A Circle of Blessing

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  • 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

    Two Stanford University students struggled to pay their expenses. But they had a plan. They invited the Polish composer and pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski to perform a concert. He agreed to a $2,000 fee. The concert only raised $1,600. The young men gave it to him with an IOU for $400. Paderewski tore up the IOU. He told them to take their expenses out of the $1,600, plus ten percent for future costs, and give him whatever was left.

    Many years later, Paderewski became premier of Poland, which was starving after World War I. Herbert Hoover, the future present who oversaw the U.S. Food and Relief Bureau, sent thousands of tons of food to Poland. Paderewski traveled to Paris to thank Hoover. “That’s all right, Mr. Paderewski,” Hoover replied. “Besides, you don’t remember it, but you helped me once when I was a student in college, and I was in trouble. 

    That historical incident reinforces a fact of life: What goes around, comes around. It’s called reciprocity. What you do for someone else can benefit you in the end. Psalm 134 teaches us how spiritual reciprocity works: The Lord blesses those who bless him.

    The ascription of Psalm 134 reads: A Song of Ascents. These were songs the pilgrims sang on their way to the holy feasts. Most of these psalms reflect the journey to Jerusalem. This fifteenth and final song assumes the destination has been reached, the feast has been concluded, now the journey home now begins. Psalm 134 was probably sung antiphonally. 

    • One group sang the call to worship in verses 1-2. 
    • Another group sang the benediction in verse 3.       

    We do not know how the singers were orchestrated. But the message of the psalm is clear. It is a song about blessing and being blessed. The word “bless” occurs in each verse. Verses 1-2 exhort us to bless the Lord. Verse 3 announces the Lord’s blessings on us. These two stanzas are closely connected. We bless the Lord. The Lord blesses us in return. This is more than cause and effect. It is an ongoing cycle. 

    • We bless the Lord in response to our blessing him. 
    • The Lord blesses us in response to our blessing him. 

    Psalm 134 is short – 23 words in Hebrew. Only Psalm 117 is shorter. But it makes a big point: The Lord blesses those who bless him. John Phillips wrote: “It is impossible to bless God without having him bless us.” Why worship? Psalm 134 gives a twofold answer: He is worthy; we are needy. It is a circle of blessing that moves to God and then from God. 

    Bless the Lord

    Verse 1 begins with a demonstrative verb: “Come.” It is the Hebrew term that begins Psalm 133:1: “Behold.”

    • Psalm 133:1 issues a call to see. 
    • Psalm 1341: issues a call to hear. 

    “Come” is an invitation to worship. The Lord invites us to worship him publicly and corporately. RSVP immediately and eagerly, and do miss the opportunity to bless the Lord. 

    Bless the Lord supremely. Verse 1 says, “Come, bless the Lord.” “Bless” means to enhance or enrich. It is a synonym for praise.Psalm 103:1 says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!” To bless the Lord is to speak well of him. Rhett Dodson wrote: “To bless God is to recount the greatness and the grandeur of his person and attributes; it’s to thank him for who he is and for all that he has done for us.” How do we bless God supremely? 

      Covenant Worship. Verse 1 says, “Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord.” “Servants of the Lord” may refer to the priests and Levites. They were the official leaders of temple worship. It was their duty to “stand by night in the house of the Lord.” If so, this psalm teaches that spiritual leaders should be worship leaders. William Ames said, “A chief duty of God’s ministers is to celebrate his praise.” 

      The servants may be the covenant people of Israel. Psalm 135:1 says, “Praise the Lord! Praise the name of the Lord, give praise, O servants of the Lord.” In Christ, we are servants of the Lord. Philippians 3:3 says, “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.”

      Continual Worship. Verse 1 identifies the Lord’s servants as those “who stand by night.” The priests stood at the altar making sacrifices all day. We have a better covenant in Christ. Hebrews 10:12sways: “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” The Levites ministered before the Lord by night. 

      1 Chronicles 9:33 says the Levitical singers “were on duty day and night.” The psalmist calls those who stand by night to bless the Lord. The Lord is worthy of unending, unceasing, and uninterrupted praise. Acts 16:25 says, “About midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” Can you bless God by night?

      Corporate Worship. Verse 1 says we are to bless the Lord “in the house of the Lord.” The Lord’s house was the tabernacle or temple. It was the divinely appointed meeting place. Christ is the place where we meet God. Hebrews 13:15 says, “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.” 

      Yet this is not a reason to neglect corporate worship. Hebrews 10:25 says: “Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some.” Forsaking worship symbolizes falling away. Faith in Christ is displayed by fellowship with one another. The godly sing Psalm 122:1, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord!’” 

      Bless the Lord sincerely. Verse 2 restates the call to worship: “Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord.” Here is a call to total praise. 

