"We have now," says Hengstenberg, "a group of twelve Psalms, sung after the prosperous completion of the Temple, and probably at its dedication, consisting of three new Psalms at the beginning, and one at the end, Psalms 146, which enclose in the middle eight Psalms of David.… No period was more suitable for the appropriation of this Davidic cycle of Psalms than that in which the Davidic stem was, poorly enough, represented by Zerubbabel, whose humbled condition also gave occasion to the prophets of that period, Haggai and Zechariah, to lay a firmer and deeper hold on the rich promises given to the race of David."
This is one of the Hallelujah Psalms; it was intended for use in the Temple service; it is general in its character, and consists of exhortations to praise Jehovah, with reasons for so doing. This Psalm has much in common with the preceding one. Both are exhortations to worship; both are addressed to the priests and Levites engaged in ministering in the Temple. But this Psalm differs from the preceding in that in it the exhortation to praise the Lord is enforced by several reasons. There is no superscription to the Psalm; and we know neither its author nor the date of its composition.
INCITEMENTS TO PRAISE THE LORD
In this strophe we have a fervent exhortation to celebrate the praise of God, supported by weighty motives to do so. Consider—
I. The persons to whom this exhortation is addressed. "Praise ye the Lord. Praise ye the Name of the Lord," &c. (Psa ). (See the Hom. Com. on Psa 134:1.) The exhortation is addressed "to the Levites who sang psalms and played on the different musical instruments which were used in the service of God, and to the priests who blew with the trumpets and repeated the liturgical prayers and the blessings." In this age we have no priestly class, for all Christians are priests, and the exhortation of the text is applicable to all Christians. Two characteristics of those to whom it is addressed are here specified—
1. They have access to God. They "stand in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God." Every believer in Jesus Christ may "enter into the holiest by His blood." "Through Him we have access unto the Father."
2. They serve God. "Servants of the Lord, that stand in the house of the Lord." They stand ministering in His Temple. They wait His behests, and then hasten to obey them. The Christian looks to Christ not only as a Saviour to be trusted, but as a Sovereign to be obeyed. They who are thus admitted into the presence and service of God are under special obligations to praise Him.
II. The reasons by which this exhortation is enforced.
1. Because of the holiness of God. "Praise the Lord; for the Lord is good." In Himself God is absolutely perfect. "God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all." In Him the conscience finds the Supremely Righteous; the intellect, the Supremely Intelligent; the heart, the Supremely Kind; the soul, the Supremely Beautiful. Therefore it is fitting that He should be praised, and that with all our powers.
2. Because of the delight which the exercise yields. "Sing praises unto His Name; for it is pleasant." Sincere praise to God exalts and exhilarates the spirit of him who presents it, strengthens his faith, increases his strength, and transforms him into the image of God. The reverent and hearty praise of the Divine Being is the heaven of the godly soul.
3. Because of His special relation to Israel.
(1.) In a special sense they were His people. "For the Lord hath chosen Jacob unto Himself, Israel for His peculiar treasure." As His people they enjoyed special privileges. He guided them, sustained them, gave to them a goodly inheritance; many a time He delivered them, &c. As His people they had special obligations. They were called to be witnesses to the great truths of His unity, spirituality, and holiness, to the heathen nations. By their civil and religious institutions, and by their life and conduct, they were to testify for the Lord God amongst men.
(2.) In His esteem they were specially precious. "His peculiar treasure." "The Lord taketh pleasure in His people." "If ye will obey My voice, indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine." "God is good to all;" but to His people He manifests His special regard. He—
"Keeps with most distinguished care
The man who on His love depends."
(3.) He had chosen them for this position. They did not attain it by their own effort, or merit it by their own excellence; but were selected to it by Him in His sovereign favour. This special and privileged relation to Him supplies most cogent reasons for praising Him. And the argument applies with still greater force to the people of God to-day.
4. Because of His sovereignty in nature. "For I know that the Lord is great, and that our Lord is above all gods," &c. (Psa ). The poet represents this sovereignty as
(1.) Absolute. "Whatsoever the Lord pleased that did He." "He does what He pleases, because He pleases, and gives not account of any of His matters."
