Psalm 135
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
This psalm traces the progress of God's mercy to his people from its source in the Divine nature on to its complete fulfillment in their loving, glad allegiance, the expression of which begins and ends the psalm.

I. IT BEGINS IN THE INHERENT NATURE OF GOD HIMSELF. (Ver. 3.) "The Lord is good." From this proceeds all the rest, and in this all that follows finds its explanation. That "God is love" is, after all, the key which fits the wards and unlocks the difficult problems of life as none other does or can. On other suppositions many things - indeed, we may say most things, and these the most blessed facts of all - that we find in life are inexplicable; but with this, not even the darkest facts need be left out.

II. IT ADVANCES ON TO THE ELECTION OF HIS PEOPLE. (Ver. 4.) Back in the counsels of eternity the Divine love decreed the method of its working; and this involved the election of Israel to the especial service which they were to render. That purpose is net all worked out yet; but much of it has been - and who is there can dispute its righteousness, or wisdom, or love? How could the work have been better done?

III. THE BEGINNING OF ITS ACCOMPLISHMENT SEEN IN THE CREATION OF THE WORLD. (Vers. 5-7.) The material universe was formed, and is continued, not for its own sake, but for the sake of that which is moral and spiritual. This earth was to be the arena on which God's gracious purposes were to be developed and perfected. Hence was it created, adorned, and fitted to be, not only the dwelling-place, but the training-place, of intelligent and moral beings, who should ultimately, when made perfect, become the intimate friends, companions, and ministers of the Lord God himself.

IV. IT WENT ON IN THE TRIUMPHANT AND WONDERFUL PRESERVATION OF HIS CHOSEN PEOPLE. (Vers. 8-12.) The purposes of God, after a while, came into collision with the sin and selfishness of man; they ever do, and sometimes man's rage causes sore trouble to God's people; but his purpose is indestructible, and his enemies must perish.

V. IN HIS SORE PUNISHMENT OF HIS PEOPLE WHEN THEY SINNED, AND UNTIL THEY REPENTED. (Vers. 13, 14.) This portion of his dealing with them seems to have most of all impressed the psalmist's mind. He declares that it will cause the memory of the Lord to endure forever, "throughout all generations." We know how stern, how long-continued, were those disciplines, and how oftentimes the mercy of God in them was hidden from the sufferer's view. But it was part of that mercy all the same, as God's punishment of sin is ever part of his mercy. And it goes on until the sinner repents; and then God "repents himself concerning his servants."

VI. IN THE REALITY OF THE REPENTANCE AND REFORMATION WROUGHT THEREBY. (Vers. 15-18.) Who would ever have thought that idol-living Israel - for it was their besetting sin - would ever have come to speak thus contemptuously of idols and their worshippers? But God's disciplines accomplished this. "Our God is a consuming fire," blessed be his Name!

VII. IN THE PERFECT HARMONY OF WILL AND GLADNESS OF HEART IN REGARD TO HIMSELF, WHICH GOD AT LENGTH SECURED. This was his aim all through - to have a people like himself, filled with his love, animated by his Spirit, obedient to his will, and so a joy to themselves, their fellow-men, and to their God. Such is the meaning which lies underneath the exuberant expression of praise and love with which the psalm opens (vers. 1-3) and closes (vers. 19-21). - S.C.

An exhortation to the priests and Levites who wait in the sanctuary to praise Jehovah, both because of his goodness in choosing Israel to be his people, and because of his greatness, and the almighty power which he has shown, in his dominion over the world of nature, and in the overthrow of all the enemies of his people. Then his abiding majesty is contrasted with the nothingness of the idols of the heathen.


1. Because he is good. (Ver. 3.)

2. Because his name or nature is beautiful, or lovely.


1. Because he has chosen Israel to be his people. When God has bestowed great privileges he seems to have chosen such a people, as in the case of the Jews and the other great peoples of the world.

