George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 5

Psalm 113

1. Introduction

Psalms 113-118 constitute what is known as the “Egyptian Hallel”, or the “Paschal [i.e., Passover] Hallel”. (Hallel signifies “praise” in Hebrew.) By tradition, Psalms 113 and 114 were sung before the meal, and Psalms 115-118 after the meal (Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26; see Alfred Edersheim, The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, pp. 225, 279,292; A.D. Norris, The Gospel of Mark, p. 142). These were almost certainly, then, the last hymns sung by the Lord Jesus Christ before his arrest and trial and crucifixion.

2. Structure

The Name of Jehovah
Jehovah is exalted
Jehovah exalts the poor and needy

3. Historical reference

In a short psalm of this character the hints available are very few and not too precise. The context in the Psalter — a continuous block of what are most probably Hezekiah psalms — suggests attribution of this one to the same period. Except for the last few verses, historical background really makes very little difference.

4. Details

The name of the Lord. Note the triple repetition of this phrase (vv. 2,3). There may be here deliberate allusion to Exod. 3:13,14, the background of events in Hezekiah’s time being markedly similar:

a. oppression and captivity;
b. a steady reliance on the promises of God;
c. a signal miraculous deliverance by destruction of the enemy; and
d. remarkable signs making great impression on nearby nations.
From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same (cp. Psa. 50:1) surely identifies the psalm as especially for temple use, for no services were held there after sunset. If this psalm were used, according to Jewish tradition, at the Passover, then it must have been used on the day when the lambs were slain. This would have been “between the evenings” (Exod. 12:6, AV mg.), i.e., between evening sacrifice (in the middle of the afternoon, when the sun began to decline) and actual sunset. During this brief period all of the Passover lambs would be slain in the temple court. Mal. 1:11 quotes this verse in a very impressive context:

“For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts.”

Note that “the Gentiles” links with the “all nations” of v. 4 here. Likewise, Isa. 59:19 brings the Gentiles into the picture:

“So shall they [the ‘islands’ of v. 18] fear the name of the Lord from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun.”

“From east (the sun’s rising) to west (its going down)” may also be prophetic of the general direction of the spread of the gospel — i.e., from the Jews in the east, first, then to Rome and beyond (England, America) in the west.
The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens, and implicitly over all the “gods” of those nations (Psa. 47:2; 95:3; 96:4,5; 97:9).
Who is like unto the Lord? suggests the name of Michael (“Like EL”). Compare Isa. 40:18,25; Exod. 15:11; Deut. 3:24.
Who humbleth himself. Note the italics. The form of the Hebrew verb hardly warrants this idea of the Almighty humbling himself! Perhaps the idea is: ‘He humbles His angels (v. 5) by showing them the mighty spread of vast constellations’ (cp. Isa. 40:26). In the light of the startling findings of modern astronomy, what a concept this is!
He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill:

“For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones” (Isa. 57:15).

“Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been, saith the Lord: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word” (Isa. 66:1,2).

The contrast of all this with v. 6 is striking: the angels and archangels are humbled, and the weakest of men are lifted up to dwell with “princes”!
He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Literally, ‘to be a joyful mother of the sons’. This might be a literal reference to the wife of the childless Hezekiah (one of his greatest griefs at the time of his sickness being his lack of an heir — cp. notes, Psa. 112:2); or it could be a figurative reference to the bewildering restoration of captives (the sons) after the destruction of the Assyrian invader. In that case, the barren woman would be Zion itself (Isa. 54:1-9; 62:4,5; 66:7,8,13; Gal. 4:26-31; Psa. 87:2-6).

Other comments on the status of a barren woman: Gen. 30:1; 1 Sam. 1:6,7,10; Ruth 1:11-13; 2 Kings 4:14. Barren women whose wombs were opened by the Lord: Sarah (Gen. 21:2), Rebekah (25:21), Rachel (30:23), the Shunnamite (2 Kings 4:17), Elizabeth (Luke 1:7,13), and of course Hannah (1 Sam. 1:20). And the one woman who had the most reason to be “barren” — the virgin Mary! Scripture tells us plainly that it is God alone who has power to shut the womb, and God alone who has power to open it (see G. Booker, A New Creation, pp. 48-50).

5. An unusual problem

There are several resemblances with Hannah’s Song (1 Samuel 2):

Psalm 113
1 Samuel 2
His horn shall be exalted
Mine horn is exalted
His glory is above the heavens
The throne of glory
He raiseth up the poor out of the dust
He raiseth up the poor out of the dust
That he may set him with... the princes of his people
To set them among princes
He maketh the barren... to be a joyful mother of children
The barren hath borne seven

These resemblances call for an explanation, and several have been suggested:

Coincidence: But the experienced student of Holy Scripture has no place for this in his deliberations.
1 Samuel 2 is not really a psalm of Hannah but was put in her mouth by a later writer: This also is a distasteful expedient. It may have been good enough for Shakespeare, but surely not for holy men of God who spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21)!
Psalm 113 is quoting from 1 Samuel 2: But careful reflection suggests that this is completely the wrong way round. For one thing, the corresponding portions of Psalm 113 are more complete, and the relevant passages in 1 Samuel 2 have all the appearance of brief allusions.
Psalm 113 (in its earliest form?) was already in existence in the sanctuary service before the time of Samuel: And Hannah out of personal familiarity quoted from it — and also from other psalms extant then. This would explain the unexpected character of her song of rejoicing. Compare, in a similar vein, Mary’s psalm (Luke 1:46-55, especially v. 52: this song teems with Old Testament allusions).

If this fourth explanation be adopted — and it certainly seems the most likely — then it could well be that Psalm 113 was included in the present compilation of psalms by Hezekiah because it chimed in with his enthusiastic praise of Jehovah, and also because certain phrases particularly suited the circumstances of his reign.
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