sermon: Psalms: Book Five: (Part Three): The Hallel: Psalms of Praise
God's Redemption Acts
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Given 25-Feb-12; 78 minutes
If we were asked to define the book of Psalms, a standard reply might be something like, “A collection of songs that praise God.” We would probably have to rack our brains for a minute, and then we would add a few more bits of information like, “Many of them were written by King David, but there were several other authors; there are 150 of them; that Psalm 119 is the longest psalm, as well as the longest chapter in the whole Bible.”
But, our original simple explanation would be concise and accurate. The Psalms are songs of praise to God.
In fact, this is what the Jews call them. The rabbinic title for the Book of Psalms, is “Tehillim.” This simply means, “Songs of Praise.” Please turn to Psalm 145. Believe it or not, there is only one psalm in the entire book that is titled, “A Praise” and it is this one. This is what you might call the formal last psalm of Book V of the Psalms, because Psalm 146 begins the summary psalms for all the five books.
First of all, I just want to look at the superscription and title for right now. It says, “Psalm 145, A Praise of David.” Now, normally, if you look at, let us say, Psalm 144, it is, “A Psalm of David.” It is from a different Hebrew word. I think it is “mizmor,” but do not quote me on that; I did not look it up. But, here in Psalm 145 it is called “A Praise.” This word in the Psalm 145 title is “Tehillah,” whereas “Tehillim” would be many songs of praise. So here in 145, you have Tehillah, a song of praise. So, this 145 becomes a kind of pattern psalm of praise. It is a terrific psalm, by the way, if you would like to study it out.
The root of “tehillah,” and “tehillim,” is “Hallel.” You might remember Clyde Finklea’s sermonette from last week (February 18, 2012), where he mentioned Helel, one of the original names of the being who later became Satan the Devil. The root of this Helel is this same word: Hallel—Praise.
Now, we hear the word, Hallel, in our English and Hebrew word, “Hallelujah.” It is right there in the word. It is very clear. It is literally, “let us praise Jah,” the name of God. Or, as Herbert W. Armstrong often taught us, “praise the Eternal!” He often substituted the name, “The Eternal,” for LORD, the Tetragrammaton, the sacred name of God, Yahweh. So, hallelujah means, praise the Lord, and praise the Eternal.
Hallelujah, by the way, just so you know, (you can quote this to your friends,) is found 24 times in the Psalms, and Hallel itself is found in the Psalms 80 times. So, you can see with those facts with over 100 times just in the Psalms that it is a book of praise. It is a constant theme that comes up in the book.
Now, I want to show you this: We are going to quickly go to 5 or 6 verses, starting in Psalm 7. We are going to go through the book of Psalms and pick out verses here and there just to see how this theme of praise moves through the book.
Psalm 7:17 I will praise the LORD according to His righteousness, and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.
So here in this psalm, he ends it with a stirring praise to God, and to His name. Let us move to Psalm 18.
Psalm 18:3 I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from my enemies.
Here we have David saying that God is worthy to be praised.
Moving into the next book of psalms, turn to Psalm 48. This is a psalm of Korah.
Psalm 48:1 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in His holy mountain.
So, this one begins with the idea of praising God, and the fact that He is such a great and awesome God that He deserves our praise.
Please go to Psalm 96, which is, again, in the next book of psalms. This says a very similar thing to the previous example:
Psalm 96:4 For the LORD is great and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods.
This adds a bit more information as to why He should be praised: because He is greater than all other gods of man’s devising. So, He deserves our praise!
Please turn to Psalm 113. We are now in Book V.
Psalm 113:3 From the rising of the sun to its going down the LORD'S name is to be praised.
So, here we have added a bit more information again—we are to be praising God at all times, our whole waking hours, because He is worthy to be praised.
And now finally, the psalm we began with, Psalm 145, which says similar things, and then also extends it into the superlative:
Psalm 145:3 Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; and His greatness is unsearchable.
So, as great as you think God is, He is greater! He is beyond! He is the most great—the greatest thing ever. Therefore He deserves our praise.
So, we can see here that this theme of praise—Hallel—covers the entire book. It spans from the beginning of Book I, all the way to the end of Book V. And in fact, you could even look at the psalms and see that the idea of praise seems to mount up higher, and higher, and become more forceful and magnificent, and even louder you might say—the volume goes all the way up to 11, as it were—by the time you reach the end of the book. It just mounts up and progresses until you get to some of the psalms, and all they do is say, “Praise the Lord!”
For instance, when we get to Psalm 136, we have what is called, “The Great Hallel,” or The Great Praise, which is that magnificent psalm of praise in which every verse ends with, “For His mercy endures forever!” They sing this with one choir against another—point, counterpoint—and the one side only sings, “For His mercy endures forever,” in response to what is sung on the other side.
