And so with that, let me get you to turn in your Bibles to Psalm 134. We've come all the way from Kedar and Meshech to MountZion. You know, we've been working our way from Psalm 120 here to Psalm 138 in the Psalms of Ascents and the pilgrims have made their way all the way to Jerusalem and we're now coming to the final of the Songs of Ascents. And you hear me say this psalm every Lord's Day evening that I'm in the pulpit leading the service in a slightly different form than the form that you have in the ESV. My form actually harkens back to the King James and Myles Coverdale and some of the old prayer books of the church. That's why you hear some slightly different language. I’ll tell you, for instance, as we work through it, you can see how the ESV translates the first word, “Come.” Well it's actually not the word, “come” in Hebrew. It's actually a word very similar to the word that Abraham uses when God calls out from him, you remember when God says, “Abraham,” and Abraham responds, “It is I,” in the King James or “Behold, I”. It's from that word that the first word comes. And so in the King James and in the New American Standard it's just translated “Behold,” but for some reason the ESV translated it, “Come.” It's one of those words that's designed to grab attention and it does so at the outset of this psalm.
This psalm, clearly when you look at it, it has the feel of being antiphonal, like somebody's speaking to somebody else. You see the first two stanzas, in verses 1 and 2, look like someone speaking to someone else and then the third stanza looks like someone responding back to the people who spoke in verses 1 and 2. “Bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD” — somebody is speaking to the servants of the Lord. “Bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD, who minister by night in the house of the LORD. Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the LORD!” It sounds like somebody is speaking to the servants of the Lord who are ministering to the night, by night, in the house of the Lord. Then comes the reply, “May the LORD bless you from Zion, He who fills heaven and earth.”
And the commentators have all sorts of wonderful speculations on that. Okay, since this psalm is the final psalm that the pilgrims would be singing as they are coming into Jerusalem for festival, is this the pilgrims coming along and they get to Jerusalem at night, at the time of the evening service, and they sort of shout out encouragements to the Levites who were leading the worship in the temple at the evening service? And they say, “Hey! Bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD who are serving by night in the house of the LORD!” Is that what's happening? The pilgrims are speaking to the Levites? And then the Levites, in verse 3, are saying back to them, “May the LORD bless you from Zion, He who fills heaven and earth!” or, “He who made heaven and earth!” Is that what's going on?
Or, and other commentators say, “No, it's this way.” It's the Levites looking out at the pilgrims who are coming into Jerusalem at the time of the evening service and even though the Levites in the old covenant have the special privilege and responsibility of being the servants of the Lord in the house of the Lord, they kind of speak to the pilgrims as if they’re the servants of the Lord and call out to them and say, “You, hey you! Bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD who are here with us now at the evening service at the temple to minister by night in the house of the LORD.” Or, is this the Levites encouraging one another? You know, the Levites sang to the other Levites, “Hey you! Bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD who minister by night in the house of the LORD!” I don't know. I have no idea. I have no idea how you would settle that definitively. But it does sound antiphonal. Is it the worshipers coming into Jerusalem speaking to the Levites? Is it the Levites speaking to the worshipers? Is it the Levites speaking to Levites? I don't know and in the end it doesn't matter because it's all for us, no matter who is speaking to whom here. It's all for us. This is God's Word. Every word of it is inspired and every word of it is meant for the people of God. And so no matter who is originally speaking to whom, every word of it is meant for your encouragement. But it's wonderful to just meditate on who's saying this. Who's saying this to whom — just picturing those original scenes.
Now before we read this psalm, let me take you back a few centuries even before this song was first sung. Keep your Bible and go with me all the way back to Deuteronomy 8. Keep your finger in Psalm 134. Just to give you a little background — remember we're told in Deuteronomy 10:8 what it was that the Levites were to do. Deuteronomy 10:8 — “At that time the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the ark of the covenant of the LORD and to stand before the LORD to serve Him and to bless in His name, until this day.” Now, listen to that language. “To stand before the LORD and to bless His name.” That is liturgical language; that's worship language. Standing before the Lord is language that depicts their role in the worship of the Lord. What's their job? To stand before the Lord and bless His name.
