“The Blessing Cycle”

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 bless you from Zion,
    he who made heaven and earth!

Psalm 134

Psalm 134 is the final ‘Song of Ascents’ in a list of fifteen which began with Psalm 120. These hymns were used by pilgrims on their way to worship at the temple in Jerusalem which was situated on a high hill called Mount Zion; hence, they must ascend to reach it. This particular song reads like a call and response. The “servants of the LORD” are the priests who ministered in the temple (“who stand by night in the house of the LORD”). They are called by the traveling Israelites to “bless the LORD.” The priests respond with a benediction on the visiting worshipers which concludes the psalm.

Levitical priests ministered in the temple in various ways. Still other Levites assisted them (1 Chron. 23:32) and conducted the musical worship (1 Chron. 25). 1 Chronicles 9:33 says, “Now these, the singers… were in the chambers of the temple free from other service, for they were on duty day and night.” And again, “they were to stand every morning, thanking and praising the LORD, and likewise at evening.” (1 Chron. 23:30). This description fits well with those “who stand by night in the house of the LORD.” (Psa. 134:1)

These singers are summoned to “bless the Lord” (v.1) by “lift[ing] up [their] hands to the holy place” (v.2), i.e. the temple, God’s dwelling. To lift one’s hands to God was a typical posture for prayer (Lk. 24:50). Paul addressed proper demeanor in worship by telling men to “pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling” (1 Tim. 2:8). This posture signified purity; the hands lifted to God were holy and clean, free from the soil of “anger or quarreling.” (References to prayer with uplifted hands in Judaism, see 1 Kgs. 8:54; Psa. 28:2; 63:4; 141:2; 2 Macc. 14:32; Philo, Flaccus 121; Jos. Antiquities 4:40; for early Christianity, see esp. Tertullian, On Prayer 17.)

The keynote of the psalm is the verb “bless,” which appears in each verse. In vv.1-2, the blessing is directed toward God (“bless the LORD” or “praise the LORD” in some translations); in v.3, the blessing returns from God to humanity in the form of a benediction (“may the LORD bless you”). The exchange of blessing is unequal, however. For us to bless God is to gratefully acknowledge God for who he is, to praise him and give him what belongs to him. For God to bless us is for him to share with us what is his and to make of us what we are not. Blessing belongs to the God “who made heaven and earth.” But in his grace, our God returns that blessing upon us in ways that cannot be counted or measured.

Finally, note from where God dispenses his blessing: “from Zion.” This is a fixed place where Israel could go to give and receive blessing. Therefore, God’s blessing, like his commandment, is not “far off… it is not in heaven… neither is it beyond the sea… but… is very near you” (Deut. 30:11-14; Rom. 10:6ff).

Christ has come from heaven both to bless us and praise his Father. Though we were dead in our sins, God has “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 2:6). Being raised, we are to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is” (Col. 3:1), ever ascending to the true Mount Zion, that “heavenly Jerusalem,” from where our King reigns as “the mediator of a new covenant.” (Heb. 12:22-24) As his forgiven people, we have become both God’s “spiritual house” and his “holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 2:4-5) In Christ, we bless the Lord and are blessed by him.