“The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?” (vv. 4–6)
Many of the biblical psalms were either written for or came to be used in particular liturgical settings. Today’s passage, for example, is one of the Hallel psalms. These psalms take their name from the Hebrew hall el, which means, “praise El [God],” because they are calls to worship and praise our Creator. Psalm 113 is part of a group of Hallel psalms known as the Egyptian Hallel, which consists of Psalms 113–118, a collection of psalms that were incorporated into the Passover celebration of the ancient Jews. Along with Psalm 114, Psalm 113 was sung by the ancient Jews before the Passover meal, a practice that is still followed by observant Jews today.
As we consider the content of this psalm, it is easy to see how this hymn fits Passover—the celebration of God’s liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. It presents two truths about the Lord that should motivate His people to praise Him. First, Psalm 113:4–6 praises God for His sovereignty. Our Lord is present as the One who is “high above all nations” (v. 4). Indeed, He is so highly exalted that He “looks far down on the heavens and the earth.” This is an image of God as ruling over all creation, just as human kings sit on thrones that their subjects can reach only by ascending the platform on which these thrones are placed. In the exodus, the Lord displayed His rule and authority over Pharaoh, who was then the most highly exalted ruler on the earth. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart so that he would not free the Israelites until after he was convinced by a display of the Lord’s mighty power that the Lord alone is God (Ex. 4:21; 7:1–5). Our Creator was Lord even over Pharaoh’s decision to resist Him, so great is His sovereignty, and that king did not release the Israelites until the exact moment God ordained for Him to do so (12:29–32).
The emphasis on God’s redemption and exalting of the lowly also explains why Psalm 113 became associated with the Passover celebration. After all, the Lord did not choose the Israelites because they were many in number and mighty in strength; rather, the Israelites were the “fewest of all peoples” (Deut. 7:7). Psalm 113:7–9, however, reveals that the small and insignificant are precisely the kinds of people whom God exalts. Our Redeemer does not choose people for salvation based on the influence they might wield, their personal achievement, or any other such thing. Instead, He exalts the poor and needy to sit with princes and gives children to the woman who has no home or family because she is barren.
Coram DeoLiving before the face of God
God’s choice to raise the poor and needy from the dust to sit with royalty does not mean He does not do the same for the wealthy. In light of the entire witness of Scripture, we understand that the poor whom the Lord exalts are the “poor in spirit” (Matt. 5:3), those who recognize that they come to God empty-handed, as people who have no righteousness of their own. By the Holy Spirit, rich and poor alike can recognize their need of salvation and find redemption in Christ.