Now when you get to the time of David and Solomon, there's no more ark of the covenant and tabernacle wandering around in the wilderness, so part of the Levites job is gone. They don't have to wander around with the ark and the tabernacle. So what do they do now? Well turn forward to 1 Chronicles and look at 1 Chronicles chapter 23. Keep your finger in Psalm 134. 1 Chronicles chapter 23 and look especially at verse 26. “The Levites will no longer need to carry the tabernacle and all its utensils for its service” — 1 Chronicles 23 verse 26:
“For by the last words of David the sons of Levi were numbered from twenty years old and upward. For their office is to assist the sons of Aaron with the service of the house of the LORD in the courts and in the chambers and in the purifying of all the holy things, even the work of the service of the house of God and with the showbread and the fine flour for a grain offering and the unleavened wafers and what is baked in the pans and what is well mixed and all measures of volume and size. They are to stand every morning to thank and to praise the LORD and likewise at evening. And to offer all burnt offerings to the LORD on the Sabbaths, the new moon, and the fixed festivals in the number set by the ordinance concerning them, continually before the LORD.”
Now turn back to 1 Chronicles chapter 9 to see this emphasized again. 1 Chronicles 9 verse 33. This is about the Levitical singers. “Now these are the singers, heads of fathers’ households of the Levites, who lived in the chambers of the temple free from other service, for they were engaged in their work day and night.” So morning and evening, the Levites were in the house of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, assisting in the worship of the Lord, especially at the morning and evening sacrifices. The pilgrims have come up upon Mount Zion and they’re singing about the Levites serving the Lord in the house of the Lord at the time of the evening offering, which is one of the reasons I love to quote this psalm at the beginning of evening worship every Lord's Day here at First Presbyterian Church.
So be on the lookout for the three movements of this song — the call to bless the Lord, the call to lift up your hands (what does that mean?), and this reminder that when you come to bless the Lord and you come to lift up your hands, the Lord blesses you. Watch those movements as we read God's Word. Let's pray as we do so.
Heavenly Father, this is Your Word. Open our eyes to behold wonderful things in it. We ask this in Jesus' name, amen.
This is the Word of God. Psalm 134 beginning in verse 1:
“A SONG OF ASCENTS. 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!”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Five things I want you to see very quickly from this little psalm sung by the pilgrims on their way to festival in Jerusalem about the worship of the Lord at the time of the evening offering and the leadership of those Levites standing to minister in the house of the Lord. The first thing that I want you to see from the very first call, and whoever's singing out verse 1, sings out and says to somebody, “Bless the LORD!” Whether it's the Levites whose job it was to bless the Lord, whether it's the pilgrims coming into the temple to bless the Lord along with the Levites — and by the way, you know the New Testament records people who are not Levites who hung around the temple to join with the Levites in the worship of the Lord. Do you remember the story of Anna the prophetess in Luke? What was she doing in Jerusalem when Joseph and Mary and the baby came up to Jerusalem? She was in the courts of the temple worshiping the Lord, Luke says, day and night. So there were pious, godly believers in Israel who would join along with the Levites in the service of the house of the Lord day and night. But whoever it is who's being called to, and tonight it's especially you and me who need to hear this call, because we're being called to bless the Lord.
BLESS THE LORD
What does that mean? It means at very least that we are to declare God to be the truly blessed One and the source of every blessing. “Come thou fount of every blessing.” Do you believe that about the Lord? Do you really believe that He is the fount of every blessing? Then declare it, not just with your lips but with your hearts when you come to the house of the Lord. Declare that He is the fount of every blessing, that blessedness resides in Him, that He and He alone contains all true blessedness and if we are going to experience blessedness, it's only going to be in fellowship with Him. Highly prize Him above everything else. Pronounce Him to be precious to you, more precious to you than anything or anyone else in this world. When we bless the Lord we're saying, “Lord, You’re our true treasure. Be thou my vision, O Lord of my heart. Naught be all else to me – You don't have to be anything else to me save what You are. Be Yourself to me, Lord, because in You is all blessedness.”
