A Night Prayer in the Sanctuary – Translating Psalm 134

Bless those who pray throughout the depths of the night! This psalm is only three verses long. When we come across shorter passages, it can be tempting to read them quickly and move on. The psalmist turns their attention to those who serve and pray to the Lord. These words rest on a foundation of gratitude, and love towards those individuals.

Psalm 134
A Night Prayer in the Sanctuary

A Song of Ascents

1Oh, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord, *
   you who serve throughout the nights in the house of the Lord!
2Lift your hands in that sanctuary, *
   and bless the Lord.
3May the Lord bless you from Zion, *
   He who made heaven and earth.

Let us Pray Together by Night

This is such a visual psalm. You can close your eyes, and it does not take much to imagine a group of people with their hands raised in the house of the Lord. As we understand the intercessory quality of our prayers and worship, we can start to appreciate the gratitude which may have inspired this psalm.

The first verse starts quickly, calling on all those servants of the Lord who are serving in His house to bless the Lord. The imagery of lifting hands is connected to a Jewish posture of prayer. While many Christians are taught to grasp their hands together when they pray, this is not the only posture one can take. To hold your hands up with your palms towards the heavens was – and continues to be – a very common prayer posture.

Connecting the verses together

In verse two, there is a reference to a sanctuary. It is clear in the grammar that it is a singular place. Yet where is it? We have made the choice to connect the sanctuary in verse two with the house of the Lord in verse one. This has the benefit of creating a lovely portion of the psalm wrapped within the phrases ‘bless the Lord’ that highlights those servants of God praying throughout the night.

Bless those on our Night Watch

Bless those people on the night watch who pray in the house of God for the people of God. It is something done beyond the sight of those who they pray for. Not only is it done during a time of the day when most of us are sleeping, but it is done away from the public eye. It is not possible for us to understand the impact that these faithful servants of the Lord have wrought into reality.

We should all ask God to bless them as well. The God who created everything we can see and touch. May he see their service, love for the Lord, and bless them.

Selecting a Title

The Latin title for this psalm is ‘Vespertina Oratio in Templo’ or ‘An Evening Prayer in the Temple’. It does capture the spirit of the psalm, but it is weird in that it shifts a few of the terms. Our title is the same, but using the terms from the psalmist themself. This is why we use the terms night, and sanctuary. This is how we arrived at our title ‘A Night Prayer in the Sanctuary’

Initial Translation Finished 5 August 2021

Translations for Urban Monastic are open to refinement and improvement. This has been translated. Yet, this is a reminder that no translation is ever complete. Cultures change, languages change, we better understand the source texts and languages, and adapt them as they get used in context. We will continue to refine and enhance our translations. If you are interested in helping, please let us know!

Photo Credit
Paul Prins on 6 August 2021 in the Latin Quarter of Paris, France.