God Saves Those Desperate for What Only He Can Do

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1 Praise the Lord! Praise, O servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord!
2 Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth and forevermore! 3 From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised!
4 The Lord is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! 5 Who is like the Lord our God, who is seated on high, 6 who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? 7 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, 8 to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. 9 He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the Lord!
(Psalm 113 ESV)

Key Observation: God displays his power and majesty by saving those who are desperate for what only he can do.

Psalm 113 is the first of a series of psalms known as the Egyptian Hallel (113–118). Hallel is a Hebrew word that means “praise.” These psalms served as songs of worship for God’s people during Passover, as they commemorated the exodus. As Christians, the Hallel psalms help us to remember the fullest expression of God’s salvation in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus was arrested after sharing the Passover meal with his disciples. It is possible that these were the very psalms they sang during their meal together (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26).

Psalm 113 is a sublime vision of the God who we worship. The power of this hymn is in the contrasts of expectation that it provides. The psalm’s declaration of the Lord’s greatness runs counter to the ways of the world. God’s greatness manifests through God’s concern for the marginalized. It witnesses to the hope that we can find in the God who loves us.

The first half of Psalm 113 offers a compelling portrait of God’s awesomeness and calls his people to praise. By exhorting praise of the Lord’s name (v. 1–3), the psalmist invites worshippers to reflect on the nature and character of the Lord. Who is the Lord in his essence? Verse 4 begins to answer this question by declaring the Lord’s transcendence. Transcendence refers to the position and separateness of the Lord apart from the created universe. Verse 4 describes this is spatial terms. The Lord is so awesome that he exists not only “high above all nations,” but also his glory is “[high] above the heavens.” In other words, God exists outside of creation. This imagery highlights God’s sovereignty and power. Nothing in creation can be compared to God.

The second half of Psalm 113 opens with a question: “Who is like the Lord our God?” (vv. 5–6). These verses reaffirm God’s positional power and transcendence. But unlike typical expressions of power that we witness in our world, the Lord’s power manifests itself on behalf of the poor and marginalized. In our world, the powerful tend to associate with persons of like status in order to accumulate more power and prestige. In contrast, the Lord is self-giving and acts within our world in order to extend blessing and salvation for those most desperate for what only he can do. In other words, our transcendent God is also an immanent God. God exists outside and above creation but actively moves and works within creation and most importantly within our lives.

Psalm 113 ends with portraits of God’s blessing on the poor and on a woman unable to bear children. These were marginalized persons in the ancient world. Yet the God of the Bible bypasses the powerful and blesses these people in order to reverse their circumstances. This is the gospel story as well. Although Jesus was God, he humbled himself and took up the cross to give us true life (Philippians 2:6–8). How do we respond to such a portrait of God? Verse 9 reminds us, “Praise the Lord!”

Questions for Reflection

  1. How does Psalm 110 teach us to pray about God’s kingdom?
  2. How does Psalm 110 enhance your understanding and appreciation of Jesus the Messiah?

Are you interested in learning more about the Psalms? Consider taking a deep dive into the book with a dynamic teacher, Brian Russell. The book of Psalms is often quoted and clichéd, but much less often contextualized. When we understand the Psalter relative to the circumstances in which it was written, we find a rich resource for God’s people. Through these prayers, God both speaks to us and models how we might speak back to Him. At its core, the book of Psalms is an instructional guide to a moment-by-moment walk with God through the world. We have three separate Bible studies & videos on the book of Psalms. Get the books and accompanying videos in our store here.

In these pages you’ll:

  • Discover how the psalms of the Bible can translate to your daily life
  • Allow the psalms to help you find words to express yourself to God when you are unsure of how to pray
  • Learn the historical context in which the psalms were written, adding to their richness

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Dr. Brian Russell is Dean of the School of Urban Ministries and Professor of Biblical Studies at Asbury Theological Seminary. He is also a consultant and speaker on the missional interpretation of Scripture and creating a missional ethos in communities of faith.

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