey

back home. Spurgeon envisions a scenario where the

pilgrims gather at the Temple just before sunup. Large

caravans of travelers would leave on the journey home as

early as possible because in that desert climate, nighttime or

early morning travel would be preferable to a hard trek in the

heat of the afternoon.

And the groups of people leaving Jerusalem would indeed

be massive. This wasn't just a single family's road trip; whole

communities would join together to travel to and from the

feasts. That's how (in Luke 2) Jesus' parents managed to get a

full day's journey away from Jerusalem before they noticed

Jesus, at age 12, was not with the group. Listen to Luke 2:43:

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when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy

Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not

know it,

44 but supposing him to be in the group they went a day's

journey, but then they began to search for him among

their relatives and acquaintances,

45 and when they did not find him, they returned to

Jerusalem, searching for him.

So this was a very large group of travelers, consisting of

"relatives and acquaintances." The word "acquaintances" is

translated from the Greek word gnostosCmeaning "well

known." These are people who are not part of the family (not

relatives), but who are well-known to one anotherCall the

close neighbors and friends from the community. So this was

no doubt a large delegation all from the same geographic

region. Nazareth wasn't a large town, but even if the total

population was just a thousand, this might have been a group

of several hundred people. Traveling in large groups like that

made good practical sense. If everyone in the community

was going, they might as well organize their efforts and

travel together. That made the trips much safer and

easierCand on the whole it would have made the pilgrimages

less stressful and even turned the long trip into a time of

fellowship and delight. It would have been interesting to hear

these pilgrim songs being sung by wave after wave

consisting of very large bands of people.

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And when the festival was finally over and it was time for

the long trip home, the groups of pilgrims would very likely

gather at the Temple in the very early morning hours to get a

head start before sunrise. It was the largest, most convenient

gathering place in all Israel. (It's easy to see how a

twelve-year-old like Jesus, captivated by the Temple and its

worship, might get separated from his group and left behind

at the Temple.)

Spurgeon believed this kind of predawn gathering of

Pilgrims returning home was the setting for this psalm. Walt

Kaiser agrees. Here's how Spurgeon painted the scene:

The Pilgrims are going home, and are singing the last

song in their psalter. They leave early in the morning,

before the day has fully commenced, for the journey is

long for many of them. While yet the night lingers they

are on the move. As soon as they are outside the gates

they see the guards upon the temple wall, and the lamps

shining from the windows of the chambers which

surround the sanctuary; therefore, moved by the sight,

they chant a farewell to the perpetual attendants upon the

holy shrine. Their parting exhortation arouses the priests

to pronounce upon them a blessing out of the holy place:

this benediction is contained in the third verse. The priests

as good as say, "You have desired us to bless the Lord,

and now we pray the Lord to bless you."

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Now, frankly, no one knows for sure whether those were the

precise circumstances under which this psalm was sung. It

certainly would be appropriate in such a scenario, and the

words of the psalm would be uniquely fitting for a farewell

worship service involving pilgrims on their way home. So

perhaps Spurgeon was exactly right. As I said, Walt Kaiser,

who was a superb scholar, agreed with Spurgeon.

But it's also true that this psalm would suit many kinds of

occasions, including an all-night prayer meeting, or a single

individual's visit to the Temple to offer a quiet prayer of

thanksgiving in the early-morning hours before sunup, or

any event where it might be appropriate to pronounce a

benediction on people who are leaving. (That incudes the last

day of the Shepherds' Conference. So this is an especially

suitable psalm for today.)

From the psalm itself it is obvious that many of the details

in Spurgeon's hypothetical scenario are exactly what the

psalm deals with. It is the night watch in the Temple (v. 1).

There is an invocation of praise, a word of doxology, and an

answer wherein a benediction is pronounced. The verse

divisions are perfect. Verse 1 is the call to worship. Verse 2

is the doxology. Verse 3 is the benediction. Thus in

abbreviated form, it gives us a complete order of service for

late-night prayers or early-morning devotions. It's the very

simplest of biblical liturgies.

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So let's consider each verse in turn, one component at a

time: The call to worship, the doxology, and finally the

benediction. FirstC


Verse 1: "Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the

LORD, who stand by night in the house of the LORD!"

Obviously, that's addressed to the night guard and priests

who ministered at the Temple overnight. It's not necessarily

clear who is speaking. It could be an individual worshiper, a

band of worshipers, or possibly even the departing priests

from the previous watch. If that's the case, this psalm might

be a liturgy for the changing of the guard at the temple. It

would certainly work in that way.