And then, you get to Psalms 146 through 150, and all of these begin and end with a “Hallelujah!” These are the great concluding psalms of praise, and it climaxes in the exultant Psalm 150, which gives you 13 consecutive commands to praise the Lord.
Ps 150:1-6 Praise the LORD! Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in His mighty firmament! Praise Him for His mighty acts; praise Him according to His excellent greatness! Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet; praise Him with the lute and harp! Praise Him with the timbrel and dance; praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes! Praise Him with loud cymbals; praise Him with clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the LORD. Praise the LORD!
That is how it ends, with crescendo, because that is what this book is all about—Praise the Lord! Praising and glorifying God, and doing it all our lives, and doing it for all time, and with all our might and being.
Now in English, the concept of “praise” is quite simple. It is, to use Merriam Webster’s Dictionary, “To express a favorable judgment of, or commendation of another person, or a thing.”
The second definition is more appropriate when the subject is God: “To glorify, especially by the attribution of perfections.” The synonyms that we would use for this are: blessed, celebrate, exult, extol, glorify, laud, and magnify.” I am sure that you have heard all of these before, and they fit nicely with this second definition.
So, usually as the definition says, the praising is done by telling that the object of our praise has certain characteristics about it that ought be brought to other’s attention, and glorified, exulted, extolled, and praised. So, when it is God, we praise Him for the many facets of His excellent character. And we also praise Him for all the wonderful things that He has done.
So, what we end up doing is that praise comes down to giving God glory for what He is, and for what He does. It is very simple. There is nothing really complicated about it. But, we praise Him because He is God, and everything that He is, is perfect. He is perfect in justice, grace, mercy, in faith, and you could name all those fruits of the Spirit—He is perfect in them all, because that is what He is. He is the Perfect God. His character is holy, and blameless. There is no spot or wrinkle in it. So we give Him praise for what He is.
If we try to stop and list all the things that He has done, well we could praise Him from now until the rest of eternity, because He is constantly doing things—graciously. He just does things for people. He does good! He does good for all things. It does not matter what they are, He extends His goodness, mercy, help, and love in every situation.
And so we praise Him for what He is, and for what He does. It is very simple.
Turn to Psalm 148. I want you to see how this works in this particular psalm—what we praise Him for.
Psalm 148:1-5 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise Him in the heights! Praise Him, all His angels; praise Him, all His hosts! Praise Him, sun and moon; praise Him, all you stars of light! Praise Him, you heavens of heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the LORD, for He commanded and they were created.
These five verses of this particular psalm come down to the angels, and the sun, moon, and stars. Everything that is in the heavens is praising God for creating them, and not only for creating them, but for putting them in their places to do the jobs that He had assigned them to do.
Not just the angels, for we know that He made them as servants, so that they could minister to His children, and to minister to Him in all the things that need to be done; but we also have the sun, moon, and stars. They were put there, in their places, for a reason. God created them and established them in their places, and put them on their courses, to do the things that He wanted them to do, which was particularly to mark time. Of course, most importantly, to help us to know when the appointed times were, so that we will be able to keep the Passover and the holy days properly.
So, these particular things—the angels, and the heavenly hosts, and all the things in the heavens—are supposed to praise Him for creating them, and for establishing them in His order because God is the only One who could do this! As the Creator God, He alone has the power and the mind to make all these things, and then to make them work together. So He is worthy of our praise!
If we were to go to through the rest of the psalm, we would see that the psalmist changes gear, and brings it down to earth—everything on earth is told to praise God for the things that He has done for them—creating them.
Then, when you get to the very end of the psalm, which is really neat, it ends with a call to Israel, and His saints, to praise for Him, not just for creating them, not just for making things go well with their physical lives, but also for His special attention upon them! That they have been brought near to Him—only Israel and the saints have been brought near to Him—and they have been given a special relationship with Him.
Do you see how it works? The heavens are far away. But the heavens praise Him for all the things that He has done. Then it comes down to earth, and the earth and all the things in it praise Him for what He has done for them, starting with their creation, and then going through their entire lives and all the good things He does for them.
He really brings it down closest of all when he says, “Praise Him,” because “God is with you!” And for all the things that He has done for you, personally, and individually.
So you start from way out there, and he brings it in to where we cannot get out of acknowledging our debt to Him. How do we do that? We glorify Him, and praise Him. We cannot give Him anything that He does not already have, other than the acknowledgement and praise for what He has done for us.
It is really neat to see praise working in this way and how the psalmist has brought it all together.
However, when we go through some of these psalms, the reason for praise is not always obvious and clear cut as it is here in Psalm 148. There is a section of Book V of the Psalms that is designated specifically as the Hallel. Now, if you took in what I have said earlier, it means praise, and so this particular section of Book V is called “The Praise.” It is a very definite title.
These are Psalms 113 through 118. These six psalms are set apart as one continuous song of praise. And while we may go through each individual psalm and see the reason for praise in it, the reason for the grouping may not be clear at first until you study it deeply and see how they link together.
