Psalm 135 is of note for its use of other passages from the Hebrew Scriptures. Almost every verse quotes the words or the idea of another Old Testament passage, including four different psalms, two passages from Deuteronomy, two from Jeremiah, and two from Exodus. Derek Kidner wrote of Psalm 135, “Every verse of this psalm either echoes, quotes or is quoted by some other part of Scripture.”
“The reader will be struck by the many allusions as well as direct citations to other passages of Scripture. The end result of the psalmist’s artistry is that the inspired creation stands on its own, even though it is dependent on other Scriptures for its poetic, liturgical, and idiomatic expressions.” (Willem VanGemeren)
A. The good God, Creator and Redeemer.
1. (1-2) A call to praise Yahweh.
Praise the LORD!
Praise the name of the LORD;
Praise Him, O you servants of the LORD!
You who stand in the house of the LORD,
In the courts of the house of our God,
a. Praise the LORD: Psalm 135 begins and ends with this phrase. It is a call for stirring, passionate praise to God, but not one that runs only on the fuel of emotion. This psalm gives many reasonable, logical reasons why we should praise the LORD.
i. Meyer described the characteristics of praise: “In this, we adore God for all that He is in Himself. Forgetting our own petty interests and concerns, our me and my and mine, we take our stand with angels and archangels and all the host of heaven in crying, Thou art worthy, O holy, holy, holy Lord! Heaven and earth are full of Thy great glory. Glory be unto Thee, O God Most High!”
ii. “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God.” (Former Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple, cited in Boice)
b. Praise the name of the LORD: To praise the name of the LORD is to honor Him in all His character and attributes. The name was understood to represent the nature of the person.
c. Praise Him, O you servants of the LORD: As in the previous psalm (Psalm 134:1), this refers to the priests and Levites who would stand in the house of the LORD for priestly and temple duties.
d. In the courts of the house of our God: This may speak of the people of Israel in general, who as worshippers had no access to the house of the LORD (only priests could enter the holy place). The common man could stand in the courts of the house of our God. This was a call to all God’s people to praise Him.
i. “…in the courts, where the people also had a place, 2 Chronicles 4:9, and are required to bear a part in this heavenly Hallelujah.” (Trapp)
ii. “While the previous psalm greeted chiefly the Levites on night watch, this one has a great and varied throng in view, priestly and lay.” (Kidner)
iii. “‘Our God’ signifies possession, communion in possession, assurance of possession, delight in possession. Oh the unutterable joy of calling God our own!” (Spurgeon)
2. (3-4) Reasons to praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good;
Sing praises to His name, for it is pleasant.
For the LORD has chosen Jacob for Himself,
Israel for His special treasure.
a. For the LORD is good: In listing reasons why Yahweh should be praised, the psalmist began with the simple declaration of God’s goodness. This idea is presented many times in the Bible (as in Psalm 73:1 and 143:10; Mark 10:18).
i. “Do not only magnify the Lord because he is God; but study his character and his doings, and thus render intelligent, appreciative praise.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “It is impossible to keep the reasons for praise out of the summons to praise.” (Maclaren)
iii. We, as human beings, have ideas of good and evil because we are made in the image of God. Anyone who questions the goodness of God or His existence has to answer the question, “Where do we get our concept of good?”
iv. “What could be more basic than this, that God is good? Nothing at all, since this is God’s essential nature.” (Boice)
b. Sing praises to His name: One of the ways praise is shown is in song. God’s people should be a singing people.
c. For it is pleasant: This is the second reason given to praise Yahweh – because it benefits the one who praises Him. This should never be the primary reason, because then worship has a focus on self-gratification. Yet worship does do us good, and there is nothing wrong with enjoying the fact that it is pleasant.
i. True praise is pleasant, “…an angelical exercise, and, to the spiritually minded man, very delicious. To others, indeed, who have no true notion of God but as of an enemy, it is but as music at funerals, or as the trumpet before a judge, no comfort to the mourning wife, or guilty prisoner.” (Trapp)
d. For the LORD has chosen Jacob for Himself: The psalmist listed a third reason to praise God – His choosing of Israel for His special treasure. He did not choose Israel because they were great, but because He is great in love.
i. God told Israel this in Deuteronomy 7:7-8: The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the LORD loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers.
ii. “God’s choice exalts; for here the name is changed from Jacob, the supplanter, to Israel, the prince. The love of God gives a new name and imparts a new value; for the comparison to a royal treasure is a most honourable one.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Israel was called to praise God because He chose them; this is also a reason for the New Covenant believer. “Shall not we Christians, then, praise the same gracious Lord, who hath chosen us out of the world, who hath given unto us his gospel, who dwelleth in us by his Spirit, and who, by that Spirit, maketh us more than conquerors over our spiritual adversaries?” (Horne)
iv. For Himself: “It does not say, ‘unto heaven,’ – ‘unto certain privileges,’ – ‘unto certain favors.’ All that is quite true, but it does not say so here: ‘The Lord hath chosen Jacob unto himself.’ Oh, what a blessed choice is this – to be chosen unto God!” (Spurgeon)
e. His special treasure: This fulfills the declaration of God in Deuteronomy 7:6: For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth.
i. His special treasure: “The Hebrew word segullah signifieth God’s special jewels, God’s proper ones, or God’s secret ones, that he keeps in store for himself, and for his own special service and use. Princes lock up with their own hands in secret their most precious and costly jewels; and so doth God his.” (Brooks, cited in Spurgeon)
3. (5-7) Praising God who creates all things.
