Psalm 134 pays tribute to those who stand by night in the house of the Lord. It is a short psalm; only Psalm 117 is of shorter length. It is the last of the fifteen “Psalms or Songs of Degrees.” As this series come to a close, this psalm carries us in spirit to the sanctuary of the temple in Jerusalem. It has been suggested that the elusive inscription, “A Song of Degrees,” may have been given because these psalms were for pilgrims to sing on their way to Jerusalem, or for the priests ascending the fifteen steps to the altar, or that each verse is to be sung in the next higher key, or that they were intended to lead us through a progression of spiritual thoughts. Being unable to unravel the mystery, we can be sure it is unnecessary to do so.
The song begins, “Behold, bless the Lord, all ye servants of the Lord, which stand by night in the service of the Lord.” The exclamation “Behold” calls our attention to something significant that might otherwise be overlooked. To “bless the Lord” in this context is to sing a praise of thanksgiving. “All the servants of the Lord” are to praise him. In Ephesians 5:18-19 we are called to congregational worship: “…be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit; Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Some want praise songs sung to them by a praise team, but our worship is not a show or a performance. I am as the preacher who said, “I have no objection to a choir in worship, as long as all of us are in it!”
There were duties for the priest to perform through the night. These servants would clean up from the day before and prepare for the day to come, and they would keep watch to see that all was well. Also in the night, they would gather for worship. 1 Chronicles 9:33 speaks of the singers who were employed to work day and night: “And these are the singers, chief of the fathers of the Levites, who remaining in the chambers were free: for they were employed in that work day and night.”
The second verse says, “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord.” A sanctuary is a place “set apart.” The temple is called the sanctuary because it was set apart for worship. Some call the room in our buildings where we gather to worship “the sanctuary.” We may worship in that room, but it is not a holy place as was the temple. God wants our worship to ascend from sanctified hearts rather from sanctified rooms. Lifting up hands acknowledged the exalted holiness of God. Paul wrote of worship leaders in the church who would assume that posture in 1 Timothy 2:8: “I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands.”
Think of how it would have sounded to have passed near the temple in the night and to have heard those voices coming from that sanctuary in song. Have you ever passed a meetinghouse on Sunday evening or Wednesday nights and seen cars in the parking lot and light from the windows? In the old days the windows would be opened. Those outside could hear the praise ascending from within. Those who make themselves absent from evening worship are missing a spiritual blessing.
The Psalmist asked that a blessing be bestowed on those servants who worship through the night. “The Lord that made heaven and earth bless thee out of Zion.” Who better to ask for such a benefit than to ask it from the Lord that made heaven and earth? James says in James 1:17, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”
This temple no longer stands in Jerusalem, but there are still servants of the Lord who, in a sense, serve in the night. These include those who serve unseen. Jesus warns those who do their righteousness to be seen of men; he said, “Verily, they have their reward.” But of those who serve unseen he says, “The Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matt. 6:1-6). These include those who serve long after others have gone. Some stop serving when they see nothing in it for themselves, and by this they show that they were only serving to please themselves. Those who worship in spirit and in truth offer sacrifices of praise and they do not weary in well doing. Those who serve in the night include those who serve when all is not well, when the service is difficult, and when the numbers are few. They are not just marching the parade as sunshine soldiers; these are they who remain at their post through the perilous night.
The psalm reminds me of the eerily obscure passage in Isaiah 21:11-12: “Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night? The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night; if ye will enquire, enquire ye: return, come.” Let me suggest that the call for the watchman is repeated for urgency. The morning will come with judgment, then the dreaded night. What then must we do to be saved? “If you would enquire, enquire ye…” What follows is a call for repentance: “…return, come.” Life’s little day is passing; the night cometh. When the judgment morning dawns, we want to be found in the presence of the Lord, ‘…for there is no night there.” Without awaits an outer darkness of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Listen to the voice of the watchman. “Return, come.”