Psalm 113 is the first psalm in the Great Hallel of Passover (Pss 113-118). One thing that we find in the text is that we should exalt the LORD at all times. Because of the liberation of God’s people through the Passover, verse 1 describes the radical change that has occurred for the Hebrews. While in Egypt, they moaned and cried out because of oppression. Now, however, they shout “Hallelu Ya” (Praise the Lord)! Before the Passover, they were the servants of Pharaoh, but afterwards servants of the LORD. Three times in the text, there is an emphasis that the “name of the LORD” (YHWH) should be praised. To the Hebrews, the name was symbolic of someone’s character, so the praise the name was to shine a light on the character of the LORD. He is YHWH, the “I Am Who I Am” who fulfills his promises. At the burning bush, Moses is told that God is the I Am, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who will free the people and deliver them into the land promised to those ancestors. Because of who he is, we are to praise him now (whatever our current circumstances) and praise him forevermore. From the dawn to dusk, his name is to be praised (vv. 2-3).

Another thing we find in the text is that the LORD is the Exalted One. He is over all the nations. There is no God like him. His glory is described as being not “in” the heavens but “above” them. Who is like him? He sits on high as King of the Universe (vv. 4-5). Yet this great and mighty God who dwells above the heavens humbles himself. We are told that he stoops down to look upon the heavens and the earth. What is it he searches for as he lowers himself (rather non-regally) to stoop and search the earth?

The text tells us that he does this because the LORD is the One who exalts. The surprising thing in verses 7-9 is that the object of his gaze are the poor and the childless. We are told he raises the poor from the dust and the needy from the dung hill (NIV, “ash heap”). He even puts the poor onto level ground with royalty. The psalm reminds us of the parable of Jesus about the rich man and Lazarus. The poor beggar Lazarus is exalted at the end of the story while the rich man is punished. In the ministry of Jesus, we find his care focused on the blind, the lame, the lepers, the tax collectors, the so-called “sinners” (as defined by the religious elites). He shows compassion to them but engages in debate and argument with the rich and powerful (both politically and religiously). The placement of the poor and the prince on level ground can also be seen in the selection by the Spirit of Jesus of two of the primary early Christian leaders–Paul, the well-educated Pharisaic rabbi, and Peter, the plain-spoken fisherman. Jesus places them on equal footing (or even places Peter a little above as he was selected for leadership much earlier than Paul).

The other object of God’s focus, as mentioned above, is the childless woman. She will be “settled” in her home “as” a happy mother. The text doesn’t promise she will be a mother, but God will bless her just as he blesses the woman with child. Still, the statement reminds us of the care the LORD has for the motherless wife–Sarah, Rachel, Samson’s mother, and Hannah most notably. In fact, some scholars have noted the similarities between words and phrases of this psalm and Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2. Both images (the poor being exalted and seated and the childless being settled and happy) are apt images for the Exodus. The slaves are liberated from poverty; the mothers who lost children find happiness.

This compassion for the lowly and exaltation of the humble is the story of Jesus. Paul tells us that Jesus, though he was in very nature God, did not grasp at equality with God but humbled himself to become a servant. (The God who stoops in Psalm 113 is the same humble God seen in Jesus.) Jesus lowers himself into the dirt and dung of human existence, even to the point of a violent and humiliating death on a Roman cross. But then God the Father exalted him! He gave him “the name” (mentioned three times in Psalm 113) that is “above” every name (as God is “above” the heavens) so that all tongues will confess “Jesus is LORD” (Hallelu Ya!), for the name above all names is the name YHWH, the LORD.

This is also the story of the Church. Paul tells us that God chose the foolish and the lowly in order to shame the wise and the powerful. His purpose in so doing was to make sure that no one could boast about themselves (that is, be arrogant). They could only praise him in humility. Praise the LORD!

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Who Is Like the Lord?” Psalm 113
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