Psalms 117 and 134 - Lift Up Your Heart and Soul to Praise the LORD

INTRODUCTION: These two psalms are among the shortest in the five books of psalms, and they are both in book five. Psalm 117 in only two verses declares the LORD'S blessing for all people, not just for the nation of Israel. Nothing in the text identifies the author or the time of writing for that psalm. Psalm 134 with only three verses, is the last in the group called the psalms of ascent or degrees. Ascent can describe a process of going or looking up, or looking back to an earlier period of time. This is appropriate for the present day perspective in relation to the former temple at Jerusalem and to the content of psalm 134.

NOTE: Scripture passages are from the World English Bible [WEB].


A - People of all nations can praise the Lord

Psalm 117 "1 ¶ Praise Yahweh, all you nations! Extol him, all you peoples! 2 For his loving kindness is great toward us. Yahweh’s faithfulness endures forever. Praise Yah!"

COMMENTS: Here is an invitation through the inspired pen of the psalmist for all inhabitants in all lands and nations to praise and lavishly lift up to honor the only true God and LORD of all. Though the Jews were the chosen nation of Yahweh, his grace and forgiveness was not limited to Israel alone, even in the times of the Old Testament. The Hebrew term translated above as "nations" had no restriction to being applied only to Abraham's seed, or to the nation of Israel, so it could refer to any nation. The term translated as peoples appears only three times in the Old Testament so I have included the other two references, with the translation word emphasized with braces. Genesis 25 "16 These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names, by their villages, and by their encampments: twelve princes, according to their {nations}." Numbers 25 "15 The name of the Midianite woman who was slain was Cozbi, the daughter of Zur; he was head of the {people} of a fathers’ house in Midian."

Both of these examples refer to people who were descendents of Abraham, but not descendents of Jacob and therefore not part of the nation of Israel. Faith however, is the defining quality for all those who will be approved of the LORD as this next passage states. Hebrews 11 “4 ¶ By faith, Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, through which he had testimony given to him that he was righteous, God testifying with respect to his gifts; and through it he, being dead, still speaks. 5 By faith, Enoch was taken away, so that he wouldn’t see death, and he was not found, because God translated him. For he has had testimony given to him that before his translation he had been well pleasing to God. 6 Without faith it is impossible to be well pleasing to him, for he who comes to God must believe that he exists, and that he is a rewarder of those who seek him. 7 By faith, Noah, being warned about things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared a ship for the saving of his house, through which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. 8 By faith, Abraham, when he was called, obeyed to go out to the place which he was to receive for an inheritance. He went out, not knowing where he went. 9 By faith, he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a land not his own, dwelling in tents, with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he looked for the city which has the foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”

As the psalm expresses, the Lord's loving kindness is great toward us, and that encompasses his forgiveness and steadfast love. After many centuries the temple at Jerusalem was destroyed and Judah was carried into captivity to Babylon. Following the seventy years of captivity prophesied by Jeremiah, Nehemiah wrote this as he reflected on Israel's beginning as a nation coming out of captivity from Egypt. Nehemiah 9 "16 But they and our fathers dealt proudly and hardened their neck, didn’t listen to your commandments, 17 and refused to obey, neither were they mindful of your wonders that you did among them, but hardened their neck, and in their rebellion appointed a captain to return to their bondage. But you are a God ready to pardon, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abundant in loving kindness, and didn’t forsake them." The truth of the LORD does indeed endure forever, and his generous love continued for us. 1 John 4 “By this God’s love was revealed in us, that God has sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” Ephesians 2 “4 ¶ But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with him, and made us to sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” All of God's faithfulness, love, and mercy should cause us as servants of the LORD to praise his holy name where ever we are!


B - Those that stand by night in the Lord's house

Psalm 134 “1 ¶ «A Song of Ascents.» Look! Praise Yahweh, all you servants of Yahweh, who stand by night in Yahweh’s house!

