THE" Little Psalter" of" Songs of Ascents" terminates here with a short psalm, due probably to the compiler—a psalm of four lines only. It consists of two portions:
Behold. The word calls attention to an immediate need—something that is to be done, and to be done at once. Bless ye the Lord. This must mean "for us"—"on our behalf." Thank God for having brought our journey to a prosperous end. All ye servants of the Lord, which by night stand in the house of the Lord; i.e. ye special servants of the Lord, priests and Levites, now standing within his courts, and engaged in his worship. The temple was never left without a body of priests and Levites, to keep it and sing praises in it.
Lift up your hands. The attitude of prayer and praise (Psalms 63:4; Psalms 119:48; Psalms 141:2). In the sanctuary; rather, towards the sanctuary; i.e. towards the holy of holies. Others render, "in holiness." And bless the Lord (compare the first clause of Psalms 134:1).
The Lord that made heaven and earth (comp. Genesis 1:1; Psalms 115:15; Psalms 121:2; Psalms 124:8; Psalms 146:6). Bless thee out of Zion. God was regarded as dwelling in Zion, and therefore as giving his blessings out of Zion (comp. Psalms 20:2; Psalms 53:6; Psalms 128:5).
God and man; reciprocal relations.
"It must needs be a matter of conjecture who the speakers are" in this short psalm; but these three verses bring before us the reciprocal relations existing between our God and ourselves, particularly as those engaged in his worship. "Bless ye the Lord … the Lord bless thee."
I. IN APPROACH AND NEARNESS OF SPIRIT. We draw nigh unto him, and he draws nigh unto us (2 Chronicles 15:2; James 4:8). We come up to his house to "seek his face' (Psalms 27:8), and he seeks us; he finds us; he makes us conscious of his presence. He manifests himself unto us as not unto the world. And when we leave the sanctuary, and (partly through the help we have gained there) cherish the sense of God's near presence, and feel that we are "with him ' everywhere, then is he "with us," not only in nearness of spiritual presence (Psalms 139:1-24.), but in fullness of Divine sympathy and the putting forth of Divine power on our behalf.
II. IN PRAYER ON OUR PART, AND IN COMMUNICATION OF TRUTH ON HIS PART. We speak to him in prayer (Psalms 134:2). With uplifted hands, in reverent adoration, we pour out our heart in humble, earnest supplication, or in renewing before him and unto him our solemn vows. We may do well to put it to ourselves in these simple terms—that we are together, that with one voice and one thought and hope we may "speak to God." Then we listen as he speaks to us. As we listen to the reading of his Word, we may feel—Surely this is nothing other than God speaking to our hearts. Such a thought should make him that reads and those who hear feel that this is not the least important part of Divine worship, and is not undeserving of our best effort and attention. The preacher in the sanctuary should set before him as his high aim, as his noble and holy function, so to declare his message that, through his human voice, God will be speaking to the people of his charge. Thus, before leaving the house of God, we shall have reverently spoken to him; he will have graciously spoken to us.
III. IN BLESSING. "Bless ye the Lord … the Lord bless thee."
1. We bless God as we offer him our lowly but sincere adoration; as we ascribe to him all power, wisdom, faithfulness, holiness, mercy, patience; as we present to him the tribute of our praise for all his past kindness to us, and especially for his grace to us in Christ Jesus; as we thank him for all he has promised to us in the near and in the further future.
2. He blesses us as he lifts on us the light of his reconciled countenance; as he enlightens our understanding, and enables us to perceive new and fuller truth, or recognize familiar truth more clearly or vividly; as he kindles in our waiting heart a stronger flame of gratitude and love; as he stablishes and strengthens our soul in our purpose of devotion; as he draws out our sympathies with all that suffer and are in need; as he sends us forth from his presence confirmed and enlarged in heart, rejoicing in himself and in his service. It may be added that:
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
The songs of degrees' doxology.
This series of psalms ends, as all service of worship should, with the voice of praise and thanksgiving. It is ill if our prayers and varied waiting upon God do not bring us into the spirit which would bless the Lord, and bid all others do the same. That spirit is present in this psalm. Note—
I. THE EXHORTATION HERE GIVEN. "Behold, bless ye the Lord." Now, this psalm, being placed here at the end of the series, bids us look back and trace, in the psalms that have gone before, the manifold reasons wherefore we should bless the Lord. The first of these psalms, Psalms 120:1-7; tells of deliverance from cruel enemies; Psalms 121:1-8; of God's continual preservation of his people; Psalms 122:1-9; of joy and delight realized in the worship of the Lord; Psalms 123:1-4; of waiting continually upon God in times of trouble; Psalms 124:1-8; of deliverance from fierce foes; Psalms 125:1-5; of experience of God's guardian care; Psalms 126:1-6; of the joy of God's salvation; Psalms 127:1-5; of the Lord alone being our sure Keeper; Psalms 128:1-6; of God's grace and goodness sweetening the home; Psalms 129:1-8; of afflictions many, but of preservation in them all; Psalms 130:1-8; of God's blessed uplifting; Psalms 131:1-3; of the soul kept in the peace of God; Psalms 132:1-18; of the prosperity of the Church; and Psalms 133:1-3; of her unity; and now in Psalms 134:1-3, there is, as there well may be, the command to bless the Lord. What a long list it is of mercies, and help, and deliverances, and blessings unspeakable! If men will look back along their lives, they too will bless the Lord.