2. Because of the greatness of God in the works of nature. His will is absolute and irresistible in all the material world. But man has free will, and can oppose God, though God's will is supremely good and ought to be obeyed.

3. Because of the greatness and goodness of God in redemption. (Vers. 8, 9.) In both temporal and spiritual redemption. He gave his people the promised land.

4. The righteousness of God. (Ver. 14.) He judgeth his people, and has pity upon them. Righteousness and mercy make the perfect God worthy of all praise-worship.

5. God's infinite sympathy compared with the idols of the heathen. They cannot speak, or see, or hear. God is in contact and sympathy with the meanest of his creatures. - S.

God is love, and this absolute fact concerning him is embodied in the Divine Name. This is especially true for us to whom the Divine Name of names is "our Father." The word used here is elsewhere used in the sense of propitious or gracious; and it is the graciousness, pitifulness, long-suffering of God which, man thinks of as making his Name so lovely., In Psalm 54:6 we find the expression, I will praise thy Name, O Lord; for it is good. Some think the meaning of the psalmist is, that the work of offering praise is pleasant; but it is fresher, and an indication of deeper feeling in the psalmist, that he should associate pleasantness even with the sound of the Divine Name.

I. THE PLEASANTNESS OF THE DIVINE TAME, BECAUSE OF WHAT IT RECALLS. There is a whole history of Divine dealings embodied in the Name. Illustrate from the way in which some special intervention of God was put into a special form of the Divine Name, such as Jehovah-jireh, Jehovah-nissi, Jehovah-tsidkenu, etc. The whole story of the Divine patience, intervention, and redemption is gathered up into the general name Jehovah, and is recalled by it. So the spiritual redemption is recalled by the name given to God manifest in the flesh - Jehovah-Jesus, Jehovah-Emmanuel. How pleasant the names which recall such gracious things!

II. THE PLEASANTNESS OF THE DIVINE NAME BECAUSE OF WHAT IT CONTAINS. It is familiar to point out that a name embodies and expresses the attributes or characteristics of a person. The early Bible names have distinct meanings; they describe persons. The Divine Name is lovely because it describes our ideal of everything true, pure, kind, gracious, wise. It describes him who is the "chief among ten thousand, and altogether lovely." The satisfaction and rest of the human heart cannot come only out of what God says, or out of what God does; it comes out of what God is; and what God is is embodied in his Name.

III. THE PLEASANTNESS OF THE DIVINE NAME BECAUSE OF WHAT IT SUGGESTS OR ASSURES. When we have absolute confidence in a person, and seal that confidence by fixing our own name for him, all our future relations with that person are guaranteed. So the name Jehovah (Yehweh), "I am that I am," seals our absolute confidence in God, and suggests entire trust in him, and the certainty of Divine help and blessing in all that may unfold before us. He is the "same yesterday, and today, and for ever.' - R.T.

Peculiar treasure is a special covenant-name for Israel (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 7:6). As used in the Scripture, "election" is not a theological term. It is not what it has been made, a doctrinal term, on which a sectarian system can be based. It stands for a fact or method of Divine dealing. It does not apply exclusively to any one thing, or any one people. God is always working in this way, electing, or selecting, the best agencies for carrying out his various purposes, now of wisdom and mercy, now of judgment and destruction. It is a poetic setting, and a comfortable self-glorifying, for the psalmist to speak of Jehovah as having "chosen Jacob unto himself, and Israel for his peculiar treasure." The sober fact is that this particular nation was selected to carry out a particular Divine mission in the world; and it would have done better if it had thought more of its responsibility, and less of its privilege. Dr. T. Arnold wrote of Rome, Athens, and Jerusalem as representing the three people of God's election - two for things temporal, and one for things eternal. Since his time we have learned to extend his thought, and to see in every nation a distinct Divine election to some ministry for the blessing of the whole of humanity. To us the election of Israel is no more than a representative and suggestive election.