COMMENTS: The Hebrew translated as stand here is elsewhere in scripture translated as remain, stay, continue, as when one would be in a given location for a period of time. In context here, the most likely meaning would be simply to stand while serving or worshipping. From the time of David forward, there was a morning and an evening sacrifice at the sanctuary in Jerusalem every day. That pattern was originally established for the wilderness tabernacle as the next passage describes. Exodus 29 “38 ¶ "Now this is that which you shall offer on the altar: two lambs a year old day by day continually. 39 The one lamb you shall offer in the morning; and the other lamb you shall offer at evening: ... 42 It shall be a continual burnt offering throughout your generations at the door of the Tent of Meeting before Yahweh, where I will meet with you, to speak there to you.”

King David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and placed it in a tent, desiring to build a permanent temple. But God only allowed his son Solomon to build that temple after David's death. When it was completed the priests carried the Ark into the holy place and then placed it into holy of holies as part of the dedication. 1 Kings 8 "10 It came to pass, when the priests had come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of Yahweh, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister by reason of the cloud; for the glory of Yahweh filled the house of Yahweh." It should be noted that everyone would necessarily stand to minister or to worship, because there were no chairs inside the temple where only designated priests could go, or in the various courts outside the temple.

The evening sacrifice may be the "stand by night" reference intended in this first verse. And the instruction of the psalm to "praise the LORD all you servants of the LORD," could include the priests, the singers, and any other temple workers, and all those who had come to offer sacrifices and prayers. What a sweet ending of the day to be held in the hearts of each worshipper until the next morning. The psalm that follows this one begins in much the same way. Psalm 135 "1 ¶ Praise Yah! Praise the name of Yahweh! Praise him, you servants of Yahweh, 2 you who stand in the house of Yahweh, in the courts of our God’s house. 3 Praise Yah, for Yahweh is good. Sing praises to his name, for that is pleasant."

There are a few interesting passages in scripture about some people who remained {stand}, at or near the temple on a day and night basis. 1 Chronicles 9 “33 These are the singers, heads of fathers’ households of the Levites, who lived in the rooms and were free from other service; for they were employed in their work day and night. 34 These were heads of fathers’ households of the Levites, throughout their generations, chief men: these lived at Jerusalem.” It may have been a special blessing continually bringing forth praise, for servants of the Lord who had common tasks in the priesthood, if they carried out their duties out of love for the LORD, and with a feeling of honor. Psalms 84 “10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness.” We find that in the time when Christ was a small child brought by his parents to the temple for dedication, Anna the prophetess was there. Luke 2 “36 There was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher (she was of a great age, having lived with a husband seven years from her virginity, 37 and she had been a widow for about eighty-four years), who didn’t depart from the temple, worshipping with fastings and petitions night and day. 38 Coming up at that very hour, she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of him to all those who were looking for redemption in Jerusalem.”


C - Hands lifted up

Psalm 134 "2 Lift up your hands in the sanctuary. Praise Yahweh!"

COMMENTS: The Hebrew term translated above as sanctuary is also even more often translated as holy in the KJV, and it is also translated as hallowed, and can apply to the outer courts as well as the holy place and the most holy place. Though the sanctuary of the tabernacle and later that of the temple at Jerusalem is the direct reference of the psalm, David knew he could appeal to God with uplifted hands even in the wilderness. Psalms 63 “1 ¶ «A Psalm by David, when he was in the desert of Judah.» God, you are my God. I will earnestly seek you. My soul thirsts for you. My flesh longs for you, in a dry and weary land, where there is no water. 2 So I have seen you in the sanctuary, watching your power and your glory. 3 ¶ Because your loving kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise you. 4 So I will bless you while I live. I will lift up my hands in your name.” And the lifting up of hands is symbolic of the condition of the soul before the Lord. Psalm 25 "1 ¶ «By David.» To you, Yahweh, do I lift up my soul. 2 My God, I have trusted in you. Don’t let me be shamed. Don’t let my enemies triumph over me." David also wrote concerning all those who call upon the Lord by lifting up their soul. Psalms 86 “4 Bring joy to the soul of your servant, for to you, Lord, do I lift up my soul. 5 For you, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive; abundant in loving kindness to all those who call on you.” Though the temple is easily associated with sacrifices on the alter, another psalm written by Asaph who was appointed by David before Solomon's temple was built says this, Psalm 50 "23 Whoever offers the sacrifice of thanksgiving glorifies me, and prepares his way so that I will show God’s salvation to him." And in the point of Israel's history when the Babylonians destroyed the temple, Jeremiah could still write this, Lamentations 3 “40 Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to Yahweh. 41 Let us lift up our heart with our hands to God in the heavens.”