That is what I would like to do today. We are going to look at the Hallel, Psalms 113 through 118, and see why these six psalms are grouped together, and try to pry out the main theme of these six, as well as come to understand the points of the six individual psalms are making about God and His plan.
Like the Psalms of Ascents that we went over last time, the Hallel Psalms are associated with the holy days. A lot of the psalms are associated with the holy days in one way or another. But in particular, like the Psalms of Ascents, the three great festivals of the year are particularly noteworthy in terms of the Hallel—the Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread; Pentecost; and the Feast of Tabernacles. These are the same ones that are central to the Psalms of Ascents. Also, long after the exile towards the birth of Christ, the authorities in Jerusalem allowed these psalms—the Hallel—to be recited on the eight days of the Feast of Dedication. (John 10:22 where Jesus went to the temple, and it was winter, and we know it today as Hanukkah.)
The Hallel was recited in the Passover season on the first Day of Unleavened Bread; on the day of Pentecost; on each day of the Feast of Tabernacles; and on each day of the Feast of Dedication. So they were recited about 18 times each year, in the early morning of these days, which the Jews still do today.
It was particularly recited when the Passover lamb was slain, which is very significant. It is said that the Levites would stand before the altar in a great mass of men, and they would chant the Hallel verse by verse as the Passover lambs were slain, and the people who were watching all this would respond by either repeating the verses, or by saying, “Hallelujah” after each verse.
These psalms were not necessarily pilgrimage psalms per se, but they may have been recited as they came up to Jerusalem. They were not for that purpose, necessarily, but they were certainly festival songs to be sung on these days.
They are especially associated with the Passover. For starters, Psalm 114 is all about Israel's exodus from Egypt. We have that psalm in our hymnal—“When Israel Out of Egypt Went.” This takes your mind back to God’s redemption of Israel from bondage in Egypt. Once you start thinking about that, you start thinking about what God did to bring them out, and of course, the most noteworthy thing that He did, was He sent the death angel that passed over the Israelites who had the blood on their doorposts and lintels. So, immediately, some Passover imagery comes to mind while reading or singing Psalm 114 in the Hallel. And this is why, if you were to look it up in a Bible dictionary, it is sometimes called the Egyptian Hallel, to separate it from some of the others. This is because it is, “When Israel Out of Egypt Went.”
Sometimes things come down through tradition strangely, but that is something we have here, that Psalm 114 is called the Egyptian Hallel.
Another connection of the Hallel to Passover is that it is recited privately in the homes as the Israelites ate their Passover meal. It is part of the Seder, even today. They sing Psalm 113 and 114 before the meal, and then after the meal they would sing Psalm 115 through 118 before the last cup of wine was poured in the order of the Seder.
Many New Testament scholars believe that the hymn that Jesus and the disciples sang as they left the last supper, (if you will remember in Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26 it says they sang a hymn, and then they went on to the Mount of Olives) was probably this portion of the Hallel—Psalms 115 through 118. Nobody knows for sure. Matthew and Mark did not say what they sang. But these men would have done this year after year. They would have sung the Hallel as they left the Passover meal every year of their lives. They would have expected that they would sing this song at the end of the Passover evening. So, it is highly likely that this is what they sang, either Psalms 115 through 118, or at least 118 alone.
We will see why 118 is the one especially emphasized a little later.
Now, if we were to read these six psalms of the Hallel individually, we would probably not put them together, especially if we did not know that they were a group by themselves. If they were thrown at us randomly, and we then read them, we would not necessarily think that they were all together in one group. We just do not think like the priests and Levites, and God did—well, not yet.
However, they have a common theme. I have already alluded to that. And that common theme is redemption, which is wonderful as we approach our Passover season this year, and reflect upon God’s redemptive acts for us.
This is why the Hallel has so much application to Passover, because Passover is all about God redeeming us—God buying us out of sin, God paying the penalty, or as in the Exodus, the firstborn of Egypt paying the penalty—but, in our own case Jesus Christ paid our penalty for our sins. So, we are going to see that the Hallel psalms carry God’s redemptive acts not just to the Israelites, not just to each of us, but to all people for all time. It is really incredible to see! Obviously, God’s redemption, and the magnitude of His redemption for us of all people, is something that we should always praise Him for—and often!
Now, I need to go into redemption just for a moment so that we are all on the same page, because redemption is a broad concept. You might not think of it that way, but it actually is. We can see it better in action than we can as only a concept. So when we look at it from the standpoint of an action—redeem—it is much easier to understand.
Redeem, literally means to buy back, or to re-purchase; purchase again. Think of it this way: You have fallen on hard times, and you need some extra money, so you take a watch down to your local pawn shop, and he buys it from you at a price, and puts it into his display case, and tells you, “If you can come back before it’s sold, you can buy it back from me at such and such a rate.” When you go back, and your watch is still there, and you breathe a sigh of relief, you have the money in your pocket, you redeem it from him. You buy it back. You re-purchase the watch. It becomes yours again.
