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 (ESV)
After nearly six months, we have finally reached the end of the section of the Psalter known as the “Songs of Ascents.” While each of these psalms has an individual significance and theme, it may be helpful for us to step back and consider the Songs of Ascents as a unified whole.
The first is Psalm 120, in which the psalmist laments his dwelling among the warring heathen; he says, “I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war!” Psalm 121 responds to this lament with a beautiful statement of God’s protection: “My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” Naturally, the psalmist’s desire is to worship the Lord in Zion with the scattered saints of Israel; in Psalm 122, he declares, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’” And, even though he may be geographically distant from Zion, he promises for the sake of his brothers and companions, and for the sake of the Lord’s house, always to seek Jerusalem’s good.
Psalm 123 returns to consider the lowly state of the Lord’s people among the nations. “Have mercy upon us,” they pray, “for we have had more than enough of contempt.” After this comes another declaration of reliance on God in Psalm 124: “Blessed be the LORD, who has not given us as prey to their teeth!” And notice that this psalm ends with the refrain of the Songs of Ascents (first introduced in 121:2): “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth.”
In Psalm 125, the psalmist reflects on the blessed state of those who put their trust in the Lord; they “are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever.” Psalm 126 recalls former times “when the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion,” and pleads for a renewed outpouring of his mercy. This is reinforced by the wise words of Psalm 127, which speaks both of the godly family and of Israel as a whole: “Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” Psalm 128 continues the emphasis on the righteous household: those who fear the Lord will “see the prosperity of Jerusalem” and their “children’s children.” Consider also the closing words of this psalm: “Peace”—think of Psalm 120:7—“be upon Israel!”
Once again, Psalm 129 considers the plight of Israel as a nation. “Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me.” Yet the psalmist remains sure that God will surely vindicate his people, both individually and collectively. Psalm 130, arguably the most poignant Song of Ascents, speaks of Israel’s sin (the cause of their exile) and blesses the Lord for redeeming them. “For with the LORD is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.”
Perhaps Psalm 131 can be taken as a commentary from the psalmist on God’s plans for his people. Neither he nor his fellow Israelites can understand what the Lord is doing through their time of affliction in exile, but they need not understand it, only “hope in the LORD” (another refrain!) “from this time forth and forevermore.”
Psalm 132 is a glorious reminder that “the LORD has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place.” He has promised to bless his people both materially (“I will abundantly bless her provisions”) and spiritually (“Her priests I will clothe with salvation”). The crown of his anointed King will shine forever! Psalm 133 reflects on the fact that the Lord’s blessing rests on brothers who dwell in unity, just as it rests on the mountains of Zion. And that brings us to Psalm 134.
According to some interpreters, Psalm 134 was sung after the pilgrims’ visit to Jerusalem as they began their homeward journey. Thus, it is their joyful response to the wonderful things they saw and heard in God’s house. Truthfully, what I see in Psalm 134 even more clearly is a triumphant conclusion to the broader story of exile and affliction told in the previous 14 psalms. The servants of the LORD can bless him, because he surely will deliver them. They can stand guard in his house at night knowing that “he who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.” They can lift up their hands in praise because of his forgiveness and abundant love. Yes, they can rest in the confidence that the LORD will bestow his blessing upon them and ultimately grant them eternal life.
280, “O Bless Our God with One Accord”
The Psalter Hymnal certainly does justice to Psalm 134. The Christian Reformed minister Lambertus Lamberts set Psalm 134 to the rhythm of the Genevan Psalter tune in 1928. While this version is slightly amplified (especially in the second half of stz. 2), it is extremely clear and well-written.
As to Louis Bourgeois’s tune itself, this is undoubtedly the most familiar Genevan melody of all time (the tune of “Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow.”) Some rhythmic variations exist, but I haven’t a single complaint to make against this version. In fact, “O Bless Our God with One Accord” might be a fantastic choice for a psalm-based doxology either at the beginning or at the end of worship!
As we conclude our study of the Songs of Ascent, we are left with one overarching theme: God is faithful. He will not suffer the wicked to flourish forever; he will ultimately reward those who put their trust in him. We find that Psalm 134 ends by repeating the refrain of the entire collection: “May the LORD bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth!”