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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Psalms 135

 

 

Verse 1

PSALM 135

A MOSAIC HYMN OF PRAISE TO GOD

This is another of the Hallelujah Psalms, its first line and its last being that word. A great deal of skill and discernment entered into the composition of this charming song of praise. The first three verses are a call to praise God; and the last three verses are a call to bless God.

In between those six verses which we may call a prologue (Psalms 135:1-3) and an epilogue (Psalms 135:19-21), we have a six-fold presentation of God in that many aspects of his power and glory.

(1) God is presented as the God of Jacob (Psalms 135:4); (2) God of gods (Psalms 135:5); (3) God of all creation (Psalms 135:6-7); (4) God the terrible to Israel's enemies (Psalms 135:8-11); (5) God of gracious love for Israel (Psalms 135:12-14); and (6) God the living One contrasted with idols (Psalms 135:15-18).

This psalm is called a mosaic because of so many allusions, quotations, and references to other portions of the Old Testament. Psalms 135:5 is like Exodus 18:11; Psalms 135:7 is like Jeremiah 10:13; Psalms 135:15-18 are almost identical with Psalms 115:4-8, etc. Kidner pointed out that, "Every verse in this Psalm either echoes, quotes or is quoted in some other part of Scripture."[1] We have a deep appreciation for the psalmist's knowledge and skillful use of the sacred writings, and reject the comment of Allen that, "Much of the psalm has a suspiciously familiar ting; the attentive reader finds himself assailed by a conglomeration of snatches of other parts of the Old Testament."[2]

Of a different spirit altogether is the following comment of Alexander Maclaren. He spoke of the many quotations and allusions to other Scriptures, saying that, "The flowers are arranged in a new bouquet, because the poet had long delighted in their fragrance. The ease with which he blends into a harmonious whole, fragments from such diverse sources tells how familiar he was with these, and how well he loved them."[3]

The inspired writers of the Bible had no greater ability than that of recalling from the Holy Scriptures such words, illustrations and quotations as were considered appropriate for their purpose. For example, Paul's multiple quotations of the Old Testament in Romans 9-11 must be hailed as one of the most masterful theological dissertations ever written. We find a similar mastery of sacred truth in this psalm.

Many dependable scholars concur in the placement of this psalm in post-exilic times,[4] but Allen pointed out that "A. Weiser regarded it as pre-exilic."[5] Scholarly dating of biblical passages is a very undependable and uncertain business.

Regarding the design of the psalm, Barnes identified it thus: "The whole design of the psalm is to excite praise to God, and to show reasons for doing so."[6]

Psalms 135:1-3

THE CALL TO PRAISE GOD

"Praise ye Jehovah.

Praise ye the name of Jehovah;

Praise him, O ye servants of Jehovah,

Ye that stand in the house of Jehovah,

In the courts of the house of our God.

Praise ye Jehovah, for Jehovah is good:

Sing praises unto his name;

For it is pleasant."

Five times in these three verses, men are exhorted to "Praise God." Who is it that is so admonished? The Levites whose continual duties were in the Temple were included; and as Rawlinson pointed out, "Those that stand in the courts of the house of the Lord are not priests, or Levites, but the people, all of those who throng the courts of the Temple."[7]

"Praise ye Jehovah ... Bless ye Jehovah" (Psalms 135:1,19). Ballard called these expressions, "`Cultic shouts,' which served as responses, repeated several times as responses to the exhortation, directed now to priests, now to Levites, now to the laity, to `Praise the Lord.'"[8] The phrases written here were most certainly usable in such a manner; but as Addis warned us, "All that is uncertain, and becomes much more uncertain when the divisions are carried out more minutely."[9]

"Praise him, O ye servants of Jehovah" (Psalms 135:1). Augustine stated that, "If we were to be forever only servants, yet we ought to praise the Lord; how much more ought those servants to praise the Lord, who have obtained the privilege of sons?"[10]

I.

"For Jehovah is good" (Psalms 135:3). This is the first of seven reasons advanced in this psalm as arguments demanding the worship and the praise of God. Baigent was correct in stating that, "The worship of God (as spoken of in the Bible) was never a vague, emotional outburst, but was logically founded in the person and/or the work of God."[11] The other six reasons are cited below in Psalms 135:4-18.


