Psalm 135 – “Temple Hymn”

00157Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
Psalm 135 is a Hymn that praises God’s power over nature and the historical deeds that he has done on behalf of Israel. It also contains a denunciation of other gods and those who worship them.
II. Photo
God is praised as the one who “makes clouds rise from the end of the earth.” (v. 7)

III. Important Verses
v. 7: He makes clouds rise from the end of the earth; He makes lightning for the rain; He releases the wind from His vaults.
vv. 15-18: The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak; they have eyes, but cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. Those who fashion them, all who trust in them, shall become like them.
IV. Outline

1a. Hallelujah
1b-4. Summons to praise
    1b-3. Summons
    4. Hymnic rationale
5-18. Hymn
    5a. Introduction
    5bc. Superiority over other gods
    6-7. Rule of nature
    8-12. Conqueror of nations, giver of the Holy Land to Israel
    13. Praise (2nd person)
    14. Hymnic rationale
    15-17. Denunciation of idols and idol worshippers
    18. Imprecation
19-20. Summons to praise
21a. Blessing
21b. Hallelujah

V. Comment
Like many of the psalms found at the end of the Psalter, Psalm 135 lacks a superscription. Yet, it is “framed” by the word “Hallelujah” which is its first and final word. The psalm was likely isolated from the other “Hallelujah” psalms because of its similarities to the psalms before and after it: vv. 1-2 is similar to 134:1, and vv. 10-11 is nearly identical to 136:17-22.

Psalm 134 is a paradigm of the hymn genre. According to Vol. I of Gerstenberger’s “Psalms Part 1” (p. 17), psalms of the hymn genre contain the following elements:

  1. Calling on God (e.g Ps. 8:2, 65:2-3)
  2. Summons to praise (e.g. Ps. 33:1, 34:4)
  3. Praise of God because of his works, deeds, and qualities (e.g. Ps. 19:8-11, 46:5-8)
  4. Blessings (e.g. Ps. 29:11, 104:35)

Psalm 135 has each of these components:

  1. v. 13 is a 2nd person address to God
  2. vv. 1-4, 19-20 are a summons to praise and bless God
  3. vv. 6-7 praise God’s rule of nature, vv. 8-12 praise the historical deeds he has done on behalf of Israel, and vv. 5, 14 praise his qualities
  4. v. 21, the psalm’s conclusion, is a blessing of God

Perhaps the most striking feature of Psalm 135 is its use of what seem to be “interchangeable parts”: much of it is based, almost word-for-word, on other Psalms and various verses in the Pentateuch.  The only way to convey this is to line Psalm 135 up with its many parallels. Let us begin with the polemic against other gods and those who worship them:

  • The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak; they have eyes, but cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. Those who fashion them, all who trust in them, shall become like them. (Ps. 135:15-18)
  • Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell; they have hands, but cannot touch, feet, but cannot walk; they can make no sound in their throats. Those who fashion them, all who trust in them, shall become like them. (Ps. 115:4-8)

Another part of our psalm also has a strong affinity to Psalm 115:

  • 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 is the LORD from Zion, He who dwells in Jerusalem. Hallelujah. (Ps. 135:19-21)
  • O Israel, trust in the LORD! He is their help and shield. O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD! He is their help and shield. O you who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD! He is their help and shield. (Ps. 115:9-11)

The praise in vv. 10-11 was practically taken in full from Ps. 136, save for the repetitive chant ki le’olam chasdo “His steadfast love is eternal”:

  • He struck down many nations and slew numerous kings — Sihon, king of the Amorites, Og, king of Bashan, and all the royalty of Canaan (Ps. 135:10-11)
  • Who struck down great kings, His steadfast love is eternal; and slew mighty kings — His steadfast love is eternal; Sihon, king of the Amorites, His steadfast love is eternal; Og, king of Bashan — His steadfast love is eternal; and gave their land as a heritage, His steadfast love is eternal; a heritage to His servant Israel, His steadfast love is eternal (Ps. 136:17-22)

The psalm’s first two lines are very similar to the opening line of Psalm 134:

  • Hallelujah. Praise the name of the LORD; give praise, you servants of the LORD who stand in the house of the LORD, in the courts of the house of our God. (Ps. 135:1-2)
  • A song of ascents. Now bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD who stand nightly in the house of the LORD. (Ps. 134:1)

Also, the psalm’s opening line is identical to that of Psalm 113, just inverted:

  • Hallelujah. Praise the name of the LORD; give praise, you servants of the LORD (Ps. 135:1)
  • Hallelujah. O servants of the LORD, give praise; praise the name of the LORD. (Ps. 113:1)

There are also affinities to verses in the Pentateuch. For example:

  • For the LORD will champion His people, and obtain satisfaction for His servants. (Ps. 135:14)
  • For the LORD will champion His people And obtain satisfaction for His servants… (Deut. 32:36)

What is the explanation for all of these literary connections? It seems that Psalm 135 borrowed from other psalms, not the other way around. This is because vv. 10-11 are part of a greater literary unit in Psalm 136, thus indicating that Psalm 136 is the original psalm, not Psalm 135.

VI. Works Used

(see Commentaries page)

Psalms Part 2 and Lamentations (Erhard S. Gerstenberger, Forms of Old Testament Literature)

Psalms 101-150 (Leslie C. Allen, Word Biblical Commentary)

Photo taken from http://www.nrel.gov/data/pix/Jpegs/00157.jpg

Leave a Reply