The central idea is that person A once had ownership of a thing, but then he loses it somehow to person B either by theft, or giving it to them, or selling it to them. Then, after a time, person A makes the effort to buy back from person B his former possession. This is the idea that underlies the concept of redemption—to redeem something.
You had something, you lost it for a time, or it was taken from you, and then you make the effort to buy it back for yourself at whatever cost it may be.
This is the idea behind the Boaz’s redemption of Ruth. He was buying back “property” that had been forfeited due to the death of the owner and his heirs. So, this land was going to pass on, but Boaz bought it back for Elimelech and his sons. Ruth was the beneficiary, and later on her son, Obed.
So, that is the idea in Ruth that Boaz was the redeemer; he actually bought back the field, and all that Elimelech owned, for the family.
Now, that we have this idea of buying back clear, the meaning of the word expanded beyond this to more metaphorical usages other than simply repurchasing an object. It took on the idea of freeing from distress, or freeing from harm. We can see this in another action, such as paying a ransom for somebody who has been captured, or kidnapped. That is where you free somebody from distress or harm by paying a price. So, if a child is kidnapped, and the kidnapper called up to tell you he wanted a million dollars for your kid, and you paid him the money, you have redeemed the child; you have taken that child from distress. You have freed him from distress or harm.
Another application is the clearing someone of debt, or blame. This would happen when someone comes to the financial aid of somebody else who is in arrears up to his eyeballs. He cannot pay his debts, and somebody comes along out of the blue, and pays the debt. He has redeemed them from the debt.
Or, it could even be like a judge, or king, or governor absolves a person of guilt for a crime. Or it could be when another person—a knight in shining armor—pays the fine, or takes the punishment upon himself, rather than the guilty party having to go through that.
Each of the above is an example of redemption. This is when we begin to get into the theological meaning of the word redemption, because I am sure that you have been able to pick up little bits about what Jesus Christ has done in redeeming us. As a matter of fact, it is all through this—every one of them has some little bit of what Christ did for us in it. What Christ did for us is that He freed us from the consequences of sin; He atoned for that sin; we have been redeemed. He paid the penalty for our sins with His own blood upon the cross; He freed us from the death penalty imposed when we broke God’s law. And that is all included in His redemption of us.
Let us look at this in I Peter 1. Peter puts it so plainly, here.
I Peter 1:17-19 And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay [sojourn] here in fear; knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.
He redeemed us, not with any kind of wealth, not with anything that He created, but with His own blood. He did not have some proxy do it. He did it Himself. He bought us back, and freed us from distress, because we were under capital punishment at the time. He paid the ransom for us with His own blood. He took us out of captivity from Satan. He cleaned up our debt so that we could have a clean slate again. He absolved us from the crimes and sins that we had committed; and He took upon Himself the punishment for all those things that we had done.
So, in every case, He fulfilled the part of the Redeemer. He is our Redeemer.
We can say, to sum this all up: at the heart of redemption is the idea of paying a price to regain something that would otherwise be lost to someone or something else. Redemption, thus, carries a double connotation: first, it implies deliverance from harm or penalty; secondly, it implies that a price had to be paid. These are the two prongs of redemption—deliverance from some sort of evil or harm that claims us. But the price is paid on our behalf to keep us from having the penalty meted out upon us.
So, these Hallel Psalms 113 through 118 praise God for being the ultimate Redeemer, showing the great lengths that He goes to, has gone to, and will continue to go to, to bring freedom to the needy, the enslaved, and the sinful.
So then, we will just jump right in. We are going to read all of these psalms, one by one, and then explain how they fit into the theme as we go along. We will not get into them too deeply. I want to be able to leave you with some things to research, and think over, and study out yourself so that you can get the most out of this.
I want you to notice, here, as we read through Psalm 113, that it is grouped into three sections of three verses each.
Psalm 113:1-9 Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD! Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time forth and forevermore! From the rising of the sun to its going down the LORD'S name is to be praised. The LORD is high above all nations, His glory above the heavens. Who is like the LORD our God, Who dwells on high, Who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in the heavens and in the earth? He raises the poor out of the dust, and lifts the needy out of the ash heap, that He may seat him with princes—with the princes of His people. He grants the barren woman a home, like a joyful mother of children. Praise the LORD!
This psalm is a kind of introduction to the Hallel. It sets the stage for the more specific acts of redemption that are coming along in the next five psalms, but it begins to talk about these acts of redemption itself. It begins with five commands to bless and praise God and His name. Of course, we know that His name describes the various aspects of His character, and so it is telling us to praise Him for what He is; all the things that we have seen that are part of His character.
