Psalm 113

In Praise of the Name

1 Hallelujah!
Praise, you servants of YHWH, praise the name of YHWH.
2 Blessed be the name of YHWH, from this time forth and forevermore.
3 From the rising of the sun to the going down of the same,
YHWH's name is to be praised.
4 YHWH is high above all nations, his glory above the heavens.
5 Who is like YHWH, our God, who has his seat on high,
6 Who stoops down to see in heaven and in the earth?
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.

World English Bible Version

When do you praise God?

God is worthy of praise for his great power.

We humans are simple beings with simple motivations. We praise God for who he is and what he does for us. These two points sum up most of the reasons for our worship. These two points are reflected in Psalm 113.

Psalm 113 is the first of the "Hallel" (praise) psalms; the word is found as a root in "Hallelujah" (literally "Praise Yah," where "Yah" is short for "YHWH"). There are a total of six such "Hallel" psalms: 113-118. These psalms are recited on major Jewish holidays, in particular, on the first evening of Passover, since many of the Exodus motifs can be found in these psalms.

Many scholars believe this psalm took its final form after the Babylonian exile for two reasons: the utter transcendence of YHWH (113:4-6) and his attention to the poor and weak (113:7-9). First, the view of YHWH seemed to shift around the Exile. When the Davidic kings ruled, Judea's God was a national deity, while it's neighbors had their Baals and fertility idols. Because of the cultural distance the nation had from its neighbors, Jews assumed there might be other gods, but only YHWH mattered. But, during the Exile, the faithful were surrounded by idols. The close proximity forced Jews to consider the place of their God among the gods. Their answer to the dilemma was a strict monotheism. YHWH was above the nations (and their gods); he was even above the heavens he created (113:4). He was so transcendent, no deity could compare in stature or power (113:5-6).

Second, scholars also point to the theme of the poor and weak (113:7-9). Before the Exile, Jews farmed ancestral lands; because they believed God gave their families the land they tilled, the harvest was a direct reflection of God's blessing. In the ideal scenario, the rich farmer was the righteous man. After the Exile, the lands were confiscated and given to foreign landlords; the local people became tenant farmers. In addition, the people were heavily taxed by their foreign rulers. Under this occupation, Israel identified itself as the poor, those without land and burdened with tribute. Yet, the return gave the people hope. God smiled upon the self-described "poor" and gave them a place of local authority (113:7-8); the faithful (the barren) returned home from Exile to start the nation anew (mother of many children in 113:9).

The transcendence of YHWH and his activity among the poor became the reasons for the praise of his name and, so, his power (113:1-3). Notice the "pattern of three" when the name of God is honored: 1) the faithful (or priests in the Temple as "servants") were commanded to praise the name (113:1), 2) they were commanded to honor the name as a perpetual (eternal) activity (113:2), 3) they were commanded praise the name in the cycle of daily activity (113:3). In other words, the servants were to praise the name of YHWH constantly.

Psalm 113 gives us a direction for our daily prayer life. We owe him praise for who he is and what he does for us, even in our darkest times. We are to praise him at every moment of the day. Of course, attentive, vocal praise is impossible to give all the time, but praise can set our attitude for our daily routine. One moment of focused praise can precede a spontaneous outburst of joy to God's glory.

Isn't that what prayer should be all about?

How can you praise God in the silent moments of your day? How can you recognize his presence and glory now? What has he done for you today?