As we leave the “mini-psalter” of the 15 “Song of Ascents” psalms, we find a longer psalm bookended with calls to praise God.
The first three verses of Psalm 135 sing with a rousing call to praise. These verses are primarily directed to the priests (or modern-day church leaders), but are applicable for all of us:
Praise the LORD!
Praise the name of the LORD,
give praise, O servants of the LORD,
who stand in the house of the LORD,
in the courts of the house of our God!
Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good;
sing to his name, for it is pleasant! (Psalm 135:1-3, ESV).
The next ten verses form a litany recounting God’s mighty acts in the past and in the present. This section begins with a reminder of God’s covenant faithfulness to his people:
For the LORD has chosen Jacob for himself,
Israel as his own possession (4, ESV).
The psalmist professes his belief in God’s supremacy and his sovereignty:
For I know that the LORD is great,
and that our Lord is above all gods.
Whatever the LORD pleases, he does,
in heaven and on earth,
in the seas and all deeps.
He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth,
who makes lightnings for the rain
and brings forth the wind from his storehouses (5-7, ESV).
The psalmist then reminds the reader of God’s mighty acts in delivering Israel from Egypt and in fighting to establish his people in a land of their own:
He it was who struck down the firstborn of Egypt,
both of man and of beast;
who in your midst, O Egypt,
sent signs and wonders
against Pharaoh and all his servants;
who struck down many nations
and killed mighty kings,
Sihon, king of the Amorites,
and Og, king of Bashan,
and all the kingdoms of Canaan,
and gave their land as a heritage,
a heritage to his people Israel (8-12, ESV).
The ten-verse section on God’s mighty acts concludes with a direct address to God and a beautiful promise to God’s people:
Your name, O LORD, endures forever,
your renown, O LORD, throughout all ages.
For the LORD will vindicate his people
and have compassion on his servants (13-14, ESV).
The Bible often compares the human lifespan to that of grass that withers in the heat of the day. On these exceptionally hot day, the image of withering plants becomes more real as we see it daily demonstrated before our eyes. If you don’t water your plants in the cool of the morning, they will wilt before noon. [Brief break while I go water my plants.]
The psalmist reminds us that in contrast to the temporal nature of humanity, God’s name endures forever. And he couples that reminder of God’s eternal nature with an assurance of justice and mercy.
We need not worry about temporal judges or courts; it is the LORD who will vindicate his people. We need not hold grudges against those who have hurt us; it is the LORD who will have compassion on his servants.
ESV Literary Study Bible editors Ryken and Ryken describe the next section of Psalm 135 as a “satiric put-down of pagan idols” (p. 901, The Literary Study Bible, ESV). The well-known verses mock the idols as well as their makers (15-18, ESV).
The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
they have eyes, but do not see;
they have ears, but do not hear,
nor is there any breath in their mouths.
Those who make them become like them,
so do all who trust in them!
Those foolish enough to trust in the workmanship of their own hands become just as dumb, blind, deaf, and dead as the idols!
The concluding call to praise the Lord brings the reader back to the beginning of the psalm and the beginning of all life 19-21, ESV):
O house of Israel, bless the LORD!
O house of Aaron, bless the LORD!
O house of Levi, bless the LORD!
You who fear the LORD, bless the LORD!
Blessed be the LORD from Zion,
he who dwells in Jerusalem!
Praise the LORD!
God is above all gods of our own making, whether those gods are physical manifestations or mental constructions. His arm is not short; he has been working his mighty deeds throughout the history of his people. He will continue to work his mighty acts in our lives. He will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants.
But vindication and compassion are only for his servants. Do you depend on yourself and your own strength? Do you fall on your knees in humble repentance of all your sins? Do you seek God’s will and not your own? Those who trust in their own devices cannot expect God’s blessing.
Put your faith and trust in the one and only Lord of Hosts, the Almighty God who is above all other gods!