The Egyptian Hallel—Pss 113–118[a]
Praise of the Lord for His Care of the Lowly
Praise, you servants of the Lord,[c]
praise the name of the Lord.
2 [d]Blessed be the name of the Lord
now and forevermore.
3 From the rising of the sun to its setting
the name of the Lord is to be praised.
4 [e]High is the Lord over all the nations,
and supreme over the heavens is his glory.
5 Who is like the Lord, our God,
the one who is enthroned on high
and who stoops down to look
6 on the heavens and the earth?
7 [f]He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the rubbish heap,
8 seating them with princes,
with the princes of his people.
9 He settles the barren woman[g] in a home
and makes her the joyful mother of children.
- Psalm 113:1 The Hallel (“praise”) psalms are found in three separate collections: the “Egyptian Hallel,” also known as the “Little Hallel” (Pss 113–118), the “Great Hallel” (Pss 120–136), and the “Concluding Hallel” (Pss 146–150). The Egyptian Hallel and the Great Hallel (most of which are pilgrimage psalms: Pss 120–134) were sung during the annual feasts (see Lev 23; Num 10:10). The Egyptian Hallel received a special place in the Passover liturgy; by custom Pss 113–114 were recited or sung before the festive meal and Pss 115–118 after it (see Mt 26:30; Mk 14:26). These were probably the last psalms Jesus sang before his Passion. Only the second (Ps 114) speaks directly of the Exodus, but the themes of the others make it an appropriate series to mark the salvation that began in Egypt and would spread to the nations. The concluding Hallel psalms (Pss 146–150) were incorporated into the daily prayers in the synagogue after the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70.
- Psalm 113:1 This psalm presents a surprising contrast in the praises of Israel: the acclamation of the glory of the Almighty One attains its summit, and certitude becomes even stronger that God is near to the lowly. His tenderness reaches those whom the powerful of the earth regard as nothing. The God of justice reverses established situations, as both the canticle of Hannah (see 1 Sam 2:4-8) and the Magnificat of Mary (see Lk 1:46-55) attest with equal intensity. In celebrating the salvation of the humiliated poor man and the abandoned woman, Israel keeps alive the hope of a wondrous renewal in the Messianic age (see Pss 76; 87; Isa 49:21; 54:1-8).
In praying this psalm, we are aware that the New Testament provides us with new motives for praising God the Father for the great condescension he manifests toward Zechariah, Mary, and those known as the poor of Yahweh. We can also chant this psalm in honor of the glorified Christ. Exalted by his Father above every earthly power and introduced by him into divine glory (Phil 2:9-11; Heb 2:7-9), Christ shows himself to be incomparable by uniting to his supreme transcendence an astonishing condescension. It was toward the poor and lowly that he stooped during his public ministry, eating and drinking with them (see Mk 2:16), offering them the kingdom of God (see Mt 5:3-12) with its mysteries (see Mk 4:11), and making them the princes of his new people (see Mk 3:13-19). It is on the poor and the weak in the eyes of the world that he continues to confer his spiritual riches and powers (see 1 Cor 1:26-28).
- Psalm 113:1 Servants of the Lord: the Lord’s loyal people, together with the priests and the Levites, come together to worship the Lord. These are all those who know “the name of the Lord” (v. 3; see Ps 50:1; Zep 2:11; Mal 1:11). Name: see note on Ps 5:12.
- Psalm 113:2 The name of the Lord is to be proclaimed so that every generation may remember what he has done and how he has revealed himself (see Ex 3:16). This praise is to extend in time (forevermore) and in space (from the rising of the sun to its setting, i.e., from the east to the west; see Mal 1:11).
- Psalm 113:4 The psalmist calls attention to the contrast: the exalted rule of the Lord and his accommodation to the needs of his people. Over all the nations: and by implication over all their gods (see Pss 95:3; 96:4f; 97:9). Over the heavens: i.e., above all creation.
- Psalm 113:7 The Lord does not ally himself with the high and mighty but takes care of the poor and needy by transforming them from outcasts of society (the dust, see Isa 47:1, or rubbish heap, see Lam 4:5) into those who have a position of prominence (with the princes of his people, v. 8; see 1 Sam 2:8; Job 36:7). The afflicted man will be accorded recognition, and the oppressed woman will be given honor.
- Psalm 113:9 Barren woman: a barren wife was considered cursed by God and a social outcast, a disappointment to her husband, to other women, and especially to herself (see Gen 16:2; 20:18; 1 Sam 1:6; 2:5; Lk 1:25). The Lord blesses her with children (see Ps 115:14; Isa 48:19; 54:1-3). Alleluia: i.e., “Hallelujah” or “Bless [or praise] the Lord”; it probably was once the first line of Ps 114.