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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Psalms 135

 

 

Verses 1-21

Psalms 135:1-21

LIKE Psalms 97:1-12; Psalms 98:1-9, this is a cento, or piece of mosaic work, apparently intended as a call to worship Jehovah in the Temple. His greatness, as manifested in Nature, and especially in His planting Israel in its inheritance, is set forth as the reason for praise; and the contemptuous contrast of the nothingness of idols is repeated from Psalms 115:1-18, and followed, as there, by an exhortation to Israel to cleave to Him. We have not here to do with a song which gushed fresh from the singer’s heart, but with echoes of many strains which a devout and meditative soul had made its own. 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.

Psalms 135:1-4 are an invocation to praise Jehovah, and largely consist of quotations or allusions. Thus Psalms 134:1 underlies Psalms 135:1-2. But here the reference to nightly praises is omitted, and the summons is addressed not only to those who stand in the house of Jehovah, but to those who stand in its courts. That expansion may mean that the call to worship is here directed to the people as well as to the priests (so in Psalms 135:19). Psalms 135:3 closely resembles Psalms 147:1, but the question of priority may be left undecided. Since the act of praise is said to be "pleasant" in Psalms 147:1, it is best to refer the same word here to the same thing, and not, as some would do, to the Name, or to take it as an epithet of Jehovah. To a loving soul praise is a delight. The songs which are not winged by the singer’s joy in singing will not rise high. True worship pours out its notes as birds do theirs-in order to express gladness which, unuttered, loads the heart. Psalms 135:4 somewhat passes beyond the bounds of the invocation proper, and anticipates the subsequent part of the psalm. Israel’s prerogative is so great to this singer that it forces utterance at once, though "out of season," as correct critics would say. But the throbs of a grateful heart are not always regular. It is impossible to keep the reasons for praise out of the summons to praise. Psalms 135:4 joyfully and humbly accepts the wonderful title given in Deuteronomy 7:6.

In Psalms 135:5-7 God’s majesty as set forth in Nature is hymned. The psalmist says emphatically in Psalms 135:5 "I-I know," and implies the privilege which he shared, in common with his fellow Israelites (who appear in the "our" of the next clause), of knowing what the heathen did not know-how highly Jehovah was exalted above all their gods. Psalms 135:6 is from Psalms 115:3, with the expansion of defining the all-inclusive sphere of God’s sovereignty. Heaven, earth, seas, and depths cover all space. The enumeration of the provinces of His dominion prepares for that of the phases of His power in Nature, which is quoted with slight change from Jeremiah 10:13; Jeremiah 51:16. The mysterious might which gathers from some unknown region the filmy clouds which grow, no man knows how, in the clear blue; the power which weds in strange companionship the fire of the lightning flash and the torrents of rain; the controlling hand which urges forth the invisible wind, -these call for praise.

But while the psalmist looks on physical phenomena with a devout poet’s eye, he turns from these to expatiate rather on what Jehovah has done for Israel. Psalmists are never weary of drawing confidence and courage for today from the deeds of the Exodus and the Conquest. Psalms 135:8 is copied Exodus 13:15, and the whole section is saturated with phraseology drawn from Deuteronomy. Psalms 135:13 is from Exodus 3:15, the narrative of the theophany at the Bush. That Name, proclaimed then as the basis of Moses’ mission and Israel’s hope, is now, after so many centuries and sorrows, the same, and it will endure forever. Psalms 135:14 is from Deuteronomy 32:36. Jehovah will right His people-i.e., deliver them from oppressors-which is the same thing as "relent concerning His servants," since His wrath was the reason of their subjection to their foes. That judicial deliverance of Israel is at once the sign that His Name, His revealed character, continues the same, unexhausted and unchanged forever, and the reason why the Name shall continue as the object of perpetual adoration and trust.

Psalms 135:15-20 are taken bodily from Psalms 115:1-18, to which the reader is referred. Slight abbreviations and one notable difference occur. In Psalms 135:17 b, " Yea, there is no breath at all in their mouths," takes the place of "A nose is theirs-and they cannot smell." The variation has arisen from the fact that the particle of strong affirmation (yea) is spelt like the noun "nose," and that the word for "breath" resembles the verb "smell." The psalmist plays upon his original, and by his variation makes the expression of the idols’ lifelessness stronger.

The final summons to praise, with which the end of the psalm returns to its beginning, is also moulded on Psalms 115:9-11, with the addition of "the house of Levi" to the three groups mentioned there, and the substitution of a call to "bless" for the original invitation to "trust." Psalms 135:21 looks back to the last verse of the preceding psalm, and significantly modifies it. There, as in Psalms 118:1-29, Jehovah’s blessing comes out of Zion to His people. Here the people’s blessing in return goes from Zion and rises to Jehovah. They gathered there for worship, and dwelt with Him in His city and Temple. Swift interchange of the God-given blessing, which consists in mercies and gifts of gracious deliverance, and of the human blessing, which consists in thanksgiving and praise, fills the hours of those who dwell with Jehovah, as guests in His house, and walk the streets of the city which He guards and Himself inhabits.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 135:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/psalms-135.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, December 5th, 2019
the First Week of Advent
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