Bible Commentaries
Psalms 113

The Expositor's Bible CommentaryThe Expositor's Bible Commentary

Verses 1-9

THIS pure burst of praise is the first of the psalms composing the Hallel, which was sung at the three great feasts (Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles), as well as at the festival of Dedication and at the new moons. "In the domestic celebration of the Passover night ‘the Hallel’ is divided into two parts; the one half, Psalms 113:1-9 and Psalms 114:1-8, being sung before the repast, before the emptying of the second festal cup, and the other half, Psalms 115:1-18; Psalms 116:1-19; Psalms 117:1-2; Psalms 118:1-29, after the repast, after the filling of the fourth cup, to which the having sung a hymn in Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26 may refer" (Delitzsch, in loc.).

Three strophes of three verses each may be recognised, of which the first (Psalms 113:1-3) summons Israel to praise Jehovah, and reaches out through all time and over all space, in longing that God’s name may be known and praised. The second strophe (Psalms 113:4-6) magnifies God’s exalted greatness; while the third (Psalms 113:7-9) adores His condescension, manifested in His stooping to lift the lowly. The second and third of these strophes, however, overlap in the song, as the facts which they celebrate do. God’s loftiness can never be adequately measured, unless His condescension is taken into account; and His condescension never sufficiently wondered at, unless His loftiness is felt.

The call to praise is addressed to Israel, whose designation "servants of Jehovah" recalls Isaiah 11:1-16’s characteristic use of that name in the singular number for the nation. With strong emphasis, the name of Jehovah is declared as the theme of praise. God’s revelation of His character by deed and word must precede man’s thanksgiving. They, to whom that Name has been entrusted, by their reception of His mercies are bound to ring it out to all the world. And in the Name itself, there lies enshrined the certainty that through all ages it shall be blessed, and in every spot lit by the sun shall shine as a brighter light, and be hailed with praises. The psalmist has learned the world wide significance of Israel’s position as the depository of the Name, and the fair vision of a universal adoration of it fills his heart. Psalms 113:3 b may be rendered "worthy to be praised is the name," but the context seems to suggest the rendering above.

The infinite exaltation of Jehovah above all dwellers on this low earth and above the very heavens does not lift Him too high for man’s praise, for it is wedded to condescension as infinite. Incomparable is He; but still adoration can reach Him, and men do not clasp mist, but solid substance, when they grasp His Name. That incomparable uniqueness of Jehovah is celebrated in Psalms 113:5 a in strains borrowed from Exodus 15:11, while the striking description of loftiness combined with condescension in Psalms 113:5 b and Psalms 113:6 resembles Isaiah 57:15. The literal rendering of Psalms 113:5 b and Psalms 113:6 a is, "Who makes high to sit, Who makes low to behold," which is best understood as above. It may be questioned whether "On the heavens and on the earth" designates the objects on which His gaze is said to be turned; or whether, as some understand the construction, it is to be taken with "Who is like Jehovah our God?" the intervening clauses being parenthetical; or whether, as others prefer, "in heaven" points back to "enthroned on high," and "on earth" to "looks far below." But the construction which regards the totality of created things, represented by the familiar phrase "the heavens and the earth," as being the objects on which Jehovah looks down from His inconceivable loftiness, accords best with the context and yields an altogether worthy meaning. Transcendent elevation, condescension, and omniscience are blended in the poet’s thought. So high is Jehovah that the highest heavens are far beneath Him, and, unless His gaze were all-discerning, would be but a dim speck. That He should enter into relations with creatures, and that there should be creatures for Him to enter into relations with, are due to His stooping graciousness. These "far-darting looks are looks of tenderness, and signify care as well as knowledge. Since all things lie in His sight, all receive from His hand.

The third strophe pursues the thought of the Divine condescension as especially shown in stooping to the dejected and helpless and lifting them. The effect of the descent of One so high must be to raise the lowliness to which He bends. The words in Psalms 113:7-8 are quoted from Hannah’s song. {1 Samuel 2:8} Probably the singer has in his mind Israel’s restoration from exile, that great act in which Jehovah had shown His condescending loftiness, and had lifted His helpless people as from the ash heap, where they lay as outcasts. The same event seems to be referred to in Psalms 113:9 under a metaphor suggested by the story of Hannah whose words have just been quoted. The "barren" is Israel. {comp. Isaiah 54:1} The expression in the original is somewhat obscure. It stands literally "the barren of the house," and is susceptible of different explanations; but probably the simplest is to regard it as a contracted expression for the unfruitful wife in a house, "a housewife, but yet not a mother. Such a one has in her husband’s house no sure position, If God bestows children upon her, He by that very fact makes her for the first time thoroughly at home and rooted in her husband’s house" (Delitzsch, in loc.). The joy of motherhood is tenderly touched in the closing line, in which the definite article is irregularly prefixed to "sons," as if the poet "points with his finger to the children with whom God blesses her" (Delitzsch, u.s.). Thus Israel, with her restored children about her, is secure in her home. That restoration was the signal instance of Jehovah’s condescension and delight in raising the lowly. It was therefore the great occasion for world wide and age-long praise.

The stager did not know how far it would be transcended by a more wonderful, more heart-touching manifestation of stooping love, when "The Word became flesh." How much more exultant and world filling should be the praises from the lips of those who do know how low that Word has stooped, and how high He has risen, and how surely all who hold His hand will be lifted from any ash heap and set on His throne, sharers in the royalty of Him who has been partaker of their weakness!

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 113". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary".