The theme of Psalm 135 is praising God. It provides many reasons why God is worthy of our praise and why giving our praise to anything else, the idols that may exist in our lives, is futile. God deserves our praise because of His goodness to His children and His sovereignty over creation and all world events.
Verse 1 is a call to worship. The psalmist used the Hebrew word, halal, for the word "praise". Halal means to boast, to rave, to celebrate, to commend, to make a show; this is what we should be doing -- bragging to others about what God has done for us and for His goodness and greatness. (The Holman Christian Standard Bible uses the word "Hallelujah" in the place of the word "praise". Hallelujah means praises the Lord; the Greek form of hallelujah is alleluia.)
Verse 2 reveals who the call to worship is for -- those who "stand in the house of the Lord" or those who serve in the Lord's house (the priests and Levities) and those "in the courts of the house of our God" or the Israelite laity (the Hebrews). The Hebrew laypersons were prohibited from entering the court of the priests or the holy place.
Verse 3 contains the first reason for praising the Lord -- because He is good. "The people of Israel knew His name. Knowing God's name implies having a right relationship with Him." (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide, Fall 2009, p. 37). Those who know God as their Heavenly Father know His name and have access to Him for worship and prayer. What keeps us away from God is our sin, pride and the idols we allow to exist in our lives.
Verse 4 reminds us that we as God children were chosen by him not because of anything we did or will do, but because of his infinite and unfailing love for us. He considers each of his children as "a treasured possession. Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary states that "If they [believers] do not praise him for this distinguishing favour, they are the most unworthy and ungrateful of all people."
Verse 5 provides two more reasons for praising the Lord -- He is great and He is greater than any other gods! To praise God properly, He should be the center of all of our attention.
In verse 6 the psalmist reveals that God's sovereignty has no limits. Whatever God chooses to do throughout the world is good and just. Any idol created by man will be limited in power because its creator, man, is also limited.
Verse 7 details God's work in nature through rain, wind and lightening while verses 8 through 12 tell of God's provisions for the Israelites, including the miracles He performed on their behalf on their way from Egypt to the promised land. These verses together shows God's greatness and yet more reasons God should be praised. Like the Israelites we can look back and see the times that God has led us through difficulties, provided a way out when one did not seem in sight, helped us fight our battles and performed miracles on our behalf. Thus, we too have reason to praise God for the goodness He has shown us during our lives and for His greatness. "A fresh awareness of God's greatness in creation and history can prompt His people today to praise Him too." (Explore the Bible Adult Learner Guide, Fall 2009, p. 39).
Verses 13 and 14 contain more reasons to praise God. His name and reputation are enduring throughout the ages. God is not bound by time; He is infinite. He is a just God and will render judgment upon those that oppose Him. As a child of God, you can rest easy and leave venegance in the hands of the Lord because He will not let the wicked go unpunished. This is because God is merciful; if you are suffering for doing good and/or at the hands of the wicked, remember God sees your pain and will sustain and deliver you and continue to praise Him.
Verses 15 through 18 warn against idolatry. An idol is anything that takes God's place in our lives and can be a material possession, a relationship, a career, power, status, health, appearance, entertainment and leisure to name just a few. All idols are inferior to God. Even if the idols are fashioned with valuable materials, the idol itself is worthless because it is a temporal object. The idols made by the Israelites had mouths, ears and eyes. However, they could speak, see hear or breath; they were without life. By contrast, God can speak to us at anytime He desires, He hears us everytime we utter a sound and He always has His eyes on us and can even see inside our hearts to know our deepest thoughts and motives. He is a living God who is eternal.
Verse 18 states that those who make idols and those who trust in idols are like the idols themselves. That is, there are spiritually dead. They cannot hear God speak or see Him as He reveals Himself through nature, His provisions to them, the mercy He has given them by withholding His judgment and through the many miracles He performs each day in their lives.