Psalm 134

Psalm 134 states in the King James Version (which is in the public domain):

1 A Song of degrees.  Behold, bless ye the LORD, all ye servants of the LORD, which by night stand in the house of the LORD.
2 Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the LORD.
3 The LORD that made heaven and earth bless thee out of Zion.

Vv 1-2 are in the second person plural, whereas v 3 is in the second person singular.  An explanation for this is that there are different voices in vv 1-2 and v 3.  Vv 1-2, in this scenario, are the congregation speaking to the LORD’s servants who stand in the house of God, even at night, whereas v 3 is the response of those servants to individuals in the congregation, as the servants wish God’s blessing upon them.

There is some debate about the identity of those servants who stand in the house of God.

One view is that these servants are priests or Levites.  Keil-Delitzsch support this view when they refer to “the fact that [amad, the Hebrew word for ‘stand’] is the customary word for the service of the priests and Levites (Deu 10:8; Deu 18:7; 1 Ch 23:30; 2 Ch 29:11 (cf. on Isa 61:10 and Psa 110:4), which is also continued in the night, 1 Ch 9:33.”

Erhard Gerstenberger, however, maintains that the servants are lay Israelites: “The addressees of the summons are called ‘servants of Yahweh,’ and they are described as performing nightly cultic ministrations at Yahweh’s house…’Servants’ ([abadim]) in late psalm recitation became a designation for the faithful community at large (cf. 19:12, 14 [RSV 11, 13]; 34:23 [RSV 22]; 69:18, 37 [RSV 17, 36]; 79:2, 10; 86:4, 16; 90:13, 16; Gen 50:17; Exod 32:13; Deut 9:27; Isa 54:17; etc…Nightly hymn singing of the community is also attested in Isa 30:29: ‘There you shall sing in the night as at a holy feast.’  In short, there is no evidence for the hypothesis that vv. 1-2 address priests.  On the contrary, all the congregation is called upon to praise and thus strengthen Yahweh in his sovereignty and power.”

If Gerstenberger sees the servants of vv 1-2 as the Israelite congregation, then how would he account for the different voices in vv 1-2 and v 3?  Essentially, Gerstenberger contends that vv 1-2 are spoken by the members of the congregation, presumably to themselves, whereas v 3 is spoken by “the officiant of the service”, who “speaks in the name of Yahweh” and communicates “to each individual member of the congregation the strengthening patronage of Israel’s God” (from Gerstenberger, Psalms, Part 2, and Lamentations).

Gerstenberger has a more democratic interpretation of Psalm 134, one that regards the servants of the LORD in vv 1-2 as the entire community of the faithful.  But there is another view that Psalm 134:1-2 concerns exemplary laypeople, who pray in the Temple at nights.  I read more than one commentator who referred to Anna in interpreting Psalm 134:1-2.  Luke 1:36-37 states about Anna: “And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity;  And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.”

I don’t know which of these interpretations (if any) is the correct one, but I will get some spiritual application from all of them.  I think that Christianity is both passive and active.  It is passive in the sense that we receive God’s blessings and forgiveness.  In the same way that there were priests, hard at work in the Temple, even at night, bringing God’s forgiveness and blessings to Israel, so likewise do many Christians believe that they are saved by the work of Christ, who intercedes in heaven on their behalf.  In a sense, Christians passively accept and receive what God has and is doing for them.

At the same time, Christians have a responsibility to be active: to be standing and acknowledging God’s beneficence and authority.  It’s not just a matter of God doing things for them, for they themselves should be exercising faith in God and reminding themselves of God’s values.

Yet, not everyone can be a saint.  That’s why it’s good that there are Annas in the world, people who choose to set aside time to be prayer warriors, or maybe even to perform acts of service.  We should be mindful of the Annas of the world and appreciate their service.

I’ll shut off the comments because I can think of ways that people might nitpick what I just said.  I’m just not in the mood to deal with that today.  Come to think of it, I’m never in the mood to deal with it!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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