Songs of Greatness is a sermon series on the greatness of God from the Psalms. Who is Like the Lord our God? — If God is so great, what difference does that make for us? What God does with his greatness, specifically in his heart for the poor and the most vulnerable among us, should not only change how we live our lives but should also lead us to ask, “Who is like the Lord our God?” Recorded on Aug 22, 2021, on Psalm 113, by Pastor David Parks.
For the next year, in our preaching ministry, we’re focusing on The Greatness of God. And this summer, we’ve been working through a sermon series from the Psalms in the Bible called Songs of Greatness. And we’ve said that the Psalms are a collection of songs/poems that the people of God have used in the worship of God for 1000’s of years. They cover the whole range of human emotion/experience, but a number of the psalms are all about the greatness of God. Today, we’ll consider Psalm 113, which is a psalm that asks, what does God do with all his greatness? If God is so great, if God is exalted, if God is supremely glorious, what difference does that make for us? Why should we care? Well, it turns out that what God does with his greatness, specifically in his heart for the poor and those who are the most vulnerable among us, not only should change how we live our lives but should also serve to only increase his glory to us and lead us to ask, “Who is like the Lord our God?” Please open your Bible/app to Psalm 113, starting with v. 1.
Psalm 113:1-9, “Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, you his servants; praise the name of the Lord. 2 Let the name of the Lord be praised, both now and forevermore. 3 From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised. 4 The Lord is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens. 5 Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, 6 who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? 7 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; 8 he seats them with princes, with the princes of his people. 9 He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the Lord.”
So Psalm 113, like so many other psalms, is a call to worship, it’s an invitation to praise the Lord. And if we read too quickly through it, we will miss what it says, its unique offering to us after all these years. The psalms, like any other great piece of music/art, need time to work their way from our senses down into our hearts as we meditate on who God is and what he has done. So let’s start back at v. 1 and work through this in three parts: 1. The Invitation 2. The Exaltation 3. The Humiliation. First, the invitation. v. 1.
Psalm 113:1-3, “Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, you his servants; praise the name of the Lord. 2 Let the name of the Lord be praised, both now and forevermore. 3 From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised.” Let’s pause here. Ok! The invitation: So v. 1 of Psalm 113, in the original Hebrew language, is where we get the word/phrase/exclamation ‘hallelujah!’ If you’ve ever said, “Hallelujah!” did you realize it was a Greek transliteration, imported into the English language from an ancient Hebrew song lyric? Probably not. Anyway, in ancient Hebrew language/culture, a Hallel was a hymn of praise. And Psalms 113-118 are known as the Hallel Psalms. These particular psalms were very important in the Jewish faith before and during the time of Jesus, because they were used during the central Jewish festival that commemorated God’s saving grace in the exodus, which was the festival of the Passover. After the last supper, Matthew and Mark report that Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn. And this hymn was most likely from the Hallel Psalms. Psalm 113 and 114 were traditionally sung before the Passover meal. And Psalms 115-118 were sung after. So following this strong Jewish tradition, the phrase hallelujah stuck with the Christian community and became a similar invitation or call to praise God, all the way up to today. Hallelujah! Praise the Lord! Praise who? Praise Yah or Yahweh God. Now, Yahweh is the personal name that the God of the Bible revealed to his people during the time of Moses and the Exodus. So today, remember that when you see the word ‘Lord’ in all caps in the Bible, the original Hebrew is not a title, but is the personal name of Yahweh. Did you ever think so much could be said about the phrase, “Praise the Lord.”? Probably not. Well, let’s keep going. Praise the Lord. Ok. But praise when? Praise where? Praise Yahweh “both now and forevermore” (v. 2), which means, in all of time, and, “From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,” (v. 3) which means, in all of space. So this is a universal call for all peoples in all of time to give praise/honor/glory to the God of the Bible. It’s the invitation. Ok, but why? What reason does the psalmist give for this universal call to praise? Look at v. 4. Here’s why. This is the exaltation.