I. IF WE TAKE THE TERM "ELECTION," WE THINK OF A PRIVILEGE. The old Jews did this, regarding themselves as a petted nation, standing in the favor of God in an altogether unique manner. Consequently, they presumed on their privilege, and let it encourage self-pleasing. Those do it in modern times who make the sovereignty of their election the foundation of their religious hope. Antinomian presumptions always attend on the conception of God's election as privilege. Frail man easily turns privilege into favoritism.

II. IF WE TAKE THE TERM "SELECTION," WE THINK OF DUTY AND RESPONSIBILITY. And this is in every way healthier for us. God wants co-workers, agents in the sense-spheres, the human spheres; and he is always looking for such, always selecting such, always separating such. It is indeed an honor unspeakable to be selected; but if we think of ourselves as such, we almost forget the honor and the privilege, because we are so fully urged to noble endeavor by the burden of our responsibility. - R.T.

All that Jehovah willeth he hath done. Observe the contrast with idols. If it were conceivable that they had the power to will, it is manifest that they have not the power to carry out, or execute, their will. Observe the contrast with men. They, undoubtedly, have the power to will, but the inability to perform oppresses them continually. "I would, but cannot," is the constant cry of man's feebleness. But a limitation on God's power to execute what he wills is inconceivable; and if we could conceive it, we should find we had lost all worthy ideas of God. "With God all things are possible" that are not ridiculous in the statement. Calvin says, "The specification of Jehovah's doings according to his pleasure, in heaven, earth, sea, and all deep places, puts before us in a graphic manner his particular care always and everywhere."

I. THE CONNECTION BETWEEN GOD'S WILL AND GOD'S POWER. That can be seen in all the three spheres of God's relations.

1. In the material world of things. It always was, and it always is, true that "he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood forth?" Laws in their working may seem to cross other laws; but they cannot hinder the outworking of what God wills.

2. In the world of people. God "doeth as he wills among the armies of heaven, and inhabitants of the earth."

3. In the spiritual world. Because that world is so difficult to apprehend, the connection between God's will and power escapes our attention, though it is as sure as anywhere else.

II. THE HINDRANCES PUT IN THE WAY OF THE CONNECTION. They never come from things. The disturbances of nature are not real; they only represent human conceptions based on what is humanly observed. Tempests, earthquakes, etc., are in the Divine order. The hindrances can only come from intelligent creatures, to whom is entrusted a limited self-will. Man has this awful possibility given to him; he can come in between God's will and the carrying out of that will.

III. THE TRIUMPH OVER THE HINDRANCES. That must sometimes be accomplished by the putting forth of Divine power; but it is the marvel of Divine grace that it is usually done by persuading the human will, bringing it into full harmony with the Divine will, and so getting the man himself to take the hindrances out of the way. - R.T.

1. So thoroughly has Christianity filled the modern mind with the love of peace, that the older associations of Jehovah with times and scenes of war have become positively painful to us. Taking advantage of this feeling - perhaps we should say this weakness of feeling - the infidel makes easy attacks upon the Old Testament Jehovah as an altogether unlovely and even bloodthirsty conception. Are we to be unduly alarmed, and to attempt explanations and excuses? or are we to take a firm stand, and say that, as the experience of war is one of the commonplaces of humanity, the association of Jehovah with war is inevitable; it must be made in every nation and in every generation, and according to the idea a nation has of war must be its notion of God as associated with war. In the last hundred years there have been a great variety of wars, right ones and wrong. Men cannot help it; they must associate their God with their wars. The thing to seek is a right association. Wars are dreadful things; but it is not possible to read history intelligently, and say that they have always been wrong. But if they have ever been just and right, God cannot be dishonored by being thought of as connected with them, and working out his purposes by means of them.

2. Then, again, wars belong to that liberty with which God has entrusted his creatures. It is a liberty over which he watches, and which he holds in due restraints. But he would not be fair to men unless he gave them a good length of tether. Man must have liberty enough to fight for his ends.