And my friends, that takes concentration to really do that because you and I walk through this world with our hopes and our dreams and our fears and our disappointments and our minds are scattered in a bazillion different directions looking for satisfaction. But when we come to the house of the Lord it's our job to focus on the Lord and say, “Lord, You are our satisfaction. You are our treasure. You are truly blessed. From You comes every blessing. I'm not going to find blessing in the world unless I find You because it's in You that all true blessedness exists.” So bless the Lord. And we do every time we gather. We’re saying, “Lord, You are our treasure, You are our prize, You are our delight, You are our satisfaction. You are true blessedness. We bless You.” That's the first thing we see — come bless the Lord.
BLESS THE LORD BY NIGHT
Secondly, notice again in verse 1 that we are to bless the Lord by night. “Come bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD, who stand by night in the house of the LORD.” Now this, again, commentators discuss, is this talking about the Levites who stay there all night long to protect the temple grounds? Maybe, but the language of this song sure does sound like worship. They stand in the house of the Lord to bless. That's language right out of Deuteronomy. It's language right out of 1 Chronicles 23 and 9. It's language of worship services. Their job is to bless the Lord. It sounds like the evening service.
Now the evening service actually appears on more than one occasion in the Old and New Testament in the minds and the hearts of the people of God, connected to the life of piety in the people of God. Remember way back when Elijah the prophet was about to culminate that contest with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. Now he's way in the north of Israel at Mount Carmel with these prophets of Baal, but when he says — do you remember Dr. Wymond and the choir doing Mendelssohn's Elijah and one of the great, one of the great pieces of music from Mendelssohn's Elijah is Elijah saying, “Lord God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, this day, this day I want it to be known that You are God and I am Your servant!” And when Elijah prays that prayer, prior to calling down fire from God from heaven to consume the sacrifice, we're told there in 1 Kings 18 that it was about the time of the evening sacrifice when he prayed that prayer. Now miles and miles down Israel to Jerusalem it was about the time of the evening sacrifice, but in Elijah's mind that time was fixed. He knew that at the time that he was calling down fire on that altar in the far north that was about the time that the evening sacrifice was being offered in the temple.
Now fast forward — Daniel. He has been in exile for almost seven decades in Babylon. And do you remember Daniel 9:21? God gives him this vision and in the vision the angel Gabriel comes to Daniel and Daniel tells us that it was about the time of the evening sacrifice when he had the vision. Now what's touching about that my friends is that it had been almost seventy years since Daniel would have been able to observe an evening sacrifice. But still in his mind, the time of day was fixed by that evening sacrifice.
Now very frankly, we don't know for sure when that evening sacrifice happened. It may have been three o’clock, mid-afternoon. Or it may have been twilight or it may have varied a little. We don't know exactly. But if it was three o’clock, isn't it interesting that Matthew tells us that when Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” it was what time? The ninth hour, Matthew says. Counting from six o’clock in the morning, the ninth hour was? Three in the afternoon. Is Matthew telling his readers that it happened about the time of the evening sacrifice? I don't know, but here's what I want to tell you, my friends. I'm not sure about those but here's what I want to tell you. When you gather for worship on the evening of the Lord's Day, you are not simply doing something that goes back five hundred years in the reformed tradition; you’re doing something that goes back three thousand years at least to the time of David and Solomon and the morning and evening sacrifice. So here's my word to you. Bless the Lord by night. Take peculiar delight in the Lord's Day evening worship. When you do so, you are participating in worship that stretches back at least three thousand years to the time of David and Solomon and the Levites in the temple and has characterized the worship of the people of God ever since. One of the things that I love about First Presbyterian Church is that we love to open and close the Lord's Day in the house of the Lord. Do not take that for granted. Bless the Lord by night.