It goes on and says that the people of God are to praise Him from the rising of the sun to its going down. We already talked about this one earlier. What this means is that words of praise for God, and thoughts of praise for God are never to be far from us throughout our waking moments. He is supposed to be always there in our consciousness, and we should be able while engaged in various activities throughout the day see God’s redemptive acts taking place. We are supposed to be so in tune to God and His way that we can see Him working with us on an almost minute by minute basis. From the rising of the sun to its going down, we are praising God for the things that He has done because we see them all around us. They never quit. They are always there.
Then it says that we are not only to do this from sunrise to sunset, we are to do this from this time forth and forevermore. So, not only does it not stop while we are awake, it never stops as far into the future as we care to go! And if we are going to have eternal life, this is forever!
So, we always have to have this attitude of praise for God because we could never praise Him enough for what He has done for us.
Now, we see this not only in the Psalms, but it comes through in the book of Revelation also. I would like to go through a bit of this to show that these things are still taking place. It is not just an Old Testament concept. God shows us in the New Testament that these things are going on now in His throne room in heaven, and we are going to be part of this for all time.
Revelation 4:8-11 The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!" Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before Him who sits on the throne and worship Him who lives forever and ever, and cast their crowns before the throne, saying: "You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created."
Do you see some echoes of what we have already read in the Psalms? Remember, Psalm 148 is praising God for creating us; the heavens; sun, moon, and stars; the angels; all the beasts, fish, fowl—everything. God created it. For that, He is worthy to be praised! He is worthy to receive glory, honor, and power.
Revelation 5:11-13 Then I looked, and I heard the voice of many angels around the throne, the living creatures, and the elders; and the number of them was ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice: "Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!" And every creature which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, I heard saying: "Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!"
Revelation 7:11-12 All the angels stood around the throne and the elders and the four living creatures, and fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: "Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom, thanksgiving and honor and power and might, be to our God forever and ever. Amen."
I think we have seen enough in these examples in Revelation that this is the way that it is before God’s throne in heaven all the time, day and night. And such praises will continue before Him forever. Obviously from Psalm 113, we are commanded to add our voices to that; to be constantly praising God, giving Him thanks, glorifying His name, exalting Him before others, or however it happens to be, the Hallel is telling us that this worshipful attitude of praise is supposed to be ongoing, and centered on our contemplation and thanksgiving for His redemptive acts toward us, and all.
This is just the first section regarding Psalm 113. But, I wanted to spend this time on it because this sets the groundwork, and gets us going toward the real reason why the Hallel is the Hallel. It is a song of praise; it is supposed to be uplifting, glorious, and very worshipful. We are to be doing this all the time.
Now that we have this foundation, we can move along to the next. Immediately he gets into the second section, verses 4 through 6, talking about God’s sovereignty. This is the first thing we really need to know in praising God, that God is sovereign above all things, there is no one more powerful, and He controls everything. This is praiseworthy because we know Him, and He knows us, and we have the greatest, most powerful Being in the whole universe on our side. So, this is something that we can be very thankful for.
But, the psalmist wants us to know that God rules over all things. He is over the nations. In fact, it does not just say that He is over the nations, but that He is high above the nations. He is so far above them, that they cannot see Him. So, He is far superior and more powerful than they are. There is no comparison.
You see, the psalmist is building God up, here, so that we can see reality in what is going on. There is no one like God! Nothing is even close to being in His league; not the most powerful person, not the most powerful spirit being who is against us is any match for Him. God, whenever He wills, whatever He does, it is going to happen, because no one can stop Him. He is God.
Yet, as it says, He is concerned about things that happen with us. It says in verse 6, “Who humbles Himself to behold things that are in the heavens and in the earth.” He has to stoop down—He is so great, that He has to stoop down, as it were, to see what is going on down here among us. He has to condescend, as it were, to look upon us. Yet, He is humble enough to do so. He is so great, but He is so humble. He is so wonderful, strong, and powerful, yet He is kind and caring. He will come down to us, and be with us, and help us through all that we have to face.
So, we are seeing God in these aspects of both absolute greatness and almighty power; while also seeing Him as a humble Being. It almost seems like it does not fit. But, the psalmist wants us to think about this. God is so great, yet He will stoop down to do things for us that we do not deserve. It is like when David said in Psalm 8, “What is man that You are mindful of him?” You can see the great stars in the sky, and you think, “What am I compared to that great ball of burning gas up there?” And there are thousands of them across the universe—actually millions and billions and trillions. Yet, God looks down through all of that, and sees us. Why? We do not deserve it. We do not deserve anything.
Yet, this Sovereign Lord of all looks on us. Then he explains this in the third section (verses 7 through 9). He gives examples of His care for us in our weaknesses. He has special mercy, as He says there, for the poor. He raises them out of the dust.
