Sermons

Summary: The construction and uses of the Psalm

Preached at Christ Church, Billericay 16 March 2014 at 8am

Introduction

This is quite a different Psalm from psalm 23, that I spoke on last month. Psalm 23 has a very personal element that Psalm 135 seems to lack, although even here there are some personal statements. This psalm is like a collection of favourite verses in the bible put together into a song. Here's the list:

Psalm 135:1 from Psalm 134:1 and 113:1

Psalm 135:2 from Psalm 134:1

Psalm 135:3 from Psalm 147:1

Psalm 135:4 from Exodus 19:5 and Deuteronomy 7:6

Psalm 135:5 from Exodus 19:5 and 18:11

Psalm 135:6 from Psalm 115:3

Psalm 135:7 from Jeremiah 10:13 and Job 38:22

Psalm 135:8-12 from Psalm 136:10-22

Psalm 135:13-18 from Exodus 3:15; Deuteronomy 32:36; Isaiah 44:12-;20; Jeremiah 10:6-10

Psalm 135:19-20 from Psalm 115:9-11

Psalm 135:21 from Psalm 128:5 and Psalm 134:3

It seems to have been written for use in the temple liturgy of the second temple. It is part of the group of psalms (120-136) known as the “Great Hallal” and starts and ends with Hallelujah's.

And here's how the song is constructed:

1-4 Israel’s Praise

5-7 Yahweh's Greatness as creator

8-14 Yahweh's Redemptive Acts in History

15-18 Inability of Idols

19-21 Israel’s praise

1-4 Israel’s Praise

The psalm opens with Hallelujah, translated “Praise the Lord”, which sounds like an instruction to us, but is as much “Praise of the Lord” as and encouragement to “Praise the Lord”. The praise is to start from those who are closest to God, those who “minister in the house of the Lord” - inside the temple – the priests and move to those in the temple courts – outside where the regular worshippers meet.

We praise the Lord because He is good, and the act of praise is pleasant. Then as now a great song of worship can lift the congregation and improve their mood, and that is what this Psalm is meant to do. We all feel better after a really good song of praise.

It is then we find out why the Israelites can praise their Lord so readily and heartily. Praise the Lord because he has chosen your family to be His own – to receive His special favour.

5-7 Yahweh's Greatness as creator

Now, in the second part of the Psalm we move from the family to the individual. Verse 5 starts with I. “I know ...”. The Lord is not just a great God because he has chosen my family, but because he has chosen me, and I know it. The Lord is greater than all the other Gods, I know that he is in charge of all creation – He does whatever pleases him, in the heavens, on the earth in the sea and under the earth. He controls the weather. These are the psalmists personal experiences of God.

8-14 Yahweh's Redemptive Acts in History

In verse 8 the emphasis moves from the general elements of creation to the specifics that the Israelites have to be thankful to God for. Immediately we are taken back to the escape from Egypt in the Exodus, and the final act of God that made that escape possible. He struck down the first born of Pharaoh and all the Egyptians, but it was not just escape that was made possible, it was also entry to the promised land. Sihon, Og, and all the kings of Canaan had to be overcome before the Israelites could enter the promised land. The land was then given to the Israelites as an inheritance.

Having set God up as a fearsome Lord, destroying all the enemies, this section ends with a reminder the Lord will be there forever – through all generations. He will vindicate his people and have compassion on His servants. He will not treat His chosen ones like the enemies He has defeated for them, to get them to the promised land.

15-18 Inability of Idols

Now we concentrate on the reasons the other kingdoms failed: Their gods are just idols, they are silver and gold made by men, they do not speak, see, hear or breathe, unlike the God of the Israelites. It's a stark choice, do you put your trust in the God of everything, or the idol that is nothing, that is the comparison. The section ends with the expectation that you become who you believe in.

19-21 Israel’s praise

In the final section we return to the Hallelujah's this time we start with the praise of Israel, and return to the priests and the Levites, but there is also the more general “you who fear him”, implying that there are those in Israel who do not!

Christian Approach

As we have already said, the psalm was written for the liturgy of the second temple, it was most certainly not written with us in mind. So how should we as Christians understand the Psalm, and use it?

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