3. Again, if the self-defense of an individual man be right, and even aggressive action under some conditions, - self-defense in an aggregate of individuals, in a nation, need not be wrong. We must distinguish between the misery of it and the sin of it. A nation has no way of aggressive or defensive action, in relation to the aggressive or defensive action of another nation, save by war.

4. And lastly, God may use nations, as well as natural forces, for the execution of his judgments. Natural forces are pestilence, famine, and convulsions, as we call them, of nature. The only national executive force is war. Reasonably, as well as poetically, God may be called a "Man of war." - R.T.

Thy memorial, O Lord, from one generation to another. The "memorial" may be but another word for the "Name;" but from one point of view the "Name" is but gathering into a single term the records of the Divine dealings; and it does but express that conception of God himself which his Divine dealings have produced on us. So we may say that the memorial of his doings fills with meaning the Divine Name, and assures us that what God has ever been to his people, he ever will be. Once on a time learned men were sorely puzzled by certain irregular holes on the front of an ancient temple. One, more sagacious than the rest, suggested that these indentations might be the marks of nails used to fasten Greek characters to the stone. Lines were drawn from one point to the next, when they were found to form letters, and the name of the Deity unexpectedly stood disclosed. What is known as a "zikr," or memorial service, is repeated by Mohammedans, at stated intervals, at the graves of those long dead, if they have left a reputation for holiness. The word "zikr" is closely connected with the Hebrew word for "a memorial," or "remembrance," indeed, one may say identical with it. The subject suggested is the Divine arrangement that the Divine dealings should be held in men's memory through all the generations, and be a permanent moral force in every age. The Bible is the memorial.

I. THE BIBLE IS A BOOK OF HISTORY. It is more than this, but it is this; and this to a very great extent. It is a collection of records of events that have happened. Take history out of the Pentateuch (or Hexateuch), out of the so-called historical books, out of the prophets, and take the references to history out of the Psalms, and what would be left? The fact is not sufficiently considered. The records in the book are memorials, reminders, of actual events.

II. THE SUBJECT OF THE BIBLE IS GOD IN HISTORY. This brings to view the contrast between ordinary history and Biblical history. Scripture everywhere brings to view the direct relation of God to events. And so the records become memorials of God to every generation. Suggestive memorials, showing that history never is read aright unless God is seen in it. - R.T.

The explanation is often made that the changes of Divine plans are responsive to changes in the circumstances of God's people. It is seeing deeper into the heart of truth to see that the Divine repentances even answer to the changing moods of God's people. His "repenting himself concerning his servants" is really his "having compassion on them;" and that is responding to their moods. The separate meanings of the word "repentance" have often been presented, and the very limited senses in which the term can be applied to God have been variously shown. It represents the Divine responsiveness, which is as perfect as any other Divine attribute. It greatly helps us to see clearly that the Divine repentance is a perfect thing, because repentance, though it may be a right thing in man, is closely associated with frailty and evil. Repentance involves change of plan; and this must be based on change of mind. But we have constantly to change our minds and change our plans, in order to meet new conditions; and we never dream of such changing being wrong. They are not made wrong by calling them "repentances." It is the association of sin with the change which brings in the element of regret which characterizes human repentance; but as there is no sin in God, there can be no regret; and we must eliminate these features from repentance when we apply the term to God.

I. THE DIVINE REPENTANCE IS RELATIVE TO MAN. There is no such thing as change in God, as repentance in God relative to the world of things. This theological truth science does but express by the "invariability of natural law." There is no created thing that has independent action, so nothing can ever make new conditions for God to adjust himself to. Man alone can do this, because he can act independently.

II. THE DIVINE REPENTANCE IS RELATIVE TO MAN'S CIRCUMSTANCES, There is a sense in which man is ever putting himself into fresh circumstances. What should we have to say of the helplessness of God, if he could not adjust himself to new conditions?

III. THE DIVINE REPENTANCE IS RELATIVE TO MAN'S MOODS. For the Divine relations are spiritual; they mainly concern the man himself. And changing spiritual moods require wise and gracious adjustments on the part of God. - R.T.