Not that it matters a great deal. The important point is

what that first verse says. It is a call to worshipCboth an

invitation and a command to the Temple's night staff.

And by the way, there were always priests and Levites

and guards and even musicians on duty at the Temple, and

we learn in Scripture that this constituted a very large staff

who served in rotating shifts. The Temple was open day and

night, and qualified worshipers were welcome to come at any

hour. And the night shift was not an afterthought. It was

important. Remember that Hebrews 9 says the Temple was a

copy of heavenly things. The service of the earthly sanctuary

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needed to mirror the nonstop worship that takes place around

God's throne in heaven.

Therefore people were on duty at the Temple around the

clock. And the night shift had to be especially watchful.

Here's what 1 Chronicles 9 says about how that worked.

There was a large retinue of guards, who functioned as

peacekeepers and policemen, stationed at every entrance.

First Chronicles 9:24:

The gatekeepers were on the four sides, east, west, north,

and south.

25 And their kinsmen who were in their villages were

obligated to come in every seven days, in turn, to be with


26 for the four chief gatekeepers, who were Levites, were

entrusted to be over the chambers and the treasures of

the house of God.

27 And they lodged around the house of God, for on them

lay the duty of watching, and they had charge of opening

it every morning.

28 Some of them had charge of the utensils of service, for

they were required to count them when they were brought

in and taken out.

29 Others of them were appointed over the furniture and

over all the holy utensils, also over the fine flour, the wine,

the oil, the incense, and the spices.

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30 Others, of the sons of the priests, prepared the mixing

of the spices,

31 and Mattithiah, one of the Levites, the firstborn of

Shallum the Korahite, was entrusted with making the flat


32 Also some of their kinsmen of the Kohathites had

charge of the showbread, to prepare it every Sabbath.

33 Now these, the singers, the heads of fathers' houses of

the Levites, were in the chambers of the temple free from

other service, for they were on duty day and night.

Some of the rabbinical records suggest that there were

groups of unusually devout worshipersCcommon people,

widows, and the elderlyCwho were in the habit of visiting

the Temple to pray in the night. One of these we meet in

Luke 2:37 was a widow named Anna. Luke says this of her:

She was "Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.

[In order to honor her faithfulness, Luke gives very specific

details about her that single her out from every other possible

person named Anna.] She was advanced in years, having lived

with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and

then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart

from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and


And the night shift at the Temple did not consist only of

guards and janitors. Some of the highest ranking priests were

on duty at the Temple overnight, because the burnt offerings

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had to be kept burning all night. The sons of Aaron were

strictly instructed not to let the fire go out. Leviticus 6:8-13:

The LORD spoke to Moses, saying,

9 "Command Aaron and his sons, saying, This is the law

of the burnt offering. The burnt offering shall be on the

hearth on the altar all night until the morning, and the fire

of the altar shall be kept burning on it.

10 And the priest shall put on his linen garment and put

his linen undergarment on his body, and he shall take up

the ashes to which the fire has reduced the burnt offering

on the altar and put them beside the altar.

11 Then he shall take off his garments and put on other

garments and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean


12 The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it; it shall

not go out. The priest shall burn wood on it every

morning, and he shall arrange the burnt offering on it and

shall burn on it the fat of the peace offerings.

13 Fire shall be kept burning on the altar continually; it

shall not go out.

So night duty at the Temple was a responsibility that could

not be taken casually. Yet like any ritual or routine that must

be done methodically, it could become tedious. It was easy to

become inattentive, or succumb to the dullness of repetition,

and begin to perform your task mindlessly, heedlessly.

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And so we have this call to worship, specifically targeting

those whose duty it was to lead in worship.

And it starts with an exclamation. I'm reading from the

ESV, which gives this word a translation that in my

estimation is much too tame: "Come." It's the same word

translated "Behold" at the beginning of Psalm 133. It's a word

whose design is to seize the attention of the person you are

speaking to. It also expresses a sense of earnest importance,

and thus it lends emphasis to whatever statement or

command or point of information immediately follows it.

The sense of it here is exactly like the English word look,

when used as a demonstrative particle: "Look: all you servants

of the LORD who minister by night in the house of the LORD,

Praise the LORD." It's telling the Temple staff, Don't lose

sight of what you're doing. Don't just go through the

motions. And above all, don't fall asleep on the job. What

you are doing is of eternal importance. Put your hearts in it!

And in this context, it seems to me that this is not just a

cheery salutation. It's a kind of urgent reveilleCa wake-up

call. The idea is "Take heed! Be upon your guard; you serve

a jealous God. Give Him the praise due Him.

