Psalm 134 – Bless the Lord

 

Mountain staircase

Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
who stand by night in the house of the Lord!
Lift up your hands to the holy place,
and bless the Lord.

May the Lord, maker of heaven and earth,
bless you from Zion. (NRSV)

Psalms 120-134 comprise a collection of short songs of ascent meant to guide Jewish pilgrims in their communal trek up to the city of Jerusalem, and ultimately to the temple mount.  The rhythm of the pious ancient Israelites centered round particular festivals, seasons, and Sabbath.  Taking the annual pilgrimage to the Holy City was an especially anticipated time of year.  This yearly cycle brought both increased faith and needed spiritual stability to the people.  It reminded them of the sound theology that God cannot be moved, and he will always be there.

This, psalm, as the last in these songs of ascent, is something of a benediction. It is a blessing – for both God and the worshiper. To “bless” is to express approval. When God blesses people, it is a divine endorsement upon their lives. In other words, God’s blessing is an encouraging sanction that the worshiper is authentic – she is the real deal. In the context of this psalm, the worshiper is anticipating that God will approve of the praise, adoration, and sacrifice given when they reach the temple mount.

Conversely, when people bless God, they are expressing confirmation that God is who he says he is – he keeps his promises and his divine character is always just, good, and loving. We tend to not be in the habit of offering blessings, that is, unless someone sneezes in the room. Yet, blessing is an important and integral dimension to spirituality.

At the end of the age, there will be unceasing blessing pouring forth from all God’s creatures:

Then I [the Apostle John] looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain
To receive power and riches and wisdom,
And strength and honor and glory and blessing!”

And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying:

“Blessing and honor and glory and power
Be to Him who sits on the throne,
And to the Lamb, forever and ever!”

Then the four living creatures said, “Amen!” And the twenty-four elders fell down and worshiped Him who lives forever and ever. (Revelation 5:11-14, NKJV)

This all causes me to wonder what our daily lives would be like if they were shaped with rhythms of blessing God. The psalmist knew something about this:

“Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws.” (Psalm 119:164)

Here are a few ideas for you to take or leave:

  • Today, set seven alarms and space them throughout the day (i.e. every 2 ½ hours). When the alarm goes off, stop what you are doing and take a minute to say today’s psalm aloud and/or other Scripture. At the end of the day, count your blessings from this activity and express them to God.
  • If you have stairs in your home, keep a small Bible next to the bottom of the staircase. Every time you go up, take the Bible in hand, and read one of the psalms of ascent as you walk up. Many of them (like today’s) are short enough to say at least once before you reach the top of the stairs. After a few days or a week of doing this, count your blessings and share with another about your experience.
  • In this time of virtual communication and reliance on the phone, call or connect with a few friends and together read aloud some or all the psalms of ascent. Then, share your blessings and bless God with one another.

The big idea here is that the biblical psalter is a book of poems, songs, and prayers which are meant to have liberal use. They were designed for worship. How will you worship God today?

Click 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord) sung by Chris Tomlin as we are mindful of God’s goodness.

Psalm 122

            This is a psalm of ascents, meaning that the faithful pilgrims living outside of Jerusalem would enter the city, literally walking uphill and continuing up to the temple mount.  There they would worship God at the holy place.  As they would spend the hours and/or days walking and anticipating the worship, the people would quote the several psalms of ascent together.
 
            Within this psalm we are told that part of Israel’s decree in approaching the Lord is to give thanks.  The Jews were to have an attitude of gratitude when they came to Jerusalem and the house of God.  Each pilgrimage to Jerusalem was to have a marked expression of thanksgiving to God for giving them a place to worship and a land to dwell within.
 
            I cannot help wondering if our current situation of attending church services would be much more appreciated and impactful if we took the mental and emotional posture of gratitude when approaching worship.  Within my own church building there is a flight of stairs to ascend in reaching the sanctuary.  Slowly up the stairs I can give thanks for one thing in each step.  Even if you attend a church with a zero entry, you could still give thanks to God while walking from the parking lot to the building.  The point is that worship of God is not to be approached idly without thought or intent.  Just showing up and flopping down in a seat almost daring that the worship leaders and pastor bless them is very far from the imagination of the psalmist for approaching the sovereign God.
 

 

            Mighty God, you have given me a place to live and to worship.  I give thanks to you this day for your grace and saving actions through Jesus Christ, my Lord.  Amen.

Psalm 124

            A healthy way of viewing the biblical Psalms of the Old Testament is to look at them as the church’s prayer book.  The Psalms give voice to the experiences of our lives, especially when we have become mute with overwhelming circumstances.  One of the ways in which the ancient Israelites remained faithful was to take at least one annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  As they walked the slow journey to the city, and ascended the mountain to its pinnacle where the Temple stood, the Jews used the psalms of ascent to help them remember the Lord’s faithfulness and praise God.
 
            The actual physical trek up the mountain would mimic the spiritual experiences of the Israelites coming from the valley of the shadow of death, only to rise above seeming tragedy to the heights of God’s deliverance.  Israel was often alone in the world, with many enemies and only God to help them.  Imagine a large coterie of Jews joyfully ascending the temple mount shouting to heaven:  “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”  Picture them searing the character of God on their hearts through loudly proclaiming:  “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side… then they would have swallowed us up alive.”
 
            If you have a flight of stairs in your house or your church, try a little exercise in this week:  leave a small copy of the Bible at the foot of the staircase and each time you ascend to the next floor say Psalm 124 or one of the other psalms of ascent aloud as you go up.  At the end of the week, take some time to discuss your experience with your spouse, friend, or pastor.  Think about how to further engraft the Psalms into your life so that they form and shape you in fresh ways.
            Saving God, just as you delivered the ancient Israelites from their bondage and brought them into a good land, so help me to rise above my circumstances and see your guidance in all things, through Jesus Christ my Lord.  Amen.

Psalm 125

             Psalms 120-134 comprise a collection of short songs of ascent meant to guide Jewish pilgrims in their communal trek up to the city of Jerusalem, and ultimately to the temple mount.  The rhythm of the pious ancient Israelites centered round particular festivals, seasons, and Sabbath.  Taking the annual pilgrimage to the Holy City was an especially anticipated time of year.  This yearly cycle brought both increased faith and needed spiritual stability to the people.  It reminded them of the sound theology that God cannot be moved, and he will always be there.
 
            “Those who trust in the LORD are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.”  One of the most fundamental of all truths about God is that he is consistent and constant in his basic nature, that he is forever present with his people.  If God seems or feels as though he is not there or is not listening, it is not that he is aloof or not paying any attention.  It simply means that he chooses to reveal himself when he chooses to reveal himself, and that our responsibility in the entire affair is to engage in consistent rhythms of spirituality that place us in a position to receive grace when God decides to give it.
 
            Therefore we must not despair but anticipate meeting with God, just as the Israelites of old looked forward and upward to their annual worship at the top of the mountain.  The truth is that God surrounds his people, even when we do not always perceive it to be so. 
            Ever-present God, there is no place where I can go where you are not.  Help me to so intuit your presence that it bolsters my faith and resilience for daily life in Jesus Christ.  Amen.