And the needy—He lifts them out of the ash heap. He rewards their humility, and their downcast condition with exaltation and honor, “That He may seat them with princes—the princes of His people.” He is saying that He takes the humble and elevates them, exalting them to a position of honor—with the princes of His people. What is He saying? He is saying that He takes people out of their rude, crude circumstances, and He puts them as heirs of the kingdom. That is who a prince is. A prince is an heir of a throne.
So He is saying, here, that God is great and powerful, no one in the whole universe has more than Him. Power and creativity and forward-looking thinking, and all the things that are God; yet He deigns to look at us. He condescends and sees us in our misery, and He lifts us up out of that, and makes us His own heirs. It is incredible!
But it gets more incredible in the next verse , because He says that “He grants the barren woman a home, like a joyful mother of children.” Do you realize what He is saying, there? He is saying that God has something in His heart for the poor, needy, and barren people and He does things to help lift them up out of their circumstances. Why does he have such a connection with the barren? You can go through the Old Testament and see this: Sarah was barren at first; Rebekah was barren at first; and Rachel was barren at first; and then you have Hannah, Samuel’s mother; and there were others, like Samson’s mother, and Elizabeth, John the Baptist’s mother. You get the point. There were a lot of barren women. He even said that Israel was like a barren woman at one point, and that she would produce—having offspring even though she was barren.
Why is this? Why does He have this thing for barrenness? Have you ever thought that it is because the thing He wants most is children? This is one of the first things out of God’s mouth in the whole book, that He made man and woman in His own image. This is God’s aim—He is reproducing Himself through us. So, He wants to see people reproduce. That is why He wants to see these barren women reproduce. He loves the fact that children are being born and added to the family. And this is on a physical level.
The psalmist, inspired by God, is moving our thoughts beyond just lifting us up out of a humble condition, and makes us heirs of the Kingdom; He is saying that we are going to become His children. That is what happens when you become heir to the Kingdom. You are the son of the King.
And so, what we have in Psalm 113 is a snapshot of God’s work in His entire plan of salvation. It is incredible to look at!
So here in the first of the Hallel, we get the themes that (1) God is superlative in all things, (2) He is worthy of all praise and honor, (3) He is sovereign over everything, (4) merciful in redeeming those He has chosen, and (5) exalting them to become heirs of the Kingdom, children of God. And that is all in Psalm 113! It is just amazing!
Do we not have something to praise God for? Please turn to Psalm 114. We are not going to spend a lot of time here because it is quite clear.
Psalm 114:1-8 When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language, Judah became His sanctuary, and Israel His dominion. The sea saw it and fled; Jordan turned back. The mountains skipped like rams, the little hills like lambs. What ails you, O sea, that you fled? O Jordan, that you turned back? O mountains, that you skipped like rams? O little hills, like lambs? Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of waters.
This is obviously a poetic rendition of God’s work in redeeming Israel from Egypt, and like Psalm 113, it is primarily focused on God’s overwhelming power and sovereignty. Nothing can resist God when He decides to act on a people’s behalf. What the psalmist shows here is that all the great stable objects of creation—mountains, hills, seas, rivers, rock, flint, even the whole earth—trembles, skips, and leaps (you get the idea of fear) at God’s presence. When God comes, He makes a difference. And when He acts, nothing can resist His will. They just shake themselves into a quivering mass at His presence. So nothing can withstand His might, or His will.
Back in Psalm 97, you can see a little bit of this.
Psalm 97:2-5 Clouds and darkness surround Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. A fire goes before Him, and burns up His enemies round about. His lightnings light the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth.
That is what we are also seeing in Psalm 114; God’s overwhelming power to do what He says He is going to do. Nothing can stop Him.
Now, as we went through reading in Psalm 114, we saw that verse 2 was a bit different from all the rest. Verse 2, along with verse 1 tells us the reason for God’s redemptive acts in Egypt—to make Judah His sanctuary, and Israel His dominion. He was buying them as a people to be His people.
Now, Judah becoming His sanctuary may be a little bit unclear about why He would say that. Well, the reason is that He placed His name in Jerusalem and the kings of Judah, and earlier Israel, ruled from there. Even though Jerusalem is technically in Benjamite territory, it was a Jewish city. This is where His sanctuary was. And there, God was. God was the presence behind the veil. So, He was there. Judah, then, became His sanctuary.
Israel—His dominion—has to do with rulership, and governance. The point we need to understand, here, is that God brought Israel out of Egypt for Him to dwell in, and live among His people. When He took them out of Egypt, He brought them through the wilderness, and into the land, and eventually they were a nation that lived there with God, and He ruled over them.
That was His reason for why He brought them out of Egypt, at least in this psalm’s purview. He redeemed His physical people, Israel, so that He could be with them, and rule them as their king.
Now, we see a hint of this in the New Testament in II Corinthians 6, where Paul applies it to the New Testament church.