So this is more than merely a generic call to worship. It

would have been applicable to every person in the Temple,

of course. But it is specifically directed at those who have a

particular calling to ministryCand thus in a special way it

would apply to pastors, elders, deacons, and anyone else who

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is serving the Lord in any routine or regular functionCmen

and women alikeChigh priests and temple guards, janitors,

nursery workers, and even the person who sweeps the floors.

"Bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD, who stand by

night in the house of the LORD!" The Hebrew word for "stand"

is used consistently in Scripture to speak of the duty

performed by those who served in the Temple. Deuteronomy

10:8: "the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the

covenant of the LORD to stand before the LORD to minister to

him and to bless in his name." Deuteronomy 18:7 speaks of

the "Levites who stand to minister . . . before the LORD."

Again speaking of the Levites, 2 Chronicles 23:20 says, "they

were to stand every morning, thanking and praising the LORD,

and likewise at evening."

Second Chronicles 29:11. (This is Hezekiah, speaking to

the priests and Levites, and he gives them a word of

encouragement and admonition that more or less summarizes

the message of our psalm). He says, "My sons, do not now be

negligent, for the LORD has chosen you to stand in his

presence, to minister to him and to be his ministers and make

offerings to him."

Remember, the sacrificial furnishings in the Temple did

not include any chairs. The priests stood, signifying the

unfinished nature of their service. The work of atonement

was never really complete until Christ Himself finally

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offered "one sacrifice for sins for ever." That's the very point

of Hebrews 10:11-13:

Every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly

the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.

12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single

sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,

13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be

made a footstool for his feet.

So our psalm recognizes that all who were serving in

Solomon's Temple were standing. And the call to worship is

specifically directed at those "who stand by night in the house

of the LORD"Cthe men whose job it is to lead worship in the

very early morning hours. So I take it as a tacit recognition

that anything routine can be too easily taken for granted and

done haphazardly. It is also an unspoken acknowledgement

that the extra tedium of the night shift magnifies that

tendency. It's a formal call to wake up from the listless stupor

of that late-night monotony and worship the Lord with the

whole heart.

"Come, bless the LORD." We've talked about the various

biblical uses of the word bless in the past. The Lord is said to

bless us when he confers grace on us; or when he speaks well

of us; when He bestows some benefit or benediction or

advantage on us. Genesis 1:22: "God blessed [Adam and Eve],

saying, "Be fruitful and multiply." He is said to bless an object

or thing when He sanctifies it by setting it apart for some

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holy purpose. Genesis 2:3: "God blessed the seventh day and

made it holy." We bless others by expressing a hope or a

prayer for their good. Genesis 24:60: "[Rebekah's family]

blessed [her] and said to her, 'Our sister, may you become

thousands of ten thousands, and may your offspring possess

the gate of those who hate him!'" We bless our food when we

give thanks for it. Luke 24:30: "[Jesus] took the bread and

blessed and broke it and gave it to them."

So normally, to bless something is to consecrate it by

saying words or making a pronouncement that confers or

invokes divine favor on whatever person or object we are


How then do we "bless the LORD"? We can't confer any

benefit or good fortune on Him. We can't increase His

happiness. We certainly can't sanctify Him in the sense of

adding to His holiness. Nevertheless, we bless Him by

saying words that call Him holyCby attributing to Him the

honor He is due. In other words, to "bless the LORD" is to

praise HimCto hallow His name and ascribe glory to

HimCand specifically, it speaks of praising Him with


So this first verse is a call to worshipCa call to

wholehearted, alert, heartfelt, grateful worship, as opposed to

going through the motions of some ritual. Put your heart in


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Then in verse 2, he also says, Put your hands in it. This is

part two in the order of worship:


Doxology means "the utterance of praise to God." That's

the formal dictionary definition. That's what verse 2 is about.

It's both a response to and a repetition of the call to worship

we looked at in verse 1. It both answers and echoes the call

to worship.

Verse 2: "Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the

LORD!" The physical response of uplifted hands is often

associated with prayer in the Old Testament. Psalm 141:2

says, "Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the

lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!" It was a gesture

that signified holiness. First Timothy 2:8: "men should pray,

lifting holy hands." Because God is holy, those who come

before him in prayer must themselves be holy. Leviticus

11:44: "Be holy, for I am holy." Numbers 15:4: "Be holy to your

God." Uplifted hands were a symbol that acknowledged the

worshiper's need for holiness.