D - God's blessing from the heavenly Zion

3 May Yahweh bless you from Zion; even he who made heaven and earth.”

COMMENTS: The tabernacle in the wilderness as Israel came out of Egypt was a representation of that which is in heaven. Hebrews 8 “5 who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, even as Moses was warned by God when he was about to make the tabernacle, for he said, "See, you shall make everything according to the pattern that was shown to you on the mountain."” Before he died, David passed on to Solomon the honor of building the temple at Jerusalem, and he gave these instructions that were given to him by the LORD. 1 Chronicles 28 "10 Take heed now; for Yahweh has chosen you to build a house for the sanctuary. Be strong, and do it. 11 ¶ Then David gave to Solomon his son the pattern of the porch of the temple, and of its houses, and of its treasuries, and of the upper rooms of it, and of the inner rooms of it, and of the place of the mercy seat; ... 19 All this," said David, "I have been made to understand in writing from the hand of Yahweh, even all the works of this pattern." Solomon understood that the temple could not truly contain the God of heaven and earth. 2 Chronicles 6 “18 "But will God indeed dwell with men on the earth? Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens can’t contain you; how much less this house which I have built! 19 Yet have respect for the prayer of your servant, and to his supplication, Yahweh my God, to listen to the cry and to the prayer which your servant prays before you; 20 that your eyes may be open toward this house day and night, even toward the place where you have said that you would put your name; to listen to the prayer which your servant shall pray toward this place. 21 Listen to the petitions of your servant, and of your people Israel, when they shall pray toward this place: yes, hear from your dwelling place, even from heaven; and when you hear, forgive.” Paul started with the display of idol worship in Athens, and opened an invitation his hearers to trust in the God who created all things. Acts 17 “24 The God who made the world and all things in it, he, being Lord of heaven and earth, doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands, 25 neither is he served by men’s hands, as though he needed anything, seeing he himself gives to all life and breath, and all things. 26 He made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the surface of the earth, having determined appointed seasons, and the boundaries of their dwellings, 27 that they should seek the Lord, if perhaps they might reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live, and move, and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also his offspring.’”

God's people have access to his sanctuary no matter where they may reside all around the earth. And the only sacrifice that is appropriate now is a sacrifice of praise as the life of a Christian is a living sacrifice. Hebrews 10 “4 For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins. 5 Therefore when he comes into the world, he says, "Sacrifice and offering you didn’t desire, but you prepared a body for me; 6 You had no pleasure in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin. 7 ¶ Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (in the scroll of the book it is written of me) to do your will, O God.’" 8 Previously saying, "Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin you didn’t desire, neither had pleasure in them" (those which are offered according to the law), 9 then he has said, "Behold, I have come to do your will." He takes away the first, that he may establish the second, 10 by which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Now we go to the heavenly Jerusalem to worship and give praise. Hebrews 12 "22 But you have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable multitudes of angels, 23 to the general assembly and assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, 24 to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better than that of Abel." When we offer prayers of petition, we need to listen to what John has written for us. 1 John 5 "14 ¶ This is the boldness which we have toward him, that, if we ask anything according to his will, he listens to us. 15 And if we know that he listens to us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions which we have asked of him."


--- Reflections in prayer ---

Throughout the scriptures your work Lord has presented the possibility for people to become heir to your heavenly kingdom through grace by faith. Those who receive your gift of eternal life Lord, should respond by extolling your name in abundant praise because your loving kindness is great toward us, and your faithfulness endures forever. I will praise you as I lift up my heart whether it is day or night, as I reflect on your mercy toward me. This I will do in the local assembly with other brothers and sisters in Christ, or in the solitude of reading your word and reflecting in silent prayer. I know that you Lord cannot be contained in any temple made by man, as not even your creation of heaven and earth can contain you. But I thank you for the pattern you disclosed of an earthly sanctuary, that I might be reminded to look toward your heavenly sanctuary as I praise your name and your great works. Hallelujah and Amen!

Published 28 April 2012