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!
For the LORD has chosen Jacob for himself,
Israel as his own possession.
–Psalm 135:1-4 (ESV)
If you’re a listener of classical music of any kind, you’re probably familiar with pieces like sonatas, concertos, or symphonies. One of the most popular formulations for these compositions from the classical era is to divide a big piece into several movements. The first movement, usually the “Allegro,” presents a few musical themes and begins to explore them. In the second movement and any additional movements, more new themes might be introduced, but much of the music is built on the motifs given in the first movement. Then comes the last movement, the “Finale,” which brilliantly ties all of these themes together and ends with a triumphant cadence.
I explain this because Psalm 135 strikes me as the beginning of the Psalter’s “Finale.” Emerging from the Songs of Ascent, we find ourselves less than twenty psalms from the end of the book. While I haven’t yet studied each psalm in this section in depth, a cursory reading seems to reveal a host of themes from earlier psalms, all reframed and expanded. Both structurally and thematically, Psalm 135 includes both excerpts and echoes from many places in the Psalter.
First, Psalm 135 opens with a restatement and expansion of Psalm 134. After commanding his hearers to praise the Lord, the psalmist says God’s greatness ought to be the motivation for this praise. He then declares the Lord’s might as revealed in two ways: in creation (“Whatever the LORD pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps”) and in redemption (“The LORD has chosen Jacob for himself”).
Verses 5-7 hearken back to many of the creation psalms, such as Psalms 33 and 104.
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.
In verses 8-12, the psalmist summarizes the history of Israel recounted in Psalms 78 and 105. Then, reflecting on God’s greatness, he exclaims:
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.
–vv. 13, 14
The remainder of Psalm 135 is basically a repetition of Psalm 115:4-11. The psalmist contrasts the futility of idols with the glory of the living God, and ends as he began: by exhorting God’s people to bless him.
The Psalter Hymnal contains two excellent versifications of Psalm 135, which we’ll consider below.
281, “O Praise Ye the Name of Jehovah”
“O Praise Ye the Name of Jehovah” is the Psalter Hymnal’s only complete versification of Psalm 135, and a solid one at that. The beginning and end of Psalm 135, which are a bit repetitive in Scripture, are edited down a bit here, which meets no objection from me. The rest of the psalm is versified simply, accurately, and beautifully. I love the poetry in stanzas like these:
I know that the Lord is almighty,
Supreme in dominion is He;
Performing His will and good pleasure
In heaven and in earth and the sea.
His hand guides the clouds in their courses,
The lightning flames forth at His will,
The wind and the rain He releases
His sovereign designs to fulfil.
Since number 281 possesses a rather unique meter (the same as number 261, which we discussed here), its tune possibilities are few. This one, JANET, fits the bill well. It’s energetic, well-constructed, and easily singable, though it may be desirable to lower the key to A-flat instead of B-flat. All in all, if you want to sing Psalm 135, you can’t go wrong with “O Praise Ye the Name of Jehovah.”
282, “Exalt the Lord, His Praise Proclaim”
There’s no doubt about it, number 282 is a Psalter Hymnal favorite—and for good reason. The combination of a jubilant text with a rousing tune makes this a fine selection of psalmody. It ought to be noted that “Exalt the Lord” is only an excerpt from Psalm 135; it contains verses 1-7 and 19-21, with verses 1, 2 repeated at the beginning of the third stanza. Perhaps this setting could be improved in the forthcoming Psalter Hymnal by adding more stanzas in this meter to round off the psalm.
The tune, CREATION, is an adaptation of a chorus from Franz Joseph Haydn’s oratorio of the same name. Interestingly enough, this chorus sets to music the words of Psalm 19:1—“The heavens are telling the glory of God”—a theme that is plainly echoed here in Psalm 135 as well. (You can listen to Haydn’s chorus here.) The chief challenge in playing this tune is determining its proper tempo. I tend to like it a bit quicker than it’s played in the recordings provided here (and a bit slower than the chorus linked above), but this is often simply a matter of personal taste. On the piano, keep the rhythm clean and consistent, and feel free to add embellishments. On the organ, belt it out, and have fun with the walking bass line!
Below is a recording of “Exalt the Lord” as sung at Synod 2012.
Exalt the Lord, His praise proclaim,
All ye His servants, praise His Name,
Who in the Lord’s house ever stand
And humbly serve at His command.
Forever praise and bless His Name,
And in the Church His praise proclaim;
In Zion is His dwelling-place;
Praise ye the Lord, show forth His grace!