(2.) Omnipotent. Whatsoever in His sovereignty He willed, that by His power He effected.
(3.) Universal. "In heaven, and in earth, in the seas, and all deep places." By these expressions the Psalmist intends to set forth the entire universe.
"He everywhere hath sway,
And all things serve His might."
The poet represents the Lord as absolutely supreme over all the forces and phenomena of nature. And this representation we regard as ( α) Philosophic; ( β) Scriptural; ( γ) Assuring. (See the Hom. Com. on Psa .) As the universal Sovereign, He has a right to universal praise.
CONCLUSION.—Let us offer to God the sacrifice of praise continually. Let us praise Him not only with the lip, but with the life; not only in church, but everywhere; not only on the Lord's day, but every day. Let us seek for a heart of constant praise—
"Not thankful, when it pleaseth me;
As if Thy blessings had spare days:
But such a heart whose pulse may be
THE GREATNESS OF GOD AN INCENTIVE TO PRAISE HIM
In this strophe the poet presents illustrations of the greatness and supremacy of the Lord to invite the people to praise Him. He illustrates His greatness by—
I. His judgments upon the heathen. "Who smote the firstborn of Egypt, both of man and beast," &c. (Psa ).
1. His judgments fall upon all classes of men, and even upon the brute creation. "Who smote the firstborn of Egypt, both of man and beast. Who sent tokens and wonders into the midst of thee, O Egypt, upon Pharaoh, and upon all his servants." Servants suffer for their masters' sins. The consequences of a king's obstinate tyranny over man, and rebellion against God will fall heavily upon his subjects. And even the brute creation feel the smart of the penalty of human transgressions. When the Divine judgments fall upon the land, all classes, from the sovereign to the serf, feel the weight of the stroke.
2. His judgments reach the mightiest powers. "Who smote great nations, and slew mighty kings," &c. "Sihon king of the Amorites," was a man of great courage and audacity, and a distinguished military leader. "And Og king of Bashan," was a man of gigantic size and stature, the ruler over sixty proud fenced cities, inhabited by a brave and powerful people. Yet, these great and warlike kings, with their valiant armies, were smitten and slain when the Most High arose against them. His frown strikes with dismay the heart of the most courageous, and the strong arm falls nerveless, and great and powerful nations are brought to nought.
3. His judgments are lessons. They are "tokens and wonders." "Wonders"—things calculated to beget surprise and amazement. "Tokens," or "signs"—things calculated to excite inquiry, and to teach inquirers important truths. The plagues of Egypt were significant of important truths concerning the Divine Being and His government. To the "earnest listener" they announced the almighty power of God, His hatred of tyranny and oppression, His regard for the oppressed, &c. These miracles of judgments were parables of the Divine character and procedure towards men. In this great power which is arrayed against tyranny and oppression we have a motive for celebrating the praise of the Lord.
II. His regard for His people.
1. He makes His judgments upon the heathen an advantage to His people. He "gave their land for an heritage, an heritage unto Israel His people." (See Psa .) In His government of the world the Lord has special regard to the interests of His loyal subjects. He makes "all things work together for their good."
2. He defends the cause of His people. "For the Lord will judge His people." (See Deu .) He will see that they have that which is right, and in due time will rid them of their oppressors, and avenge them of their adversaries.
3. He pities them in their distresses. "He will repent Himself concerning His servants." (See the Hom. Com. on Psa .) He will not suffer them to be oppressed beyond their power of endurance, but in His mercy He will visit them in their afflictions and "compass them about with songs of deliverance." Here then is a stirring incentive to praise the Lord; an incentive that should move the dullest heart to joyous and reverent strains.
III. His eternity and unchangeableness. "Thy Name, O Lord, endureth for ever; Thy memorial, O Lord, throughout all generations." God's eternity involves His immutability. It is the omnipotent and unchangeable eternity.
All earthly things are transient and mutable; but God abides for ever, and He is for ever the same. In this we have—
1. An encouragement to faith. He is still the same as when He wrought mighty wonders and signs on behalf of Israel. Age does not diminish His interest in His people, or His faithfulness to them, or His power to aid them. Therefore they may sing, "Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and not be afraid."