For I know that the LORD is great,
And our Lord is above all gods.
Whatever the LORD pleases He does,
In heaven and in earth,
In the seas and in all deep places.
He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth;
He makes lightning for the rain;
He brings the wind out of His treasuries.
a. I know that the LORD is great, and our Lord is above all gods: In declaring the greatness of God, the singer used two great titles or names for God. Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel (the LORD) is great, and Adonai, the Master of all (Lord) is above all gods. God is exalted above all the pretended deities of the pagans.
i. I know that the LORD is great: “On what a firm foundation does the psalmist plant his foot – ’I know!’ One loves to hear men of God speaking in this calm, undoubting, and assured confidence, whether it be of the Lord’s goodness or of the Lord’s greatness.” (Bouchier, cited in Spurgeon)
ii. All gods: “…or worshipped as gods by the heathen people. And therefore seeing they commonly praise and extol their idols, it becometh you not to be silent as to the praises of your God.” (Poole)
b. Whatever the LORD pleases He does: The psalmist exalted Yahweh as having ultimate power, with the ability to do whatever He desires. His power extends everywhere, in heaven and in earth, and in the seas and from the ends of the earth.
i. In the seas and in all deep places: “…in the visible seas, and in those invisible depths, both of earth, and of the waters which are contained in the bowels of the earth.” (Poole)
c. He makes lightning for the rain: This exalts Yahweh over the Canaanite idol Baal, who was thought of as the god of weather. Baal was sometimes depicted as holding a bolt of lightning, and was believed to be the one who sent the rain. The singer rebuked this, and sang of Yahweh as the Lord over lightning, rain, and the wind.
i. “The heathen divided the great domain; but Jupiter does not rule in heaven, nor Neptune on the sea, nor Pluto in the lower regions; Jehovah rules over all.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “The Psalmist teacheth us to restore the celestial artillery to its rightful owner, Jehovah, the God of Israel, and the Creator of the universe.” (Horne)
4. (8-12) Praising God who redeems His people.
He destroyed the firstborn of Egypt,
Both of man and beast.
He sent signs and wonders into the midst of you, O Egypt,
Upon Pharaoh and all his servants.
He defeated many nations
And slew mighty kings—
Sihon king of the Amorites,
Og king of Bashan,
And all the kingdoms of Canaan—
And gave their land as a heritage,
A heritage to Israel His people.
a. He destroyed the firstborn of Egypt: Yahweh also exalted Himself over the supposed gods of the Egyptians. This psalm refers back to the many plagues God inflicted on Egypt (He sent signs and wonders into the midst of you), with the greatest of them being the judgment of death on the firstborn of Egypt.
i. “Egypt was the theatre of the grand contest between the God of Israel and the gods of the heathen.” (Horne)
ii. Upon Pharaoh and all his servants: “God’s servants are far better off than Pharaoh’s servants: those who stand in the courts of Jehovah are delivered, but the courtiers of Pharaoh are smitten all of them, for they were all partakers in his evil deeds.” (Spurgeon)
b. He defeated many nations: Once Israel was free from Egypt, Yahweh also showed His greatness over all supposed gods by defeating nations and mighty kings that attacked His people.
i. “Psalmists are never weary of drawing confidence and courage for today from the deeds of the Exodus and the Conquest.” (Maclaren)
ii. “The victories over Sihon and Og are recounted in Numbers 21:21ff., 21:33ff.; cf. Deuteronomy 3:11.” (Kidner)
iii. “These two kings were the first to oppose, and they were among the most notable of the adversaries: their being smitten is therefore a special object of song for loyal Israelites.” (Spurgeon)
c. And gave their land as a heritage: God demonstrated His greatness over all the gods of the Canaanites by defeating the kingdoms of Canaan and giving their land to Israel, as a heritage to them – something passed on from generation to generation.
i. “Canaan was their heritage because they were the Lord’s heritage, and he gave it to them actually because he had long before given it to them by promise.” (Spurgeon)
B. Exalting God in all His greatness.
1. (13-14) The greatness of God’s fame.
Your name, O LORD, endures forever,
Your fame, O LORD, throughout all generations.
