Our covenantal relationship with God is a relationship that is tied completely around with blessing. The servants of the Lord are called and summoned to bless the Lord, and in return the Lord blesses us out of Zion. One of the characteristic notes of this psalm is that it is filled with blessing.
“A Song of degrees. Behold, bless ye the Lord, all ye servants of the Lord, which by night stand in the house of the Lord. Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord. The Lord that made heaven and earth bless thee out of Zion” (Psalm 134:1-3).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
This very brief psalm appears to be a conversation, and there are different scenarios that could contain such a conversation. Perhaps the Levitical guards for the Temple are addressing the priests who serve there at night, and then the priests reply to them. From an extrabiblical source that there were 24 Levites, 3 priests, and the captain of the guard there. So that is a possible scenario.
But as this is the last psalm of ascents, I take it as something of a recessional. The pilgrims who have come to worship God at His Temple have risen early to return home (for many of them a long journey). So they have risen while it is still night, and as they are departing Jerusalem, they address those who still have the night duty at the Temple. As a farewell, they exhort the servants of the Lord, who stand by night in the house of the Lord, telling them to bless the Lord (v. 1). They urge them once again to lift up their hands in the sanctuary, and to bless the Lord there (v. 2). And in return, the Levitical guards and the priests extend their blessing to the departing pilgrims. Jehovah, the one who made heaven and earth, bless you out of Zion (v. 3).
WHEN NOTHING IS HAPPENING
This scene occurs at night at the Temple. This is not in the daytime, when the services are being conducted, or the sacrifices being offered. Everything is quiet. Nothing is happening. To which we might reply, “What do you mean nothing is happening?” Jehovah God is being blessed by His servants. He is being blessed by the night watch, and in a solemn and quiet hour.
This psalm is saturated with the presence of Yahweh. Only three verses, and yet Jehovah is mentioned five times. And where the covenant God of Israel is present, what else is present? Blessing is present—blessing is mentioned three times.
When we are tempted to think that nothing is happening, perhaps we ought to stop and remember in the quiet that God is being praised. Jehovah is being blessed.
LIFT UP YOUR HANDS
We are told at the conclusion of this psalm, that God made Heaven and earth. He made the material creation, and that means that He made us as creatures with bodies. We are beings who have the sun go down on us, which is why we must have night watchmen. And when we are in the house of the Lord, we have to stand there. According to the custom of the Jews, the high priest could sit in the Temple, but the other priests would stand. Who stand in the house of the Lord.
They watch with their bodies. They stand with their bodies. They lift up their hands because their bodies have hands. There is nothing inherently unspiritual about having a body. In fact, your body is the instrument that God wants you to use for offering up true spiritual worship to Him. Physical worship offered in obedience is spiritual worship.
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect”
Romans 12:1–2 (ESV)
“I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting” ).
(1 Timothy 2:8 (KJV)
Your body, a living sacrifice, is your spiritual worship. Your hands, hands which are holy, are the way you lift up your prayers.
This is why we have wanted to worship God together, collectively, as though we have bodies. And in our worship, we have wanted to conform to various biblical postures for the body in our services, doing it all together as a single liturgical movement. This is why we stand together for the reading of the Word, why we kneel together in confession. This is why we raise our hands all together in doxological praise at the conclusion of the service. This is a public service where God is being worshiped by the congregation. We believe that this is what Paul was referring to in his letter to the Colossians: “For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ” (Col. 2:5). The word for order there is a military term, and could be understood as something like regimentation. Paul rejoiced at their martial discipline in worship.
OUT OF ZION
We are not told that the God who made earth will bless us out of Heaven. Nor are we told that the God who made Heaven will bless us out of earth. We are told that the God of all things, the God who made Heaven and earth both, is going to bless us out of Zion. We lift up our hands in the sanctuary, blessing Him, and He blesses us out of His sanctuary, blessing us. He works through His church.
This psalm is likely by David, which means that he was composing a psalm for use at the Temple on Moriah by faith, and that he apparently felt free to use the name of Zion.
This is a very basic liturgical movement. We all assemble in God’s presence, at the heavenly Jerusalem, in the city of the living God, on the slopes of the heavenly Mount Zion (Heb. 12:22). We come to the house of God, and at the conclusion of the service, we all lift our hands, as this psalm says, and we bless the Lord. We sing a doxology of praise. We bless the Lord. And then I, as a designated minister, raise my hands a declare a benediction, a blessing, through which you receive the blessing of God.
This is not a trite verbal exercise, like saying bless you when someone sneezes. When you receive the benediction of God by faith, something substantial is being placed across your shoulders. You are supposed to carry the weight of that goodness with you throughout the week. And what is that goodness that is so weighty? What is it that God wants you to carry around until next Sunday? He wants you to carry around His favor. He wants you to take it with you everywhere you go.
We are a gathering of forgiven sinners, and as far as our sanctification goes, nothing much can be done with us unless we are making a pilgrimage to Heaven once a week. Never forget that you are worshiping the God of Heaven and earth in two places—in Heaven and on earth. When the call to worship pronounced, and we all stand, the Spirit gathers us up and the spiritual roof retracts, and we are brought to the heavenly Zion. “But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels” (Hebrews 12:22).
GOD OF NATURE, GOD OF GRACE
The Creator God is certainly capable of blessing us. He made heaven and earth, after all. We therefore know that He can bless us. But we are in covenant with Him—He is Jehovah, Yahweh, the God of the covenant, which means that He is the God of grace. And as the God of grace, He has promised to bless us. Not only can He bless us, He will bless us.
And how has He done this stupendous thing? There is only one answer, only one possible answer. The great Puritan preacher, Richard Sibbes, once answered the question of whether preachers should preach anything but Christ. He replied, “Nothing but Christ, or that tends to Christ.” He is the entirety of our message, but this does not bind us up in a cramped space. This Christ we preach is Lord of Heaven and earth.
“For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us, even by me and Silvanus and Timotheus, was not yea and nay, but in him was yea. For all the promises of God in him [in Christ] are yea, and in him Amen, unto the glory of God by us”
2 Cor. 1:19–20 (KJV)
“Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve [worship] God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: For our God is a consuming fire.”
Hebrews 12:28–29 (KJV)