BLESS THE LORD BY LIFTING UP HANDS
Third thing — bless the Lord by lifting up your hands. Now am I calling for hand raising at First Presbyterian Church? What's that? What do you mean, “lift up your hands”? What does it mean – to the sanctuary, to the holy place, in the sanctuary, lift up holy hands — what does it mean? Well, lifting up hands in the Bible is a posture of? Prayer! It's a way in which you show honor to God in public prayer. By the way, that's why Presbyterian ministers lift up their hands in the prayer of adoration and invocation in a worship service. We’re just following a Biblical posture of prayer. It's the most common Biblical posture of prayer. There are multiple Biblical postures of prayer. One Biblical posture of prayer is being totally prostrate on the floor on the ground spread out before the Lord. But another posture of prayer is with your hands lifted up to God. And the call to “lift up your hands to the holy place” or “to the sanctuary” or “in the holy place” are possibly to lift up your hands in holiness. Maybe that's what Paul is catching on to in 1 Timothy chapter 2 — “Lift up holy hands in every place” — is a call to bless the Lord by prayer, to pray to the Lord in the house of the Lord. What does Jesus say? “My Father's house is a house of prayer,” so bless the Lord by prayer in the house of the Lord.
WHEN YOU COME TO BLESS THE LORD REALIZE YOU ARE GOING TO BE OUTBLESSED BY THE LORD
Fourth — when you come to bless the Lord, realize you are going to be out-blessed. When you come to bless the Lord, realize that you are going to be out-blessed. I have a friend who I've told you about before; his name is C.J. Mahaney. And when C.J. and Mark Dever and Al Mohler and I are out to eat together, C.J. rates the meals that we have ordered in sequence of who had ordered best. He judges who has ordered. And so I’ll order something and then he’ll look over at Mark Dever's plate and he’ll look back at me and he’ll say, “Lig, you got out-ordered.” He rates my meals! I got out-ordered by Mark Dever! Well, when you come to bless the Lord, let me just prepare you ahead of time; you are going to be out-blessed. You will not be able to bless Him as much as He is going to bless you, because after all, He made and fills the heavens and the earth. You can't bring as much as He brings to bless you. That's why Samuel Rutherford once said, “I never run an errand to the throne of grace when I do not fetch back a blessing for myself.” I never go to the throne of grace to intercede for someone else to bless the Lord when I do not fetch back a blessing for myself. If you come to bless the Lord, you will get out-blessed. He will bless you more than you can possibly bless His name.
BLESS THE LORD FROM MOUNT ZION
And fifth and finally, remember, on Sunday night when you come here to bless, you get to come to a better place than Moses or David or Solomon. And I'm not talking about 1390 North State Street. As much as I love this place, every brick of it, as much as I love this family, the house of the Lord, where is it that you get to come as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ when you are ministering by night in the house of the Lord on Sunday evening at 1390 North State Street? Well turn with me to Hebrews 12 verses 22 to 25:
“You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”
Do you remember that conversation that Jesus had with the woman at the well in Samaria? And He said to her, “Woman, I tell you, there is a day that is coming when we will neither worship here in Samaria, these mountains, nor in Jerusalem at the temple, for God is seeking worshipers who will worship Him in spirit and truth.” And it's interesting. The woman's response is, “Okay, Jesus, I know who You’re talking about. You’re talking about the day when the Messiah comes. You’re talking about the day that will occur when the Messiah comes.” And you remember what Jesus says to her? “I am He.” And then He says to His disciples in Matthew 18 that “where two or three of you are gathered in My name, there I am in your midst.” Jesus is saying in John 4, in Matthew 18, that the place now where new covenant believers come to meet with the living God to experience His blessing is in Him.
So when you come to bless the name of the Lord, when you've gathered with the people of God to do it, where have you come to? You have come to Mount Zion, you have come to Jesus, and in Him, your praise is now mingled with the praise that is going on above that's described here in Hebrews 12:22-24. You have no idea how glorious that praise is. And whether it's just a few of us gathered together in a small bombed-out store front in some downtown urban district or in a beautiful facility like this, if we've come in the name of Christ by the Gospel we've come to Mount Zion, we've come to Jesus, we've come to a better place than Moses or David or Solomon to meet the living God. Don't take that for granted. It cost the shedding of the blood of the Son of God for you to come to that place. Don't take it for granted.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word. Bless it to our everlasting good, in Jesus' name, amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing?
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ until the daybreak and the shadows flee away. Amen.