II. To WHOM IT IS ADDRESSED.
1. To all servants of the Lord. For there is none that has not good reason for obeying it. But especially:
2. To them "who by night stand in the house of the Lord." Now, here allusion is made, so it seems, to those whose office it was to minister before the Lord during the night watches—there were priests and Levites who had duties by night as well as by day (1 Chronicles 9:33). There was "a night watch of choristers who kept up the worship of God through the silent hours." Two verses of the psalm seem to have been the salutation of the congregation addressed to them, and Psalms 134:3 is their response.
3. And God has yet many servants whose duty is to serve him through the night hours. The sleepless ones—those who from one cause and another have to say, "Thou holdest mine eyes waking." Well is it for such to employ those hours in the praise of the Lord (cf. Psalms 63:5, Psalms 63:6). And such as the sailor pacing the deck in the night watch, the sentry on guard, the nurse in her ward,—well is it for them in the night to bless the Lord.
4. Or, we may take the night as telling of the night of sorrow—those times of darkness and depression through which we all have to pass (see Paul and Silas in the dungeon at Philippi, at midnight singing praises unto God). How often have these psalms been used by God's people at such hours, and with what rich results in the quickening of faith and hope and joy in God!
5. And if, as some maintain, there was no later service in the temple than the evening sacrifice, then the many evening congregations gathered together may take these words as addressed to them.
III. HOW IT IS TO BE OBEYED. They were to "lift up their hands to the sanctuary." The body should bear its part; posture and gesture help the spirit.
IV. WHAT COMES OF SUCH OBEDIENCE. The Lord will bless us (Psalms 134:3). He who hath all power, who made heaven and earth, he will bless the soul that worships him (cf. Psalms 135:3). All who have thus drawn near to God have found that he draws near to them.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY R. TUCK
From a Targum we learn that "the custom in the second temple appears to have been this: After midnight the chief of the doorkeepers took the key of the inner temple, and went with some of the priests through the small postern of the Fire Gate. In the inner court this watch divided itself into two companies, each carrying a burning torch; one company turned west, the other east; and so they compassed the court to see whether all were in readiness for the temple service on the following morning. In the bakehouse, where the mincha (meat offering) of the high priest was baked, they met with the cry, 'All well!' Meanwhile the rest of the priests arose, bathed themselves, and put on their garments. They then went into the stone-chamber (one half of which was the hall of session of the Sanhedrim), and there, under the superintendence of the officer who gave the watchword and one of the Sanhedrim, surrounded by the priests clad in their robes of office, their several duties for the coming day were assigned to each of the priests by lot." It should be always borne in mind that, in the Divine idea, the entire people of Israel made up a nation of priests. Every man was regarded as a consecrated man, separated unto the honor, worship, and service of Jehovah. What were called the actual priests were only representatives of these universal priests, and they were only daily doing materially what every man-priest of the nation was pledged to do, and if he was a true and worthy man, was trying to do spiritually. If this point can be clearly seen, a new interest will be found to attach to the various doings of the representative priesthood. Men are always learning from them what they should be and what they should do in a spiritual sense. One thing is set prominently in this psalm. The work of the priests is to "bless Jehovah." This they do in a formal manner by lifting up their hands and voices, waving the censers, etc. Let an Israelite see or hear a priest blessing God, and his heart ought at once to respond, saying, "That is just what I ought to be doing, with heart, and lip, and deed, and above all by the thankful, trustful, devoted spirit of my life."—R.T.
(For the high-priestly benediction, see Numb, 6:24.) Raising suppliant hands is the formal, bodily sign of earnest prayer. Every mental or moral state has its corresponding natural bodily attitude or movement; and raising and stretching forth the opened hands in a receptive attitude is the natural bodily attitude accompanying petition. There is an important alteration in this sentence. It should be, "Lift up your hands to the sanctuary;" and the figure is of the priests turning towards the holy of holies, where the symbol of God's presence rested, and stretching forth hands of supplication towards it (see Solomon's attitude at the dedication of the temple).
I. THERE IS AN ELEMENT OF PRAYER IN ALL BLESSING OF GOD. There is for man; there may not be for angels. Man can never offer even his praise without a sense of his unworthiness. So he must always mingle a prayer for pardon and for pitying mercy with his thanksgivings. And he can never draw near to the Divine presence without a sense of need. So say what he may of God, or to God, in his praises, he finds that he always has something to ask for. His dependence always wants to find expression. We are always wrong if there is no prayer in our praises.
II. THE ELEMENT OF PRAYER FINDS EXPRESSION IN UPLIFTED HANDS. Kneeling in prayer is to a great extent a modern device. Easterns stand to pray. So did our forefathers. And so do those who now lead prayers at prayer-meetings. Stretching forth the hands is now regarded as the act of benediction, as in the Catholic and Scotch Protestant Churches. But it is such a universal and natural expression of supplication that it might very wisely be restored to use in private as well as public acts of prayer and praise. The apostle bids us "lift up holy hands, without wrath and doubting."
III. THE UPLIFTED HANDS MUST BE HOLY HANDS. The priests had to wash their hands, as a sign of their putting away all self-indulgence and self-will and all gathered evil before engaging in the praises of Jehovah. And it is the absolutely universal law, "Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord." The symbol of the soul-cleanness which goes with sincerity and gains for us acceptance, is the washed and holy uplifted hands.—R.T.