For the Love of God, Volume 1/July 4
From Gospel Translations
Joshua 6; Psalms 135—136; Isaiah 66; Matthew 14
EVERY VERSE IN PSALM 135 quotes or alludes to or is quoted by some other part of Scripture.
Verse 1 reorders the phrasing of Psalm 113:1, putting the emphasis on the “servants of the LORD” who are then further described in verse 2—which in turn adapts a clause from Psalm 116:19. Verse 3 is one of three related verses in the book of Psalms in which we are variously told that the Lord’s name is good (52:9), that he himself is good (135:3), and that praising him is good (147:1); and further, that both his name (here) and worship of him (147:1) are “pleasant” (or perhaps “delightful”). If verse 3 emphasizes God’s character, verse 4 underscores his elective love in a way that calls us back to Deuteronomy 7:6.
Verses 5-7 emphasize God’s unlimited power, calling to mind Exodus 18:11; Psalm 115:3; Jeremiah 10:13. The opening clause “I know that . . .” provides an emphasis on personal confession; this is truth not only to know, but to live by. Much of verses 8-12 reappears scattered throughout the next psalm, often word for word (136:10, 18-22). Which way the borrowing went is of little consequence. The references to the defeat of Sihon and Og call us back to Numbers 21:21-35. As for God’s name (135:13-14), the allusion is to Exodus 3:15 and Deuteronomy 32:36. Verses 15-18, on the sheer folly of all idolatry, almost exactly follow 115:4- 8; thematically similar convictions find expression in Isaiah. The closing verses of this psalm (135:19-21) apparently pick up on 115:9-11, where three of the four groups are told to glorify God.
The result of this pastiche approach to psalm-writing is a wonderful compendium of praise. It is as if the mind of the writer is not only full of much historical data from Scripture, but filled with texts as well. So as he builds his exuberant hymn of praise, consciously or unconsciously he interweaves phrase after phrase, sometimes whole verses, drawn from other Scriptures.
A similar phenomenon was once not uncommon amongst praying evangelicals. As men and women poured out their hearts to the Lord in prayer meetings, both praise and petition were cast in the language of Scripture. Of course, at its worst this sort of thing was a canned recitation of the same half-dozen texts. But at its best, such praise and prayer roamed through ever wider vistas of Scripture, as the people’s knowledge of Scripture was itself growing. There is something mature and biblically evocative about such praise, and as different from today’s narrow themes of clichéd sentimentalism as Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is from “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”