This week, we turn our attention to a series of psalms within the book of Psalms known as the Hallel psalms. At its roots, the ancient Hebrew word Hallel is simply a command to praise. The trilogy of Hallel psalms breaks down to 1) the Egyptian Hallel, consisting of Psalms 113-118, 2) the Great Hallel, comprised of Psalms 120-136, and 3) the final shouts of Hallel praises found in Psalms 146-150.
Beginning with Psalm 113, we will explore the Egyptian Hallel, which got its name due to the series of psalms emphasis on the Israelites’ experiences in Egypt. The psalms making up the songbook of the Egyptian Hallel were part of two collections sung at three annual festivals that all Jews were expected to attend. These three festivals were Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. These psalms were also sung on other holy days, including new moon festivals.
A meal was generally served at these special worship celebrations and Psalms 113 and 114 were typically sung before the meal and Psalms 115-118 following their time of fellowship highlighted by eating a meal together. A feast, after all, by definition, involves food. Then, like now, human celebrations featured food. This was true of the numerous Israelite celebrations and worship gatherings of the early Christian church as well.
In Psalm 113, the psalmist begins with verses praising the Lord before revealing the reasons that God should be praised. The writer exalts God as the sovereign king of the universe who reaches down to help those in the world who are in need. God is worthy of universal praise by those who love Him. The Lord is above all nations and His glory is above the heavens. God is unique in His splendor and majesty. Yet, He is a personal God involved in His creation and engaged in the lives of His people. The Lord humbles Himself and cares for us. God is especially concerned for those who are excluded and ignored by society. He stands in the corner alongside those who lack power and have little voice, like the poor and the needy. God is for us, not against us.
PSALM 113 (ESV)
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!
Does our worship of God reflect who He is? In my life, I have attended numerous sporting events and music concerts. I’ve rooted for my favorite teams chasing championships and sang at the top of my lungs along with my musical heroes. Upon examining my time spent in worship, I think my jubilation falls short in comparison to my excitement and freedom at those other events and experiences. Truthfully, if I expressed my worship as passionately as I root for my Cowboys and Rangers or belt out songs at a rock concert the ushers at church would probably ask me to cool it. Indeed, I’d be shown the exit.
Worshipping God fully with all He is due is a challenge of living the Christian life in 21st century America. The ancient believers and the early Church made God the central focus of their lives. Most weeks, many of us do good to give God a head nod.
The beauty of Scripture, particularly the Psalms, is that we can learn how to worship God more fully and with greater passion. We can apply what we know to be true about God in our daily lives, caring for those who are in need in the same way that He cares for those in need. By following the biblical examples, we can grow to worship our God more deeply and with greater freedom.
Our God is the sovereign ruler of all creation and over all the earth. He is not a distant God, but rather one who seeks a personal relationship with each of us. The Lord pays attention to the downtrodden living in a world that is in desperate need of Him. Who is like our God? No one. Who is worthy of our praise? Our God.
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Lockyer, Herbert (1966). All the Books and Chapters of the Bible. Zondervan. Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Tomlin, Chris and Whitehead, David. (2017). Holy Roar: 7 Words That Will Change the Way You Worship. Thomas Nelson Publishing. Nashville.
White, James F. (1993) A Brief History of Christian Worship. Abingdon Press. Nashville.