Psalm 113:4, “The Lord is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens.” Not, the Lord might/should be exalted, but the Lord is exalted. It’s a fact. It’s undisputed. And this is so similar to the chorus of Psalm 57 that we looked at two weeks ago. The repeated refrain of Psalm 57 was, “Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.” So we have similar themes here of the exaltation of God, of seeing God as high and lifted up, and of the glory of God. Glory over all the earth and glory above the heavens. Now people are very important to God. On a micro level, we see this in abundance in God’s choosing and caring for and bearing with the family of Abraham and Sarah which became known as the people of Israel. But we also see this on a macro level, of God’s care for all people in his promise to Abraham and Sarah to bless all the peoples/nations of the earth through them. So people matter to God. But God is exalted over all the nations/peoples of the world. Now, just as a brief sidebar, so many people, including many Christians, get too wrapped up in the nations and what one people group is doing to another people group or what one nation is doing to another nation. Or what our nation used to be like or what our nation might be like in the future. And it’s not wrong to learn about these things or notice them or have opinions about political issues or even to try and influence them with our work or our lives. But we must remember that the Lord is exalted over all the nations. None of these things are as important or as glorious or as helpful or as powerful as God.
This is why we should praise the Lord. Why? Because God is exalted, he is high and lifted up, he is supremely glorious, over even the most powerful nations on the earth. Our worship doesn’t lift God up as much as it recognizes the already exalted One. In the past, God was exalted over the Egyptian/Assyrian/Babylonian/Greek/Roman Empires, just as God is exalted over China/The US/Russia/whoever today. The powers of the world are no match for him, they are no comparison to him. But let me ask you a question: is it a good thing that God is so powerful? Is it a good thing that God is so exalted? When I think of the list of the most powerful nations/people on earth in the past or in the present, I have to admit that even the best of them have a pretty spotty record, it’s a mix of good and evil. As we’ve already observed in this sermon series, greatness doesn’t necessarily result in goodness. Sometimes great power is used to bring peace and prosperity. But sometimes great power is used in fantastically destructive or oppressive ways — millions of people die. So the invitation to the exaltation of God must also be accompanied with evidence of his kindness/goodness/faithfulness/love. How does God use his greatness? Look at v. 5. This is really where Psalm 113 makes a unique contribution to the songbook of the Bible.
Psalm 113:5-8, “5 Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, 6 who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth? 7 He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; 8 he seats them with princes, with the princes of his people. 9 He settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children. Praise the Lord.” No one is as high and exalted as God. All the language and imagery of the Psalmist here points to this fact. The Lord is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens. He sits enthroned on high. But then notice what God does. What does God do? He stoops down to look upon our little lives here in the dust of the earth. In all his exalted glory, God actually cares for us? We, modern people, are so self-absorbed and have such a heightened sense of self-importance, we don’t think twice about sharing our opinions on social media. Of course, the whole world wants to know what we think! But when we see ourselves rightly in the scale of heaven and earth, and we see how small we truly are, who are we that God would care for us?? As David wrote in Psalm 8, “what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” But this is the amazing truth of God’s heart as revealed in the Bible. God is exalted. But this God, this glorious God, cares for us. This should be surprising/amazing! But it gets even better.