2. An argument for praise. The constancy of God's love for His people and of His great and glorious doings for them, should constrain them to offer to Him the lowliest adoration and the heartiest praise.
Here, then, in these illustrations of the greatness of God, we have what ought to prove to all who are loyal to Him, irresistible incentives to exalt and magnify His holy Name.
THE VANITY OF IDOLS AN INCENTIVE TO PRAISE THE LORD GOD
"To show more fully the propriety of praising God, and Him alone as God, the Psalmist institutes a comparison between Him and idols, showing that the gods worshipped by the heathen lacked every ground of claim to divine worship and homage. They were, after all that could be done to fashion, to decorate, and to adorn them, nothing but silver and gold, and could have no better claim to worship than silver and gold as such."—Barnes. Psa correspond almost exactly to Psa 115:4-11. And as that passage has already engaged attention in this work, it will be sufficient in this place to indicate briefly a homiletical method of treatment. Here are four main points for consideration—
I. The innate religiousness of human nature. The manufacture of idols indicates the religious tendency of human nature. Man must have a god of some kind; he must worship. Without an object of worship there are instinctive desires and cravings of the human soul which find no satisfaction.
1. Man wants an object of trust. Man is conscious of insufficiency for the deep meanings and momentous issues of life, and looks for help from beyond and above himself. If he find nothing higher, he will trust even in a dead idol (Psa ).
2. Man wants an object of worship. He has instincts which urge him to pay homage and reverence to a being or beings higher than himself. Worship is not imposed upon human nature, but the development of some of the deepest instincts of that nature. If it be objected that peoples have been discovered amongst whom there was no sign of the religious element, the reply is obvious, that such extreme exceptions prove the rule.
II. The sad perversion of the religious element in human nature (Psa ). That which should find its exercise and satisfaction and blessedness in the holy and ever-blessed God is here exhibited as turning to dead idols—vain simulacra—in trust and reverence.
1. This perversion indicates amazing stupidity. How irrational! how absurd to suppose that a wooden, silver, or golden thing can be worthy of homage or of trust!
2. This perversion indicates moral derangement. If the conscience and the affections were in their normal condition, idolatry would be impossible. Idolatry is sin as well as folly.
3. This perversion is deplorably degrading in its effects. "They that make them are like unto them, so is every one that trusteth in them." "They who, turning away from God's witness of Himself in the visible creation, worshipped the creature rather than the Creator, received in themselves the sentence of their own degradation. ‘Their foolish heart became darkened.' They became blind, and deaf, and dumb, and dead, like the idols they set up to worship."—Perowne. Worship is transforming. Man becomes like his god. These remarks are applicable to the idolatries of our own land,—the worship of wealth, social status, &c.
III. The grand Object of worship for man as a religious being. "Bless the Lord," &c. (Psa ). Here is an Object—
1. Suited to the needs of man. We have pointed out that man wants in his god an object of trust and of worship. The Lord is supremely trustworthy. He is unchangeable and infinite in power, kindness, and faithfulness. He is supremely excellent. He is "glorious in holiness." "God is light."
2. Suited to the needs of man as man and of all men. The "house of Israel," the "house of Aaron," the "house of Levi," and all "that fear the Lord," are here called upon to praise Him. The Lord is the God not of any one class or race, but "the God of the spirits of all flesh."
Here is the grand object of worship for all men. All others are false and vain. Let all men worship the Lord God, and in so doing they will find the satisfaction, perfection, and blessedness of being.
IV. The chief place of worship for man as a religious being. "Blessed be the Lord out of Zion, who dwelleth at Jerusalem. Hallelujah." "As in Psa ; Psa 134:3, Jehovah blesses out of Zion, so here, on the other hand, His people bless Him out of Zion. For there they meet to worship Him; there not only He, but they may be said to dwell (Isa 10:24); and thence accordingly His praise is sounded abroad."—Perowne. The church, though not the exclusive, is the chief place of worship. There devout souls meet; there He has promised to meet with them, &c.
To the Lord God, and to Him alone, let the hearty and reverent praise of all men be given. "Praise ye the Lord."
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 135". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany