Psalm 135 focuses on the greatness of God. It commands us to praise Him because He is great and the rest of the poem explains why. Throughout all the verses that follow, one theme remains constant: God is great because He is the greatest god. That is, as the second line of verse 5 focuses on, we can see, know and understand His greatness when it is held up against the so-called “greatness” of all other gods.
Psalm 135:6 should inspire reverential awe in us of God as it enumerates His ability to do “whatever pleases Him” within the entire cosmos; and verses 7 through 12 focus on examples of what this omnipotence looks like. In verse 7, God has control over all nature, from lightning and rain to clouds and wind. Now, notice the chronology of the verbs listed in this verse: He “makes”, He “sends” and He “brings out”. These verbs are a key that intensifies our understanding of God’s natural powers, namely He controls nature because He has made it, and for this reason He has ultimate power over summoning and sending out both storms and shade. Nature is nothing more than a part of the created order and must bow in obedience before its Maker. God directs every cloud where to go. God tells every rain drop where it should fall. God commands every wind and every jet stream where to go. What a beautiful, yet terrifying image of our God!
But His greatness does not end there. Psalm 135:8–12 elaborates on God’s power further by focusing on His control of humanity; specifically, His ability to strike humans down. Do you see the chronology and indeed intensification from verses 8 and 9 to verse 10? Though God begins with striking down individual men and animals in Egypt, His death sentences eventually escalate to killing off whole nations, including their kings! Verse 11 focuses on two examples of well-known (and powerful) pagan kings – Sihon and Og – mentioned in the book of Numbers, who were struck down by God in order to, as verse 12 explains, preserve His chosen people. The picture of God in these verses is a powerful one; He is sovereign over every human life and every nation. Our God makes nations rise and fall. Our God gives life and ends life at His will.
The Psalmist then turns in Psalm 135:16–18 to construct an antithetical image to God’s greatness. His descriptions of the gods, or “idols”, of the nations are simplistic and mundane: they cannot speak or see (v. 16) nor can they hear or even breathe (v. 17). There really could be no greater difference between the living God and the dead idols of the nations, the Commander of nature and the mute pieces of gold, the Judge of mankind and the blind statues of wood.
This poem, however, ends with a dramatic paradigm shift by concluding with human choice. We, as hearers and readers of this psalm, have been presented with two different camps of deities and we must choose which one we will worship. But the consequentiality in verse 18 should make us cautious; for we see that our choice will impact our very essence. Either we worship the true God and thereby experience salvation and joy, or we worship false gods and thus become lifeless like them. In the end, we become what we worship. In today’s contemporary Western world, our idols may not be actual statues of wood and gold. But we still have idols. So the warning for us is this: if we choose to make wealth, comfort, pleasure, or experiences our god (i.e., what we devote our lives to), then we will become like them. We will be here one moment and simply gone the next. Our lives will be paper thin, and in the end, meaningless. But if we lay aside these idols and worshipfully obey the triune God, our lives will be marked by life, purpose, and joy. For we become what we worship.