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Psalm 134: A Song of Ascents

At Night in the Temple

The evening sacrifice in the Temple was actually performed in the late afternoon, at about 3 pm. After that, at about sunset, the great gates of the Temple were closed to ordinary worshippers. But inside the gates, many priests and Levites remained, who were on guard in the Temple throughout the night. It’s not clear whether the worship mentioned in this Psalm refers to prayers or blessings offered up by these night guards, or perhaps to times of festival, when worship in the Temple continued longer than usual (Isa. 30:29). In either case, the focus of the Psalm is on blessing God in his Temple, and receiving his blessing in return.

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Psalm 134


Bless#2 Yehuah3

All you# servants of Yehuah

Who stand4 in the House5 of Yehuah

At night.6

Lift up your# hands7 of holiness8

And bless Yehuah.

May Yehuah bless you*9 from Zion,

The maker of heavens and earth.


1 Or, behold. Used to call attention to something.

2 A # indicates the second person plural in the original Hebrew. The servants of Yehuah mentioned in the next two lines (those serving in the Temple at night) are being exhorted to bless God. In the time of Yeshua, spoken blessings had assumed a standardized form. But at the time this psalm was written, centuries earlier, the blessing of God (blessing directed toward God) was a more extemporaneous type of prayer and spoken blessing.

3 The personal name of God.  Its pronunciation is uncertain, replaced with Adonai when read by the Jewish people, and printed Lord (sometimes in capital letters as Lord) in most English Bibles.  This is one of several possible reconstructions.  For more on God’s name, see the index category Yhwh.

4 In the Temple, worshippers and priests stood in the presence of the Lord, as servants standing before their master (Deut. 10:8, 18:5,7; 1 Kings 8:11; 2 Chron. 29:11). For this reason, prayer was usually performed standing.

5 In the Hebrew Bible, the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem is called the House of the Lord. This referred to the entire Temple compound, including the inner Sanctuary building as well as the surrounding courts with their colonnades. (See the artwork above, which shows the Temple in the time of Jesus, the Second Temple.)

6 Literally, in the nights in Hebrew. The Septuagint (ancient Greek) version has instead, in the courts of the House of our God. This may be a scribal error, confusing this verse with the very similar opening to Psalm 135 (Psa. 135:2).

7 The primary position for prayer was standing with hands raised. This dates back to Moses himself (Exo. 9:29,33), if not earlier. Solomon also prayed with his hands raised at the dedication of the Temple (1 Kings 8:22). This was the primary position for prayer in Christianity for the first eight centuries after the time of Jesus. Hands were also raised by the Jewish priests in pronouncing the priestly blessing (see note 9 below).

8 Or, holy hands. This is the verse Paul was referring to when he told Timothy to teach Christians to pray, lifting up holy hands (1 Tim. 2:8). The Septuagint (ancient Greek) version, which is followed here by most modern translations, reads instead lift up your hands to the holy place (the sanctuary). Whether or not this was the original reading, it certainly was the practice since Solomon’s time for prayers to be said standing with hands raised, facing the Sanctuary (the Holy Place) of the Temple. In the artwork above, the Sanctuary is the tall building at the back of the inner compound, just to the right and above the title. This was the innermost building of the Temple complex. The Holy of Holies was located in the back section of this same building.

9 A * indicates a second person singular in the original Hebrew. This change of person (from plural in the preceding lines to singular here) helps to distinguish the last two lines from the rest of the psalm (see poetic analysis). The language is that of the priestly blessing of Num. 6:24-26, which was pronounced over the worshippers after the prayers were completed. Whether this blessing was once said again at night or is simply an allusion to the daytime service is not clear. But the sequence in this psalm, first of group prayer (or blessing) directed toward the Sanctuary, followed by a personal, priestly-style blessing of the worshippers, is the same as that found in the daily Temple services.

For more information about the services in the Temple, see Alfred Edersheim’s classic, The Temple, listed in our Bookstore.

Poetic Structure Analysis ⮞

Translation and notes by Jeffrey J. Harrison. Copyright © 2006, 2010, 2021 by Jeffrey J. Harrison.
Unattributed photos are by the author. All rights reserved.