This psalm opens with the imperative to praise YHWH (Yah being the abbreviated form of the divine name and praising the name meaning praising the bearer of the name). YHWH’s servants are next identified as those standing in the “house of YHWH, the courts of the house of our God.” This would apply specifically to the priests and Levites who ministered at the temple.
The Most High is deserving of praise, for he is “good,” the ultimate standard of goodness and kindness. To “sing to his name” would denote to praise him with song. The psalmist added the reason for doing so, using two words (“for” and “pleasant,” “delightful,” or “beautiful”). The adjective meaning “pleasant” is in the masculine gender, as is the noun “name.” This could mean that, on account of the beauty or splendor associated with it, the name, or YHWH himself as the bearer of the name, is deserving of praise. The German Neues Leben translation makes the application of the adjective to the name specific with its paraphrase, singt seinem herrlichen Namen (sing to his glorious name).
Translators commonly have added words to convey an explicit meaning, often choosing to apply the words to God or to the act of singing. “Sing praises to his name, because he is kind [it is pleasant to do so (footnote)].” (GNT, Second Edition) “Sing to his name, for he is gracious.” (NRSV) “Sing hymns to His name; for it is pleasant.” (Tanakh) “Make music for his name—it brings joy.” (NJB) “Sing praise to his name, for that is pleasant.” (NIV)
Jacob’s name was changed to Israel. (Genesis 32:28) As the forefather of the Israelites, he represents the nation descended from him, the people whom YHWH chose as his possession. This choosing warranted giving praise to the Most High.
The psalmist “knew” or recognized that YHWH is great. Referring to him as “our Lord,” he acknowledged him as being “above all gods.”
Unlike the nonexistent deities others peoples venerated and who could do nothing, YHWH does whatever he wishes and everywhere—in heaven, on earth, in the seas, and in all the depths. No realm lies outside his control.
At the “end of the earth” or in the distant horizon, he makes the clouds rise. The reference to “lightnings for the rain” may mean that lightning often accompanies rain. As from storehouses, YHWH is portrayed as bringing forth the wind.
When recounting YHWH’s wondrous deeds, the psalmist first mentioned God’s striking down Egypt’s firstborn, both humans and animals. Alluding to the ten plagues that led to Israel’s liberation, he referred to God’s sending “signs and wonders” into Egypt’s midst, “against Pharaoh and all his servants.”
The psalmist attributed to YHWH the defeat of the many Canaanite nations and the slaying of mighty kings. The two mighty kings on the east side of the Jordan River were “Sihon, king of the Amorites,” and “Og, king of Bashan.” Many city-states, each with their own king, existed in the region west of the Jordan. All of these “kingdoms of Canaan” were defeated.
According to the psalmist, YHWH gave his people Israel the land of the conquered kings and kingdoms as an inheritance.
By what he did for his people, YHWH made a great name for himself. That name would endure for all future time. The memory or memorial of the wondrous deeds associated with this name would continue throughout all the generations to come.
Based on YHWH’s past activity, the psalmist confidently looked to him to vindicate or to come to the defense of his people and to have compassion for his servants. Especially when the people strayed from his upright ways and then repented, YHWH would compassionately or consolingly turn his favorable attention to them and mitigate the deserved punishment.
As for the deities the peoples of other nations worshiped, they were mere representations of silver and gold, the work of human hands. The idols had mouths that could not speak, eyes that could not see, ears that could not hear, and no “spirit” or evidence of any breathing was in their mouth, revealing them to be lifeless unrealities. All who fashioned these idols and those who trusted or looked to them (the nonexistent deities these images represented) for aid would come to be like them—lifeless.
The Israelites, however, were the people whose God lived, and they had reason to “bless,” speak well of, or praise him. “O house of Israel, bless YHWH; O house of Aaron, bless YHWH; O house of Levi, bless YHWH; O you who fear YHWH, bless YHWH.” All should raise their voices in expressing blessing or praise. This is the only right response for those who “fear” him or have the highest reverential regard for him.
Zion or Jerusalem was God’s representative place of dwelling, as the ark of the covenant (the symbol of his presence) was located in the Most Holy of the temple. For this reason, the psalmist could say, “Blessed be YHWH from Zion, he who dwells in Jerusalem.” Psalm 135 then concludes (but not in the Septuagint) with the imperative with which it began, “Praise Yah!”
In verse 1, a Dead Sea scroll departs from the reading of the Masoretic Text and contains an additional phrase at the beginning of verse 2. “Praise, O servants of YHWH, praise the name of YHWH, praise YHWH, and exalt YHWH.” Then, at the end of verse 2, this scroll adds, “and in your midst, O Jerusalem.”
In verse 3, a Dead Sea scroll, unlike the Masoretic Text, does not use the divine name (YHWH) when referring to him as being good.
Whereas “Yah,” the abbreviated form of the divine name, appears in the Masoretic Text (verse 4), it is missing in a Dead Sea scroll.
In verse 5, a Dead Sea scroll reads “our God,” whereas the Masoretic Text says “our Lord.”
In verse 6, one of the Dead Sea scrolls preserves a text that is considerably longer than the Masoretic Text. After twice repeating the words about none being “like YHWH,” the scroll continues that none act “like the King of gods.”
In verse 7, one of the Dead Sea scrolls does not include the reference to “lightnings,” but another Dead Sea scroll does.
A partially preserved Dead Sea scroll text of verse 12 appears to incorporate words that are found in Psalm 136:22 and 23 of the Masoretic Text.
Regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.