Verse 4

II.

"For Jehovah hath chosen Jacob unto himself,

And Israel for his own possession."

"For Jehovah hath chosen Jacob." This is cited here as the second reason why God's people should praise him. "Election is one of the most forcible arguments for adoring love. Chosen! Chosen by God Himself!"[12] Husbands and wives love each other because each spouse is "the choice" of the other. Where is any Christian whose heart does not thrill to the thought of God's unmerited love, bestowed upon "the beloved in Christ?"


Verse 5

III.

"For I know that Jehovah is great,

And that our Lord is above all gods."

The eternal and almighty God, omnipotent, ubiquitous and omniscient is surely entitled to praise and adoration on the part of men. All nature sings the glory of God, why shouldn't I?

"Above all gods." This is not a reference to idols, but to earthly rulers, as in Psalms 82. (See chapter introduction there). Idols are mentioned in Psalms 135:15-18, but not in this passage. The meaning of this phrase is, "Above all that is worshipped as gods."[13]


Verse 6

IV.

"Whatsoever Jehovah pleased, that hath he done,

In heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps;

Who causeth the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth;

Who maketh lightnings for the rain;

Who bringeth forth the wind out of his treasuries."

A fourth reason why God should be praised is that he is the "God of all creation." Heaven, earth, seas and all `deeps,' - everything that exists is subject to the will and the pleasure of the Almighty God. "As the universal sovereign, God is entitled to universal praise and worship."[14]

"Who causeth the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth" (Psalms 135:6). This is not a question, but a declaration. The great and inexplicable mystery of the ascent of waters from the surface of the seas and their return to earth as rain is mentioned here because of the very mystery of what happens. As Job expressed it, "God bindeth up the waters in his thick clouds; and the cloud is not rent under them." (Job 26: 8).

Thirteen hundred millions of tons of water ascend into the heavens every minute of the day, contrary to the law of gravity. Who does this? God.

Spurgeon mentioned a certain scientist who calculated that from every square mile of the ocean's surface, every twelve hours, the process which we call evaporation, "Lifts 6,914 tons of water from the surface of the sea."[15] At least 135,000,000 square miles of the planet earth are oceans, to say nothing of about one third of a million square miles of lakes.[16] Multiplying this times approximately 7,000 tons of water each twelve hours gives almost a trillion tons. The meaning of this is simply astounding. It means that approximately 1,300,000,000 tons of water per minute enter the heavens via evaporation.

Here indeed are the "waters above the firmament," as God revealed in Genesis 1:7. Despite this truth, we read some recent so-called "interpreter" who actually wrote that, "`The waters above the firmament' was an ancient superstition founded upon a myth!"


Verse 8

V.

GOD THE TERRIBLE TO ENEMIES OF ISRAEL

"Who smote the first-born of Egypt,

Both of man and beast;

Who sent signs and wonders into the midst of them, O Egypt,

Upon Pharaoh and upon all his servants;

Who smote many nations, and slew mighty kings,

Sihon king of the Amorites,

And Og king of Bashan,

And all the kingdoms of Canaan."

Beginning all the way back in Psalms 135:6 and running through Psalms 135:12 we have one long sentence, which we have broken up for purposes of this study. Kidner tells us that, "Practically every phrase in Psalms 135:8 through Psalms 135:12 is repeated word for word in the next psalm, Psalms 136:10,18-22)."[17]

Delitzsch called the message of these verses, "God is worthy to be praised as the Conqueror of the Land of Promise."[18]

The purpose of this paragraph is the presentation of the fifth argument calling for the praise of God. This is a brief reference to the long history of Israel, in which God had repeatedly destroyed their enemies: (1) The tenth plague against Egypt in the death of the first-born of both man and beast (Psalms 135:8); (2) all of the other nine plagues, called here, "signs and wonders" (Psalms 135:9); (3) the smiting of many nations (Psalms 135:10); (4) the slaying of mighty kings (Psalms 135:10); (5) particularly Sihon; and (6) Og (Psalms 135:11); and (7) All the kingdoms of Canaan (Psalms 135:11) - these are the seven events mentioned in this paragraph.

