EGYPTIAN HALLEL PSALMS:
Psalm 113 is a Hallel (praise) psalm––one of six Egyptian Hallel Psalms that were recited during the Passover and other major Jewish festivals. Worshipers recited Psalms 113-114 at the beginning of the service and Psalms 115-118 at the end. The Egyptian Hallel Psalms commemorated the Exodus––the deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery.
The Great Hallel Psalms (120-136) offer praises of a more general nature.
This psalm calls the congregation to praise the Lord (vv. 1-3)––then speaks of the Lord’s glory (vv. 4-6)––reminds the congregation that the Lord does great things for the poor and other vulnerable people (vv. 7-9ab)––and finally calls the congregation again to praise the Lord (v. 9c).
These themes are especially appropriate for a psalm commemorating the Exodus––when Yahweh flexed his mighty muscle to deliver little Israel from mighty Egypt––and demonstrated his concern for the poor and needy by delivering vulnerable slaves from powerful oppressors.
PSALM 113:1. HALLELUJAH!
1 Praise Yah!
Praise, you servants of Yahweh,
praise the name of Yahweh.
“Praise Yah!” (Hebrew: halal Yah) (v. 1a). The verb halal (praise) in this line is plural and imperative, so it is a command to praise Yah, an abbreviated form of Yahweh (the name of God, often translated “the Lord.”)
Halal Yah has been transliterated into English as the word Hallelujah, which means praise the Lord.
The psalmist will close this psalm in verse 9 with this same Hallelujah..
Praise, you servants of Yahweh” (v. 1b). While we might think of servants as a lowly caste, it is always an honorable thing to be a servant of the Lord. We will always be subordinate to the Lord, because he is the creator, and we are the created.
But a servant enjoys the privilege of being inside the house, looking out, instead of outside, looking in. The servant enjoys close proximity to the one being served––in this case, the Lord. The faithful servant comes to occupy a special place within the Lord’s family circle.
“praise the name of Yahweh” (v. 1c). In that culture, people believed that something of the person’s identity was tied up in the name––that the name expressed something of the person’s essential character. This call to praise Yahweh’s name is a call to praise that which is Yahweh’s essence.
PSALM 113:2-3. BLESSED BE YAHWEH’S NAME
2 Blessed be the name of Yahweh,
from this time forth and forevermore.
3 From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same,
Yahweh’s name is to be praised.
“Blessed (Hebrew: barak) be the name of Yahweh” (v. 2a). The word barak (bless) is closely related to berak (kneel) and berek (knee). To bless the name of Yahweh, then, is to pay homage to the name––and therefore to Yahweh himself.
from this time forth and forevermore” (v. 2). This establishes the time frame for paying homage to Yahweh––forever and always.
“From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same,
Yahweh’s name is to be praised” (v. 3). This establishes the geographical boundaries (or the lack thereof) within which Yahweh’s name is to be praised.
The psalmist had no idea of the world as a sphere. “From the rising of the sun,” in his understanding, meant all the way in one direction. “To the going down of the same” meant all the way in the other direction. In other words, Yahweh’s name is to be praised from one end of the earth to the other.
PSALM 113:4-6. YAHWEH SITS HIGH BUT STOOPS LOW
4 Yahweh is high above all nations,
his glory above the heavens.
5 Who is like Yahweh, our God,
who has his seat on high,
6 Who stoops down to see in heaven and in the earth?
“Yahweh is high above all nations;
his glory (kabod) above the heavens” (v. 4). This is the first of six verses (the rest of this psalm) that show why Yahweh is worthy of praise. Yahweh is high above all the nations, and his glory (kabod) transcends even the heavens.
The word “glory” (Hebrew: kabod) is used in the Bible to speak of various wonderful things––but especially God’s glory––an aura associated with God’s appearance that reveals God’s majesty to humans.
“Who is like Yahweh, our God,
who has his seat on high” (Hebrew: gabah) (v. 5). This verse continues to emphasize Yahweh’s place on high.
The question, “Who is like Yahweh, our God?” is rhetorical (intended to make a point instead of trying to elicit an answer). The expected answer is “No one is like Yahweh!”
The word gabah (high) can mean something tall or high, but it can also refer to persons of exalted status. While the emphasis in this verse is on a high place, it is also true that Yahweh enjoys an exalted status.
“Who stoops down to see in heaven and in the earth?” (v. 6). Yahweh’s seat is so high that he finds it necessary to stoop to observe heaven and earth.
We are not surprised to learn that he has to stoop to see what is going on in earth, but it seems remarkable that he must stoop to see what is going on in heaven.
PSALM 113:7-9. YAHWEH RAISES UP THE POOR
7 He raises up the poor out of the dust.
Lifts up the needy from the ash heap;
8 that he may set him with princes,
even with the princes of his people.
9 He settles the barren woman in her home,
as a joyful mother of children.
These verses outline some of the ways that Yahweh cares for vulnerable people.
- He raises up the poor out of the dust.
- He lifts up the needy from the ash heap;
- He does so that he may set the needy with the princes of his people.”
