The end of the road
We are there. We have got to the end of the psalms of ascents. The pilgrims on their journey to Jerusalem have been singing these songs on the way, now they are at their destination, Jerusalem.
This may be the last of the psalms of ascents, but it is not a psalm of endings at completeness, this is a song about arrival. This is where it starts.
A song of ascents.
1 Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord
who minister by night in the house of the Lord.
2 Lift up your hands in the sanctuary
and praise the Lord.
3 May the Lord bless you from Zion,
he who is the Maker of heaven and earth.
The Songs of Ascents or Songs of Degrees are calls from the world to God. In the Eastern Orthodox Church and those Eastern Catholic Churches which follow the Byzantine Rite, the Songs of Degrees make up the Eighteenth division of the Psalter and are read on Friday evenings at Vespers throughout the liturgical year.
Bless the Lord
Airports are strange places. There are two sorts of people at an airport, those who work there and those who wish to be somewhere else. I have tried to imagine the travelling as part of a holiday, but sadly I am unable to do that. When going on holiday I am focussed on the destination that places like airports are necessary inconveniences.
The “you” in verse 3 is singular. So many of the Psalms are are about the nation of Israel/Judah, or to the congregation, which is why it came as a surprise to me to find it singular here. The sequence here is that you, plural, praise the Lord and the Lord blesses you, singular, God individually blesses the people that praise him.
There is a problem with the translation I am using, the NIV. The word translated praise in verses 1 and 2 is the same Hebrew word that is translated bless in verse 3. There are two different words translated into English as bless, to know what the passage means it is best first to know which word is used, and which word is used. I have no Hebrew but I am using the Blue Letter Bible website for dictionary definitions as well as the book A Long Obedience In The Same Direction by Eugene H Peterson.
The first word is ‘esher. This is not the word used in this psalm and is never used of God. It means, “Well being that comes with living in tune with nature and God.” The problem with the NIV is that this meaning could be read into this psalm where it is not used. God does bless people this way, the Bible is quite clear on that, but that is not the meaning here.
The other word, and the one that is used in all three verses of Psalm 134 is barak. It means to kneel before someone, a sign of humility. The praise we give to God is always humble praise, there is no place for arrogant pride or self-centredness before God. We are told to kneel before God.
But this is also how God blesses us, by being humble and kneeling before us. Jesus knelt before his disciples and washed their feet at their final meal together before Jesus was crucified. By pouring his life out for us he showed what God is like, self-giving, pouring out himself for us.
Our praise is bowing before a self-giving God, who gives himself for each of us individually. Praise be to God.