In my commentaries on the Pentateuch, and Joshua, we have written full discussions of all of the events mentioned here; and we shall be content with referring to those writings for any persons who may be interested in exploring them more fully. By no means all of God's wonderful deliverances of Israel by the destruction of their enemies are mentioned here; but these seven examples are cited as typical of the total number. One of the most wonderful examples of God's destroying Israel's enemies is that of the death of Sennacherib's army before the very walls of Jerusalem.

All such deliverances are brought to mind by the psalmist here for the purpose of eliciting praise of God from the hearts of grateful Israelites. Throughout the ages, every child of God will find many events in his life for which there is always due unceasing praise of God.

VI.

Alongside of God's terror to the enemies of his people, there was always the evidence of his loving mercy, benevolence, protection and concern for his people, Israel, in the context before us; but, in our own times, God's people are the New Israel which is the Church. This is cited here as the sixth reason for praising God.


Verse 12

"And God gave their land for a heritage,

A heritage unto Israel his people.

Thy name, O Jehovah, endureth forever;

Thy memorial name, O Jehovah, throughout all generations.

For Jehovah will judge his people,

And repent himself concerning his servants."

These verses stress God's goodness to Israel as grounds for their obligation to praise God. The entire Old Testament is a record of God's infinite forbearance, love, blessing, protection and encouragement of Israel throughout its history.

"Jehovah ... will repent himself concerning his servants" (Psalms 135:14). We have no way of knowing exactly how the psalmist himself might have understood this promise; but we are sure that Israel as a whole misunderstood it. The nation, if we may judge by what they did, concluded that no matter what they did; no matter how often they rebelled against God; no matter how deliberate and bitter their resistance to God's will might become - no matter what, Israel would never lose their status as God's Chosen People, and that God would always deliver them and accommodate himself to their wickedness.

Even when Jerusalem was in the process of being destroyed by the armies of Vespasian and Titus, the final high priest of Judaism comforted his people with the statement that Jerusalem would stand until the Messiah came, and since the Messiah had not come, Jerusalem would continue to stand.


Verse 15

VII.

THE LIVING GOD INFINITELY ABOVE DEAD IDOLS

"The idols of the nations are silver and gold,

The work of men's hands.

They have mouths, but they speak not;

Eyes have they, but they see not.

They have ears, but they hear not;

Neither is there any breath in their mouths.

They that make them shall be like unto them;

Yea, every one that trusteth in them."

Despite the fact of these words being a quotation from Psalms 115, Yates noted that, "They are especially appropriate here in order to set in sharp contrast the omnipotence of the Lord and the uselessness of idols."[19]

The whole ancient world, at the time of this psalm, was worshipping and praising pagan idols. These words demonstrate how infinitely far above such senseless, dead and decaying "gods" is the true "and Eternal God of Israel." No stronger motivation for his praise could be imagined.

These verses occur also in Psalms 115:4-8, above, where we devoted several pages to a discussion of what is written here. See my commentary above under Psalms 115:8.


Verse 19

THE EPILOGUE

"O house of Israel, bless ye Jehovah:

O house of Aaron, bless ye Jehovah:

O house of Levi, bless ye Jehovah:

Ye that fear Jehovah, bless ye Jehovah.

Blessed be Jehovah out of Zion,

Who dwelleth at Jerusalem.

Praise ye Jehovah."

This epilogue matches the prologue in the triple repetition of the words, "Bless Jehovah." In the prologue, "Praise Jehovah" is the repeated clause. All Israel, the priests "as the house of Aaron," and the Levites "as the house of Levi," are the persons addressed in the epilogue.

Barnes described this epilogue as, "An earnest call on all classes of the people to bless and praise the Lord. The language here is expressive of overflowing joy, the utterance of a heart full of exalted conceptions of the majesty, glory and mercy of God."[20]

Anyone who reads this psalm can hardly fail to catch the mood and feelings of the psalmist and to say "Amen and Amen."

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 135:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/psalms-135.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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