Torah law included provisions to provide for the needs of the poor:
- Landowners were required to leave the edges of their fields unharvested so that poor people could glean those fields and obtain enough food for survival (Leviticus 19:9-10).
- The law made provision for the next of kin to redeem land sold by a relative (Leviticus 25:25), and required families to support indigent kin (Leviticus 25:35).
- The prophets emphasized concerned for the poor and condemned ill treatment of widows and orphans (Isaiah 1:17, 23; 10:1; Jeremiah 5:28; 7:6; 22:3; Malachi 3:5).
Provisions such as these would “raise up the poor out of the dust” and “lift up the needy from the ash heap.” They would keep the poor from starving or having to beg. However, the provisions of the law would not advance the poor into the ranks of the middle or upper classes. Under the law, the poor wouldn’t starve, but they would not likely become prosperous.
But these verses speak of Yahweh as setting the poor and needy among princes. We must acknowledge that Yahweh doesn’t always do that, but the Bible is well-supplied with instances where he made something remarkable out of ordinary people:
- Abraham became the father of nations.
- The shepherd boy David slayed the giant Goliath––and later became king.
- Gideon and his little band of 300 soldiers defeated a mighty army.
- Mary, an ordinary young woman from an obscure town, became the mother of the savior of the world.
- Saul, the chief of sinners, became Paul, the chief of the apostles.
“He settles the barren woman in her home,
as a joyful mother of children” (v. 9a). The archetypical story of a barren woman who became a joyful mother is found in 1 Samuel 1-2. Hannah was barren, because “Yahweh had shut up her womb” (1:5). As that continued year after year, Hannah prayed for a child. Finally, she vowed a vow, saying:
“Yahweh of Armies,
if you will indeed look on the affliction of your handmaid,
and remember me, and not forget your handmaid,
but will give to your handmaid a boy,
then I will give him to Yahweh all the days of his life,
and no razor shall come on his head” (1:11).
Yahweh answered Hannah’s prayer, and she bore a son, whom she named Samuel (and who later became a great prophet). She prayed:
“Oh, my lord, as your soul lives, my lord,
I am the woman who stood by you here, praying to Yahweh.
For this child I prayed;
and Yahweh has given me my petition which I asked of him.
Therefore also I have granted him to Yahweh.
As long as he lives he is granted to Yahweh.” (1:26-28).
Then Hannah continued with a lengthy prayer of praise that we know as Hannah’s song (2:1-10). Her song became a model for Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-56)––Mary’s song of joy when she learned that God had chosen her to be the mother of a child who would be known as the Son of God (Luke 1:35).
Also, Isaiah 54 likens Israel to a barren mother––but God promised:
“All your children shall be taught of Yahweh;
and great shall be the peace of your children.
In righteousness you shall be established:
you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not be afraid;
and from terror, for it shall not come near you.
Behold, they may gather together, but not by me:
whoever shall gather together against you
shall fall because of you” (54:13-15).
Praise Yah!” (v. 9b). See the comments on verse 1a above.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated. We are using the WEB because we believe it to be the best public domain version of the Bible available.
Allen, Leslie C., Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 101-150 (Waco: Word Books, 1983)
Anderson, A.A., The New Century Bible Commentary: Psalms 73-150 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972)
Broyles, Craig C., New International Biblical Commentary: Psalms (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999
Brueggemann, Walter, The Message of the Psalms A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1984)
Clifford, Richard J., Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 73-150 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003)
DeClaisse-Walford, Nancy; Jacobson, Rolf A.; Tanner, Beth Laneel, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014)
Gower, Ralph, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987)
Kidner, Derek, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 73-150, Vol. 14b (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973)
Limburg, James, Westminster Bible Companion: Psalms (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000
Mays, James Luther, Interpretation: Psalms (Louisville: John Knox, 1994)
McCann, J. Clinton, Jr., The New Interpreter’s Bible: The Book of Psalms, Vol. 4 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996)
Ross, Allen P., A Commentary on the Psalms, 90-150, Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2016)
Waltner, James H., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Psalms (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 2006)
DICTIONARIES, ENCYCLOPEDIAS & LEXICONS:
Baker, Warren (ed.), The Complete WordStudy Old Testament (Chattanooga; AMG Publishers, 1994)
Baker, Warren and Carpenter, Eugene, The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: Old Testament (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2003)
Bromiley, Geoffrey (General Editor), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979-1988)
Brown, Francis; Driver, S.R.; and Briggs, Charles A., The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1906, 2004)
Doniach, N.S. and Kahane, Ahuvia, The Oxford English-Hebrew Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1998)
Fohrer, Georg, Hebrew & Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament (SCM Press, 2012)
Freedman, David Noel (ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, 6 vol. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007)
Freedman, David Noel (Ed.), Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000)
Mounce, William D., (ed.), Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006)
Renn, Stephen D., Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words: Word Studies for Key English Bible Words Based on the Hebrew and Greek Texts (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2005)
Richards, Lawrence O., Encyclopedia of Bible Words (Zondervan, 1985, 1991)
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob (ed.), The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 5 vol. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006-2009)
VanGemeren, Willem A. (General Editor), New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, 5 vol., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997)
Copyright 2019 Richard Niell Donovan