And according to our verse, the hands were to be lifted "to

the holy place"Cmeaning toward the holy of holies, the place

where the ark of the covenant was kept. In Psalm 28:2, David

prays, "Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you

for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy

sanctuary." The Targums (a compilation of Old Testament

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Scriptures translated into Aramaic) render verse 2 of our

psalm this way: "Lift up your hands with holiness." Whether

it's "toward the holy place" or "with holiness," the point is

the same. This is a physical gesture having to do with

holiness, and it's a gesture that generally accompanies prayer.

There's also a special ceremony in Judaism even today

known as "The raising of the hands," during which a priest

pronounces the formal blessing found in Numbers 6:24-26:

The LORD bless you and keep you;

25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be

gracious to you;

26 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give

you peace

The priest's hands are held palms out in a specific formation.

The ring finger and middle finger of each hand are held

apart. The thumb and forefinger of each hand are likewise

separated. And the thumbs touch. This is said to symbolize

the Hebrew letter shin, standing for El Shaddai.

Any kind of physical gesture would have the advantage of

counteracting the feeling of listlessness or dullness that our

psalm seems to be addressing. In our Sunday morning elders'

meetings, the elders always kneel to pray. When I was in

college, I tried for awhile to put myself on a faster route to

sanctification by getting up at 4:00 AM to pray. It did not

make me noticeably holier. In fact, (especially in my student

years) I eventually learned that a good night's sleep had a

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more sanctifying effect than those pre-dawn prayers. That's

mainly because when I was experimenting with devotional

sleep-deprivation, it turned out for me that kneeling wasn't a

posture designed to keep a weary person awake. Especially

when I'd been up till midnight studying for an exam.

Walking in a circle while praying barely kept me awake at

that hour; kneeling practically guaranteed I'd fall back


Hand-raising nowadays has been revived by our

charismatic friends. I have no opposition to the practice, as

long as it doesn't become an ostentatious equivalent of the

Pharisees' long tassels and broad phylacteriesCa deed

performed mainly to be seen by other people. I fear that's

often the case, but there is certainly nothing wrong with

raising hands. Here it's the expected posture.

But the point, even in our psalm, is not mainly the

gesture, but what it means. It's a symbol of supplication,

humility, and childlike dependence. When my grandchildren

raise their hands to me, it's a signal that they want to be

picked up and held. But it is also a beautiful expression of

love and trust and dependency. That same spirit, I believe, is

what's behind the biblical use of this gesture for praying.

"Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the LORD!" In

other words, Worship God. And if this is the voice of the

Pilgrim assembly speaking (as I'm inclined to think), they are

saying to the Temple staff: Worship God with us. The

Psalm 134 24

pilgrims had come a long distance for this, some of them

risking their lives to visit the house of the Lord. If this is

indeed their farewell just before returning home, it makes

perfect sense that they would be eager for one last stirring

session of corporate worship.

(Those who come to our Shepherds' Conferences will get

this. Especially those who come from small or remote

congregations in places where believers are a small minority

in the community. They often experience here for the very

first time what worship is like in a congregation of thousands

of faithful, passionate lovers of God. They know what it

must have been like for Jewish Pilgrims to have one final,

memorable worship experience before going homeCeven if

it had to be in the early morning hours before sunup on the

day they departed.)

And that brings us to the final verse of this psalm:

Blessed Worship 25


Most commentators believe a new voice speaks in verse

three. It's apparently written to be sung antiphonallyClike a

responsive reading in song. This final verse is the Levitical

response. Those "Who stand by night in the house of the

LORD" have heard the call to worship. They joined in the

doxology of verse 2, lifting their hands in holiness. And now

they respond with a benediction. It's a perfect closing line to

this very brief psalm; a fitting end to the fifteen Psalms of

ascent; and an appropriate finale for this Shepherds'

Conference week. Verse 3: "May the LORD bless you from

Zion, he who made heaven and earth!"

Verses 1 and 2 both invoked the worshipers' blessing for

the Lord: "Bless the LORD." Here in verse 3, it is a plea that

the worshipers themselves might be blessed. This time the

blessing comes from God.

And by the way, the pronoun is singular: "May the LORD

bless you"Cthe individual.

This is not a prayer for material prosperity, but a wish for

the joy and contentment that is the birthright of those who

have found God's favor. Spiritual blessedness. A prayer that

God would grant "from Zion" the same favor and fellowship

with God and His people that the pilgrims came to Zion to


He is, after all, "the LORD . . . he who made heaven and

earth!" So all the blessings we truly need are all at His

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disposal. That should be an encouragement. And the psalm

itself is given to us by the Holy Spirit as a reminder and a

summons to seek those blessings in our prayer and praise of

the Most High God. May He "bless you from Zion, he who

made heaven and earth!"