      Praise God prayerfully. Verse 1 calls for verbal praise. Verse 2 teaches our gestures, posture, and movements are acts of worship. Romans 12:1 urges us to “present our bodies as a living sacrifice.” We should praise the Lord with our bodies. Psalm 47:1 says, “Clap your hands, all peoples!” Verse 2 is the more common physical expression: “Lift up your hands to the holy place.” 

      Uplifted hands are a posture of prayer. 1 Timothy 2:8 says, “I desire then that in every place the men should praise, lifting holy hands without anger and quarreling.” Here it is a posture of praise. There is no hard distinction. Worship is prayer. It is a prayer of praise. Lifting our hands in praise expresses adoration, submission, and dependence. 

      • Lift clean hands in devotion. 
      • Lift open hands in surrender.
      • Lift empty hands to receive.  
      • Lift ready hands to minister. 
      • Lift weak hands in dependence. 

      “Lift your hands” is a biblical exhortation. But it should not be coerced. It should be the natural posture of sincere worship. Psalm 141:2 says, “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.”

      Praise God properly. Verse 2 says, “Lift up your hands to the holy place, and bless the Lord!” This stanza begins and ends with a call to bless the Lord. The repetition is emphatic. Lifting your hands is not associated with a mood, feeling, or atmosphere. It is a God-centered act in which our physical expression demonstrates verbal praise. A key takeaway of Psalm 134 is that worship is not about us. God is the subject and object of worship. 

      The Subject of Worship. To say God is the subject of worship means it is about him. Worship ascribes worth. We worship God because God is worthy. James Boice wrote: “Worship is being concerned with God and his attributes. It is knowing, acknowledging, and praising God for being who he is.” John 4:24 says, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” You cannot worshipGod if you do not know God. Superficial knowledge of God leads to superficial worship of God. 

      Isaiah saw a vision of God that changed his life immediately, completely, and permanently. Many churchgoers attend worship services for years without any change in their lives. Could it be because we get music, sermons, and programs – but not God? Life-changing worship is truth-driven worship. To go high in worship is to go deep in the word. Psalm 100:3 says: “Know that the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.”

       The Object of Worship

      • To say God is the subject of worship means it is about him. 
      • To say God is the object of worship means it is for him. 

      Marva Dawn wrote a book on worship entitled “A Royal Waste of Time.” The title indicates worship should not be utilitarian. It should not be about what I can get out of God. Worship is about God and for God.

      As a young Christian, I sang a chorus: “When praises go up, blessings come down. Blessed be the name of the Lord!” Those words are true. It’s the point of verse 3. But be careful that worship does not become a negotiation. Praise is not “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.” Worship is for the glory of God.Psalm 145:3 says, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” This little psalm gives the who, what, when, where, and how of worship. It does not tell us why? Why praise? Psalm 135:3 answers: “Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good.”

      The Lord Bless You 

      Verse 3 is a benediction: “May the Lord bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth!” This is the third time “bless” occurs in this psalm. Verses 1-2 invite us to bless the Lord. In verse 3, the direction of this circle of blessing turns around.

      The Lord blesses those who bless him. Divine worship and divine favor are reciprocal. Charles Spurgeon said, “May blessed and blessing be the two words that describe our lives.” God is still in the blessing business!

        Who God Blesses. Verse 3 says, “May the Lord bless you.” This is the fifth time the Lord is named in this psalm. In verses 1-2, the Lord receives blessings. Now he is the one who blesses. Who does God bless? “You” – a singular pronoun. It can refer to the congregation. But it should be read to speak individually. It is the grammar of Numbers 6:24-26: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” 

        If you bless him, the Lord will bless you personally, intimately, and specifically. The Lord’s blessings are not “off the rack.” They are tailor-made for you. In Genesis 32:26, Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.” That should be your attitude in worship. Albert Barnes comments: “Go not away unblessed; go not without a token of divine favor – for God will bless you.” 

          Where God blesses. Verse 3 says, “May the Lord bless you from Zion.” Zion is Jerusalem. It represents the presence of God – where God is. Psalm 132:13 says, “For the Lord has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place.” Psalm 133:3 says: “It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore.” Psalm 134:3 says, “May the Lord bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth.” 

          This is what we have in the Lord Jesus Christ. Hebrews 12:22-24 says, “But 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 a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” If you are in Christ, you are already blessed. 

          How God blesses. Verse 3 says, “The Lord blessed you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth.” This final clause describes God – not as healer, provider, or deliverer. It declares God as Creator. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” If God did not create heaven and earth, God is not God. Divine creation is the biblical basis for divine authority. 

          Psalm 24:1-2 says, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness therefore; the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the floods.” God owns it all because God made it all. 

          Creative omnipotence is sufficient to bless you with whatever you need. Psalm 121:1-2 says, “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” Psalm 124:8 says, “Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”


          H.B. Charles Jr.

          Pastor-Teacher at the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church of Jacksonville and Orange Park, Florida.