(See Psalm 115:4-8.) As a psalm of the restored nation, this expresses the strong feeling cherished concerning the idols of surrounding small kingdoms; and the feeling was all the more bitter because those kingdoms were distressing the returned exiles by their active enmity. In denouncing their gods, the exiles intended covertly to denounce them. The following sentences are found in the Koran (2:2): "The unbelievers are like unto one who crieth aloud to that which heareth not so much as (his) calling or the sound of (his) voice. (They are) deaf, dumb, blind, therefore do they not understand." In a Chinese village, in a time of drought, a missionary saw a row of idols put out in the hottest and dustiest part of the road. He inquired the reason, and the natives answered, "We prayed our gods to send us rain, and they won't, so we've put them out to see how they like the heat and the dryness."

I. THE MATERIAL FIGURES THAT CANNOT RESPOND. It is not easy to speak with proper care and precision in relation to the figures which men make to represent their gods. To the Israelites those figures were their gods, and from their point of view they were quite right in vigorously denouncing their helplessness. But to those who made the figures they were but sensible realizations of abstract ideas, imprisonments in form of spiritual conceptions. And yet we are compelled to admit that the figures were only this to the thoughtful, to the philosophic mind. To the mass of men idols, that is, figures of gods, practically take the place of the gods whom they really represent. The plea of the psalm, that idols are helpless, is effective against the sentiment of the ordinary idol-worshipper; but the reflective idolater regards it as altogether beside the mark, because the figures are but the reminders of some incarnation of his spiritual deity.

II. THE IMMATERIAL REALITY BEHIND THE FIGURES THAT CAN RESPOND. Let the figures be the agency we use for our dealing with the unseen One; then, though still we may not think of bodily organs or senses, we can be sure of response in the spiritual, and, if necessary, also in the material spheres. We also have the figure of the human Christ to help us to realize the eternal Father, who is the Hearer and Answerer of prayer. - R.T.

As in Psalm 128:5, Jehovah blesses the covenant people out of Zion, so here they bless him out of Zion - that is the place where the reciprocal relation is best and chiefly realized. What ideas can be properly associated with God's having a permanent abode on earth? We must be careful to distinguish between ideas that may be cherished, and ideas that must be dismissed as unworthy.

I. GOD'S EARTHLY DWELLING-PLACE CENTRALIZES THE RELIGION AND THE NATION. "In Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship." Under some circumstances it may be a good thing to have religion localized; but advancing development makes such localization a hindrance and an evil. "The time now is when neither on Gerizim nor at Jerusalem shall men worship the Father." The material help is only wanted until the spiritual has come. Then man himself is God's dwelling-place.

II. GOD'S EARTHLY DWELLING-PLACE DECLARES GOD'S RELATIVITY TO MAN. We often think of man as in God's image; but there is an answering truth - God is in man's image. That God should want an earthly dwelling-place convinces men that he is one of themselves; seeing he wants what they want. So God's temple dwelling-place was the foreshadowing of, and preparation for, his incarnation in his Son, and for the spiritual indwelling by the Holy Ghost.

III. GOD'S EARTHLY DWELLING-PLACE CONVINCES OF THE IMMEDIACY OF HIS KNOWLEDGE. God absent in heaven is thought of as knowing by report. God actually and always present knows at once, is immediately interested, and can instantly act. Illustrate by the moral effect of the absence of an earthly king, and the moral effect of the sense of his presence.

IV. GOD'S EARTHLY DWELLING-PLACE BECOMES A PERPETUAL CALL TO DUTY, AND INSPIRATION OF GOODNESS. The sense of service is quickened when that service may be called for at any hour; and the hope of winning the King's approval renews holy endeavor. God's dwelling with men is real, but unseen. No Jew would doubt that God was in his holy temple. But no Jew ever saw him. That unseen presence helped to the later conception of God dwelling unseen in the temple of man's soul, apprehended as the Holy Ghost. - R.T.

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