The Twelfth Decade of Psalms
This particular psalm begins the section of the psalter that is known as the Hallel Psalms. This section is Ps. 113 through 118. It was the custom of Jews to recite this section verbatim on festival occasions of praise. The word hallel means praise, and so when we are told in the New Testament that Jesus and the disciples sang a hymn after their last meal together (Matt. 26:30), this was very probably the Hallel. And this is where the word hallelujah comes from—an intensive expression meaning (much more than) praise Jah. For example, last “praise the Lord” in v. 9 is hallelujah.
And so this psalm is the threshold of this section, the entryway to the Hallel psalms.
“Praise ye the Lord. Praise, O ye servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord. Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth and for evermore . . .” (Ps. 113:1-9).
Summary of the Text:
The first words of the psalm are an imperative, directed at the servants of God. All the servants of God are to praise Him (v. 1). They are to praise Him, and they are to praise His name. Boast in Him. The name we are exulting in is a name that is to be considered blessed forever and ever (v. 2). His name is to be blessed throughout all time. And then, in the next verse, we see that His name is to be praised spatially or geographically as well (v. 3). Throughout all history, and from the east to the west, let the name of the Lord be praised. The Lord is high over all the nations of men, and His glory is higher than the heavens (v. 4). Who can be compared to Him, as He is the one who dwells on high (v. 5)? When He looks at earth and the heavens above the earth, He is looking down. He condescends even to look at the highest point of the whole created order (v. 6).
Whatever galaxy is at the top of the whole affair is a galaxy that He looks down on. And yet, He sees and considers the poor man, down in the dust, and He raises him up out of the dust (v. 7). He sees and lifts up the needy man from the landfill, from the dump, from the place of squalor and filth (v. 7). When He does this, it is in order that He might place that man among the princes of His people (v. 8). And in true tenderness, He looks down on a barren woman, and gives her a home to keep, and children to run around in it (v. 8). So we come at the end, at the top of this summit of praise, with the toddlers, and that brings us to the final hallelujah. Praise Jah. Boast in Jehovah. His greatness is ineffable, and He stoops to consider the smallest.
So the first six verses are offered up in praise of His excellence. The last three verses are offered up in praise of His kindness, compassion and mercy.
The Greatness of God
God’s greatness is such that He cannot look above Himself. He has no superior. His greatness is such that He cannot look around Himself. He has no peers, no equals. Prior to the creation, there was nothing but the Father’s eternal delight in the Son, and that delight returned to Him by the Son, and that delight being Himself the Spirit of the Father and the Son. And once He determined to create, He could only look down.
So God is above the nations, outside them. We cannot get Him to fit within anything made by human hands . . . or human minds. God is transcendent. This means, among many other things, that He rules over the nations of men. We turn this way and that, full of ourselves, and we think we have done many marvelous things. But the king’s heart is in the Lord’s hand—He diverts it wherever He pleases (v. 4). We see the rhetorical question—who is like the Lord our God? The answer expected is no one (v. 5). Who is a God like ours?
The Misery of Man
Man was created for dominion—created to be fruitful and to fill the earth. And yet, despite being able to do this with physical children, our corruptions were such that the Gentile nations were spiritually barren. “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; Break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: For more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 54:1, see Gal. 4:27).
It was not just a matter of our inability to produce wholesome fruit. There was also the question of our diseased state. Picture mankind in all his pretended glory, in all his delusional pomp, as some kind of zombie in an advanced state of decay. And remember also that this unfortunate zombie is also saddled with a singular lack of self-awareness, and he thinks he is awesome.
Where are the recipients of God’s redeeming love to be found? The answer is that they are found on the dunghill (v. 7). They are found as a cinder on the ash heap. They are found as refuse among the offal. They live on the manure pile—in poorer countries, dung was often used as fuel, and that waste station was their home. They were found as a crushed and soggy juice box out at the land fill.
And this leads to the next point, which is enough to stagger anyone who thinks about it.
The God Who Stoops
And so we have seen how God works with the barren women of Scripture—whether Sarah, or Rachel, or Samson’s mother, or Hannah, or Elizabeth, or even the special case with the virginal barrenness of our Lord’s mother, Mary. God typifies His intention for our fruitless world by hearing the prayers of these women, and by answering their cries. And so together with Hannah we are privileged to say, “neither is there any rock like our God” (1 Sam. 2:2). This is the same point made in this psalm before us (v. 5). This is not said in the trite or flippant way that a breezy and irreverent person might—I saw a church sign once that said “there is no high like the Most High.” What is actually called for is a response of numinous awe, of the sort that undid Isaiah when he saw the glory of Christ in the heavenly Temple filled with celestial smoke. In order that he might be put back together, a coal was taken from the heavenly altar of incense—not the blood altar—and his lips were touched. Our prayer should be that God would commission one of His seraphs to touch our lips with a coal from the altar of this psalm. There is no God like our God.
God cannot look up, or around. He can only look down, and because He is supreme, and because humility is part of His greatness, that humility is a supreme glory. The lowest of the low is plainly within the Lord’s compassionate sight, and God in His mercy determined to send His Son become one of us. To be born in our midst. To be born of a woman, born under the law. To be born on the dunghill. The everlasting Rock looks with compassion on the smoke of man.
His intention was to make us princes in the land (v. 8). And is this not what He has done? He has made us kings and priests (Rev. 1:6: 5:10).
The one who had the name that was to be praised above every name consented to be born in the lowest spot. He did this in order to get under all of it. He is over all things that can be named because He consented to get under all things. He got under because the purpose was to pick the whole thing up. And so He stood, the entire cosmos itself stretched across His shoulders. The government was on His shoulders, but unless we look with the eyes of faith we will not see it. And that is because the redemption of all things in heaven and earth was cleverly disguised to look like nothing more than the horizontal beam of a cross.