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Praise God for His great works in nature and for His people (Psalms 135) March 4-5

Psalms 135-137 form the concluding section of what some Jewish traditions label the Great Hallel (or "Praise")-following the beginning section, the songs of ascents (120-134). As noted in the Bible Reading Program's introduction to the Great Hallel and songs of ascents, some traditions list the Great Hallel as Psalms 120-136, while others confine it to only Psalm 136.

Psalm 135, an unattributed psalm of praise for the one true Creator God in contrast to worthless idols, is well placed after Psalm 134, the concluding song of ascents. Recall its closing statement about "the LORD who made heaven and earth" (verse 3), repeating wording used in other songs of ascents (see 121:2; 124:8). Indeed, Psalm 134 introduces Psalm 135 in other ways too, as we will see. And we should also note that Psalm 135 repeats themes and language from another Hallel collection, the Egyptian Hallel (113-118). An apparent quotation of Jeremiah 10:13 (and 51:16) in Psalm 135:7, combined with clear indications that this song was intended for temple worship, has led many to conclude that the psalm was written after the Jewish exile in Babylon. However, it is possible that the repeated verse in Jeremiah was quoted from Psalm 135.

The psalm opens with five calls to praise the Lord (verses 1-3) and closes with five calls to bless the Lord (verses 19-21)-continuing from Psalm 134's repeated call to bless the Lord (verses 1-2).

Verse 1 of Psalm 135 is basically identical to the opening verse of the Egyptian Hallel, 113:1, except that the second and third lines are transposed. The next verse (135:2), wherein the call to praise God is given to those who "stand in the house of the LORD, in the courts of the house of our God," continues thematically from, again, the first two verses of 134. Here it is evident that festival worship is still in mind, as in the songs of ascents. Moreover, God's "house" also signified His holy nation of Israel (compare verse 4). And of course, we today should further understand God's "house" to represent His Church, His spiritual nation, as well as His eternal Kingdom and family. The description of Israel as a "special treasure" (verse 4; compare Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6; 14:2) applies in a higher sense to God's spiritually elect people (compare Malachi 3:16-17).

Note in Psalm 135:3 the use of the terms "good" and "pleasant," as in Psalm 133:1, where these terms describe the unity of God's people. Here in Psalm 135, the word good applies to God as a cause for praise. Yet it is not entirely clear what the word pleasant refers to, whether to God (in which case the translation should be "for He is pleasant") or to singing praises or to God's name (in line with the NKJV translation of "for it is pleasant"). If God is intended, the idea would be that God is pleasing to experience (compare the use of both words in 147:1). The praising of God's name is also paralleled in the opening of Psalm 113 (verse 2).

Verses 5-7 of Psalm 135 constitute a stanza about God as Sovereign Creator. God doing as He pleases in verse 6 is reminiscent of Psalm 115:3 in the Egyptian Hallel-especially as a section of Psalm 115 is worded much the same as a later section of this song. Psalm 135:7, as already mentioned, may have been taken from Jeremiah 10:13, part of a passage wherein God is shown by His power in creation to be superior to futile idols (see verses 11-16). Yet as also mentioned, it could be the other way around-that these words, found in Jeremiah 51:13 as well, were quoted from Psalm 135.

The next stanza, verses 8-12, presents God as Israel's Deliverer. It is interesting to note that praise for God as Creator followed by praise for Him as Deliverer is also found in the next psalm, Psalm 136. Indeed, the language about destroying the firstborn of Egypt, the slaying of Kings Sihon and Og, and Israel receiving its land as a heritage is essentially found there also (compare 135:8-12; 136:10-22).

Through God's mighty acts and intervention, His "name" and "fame" (zeker, "remembrance") endure for all time (verse 13). Indeed, even though people often forget to consider God and His directives, most people understand on some level that He exists. Moreover, God's name will live forever as generations pass on the story of His saving acts, as those who love Him continue to praise Him, and as He completes His great plan of salvation-bringing all mankind into a relationship with Him (and ultimately removing those who reject Him). God's judgment and mercy in dealing with His people is the subject of verse 14.

The words of verses 15-18 are very close to those found in Psalm 115:4-8. The common assumption is that the passage in Psalm 135 is taken from Psalm 115, though the reverse could be true. Regarding the wording here, see the Bible Reading Program comments on Psalm 115.

Interestingly, Psalm 115 addressed Israel, the house of Aaron (the priesthood), and all those who fear the Lord (verses 9-11) and noted that God would bless each of these three groups (verses 12-13). Psalm 118, another psalm of the Egyptian Hallel, called on each of these three groups to declare that God's mercy or unfailing love endures forever (verses 2-4). And now in Psalm 135, we see each of these groups called on to, in turn, bless the Lord-with the addition of addressing a fourth group, the house of Levi, thus distinguishing all those involved in the temple service or perhaps the non-priestly Levitical choir, as it may be that different choirs sang different stanzas of this song. In all likelihood the final declaration of blessing in verse 21 and the concluding Hallelujah ("Praise the LORD") were sung by all.

Note also here that as God blessed His people from Zion (134:3), so His people are to bless Him from Zion (135:21). Again, the focus here is on worship at Jerusalem, where God dwells, making this a song of Zion. Besides the obvious meaning, again tying this song to temple festival worship and the songs of ascents, we should also understand Zion in the broader sense of representing God's nation, His Church, His millennial capital, His Kingdom, and His heavenly city. These are all to resound with praise for the Eternal God.

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