Psalm 134 August 14, 2016
Sermon Series: “Short and Sweet Summer Psalms”
Today’s Sermon: Psalm 134 – “Three Postures of Praise”
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
“Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord who minister by night in the house of the Lord.
Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord. May the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion.”
What does your body language say to others? That you are bored, angry, or not interested?
What does your body language say, when you are praying or worshipping? What postures do you take when you come to praise the Lord? This is what Psalm 134 addresses.
Ps. 134 is the last of the 15 psalms of ascent, a groups of psalms that was traditionally sung as Jewish worshippers traveled from their home to worship at the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem. Fittingly, the songs of ascent began in the far-off lands of Meshech in the north and Kedar in the southeast (Ps. 120:5), and now they end at their final destination, namely, “In the house of the Lord,” in Zion. (v. 1)
And since we are told in v. 1 about the Lord’s servants who are ministering in the temple “by night,” we might imagine a family reaching Jerusalem in the evening of their pilgrim journey. Picture with me this family arriving in time to see the entrance of the priests who took the night shift, to join them for their blessing, and then be privileged to hear the priest’s blessing pronounced on each one of them. What a glorious experience to know and feel that all the blessings of the Lord Almighty was enfolding them, right then and there, as they are standing in the place of God’s dwelling on earth!
So you can imagine that this was no humdrum, ordinary worship service they were at! Their expectations were heightened, and they were intently focused on worshipping the Lord!
Therefore… the question for you and me is this: Shouldn’t that be our expectation, our experience, as we come to corporate worship on a Sunday morning? Shouldn’t we be coming to worship with an anticipation of awe and wonder?
Let’s try to understand this psalm better, so that we can join in blessing and praising the Lord!
The first thing to notice is the three-fold repetition of the word “Bless.” If you are reading from the ESV, that repetition should be obvious, but if you are using the NIV, the first two times it has been translated “Praise.” But in the Hebrew each time it is the word “Barak” (Yes, like our president’s first name).
So in v. 1 and in v. 2, it is the Lord’s people blessing the Lord; while in v. 3, we see the Lord blessing His people. Or to put it another way, this psalm first points to the Lord as the object of our blessing, our worship (1-2), and then in v. 3, it presents the Lord as the source of our blessing. Therefore, “Blessing” is the keynote of the psalm.
But we need to ask: “What does it mean to bless the Lord?” Alec Motyer comments, “The simplest way to understand our ‘blessing’ of the LORD is to remind ourselves that when we ask Him to ‘bless’ someone it is shorthand for ‘take note of his needs and meet them.’ So when we ‘bless’ the LORD, it is shorthand for ‘take note of the LORD’s glories and excellencies, and respond to them in wonder and adoration.” Therefore to bless the Lord is to review gratefully all that He is, and to respond to Him in humble worship.
But there’s something else about this word for bless, and it shows us the first of three postures for worshiping the Lord. The word Barak in Hebrew has the root meaning of kneeling down, and in the Bible, of kneeling down before the Lord; of adoring Him on bended knee.
So the first posture of worship is to be on bended knee. And so we sing in Psalm 95:6: “Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel (barak) before the Lord our maker.” And in Phil 2:10 we declare: “At the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow…”
Now we don’t do a lot of kneeling in our church (some of you might not make it back up if you got down on your knees!), but nevertheless, we ought to have that mindset of kneeling in adoration before the Lord, and if possible, follow through with a kneeling posture, as we are able. I encourage you to get yourself a kneeler, or a pillow, that you can place on the floor, and try kneeling while you pray. Your mind and heart may follow your body as you kneel before the Lord!
The second posture of worship is to stand (v. 1b)
The NIV has “who minister by night in the house of the Lord;” the other versions translate it as “serve,” while the ESV renders the word with the more literal “Stand.” The Hebrew word in this setting has the idea of standing at attention in worship and service to the Lord. We read in Deut. 10:8 that the Levites were to “stand before the Lord to minister and to pronounce blessings in His name.”
John observed in Rev. 7:9 that “I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.”
Typically we sit when we pray, but we might try more standing in prayer and praise, as you picture yourself standing before the throne of the Lord, bringing your praises and your requests to the King of Kings! Again, it may be help you to focus on the Lord by standing before Him as you worship and pray.
Let’s consider the third posture of praise suggested in this psalm, and that is found in v. 2: “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary (or in holiness) and praise the Lord.”
So first we are kneeling in adoration; then we were standing in worship; and now we are lifting up our hands in praise of the Lord!
Lifting your hands was a characteristic posture of worship and prayer in both OT and NT prayer:
Ps. 141:2 “Let my prayer be counted as incense before You, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!”
1 Tim. 2:8 “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling…” Ronald Ward notes: “There is rich symbolism here. The outstretched palms eloquently picture the longing felt by the worshipper to receive the divine blessing. Apart from prayer the hands are the instruments of human action…the whole personality is present in the hands… In Paul’s desire that the hands be holy, he spoke of them as the expressions of the mind and the spirit.”
Yet note that the outward expression of lifting hands, in itself, is futile, even blasphemous, unless the inner heart is cleansed. Our hands must be holy, and our prayers offered without anger or quarreling.
Look at a bit more on praying with uplifted hands…
Ps. 63:4 “So I will bless You as long as I live; in Your name I will lift up my hands.”
Exodus 17:11- in intercession, calling down the power of heaven on others “as long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.” Later, Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ hands, so that they remained steady.)
So we see that God seems to want us to get our bodies involved in our spiritual worship!
We kneel and bless the Lord; we stand and minister to the Lord; and we lift our hands in awe of the Lord.
But there’s one more line in this psalm, where the direction of the blessing is reversed. See v. 3, where the Lord blesses us!
“May the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth, bless you from Zion.” [You here is singular, in contrast with the 2nd person plural in the rest of the psalm]
But what does it mean for the Lord to bless us?
For us to bless the Lord is to acknowledge who He is; but for the Lord to bless us (v. 3), God must make of us what we are not, and give us what we do not have.” (the Great One blesses the mere creatures)
Wilcock: “As the Maker of heaven and earth, He is infinitely able to fulfill this prayer.”
Where is the Lord’s blessing found today?
“But the blessing can only come from Zion, that is, from the place where He has appointed, the true Zion of Hebrews; not in our day Jerusalem (or Rome or Mecca or any earthly city), but the gathering of His people at Jesus’ feet. “There the LORD bestows His blessing, even life for evermore.” (Ps. 133:3 “For there the Lord bestows His blessing, even life forevermore.”) The true Mt. Zion is where Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant reigns in the midst of His people (Heb. 12:22-24 “But you have come to Mt. Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God… You have come to God, the judge of all men…. (and) to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood…”)
As the Jews found the completion of their journey in the temple in Jerusalem, we believers in Christ find the completion of our journey in Jesus. He is our eternal Home.
Yet there are times when we don’t feel like blessing the Lord, as we come to a worship service, for example. Yet we are both invited and commanded to bless the Lord, whether we feel like it or not. God extends an invitation to us “Come, bless the Lord.”
God commands us to lift up our hands to the holy place (or in holiness), and we can tell our hands to get up, even if it’s hard to tell our hearts to get up!
Calvin comments: “For why do men lift up their hands when they pray? Is it not that their hearts may be raised at the same time to God?” Our feelings should not run the show; there is a deep reality than our feelings.
In Ps. 134, at the end of the journey to Jerusalem, God says to his people, “You are here because I blessed you. Now, bless me.” The point of our gathering is not to share our stories or recite our complaints to each other. No. We have come to bless the Lord.
Eph. 1:3 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ!”