Let’s continue. What does God do when he stoops down to see us? The Psalmist says he raises the poor, he lifts the needy, he settles the childless woman. There is this great reversal in the work of God. He comes all the way down, but then he lifts people all the way up. And who does God do this for, the kings/queens/rich/famous? No. The poor and needy and the childless woman. Now, even today, to be poor means to be vulnerable, to lack security, to be open to exploitation or other danger. It means not having as much access to healthy food, clean water, or decent healthcare when you’re sick. And it meant all this and more back in the times of Psalm 113. But God shows his heart for the poor all through the Scriptures. From the gleaning laws in the OT to the commands about lending to the poor in the Proverbs to even God’s decision to choose Israel, a nation enslaved by a far greater and more powerful nation at the time all show God’s heart for the poor and those in need. But also, in the time of Psalm 113, the childless woman was seen as vulnerable as well. Women who were unable to have children, for whatever reason, couldn’t look to their children to provide for them or protect them or care for them as they got older. One interesting point on vv. 7-8 is that the psalmist quotes from Hannah’s song found in 1 Samuel chapter 2. And Hannah’s story is really what v. 9 describes. For years, Hannah was unable to get pregnant. And I know that several of you have either struggled in the past or are struggling right now with infertility. You know the pain and heartache that Hannah had experienced. But even worse, in her day, it was considered shameful, and Hannah had to deal with that as well. But after years of trying, after years and years of praying for a child, she finally got pregnant. And her song highlights God’s tender care for the most vulnerable.
So yes, God is great, but is God good? Well, according to Psalm 113, God uses his greatness not to oppress/crush/use people. But to lift up and give dignity to those who are most vulnerable among us, to give security and stability and even joy to those in need. So first we saw the invitation, an invitation to praise the Lord. Second, we saw the exaltation, recognizing that God is exalted over the nations, over everything in heaven and earth. And finally, we saw the humiliation, the humbling, the coming down into the dust of the earth. Why? In order to lift up those in need. But is humiliation the right word to describe that? Or did I just use it because it rhymed? Well, I do know it’s easier for you to remember if it rhymes. But I don’t think it’s a bad word to use. Now, it’s true that at the time of Psalm 113, the people of God had seen God’s heart for those in need through the Law and the Prophets and the Psalms. And anyone paying attention would know that God would expect his people to share his heart for the most vulnerable people in society. So we see that God cares in principle for the poor, but we don’t see God literally coming down into the dust of the earth until a little baby was born in Bethlehem and was laid in a manger.
The angel, Gabriel, told Joseph that their baby would be called “Immanuel which means “God with us.” God had literally come down. This little baby grew up to be a man who claimed to have existed even before the world began. And as a man, Jesus Christ, revealed that he was in fact God come down, come into the world, by demonstrating his power over creation, disease, even over death. But this was indeed a humiliation. The Apostle Paul wrote or perhaps quoted from an early Christian hymn in Php chapter 2, saying that Jesus, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Jesus was the eternal son of God, sent from heaven. As Ps 113 says, he stooped down to us, taking on the very nature of a servant. But he didn’t come this first time in glory. He didn’t come wearing a crown of gold, but a crown of thorns. Why? Why did Jesus do this? Why did he die on the cross in humiliation and weakness and shame? Because he was lifting us up. Because he was giving his life in trade for ours. Because he was dying on the cross for the sins of the world and he would be raised again on the third day in victory. Far worse than being financially poor or struggling with infertility is the plight of the one who is spiritually dead in their trespasses and sins. But God is great and God is good, so God used his greatness to come all the way down and was willing to bear even the humiliation of the cross, to lift us all the way back up again. Up to forgiveness and freedom. Up to life and love. Up to joy and peace both now and forevermore.
So should we, as followers of Jesus, see and care for the poor and those who are most vulnerable among us today? Of course. If God was willing to serve our greatest needs in Christ, then our willingness to serve others is simply reflecting his love to us back out into the world. But what if it’s costly? What if we are taken advantage of? What if it doesn’t feel like we’re making much of a difference? If Jesus would’ve worried about that, he never would’ve come down in the first place. Finally, what if in Christ, we’re still financially poor or we still struggle with infertility, or have another reason why we feel vulnerable today? Until Jesus returns, there will still be times of great need and painful situations to walk through. Just know you’re not alone. Know that the God of the universe sees you and cares for you. And one day, he will lift you up. So praise the Lord. Hallelujah! Why? Because in Jesus, God emptied himself of his glory for a moment, so that we might be lifted up and seated not only with princes but with the King himself. Who is like the Lord our God??