Good morning! Today with Psalms 132-136, we finish out the “psalms of ascent” section of the psalter, and approach the conclusion of the whole book. In this part of the Psalms especially, there are no doubting or lamenting prayers, but only wall-to-wall praise.
Psalm 132 focuses again on the temple in Jerusalem (God’s “address”), and singing the Ark of the Covenant to its lodging place at the temple. We read of David’s faithfulness, and the psalmist invokes God’s promise that one of David’s descendants would be on the throne in Jerusalem forever. In light of what we know through archaeology—that Jerusalem was ransacked and destroyed over a dozen times in its history—I find it interesting to read the vows written on God’s behalf to bless the city’s provisions and shower abundance on the poor. The wide gaps between aspiration and reality are explainable through an “if” clause—“if your sons keep my covenant”—making sense of Jerusalem’s struggles as well as its times of relative success.
After a sensual oil-running-down-the-beard praise for unity in psalm 133, the following two chapters indicate that perhaps they were offered up by worshippers in the temple already rather than by pilgrims on the way. Some interpreters suggest that maybe the “ascent” here was the movement of priests up the steps of the temple toward greater holiness. The praises in Psalm 135 end with what I have to imagine is a call and response, naming different groups who might be gathered together in the assembly, and each responds in turn: “bless the Lord!”
Psalm 136 comes after the ascent psalms, but it too is tailor-made for group participation. Each verse ends with the same refrain, “for [God’s] steadfast love endures for ever”. A cantor or liturgist (in my imagination) describes the various reasons for praise to God: the creation, deliverance from Egypt, protection from enemy kings, and the land itself. After each phrase, the (non-literate) congregation might respond with “for his steadfast love endures for ever,” giving them equal power and voice in the creation of liturgy. The beauty of this form of worship—still widely used today—is that it’s more accessible to pre-literate children and those who have trouble reading something printed. Plus, there’s no worship bulletin to edit. 🙂 Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Psalms 137-143. Thanks for reading!