II Corinthians 6:16-18 ... As God has said: "I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they shall be My people." Therefore "Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you." "I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty."
So He redeemed them out of Egypt to separate them from the rest of the world, so that He could have them as His possession, living among them, and ruling over them. This is the idea here in Psalm 114:2. This is something to praise God for! We never should forget the focus of these Psalms is to give us reasons to praise God, and to never stop praising Him, because He redeems His people, and He gives them all these wonderful blessings.
Psalm 115:1-18 Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your mercy, because of Your truth. Why should the Gentiles say, "So where is their God?" But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths, but they do not speak; eyes they have, but they do not see; they have ears, but they do not hear; noses they have, but they do not smell; they have hands, but they do not handle; feet they have, but they do not walk; nor do they mutter through their throat. Those who make them are like them; so is everyone who trusts in them. O Israel, trust in the LORD; He is their help and their shield. O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD; He is their help and their shield. You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD; He is their help and their shield. The LORD has been mindful of us; He will bless us; He will bless the house of Israel; He will bless the house of Aaron. He will bless those who fear the LORD, both small and great. May the LORD give you increase more and more, you and your children. May you be blessed by the LORD, who made heaven and earth. The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD'S; but the earth He has given to the children of men. The dead do not praise the LORD, nor any who go down into silence. But we will bless the LORD from this time forth and forevermore. [Hallelujah!] Praise the LORD!
This psalm begins with a request to God to glorify Himself, because of His mercy and truth. We saw His mercy in His redemption in the previous two psalms. But now, the psalmist brings in God’s truth. It has not been mentioned up to this point, but now he brings in the truth of God.
I do not want us to get stuck here, and just thinking about His law. I am talking about more than His law, but His whole truth, including what we might call the facts of life—the reality of the situation—what is really going on in the world, what is really happening in God’s plan, and that God has total control over what is happening both in our individual lives, and in His overall purpose for mankind.
Those who do not know God see God’s people and they think that they are powerless and easy pickings. That is what it says. “Should the Gentiles say, "So where is their God?” He is invisible. They do not see Him working. They do not have His Spirit, so they cannot really find out what He is doing, so they think, “Their God isn’t going to help them,” but that is far from the truth. That is not reality. And so the psalmist says, “I’m going to tell you what reality is.” “Our God,” he says, “is the God of the heavens. He’s in heaven. He’s way, way out there. He does whatever He wants to do. The reality is that your god (the Gentile’s god, the pagan’s god) is nothing. They are blocks of wood, or stone, or made from some precious metal. And though men carve into them the likeness of a man, they can’t see, they can’t hear, they can’t smell, they can’t feel, they can’t do anything. They just sit there as big lumps and do nothing! They can’t talk and give you a prophecy, they can’t tell you what to do.”
Then the psalmist says everyone who worships one of these things is just as dead and powerless as the lump is. “Those who make them are like them. So is everyone who trusts in them.”
That is reality. We have a God behind us and in us who has all power, and all wisdom, and He is going to do whatever He thinks is right. He has got the plan out there, and it is going to happen according to that plan. Whoever you bring up against Him does not matter a hill of beans, because God is going to win in the end. That is just how it is. Those are the facts. That is the truth.
So he says, “Israel, trust in the Lord. Priests, trust in the Lord. All you who fear Him, trust in the Lord. He is greater than anything else, and He is on our side, so all you need to do is trust in Him, and fear Him.” You know this is the problem. This has been the problem from the beginning. Israel did not trust God. And they fell away.
Romans 10:17-18 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed: "Their sound has gone out to all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world."
Romans 10:21 But to Israel he says: "All day long I have stretched out My hands to a disobedient and contrary people."
Romans 11:20 Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear.
Paul is saying that Israel was broken off because they lacked the faith. We could have gone to Hebrews 3 and 4 which say the same things. He warns us not to have an evil heart of unbelief, and going away from God. That is the issue.
We can praise God because He is with us, and He is strong. All we have to do is maintain our faith in God, and our fear of Him; we can then move forward, and we can win. That is right in the center of these Hallel psalms.
But as Psalm 115 continues, it reassures us that God will bless those who fear Him. So, it does not matter what has happened in the past, with Israel, or even our former disobedience, if we turn to God, and trust in Him, and obey Him, He will (whatever it is) come to our rescue and give us life. That is what He ends with. The last verse hints that the life He will give us is eternal life, because we are set up there to bless the Lord forever.
We do not have time to do justice to Psalm 116. However, this is a psalm of praise for God for delivering someone from death. I cannot read it because it is too long for my remaining time. I must leave it for you to study through on your own.
There are three ways to look at this psalm (#116). The first is that it is about an ordinary person’s deliverance from some sort of physical death—sickness, or danger in thrall of somebody else—they were delivered from death.
The second way to look at this is that it is a prophetic psalm of Christ's resurrection. You can see little hints of it, that it could be something like this. This is what makes possible our redemption.
