Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 12: Psalms, Part V, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
An exhortation to praise God, addressed to the people of God generally, but more particularly to the Priests and Levites.
A Song of Degrees.
1. Behold! bless ye Jehovah, all ye servants of Jehovah, who stand nightly in the house of Jehovah. 2. Lift up your hands towards the sanctuary, 149 and bless Jehovah. 3. Jehovah bless thee out of Zion, who made heaven and earth!
1. Behold! bless ye Jehovah. Some interpreters think, that others besides the Levites are here intended, and it must be granted, at least, that some of the more zealous of the people remained over night in the Temple, as we read (Lu 2:37) of Anna, a widow, “who served God constantly with prayers night and day.” 150 But it is evident, from the close of the Psalm, that the inspired penman addresses priests only, since he prescribes the form of benediction which they were to offer up for the people, and this was a duty belonging exclusively to the Priests. It would appear then, that the Levites are here called servants of God, from the functions they discharged, being specially appointed, and that by turns, to watch by night in the Temple, as we read in the inspired history. 151 (Le 8:35.) The Psalm begins with the demonstrative adverb Behold! setting the matter of their duty before their eyes, for they were to be stimulated to devotion by looking constantly to the Temple. We are to notice the Psalmist’s design in urging the duty of praise so earnestly upon them. Many of the Levites, through the tendency which there is in all men to abuse ceremonies, considered that nothing more was necessary than standing idly in the Temple, and thus overlooked the principal part of their duty. The Psalmist would show that merely to keep nightly watch over the Temple, kindle the lamps, and superintend the sacrifices, was of no importance, unless they served God spiritually, and referred all outward ceremonies to that which must be considered the main sacrifice the celebration of God’s praises. You may think it a very laborious service, as if he had said, to stand at watch in the Temple, while others sleep in their own houses; but the worship which God requires is something more excellent than this, and demands of you to sing his praises before all the people. In the second verse he reminds them in addition, of the form observed in calling upon the name of the Lord. For why do men lift their hands when they pray? Is it not that their hearts may be raised at the same time to God? 152 It is thus that the Psalmist takes occasion to reprehend their carelessness in either standing idle in the Temple, or trifling and indulging in vain conversation, and thus failing to worship God in a proper manner.
3. Jehovah bless thee out of Zion! We have conclusive proof in my opinion from this verse that the Psalm is to be considered as referring to the priests and Levites only, for to them it properly belonged under the law to bless the people. (Nu 6:23.) The Psalmist had first told them to bless God; now he tells them to bless the people in his name. Not that God meant by any such injunction that the people might themselves indulge in a life of carnal security an opinion prevalent among the Papists, who think that if the monks chant in the temples, this is all the worship necessary on the part of the whole body of the people. What God intended was, that the priests should lead the way in divine service, and the people take example by what was done in the temple, and practice it individually in their private houses. The duty of blessing the people was enjoined upon the priests, as representing Christ’s person. Express mention is intentionally made of two things, which are in themselves distinct, when the God who blessed them out of Zion is said to be also the Creator of heaven and earth. Mention is made of his title as Creator to set forth his power, and convince believers there is nothing that may not be hoped from God. For what is the world but a mirror in which we see his boundless power? And those must be senseless persons indeed, that are not satisfied with the favor of Him who is recognized by them as having all dominion and all riches in his hand. Since many, however, are apt, when they hear God spoken of as Creator, to conceive of him as standing at a distance from them, and doubt their access to him, the Psalmist makes mention also of that which was a symbol of God’s nearness to his people and this that they might be encouraged to approach him with the freedom and unrestrained confidence of persons who are invited to come to the bosom of a Father. By looking to the heavens, then, they were to discover the power of God by looking to Zion, his dwellingplace, they were to recognize his fatherly love.
“קדש. Some persons render this word as if it were an adverb. So Tilingins has ‘Attollite manus vestras sanete.’ There is no doubt, that lifting up the hands reverently, is the ordinary and proper posture of suppliants at the throne of grace. Farther, St. Paul, in 1Ti 2:8, apparently with reference to this passage, speaks of lifting up holy hands. The Septuagint and Syriac, however, have taken the word as a noun, signifying the sanctuary; the former have ἅγια.” Phillips. Warner and Cress, well with Calvin would read “towards the sanctuary;” i.e., towards the holy of holies, where the ark, the symbol of the Divine presence, was fixed.
“We know generally,” says Fry, “that there was a nightly service in the Temple, (2 Chronicles 21:) and Kimchi, a Jewish writer, represents those who by night stand in the house of the Lord, as holy men who rose from their beds in the night and went to pray in the Temple.” After referring to the case of “Anna, a Prophetess,” he adds, “And St. Paul, before Agrippa, speaking ‘of the hope of the promise made unto the fathers,’ gives us this remarkable description: ‘unto which our’ twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. There was public service in the Temple at Jerusalem not only by day but by night; which latter service many of the Jews, for whose special use this and the next Psalm seem to have been composed, were in the habit of attending.” Cresswell.
Ye servants off the Lord, etc., i.e., ye Levites, whose duty it was, according to the Talmudists, to keep watch by night, standing in the Temple: the High Priest was the only one who sat in the Temple. Compare Le 8:35; 1Ch 9:33 Ps 92:2; Ps 119:147; Lu 2:37.” Cresswell.
“Car a quel propos les hommes eslevent ils les mains en priant, sinon afin qu’ils eslevent aussi leurs esprits a Dieu?” Ft.