For the LORD will judge His people,
And He will have compassion on His servants.
a. Your name, O LORD, endures forever: In light of Yahweh’s incomparable greatness (just declared in the previous verses), the singer praised His unchanging name and His never-ending fame.
i. “God does not change. He is immutable, to use the proper theological word for his unchangeability. God is not only good; but he will also always be good. He is always the same in his eternal attributes. We will never find him to be less good than he has been to us in the past.” (Boice)
ii. Your fame: “The name was to increase in significance, as the Lord increased his activities in the history of redemption and revealed more of himself in history and revelation.” (VanGemeren)
b. For the LORD will judge His people: The good and great God will bring justice, righteousness, and compassion to His people. His goodness and greatness are for them, not against them.
i. “He will do them justice against their enemies.” (Clarke)
2. (15-18) The greatness of God in contrast to the empty folly of idols.
The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
The work of men’s hands.
They have mouths, but they do not speak;
Eyes they have, but they do not see;
They have ears, but they do not hear;
Nor is there any breath in their mouths.
Those who make them are like them;
So is everyone who trusts in them.
a. The idols of the nations are silver and gold: This is a striking contrast to the greatness of the all-powerful God who reigns in heaven. The goodness and greatness of Yahweh make the puny idols, the work of men’s hands, seem even emptier and more foolish.
i. “The psalmist returns to the motif of vanity of idolatry by an extensive quotation from Psalm 115:4-8.” (VanGemeren)
b. They have mouths, but they do not speak: As in several other passages in the Hebrew Scriptures, the Bible mocks those who make or worship idols. The one who makes the statue has a mouth, eyes, and ears superior to the idol itself.
i. Eyes they have, but they do not see: “The eyes of idols have frequently been very costly; diamonds have been used for that purpose; but of what avail is the expense, since they see nothing?” (Spurgeon)
ii. “If they cannot even see us, how can they know our wants, appreciate our sacrifices, or spy out for us the means of help? What a wretched thing, that a man who can see should bow down before an image which is blind!” (Spurgeon)
iii. “The Rev. John Thomas, a missionary in India, was one day travelling alone through the country, when he saw a great number of people waiting near an idol temple. He went up to them, and as soon as the doors were opened, he walked into the temple. Seeing an idol raised above the people, he walked boldly up to it, held up his hand, and asked for silence. He then put his fingers on its eyes, and said, “It has eyes, but it cannot see! It has ears, but it cannot hear! It has a nose, but it cannot smell! It has hands, but it cannot handle! It has a mouth, but it cannot speak! Neither is there any breath in it!” Instead of doing injury to him for affronting their god and themselves, the natives were all surprised; and an old Brahmin was so convinced of his folly by what Mr. Thomas said, that he also cried out, “It has feet, but cannot run away!” The people raised a shout, and being ashamed of their stupidity, they left the temple, and went to their homes.” (Cited in Spurgeon’s Treasury of David)
c. Those who make them are like them: Though man is greater than the idol he makes, the creation and honoring of idols make a man or a woman lower. Idolatry never exalts man, but rather brings him low.
i. “It is forever true that man becomes like his god, approximates in character and conduct to that which he yields his homage.” (Morgan)
ii. “If we worship things that people produce, we will become as impotent and empty as those things, but if we worship God, by the grace of God we will become like God.” (Boice)
iii. “Like the material things idolaters serve, idolaters are spiritually dead, they are the mere images of men, their best being is gone, they are not what they seem. Their mouths do not really pray, their eyes see not the truth, their ears hear not the voice of the Lord, and the life of God is not in them.” (Spurgeon)
iv. “To put anything of our own creation, whether wealth, or fame, or power, in the place of God, is to begin a process of degradation, the end of which is destructive of everything of high possibility in life.” (Morgan)
3. (19-21) The people of God called to bless and praise Yahweh.
Bless the LORD, O house of Israel!
Bless the LORD, O house of Aaron!
Bless the LORD, O house of Levi!
You who fear the LORD, bless the LORD!
Blessed be the LORD out of Zion,
Who dwells in Jerusalem!
Praise the LORD!
a. Bless the LORD, O house of Israel: In a series of three statements, this psalm closes with a call to the descendants of Israel, Aaron, and Levi to honor God and give Him the recognition He deserves.
b. You who fear the LORD, bless the LORD: This may be a call to Gentiles who honored God to also join with Israel, the priests, and the Levites in praising and honoring Yahweh.
i. “It may be that this verse is intended to bring in God-fearing men who were not included under Israel, Aaron, and Levi. They were Gentile proselytes, and this verse opens the door and bids them enter.” (Spurgeon)
c. Blessed be the LORD out of Zion: Jerusalem was (and is) a special place to God, but His praise, His goodness, His greatness extend out of Zion. He is not a local deity; His power and greatness are not limited to Zion.
i. Who dwells in Jerusalem: “This clause may be added either to distinguish the true God from the gods which were worshipped in other places and countries; or as a reason why they should bless God, because he had blessed and honoured that place with his gracious and glorious presence.” (Poole)
d. Praise the LORD: It is fitting for such a soaring psalm to end as it began – to declare God’s praise, and to call upon others to do so also.
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org