The third way to look at this this psalm is that it describes God’s deliverance of one of His saints from the world. I think this third one is the best. The death that is here is the normal life in the world apart from God. That is the kind of death that we live in before God calls us. Remember, Ephesians 2:1-6, that we were dead in trespasses and sins, but God has raised us from that, given us His grace and mercy, and made us alive in Christ. I think that this is the best way to look at this psalm.
Verse 13 seems to be a key:
Psalm 116:13 I will take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the LORD.
The person is saying that they have decided to accept God’s invitation, and they will drink His cup, as it were. It seems to be a synopsis of the Christian life—we take the cup of salvation and all that comes with it, all that it entails, and then we call upon His name, leaning on God for help through the process of sanctification, all the way to our death, which he gets to in verse 15.
Psalm 116:15 Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.
So we go from the calling all the way through the death, showing that God sees our physical death as a kind of crossing the tape in a footrace. We have made it. We have won. And the next thing we know is that we will see God while being a part of His glorified sons and daughters forever in His Kingdom.
So, the person says here that he is going to pay his vows, and do what he needs to do to get to that point, and he ends by saying, “Praise the Lord!” This is our great redemption he is talking about here. For this, we can ceaselessly give Him praise both publically and privately.
Do you see what has happened here? Here is the book’s shortest psalm, but it packs a powerful punch! What it says is that it expands the redemptive acts of God beyond Israel, to the Gentiles. The Gentiles, here, are commanded to praise the Lord. They were far away. But, this psalm shows that they are going to be brought near. Not just the Gentiles—the nations—but all the peoples, everyone, all mankind, is told to glorify God.
Notice that grace is given: “The merciful kindness is great toward us.” Do you see what the psalmist has done? The psalmist is an Israelite. But, he has taken the Gentiles—the peoples of the earth—as his brethren. It is no longer we and them. It is us. We are all together, and we will praise Him for His merciful kindnesses, because we are all together.
Do you see what this is? This is a prophecy of what is explained by Paul in Ephesians 2:14, about that middle wall of division being taken down by the blood of Christ, and the work that He did for us. This is obviously something that we can praise God for, that He is not just the God of Israel, but the God of all mankind, and He will redeem mankind, the vast majority of them.
Then we have Psalm 118, the final of the Hallel. It is the longest of the six, so once again, I will not read it; I must let you do that for your reading pleasure. Its theme is stated right at the beginning. It is a thanksgiving psalm of praise for God’s goodness and mercy. We would likely say, His grace. We are thanking Him here in this psalm for His grace.
In verses 2 through 4, He is bringing all the groups that He has talked about over the five previous psalms together. He brings together Israel, the priesthood, and everyone who fears God. The God-fearers were the Gentiles who came close to Israel, and accepted the Israelite way of life. So, He is including all of mankind here. We have a lot to thank God for, His amazing grace. And we are enjoined here to say, notice, “Let Israel now say, ‘His mercy endures forever!’”
In a way we are enjoined to say, we are enjoined to admit it, acknowledge it, or to profess it, that God’s mercy is wonderful, all encompassing, and everlasting—it goes out to all people.
Then the psalm begins to list item after item of the things that God has done to help and redeem those who trust in Him. He answers prayer. He backs us up. He renders justice to our enemies. He puts us through severe trials and tests, but He causes us to overcome them. He opens the gates of righteousness for us to walk through.
Psalm 118:22-26 The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD'S doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the LORD has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray, send now prosperity. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We have blessed you from the house of the LORD.
Finally, in this last section of the last psalm of the Hallel, we see how salvation and redemption is really accomplished through the work of Jesus Christ. He who comes in the name of the Lord, the chief cornerstone, is the One who brings salvation. He is the One who gave us light.
Psalm 118:27-29 “God is the Lord, and He has given us light. Bind the sacrifice with chords to the horns of the altar. [Who was the sacrifice that was bound?] You are my God, and I will praise you. You are my God, and I will exalt you. O give thanks to the Lord for He is good! His mercy endures forever!”
What better reason is there to exalt and praise God than for the wonderful sacrifice that was done on our behalf so that we could have redemption and salvation and life everlasting?
Now, I have no idea if the Jews see all of this in the Hallel. I do not think that they do. But, we have God’s Spirit, and we can see the whole plan of salvation—the whole redemption of mankind—played out in these six psalms of the Hallel. We see God’s plan of salvation laid out from God’s intentions to create children in His image; to Israel's being redeemed from Egypt; to His requirement of faith; to His regeneration of His saints; making them alive after being dead; to salvation for all mankind all the peoples of the earth; and finally, to the means of salvation, the wonderful sacrifice of the Son, who is the way, the truth, and the life.
I hope that you will take the time in the next few weeks to consider the Hallel more deeply, and apply it to your preparations for the Passover.