“Raise your hands toward the holy place and bless YAHWEH. May YAHWEH bless you from Zion, the one who made heaven and earth.”
As we conclude our study of the Songs of Ascent, we are left with one overarching theme: God. is. faithful. He will not suffer the wicked to flourish forever; He will ultimately reward those who put their trust in him. We find that Psalm 134 ends by repeating the refrain of the entire collection: “May YAHWEH bless you from Zion, the One who made heaven and earth!”
Journey’s end. The ascent is completed, the destination arrived at. It ends, as everything does…with worship.
To me, the Amplified Version of Philippians 3:10 beautifully expresses each this, the highest of life’s ultimate pursuit:
‘For my determined purpose is that I may know Him. that I may progressively become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, perceiving and recognizing and understanding the wonders of His Person more strongly and more clearly.”
With your face set like flint toward life’s loftiest goal, let’s look at Psalm 134.
According to some interpreters, Psalm 134 was sung after the pilgrims’ visit to Jerusalem as they began their homeward journey. Thus, it is their joyful response to the wonderful things they saw and heard in God’s house. Truthfully, what I see in Psalm 134 even more clearly is a triumphant conclusion to the broader story of exile and affliction told in the previous 14 psalms.
The songs began in Psalm 120, and found the pilgrims far away from Jerusalem in the alien lands of Meshech and Kedar. The woe of the surroundings they’d known for ‘too long’ had not demoralized them as their enemy surely hoped. Instead it heightened their anticipation for each arduous journey to Mount Zion and deepened their conviction not to miss it for the world. Psalm 121 follows the pilgrims on their risky way. Mountains loomed before them, but a ‘Watcher’ guarded them from the heavens. Psalm 122 followed afterward with words expressing their joy at their arrival at the city gates of their beloved Jerusalem. Psalms 123-133 filled the psalmists’ mouth with a host of praises, themes, and petitions centered on everyday experiences such as farming and family. The choruses spoke of pain, repentance, redemption, and humility and coaxed their impatient souls to wait like watchmen for the Lord. The songs then concluded with the ‘highest point of ascent in this collection’.
Psalm 134 now, opens up with a call/command to bless YAHWEH (our covenant God). The servants of the LORD can bless him, because He surely will deliver them. They can stand guard in His house at night knowing that “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” They can lift up their hands in praise because of His forgiveness and abundant love. Yes, they can rest in the confidence that the LORD will bestow His blessing upon them and ultimately grant them eternal life.
Once again Beth quotes Eugene Peterson’s Commentary:
“The sentence [Come, bless YAHWEH] is an invitation but it is also a command. Having arrived at the place of worship, will we now sit around and tell stories about the trip? Having gotten to the big city, will we spend our tie here as tourists? Will the temple be a place to socialize, receive congratulations form others on our achievement, a place to share gossip and trade stories? But that’s not why you made the trip. You are here because God blessed you. Now. You bless God.”
As we turn the last page of our study of the Psalms of Ascent, our ultimate goal will be accomplished if we’ve ascended to the next level in the worship of our God. To take the next step in authentic praise and worship is to take the next step in multiple areas of our lives. If we are truer worshippers today than we were six weeks ago, we are truer lovers. Truer servers. Truer seekers. Truer confessors. This short but explosive little Psalm, concludes the journey with the invitation, command, reminder to now worship!
“Come, bless YAHWEH, all you servants of YAHWEH, who are standing in YAHWEH’s house by night!”
In the immediate context of this verse, it was a reminder first to the temple priests who had, you might say, drawn the short straw. Night services were often held in the temple courts in association with the feasts. They were meant to be in temple, worshipping and praying, all day and all night. The latter was the tough part.
Have you ever had to work night shifts? They are both a bind and a problem. You might start off with a burst of enthusiasm and energy, but by 4 a.m. even the most eager are flagging. Lethargy takes over and expended energy starts extracting a toll; you no longer feel like working. It was the same for these temple worshippers.
Are you running out of energy? Do you no longer feel like doing it? Well…Get on with it. Do it anyway. Do the actions of worship (in this instance, the hand-raising of verse 2) and the desire, the feelings will follow. And even if they don’t. Despite the toll of the journey, the cost and the energy extracted, He’s still worth worshipping. What happens when the priests of the night-watch did this? When they raised their hands at a time they could barely raise their eyelids? God moves. He acts. He blesses. He does well by the people.
The psalmists’ song is never more clearly heard in the portals of heaven than when he offers a sacrifice of praise in the darkest of nights.
The clearest and deepest words God grants the soul are often those that come in a dark season of life. One of the dearest treasures in your darkness will be the God-song He will give you if you’ll receive it. To stand in the presence of the Lord when you’d rather go to bed and never get up. To praise Him in the night when taunting voices tell you to curse Him…these things are nothing less than a battle cry of victory. Worship is also warfare. A True psalmist praises his way to victory, knowing it will come because the praise itself renders the first blow to the enemy’s brow.
Inherent in the call to ‘bless Yahweh” is the cry to thank Him.
“Charis and Eucharisteo”.
Grace and gratitude belong together like heaven and earth.
Grace evokes gratitude like the voice an echo.
Gratitude follows grace as thunder follows lightening.
We don’t have priests who worship for us now because we are all priests in that sense. My worship invites you to yours. Your worship invites me to mine. Even when we don’t feel like singing, kneeling, hand-raising, praying. Sometimes, just by taking that extra step we can’t take gives others the courage to do so. Our worship carries others until we can worship from our own energy.
Worship exalts God to the highest place. Every step of ascent toward God develops the capacity to enjoy. Not only is there increasingly more to be enjoyed, there is steadily the acquired ability to enjoy it. Best of all, we don’t have to wait til we get to the end of the road before we enjoy what is at the end of the road.
The destination of any trip sets the tone for travel. You and I are not on our way to a funeral but to a wedding. Joy comes in the morning and the very anticipation of it invites our worship into our night.
We know that when we are finally ‘home’ in the halls of heaven, we will worship day and night and night and day as the angels do encircling the throne. But why wait til we get there? Knowing where we’re going is cause enough to enjoy the beauty of the journey and to Worship along the Way!