Psalm 135:1 from Psalm 134:1 and 113:1
Psalm 135:2 from Psalm 134:1
Psalm 135:3 from Psalm 147:1
Psalm 135:4 from Exodus 19:5 and Deuteronomy 7:6
Psalm 135:5 from Exodus 19:5 and 18:11
Psalm 135:6 from Psalm 115:3
Psalm 135:7 from Jeremiah 10:13 and Job 38:22
Psalm 135:8-12 from Psalm 136:10-22
Psalm 135:13-18 from Exodus 3:15; Deuteronomy 32:36; Isaiah 44:12-;20; Jeremiah 10:6-10
Psalm 135:19-20 from Psalm 115:9-11
Psalm 135:21 from Psalm 128:5 and Psalm 134:3
It seems to have been written for use in the temple liturgy of the second temple. It is part of the group of psalms (120-136) known as the “Great Hallal” and starts and ends with Hallelujah's.
And here's how the song is constructed:
1-4 Israel’s Praise
5-7 Yahweh's Greatness as creator
8-14 Yahweh's Redemptive Acts in History
15-18 Inability of Idols
19-21 Israel’s praise
1-4 Israel’s PraiseThe psalm opens with Hallelujah, translated “Praise the Lord”, which sounds like an instruction to us, but is as much “Praise of the Lord” as and encouragement to “Praise the Lord”. The praise is to start from those who are closest to God, those who “minister in the house of the Lord” - inside the temple – the priests and move to those in the temple courts – outside where the regular worshippers meet.
We praise the Lord because He is good, and the act of praise is pleasant. Then as now a great song of worship can lift the congregation and improve their mood, and that is what this Psalm is meant to do. We all feel better after a really good song of praise.
It is then we find out why the Israelites can praise their Lord so readily and heartily. Praise the Lord because he has chosen your family to be His own – to receive His special favour.
5-7 Yahweh's Greatness as creatorNow, in the second part of the Psalm we move from the family to the individual. Verse 5 starts with I. “I know ...”. The Lord is not just a great God because he has chosen my family, but because he has chosen me, and I know it. The Lord is greater than all the other Gods, I know that he is in charge of all creation – He does whatever pleases him, in the heavens, on the earth in the sea and under the earth. He controls the weather. These are the psalmists personal experiences of God.
8-14 Yahweh's Redemptive Acts in HistoryIn verse 8 the emphasis moves from the general elements of creation to the specifics that the Israelites have to be thankful to God for. Immediately we are taken back to the escape from Egypt in the Exodus, and the final act of God that made that escape possible. He struck down the first born of Pharaoh and all the Egyptians, but it was not just escape that was made possible, it was also entry to the promised land. Sihon, Og, and all the kings of Canaan had to be overcome before the Israelites could enter the promised land. The land was then given to the Israelites as an inheritance.
Having set God up as a fearsome Lord, destroying all the enemies, this section ends with a reminder the Lord will be there forever – through all generations. He will vindicate his people and have compassion on His servants. He will not treat His chosen ones like the enemies He has defeated for them, to get them to the promised land.
15-18 Inability of IdolsNow we concentrate on the reasons the other kingdoms failed: Their gods are just idols, they are silver and gold made by men, they do not speak, see, hear or breathe, unlike the God of the Israelites. It's a stark choice, do you put your trust in the God of everything, or the idol that is nothing, that is the comparison. The section ends with the expectation that you become who you believe in.
19-21 Israel’s praiseIn the final section we return to the Hallelujah's this time we start with the praise of Israel, and return to the priests and the Levites, but there is also the more general “you who fear him”, implying that there are those in Israel who do not!
Christian ApproachAs we have already said, the psalm was written for the liturgy of the second temple, it was most certainly not written with us in mind. So how should we as Christians understand the Psalm, and use it?
The first, and most important thing to note is that, while it was not written for us, it still conveys some very basic and important truths about The Lord God, all these things we know:
The Lord is Good
Praising the Lord is pleasant
The Lord has chosen us, just as he chose Jacob
We are His treasured possession (I am his treasured possession) [Say it]
The Lord is greater than all the other things we make into gods – mainly ourselves these days
The Lord does whatever pleases him (v6), although we may not believe that He manages the weather second-by-second, we still believe that he has ultimate control of it.
We know that the Lord does miracles, but the miracle we look back to is not the escape from Egypt, but the death and resurrection of Jesus. We know that the event we look back to was accompanied by signs and wonders, just as the escape from Egypt was.
We do not look back to the defeat of nations
(vv11-12), but to the subjugation of the 'principalities and powers' as we watch the world turn from its pagan ways to the Christian faith in the early centuries after the resurrection of Christ.
We know that the Lord endures forever.
That he will vindicate his people, and that he has compassion on his servants.
We know that gold and silver, whether they are coin shaped or fashioned into an image of a being cannot really speak into the world.
Use in worship?That is looking at the detail of the psalm, and perhaps that is the best way for us to use it. I tried to find a sung version of the psalm, I was hoping to hear it in the Hebrew language, but I could only find a Serbian chant. It did not raise my spirits, to my ears it was just something that should be turned off. I went to the scripture index of my Songs and Hymns of Fellowship (volumes 1-3) to see if there were any songs based on this psalm – there aren't. Judging by the list it is one of the few psalms that hasn't inspired a modern song.
There is one song that captures the sort of worship this psalm was aimed at, but its verses are specifically Christian. It praises God, it recognises that creation is His. It looks back to the amazing miracle that Jesus died for our sins, and rose from the dead to prove He is God, and is coming to collect us and take us to a land so much greater than the land of Israel.
Sing it to yourselves as you leave.
The one I thought of is: "How Great Thou Art"
O Lord my God, When I in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy Hands have made;
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art.
Then sings my soul, My Saviour God, to Thee,
How great Thou art, How great Thou art!
When through the woods, and forest glades I wander,
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees.
When I look down, from lofty mountain grandeur
And see the brook, and feel the gentle breeze.
And when I think of God, His Son not sparing;
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the Cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.
When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart.
Then I shall bow, in humble adoration,
And then proclaim: "My God, how great Thou art!"