Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Psalms 113-118 form the Hallel, or Hymn of Praise, which according to Jewish liturgical usage is sung at the three great Festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles, at the Festival of the Dedication, and at the New Moons (with the exception of the New Year). At the domestic celebration of the Passover, Psalms 113, 114 are sung before the meal, Psalms 115-118 after it, when the fourth cup has been filled. It was probably the hymn sung by our Lord and His disciples before they left the upper chamber (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26). This group of Psalms is also called the Egyptian Hallel (Psalm 114:1).
The term Great Hallel is also used, but ancient Jewish authorities were not agreed as to its meaning. According to one view it denoted Psalms 136; according to another, Psalms 120-136; according to a third, Psalms 135, 136. (Levy-Fleischer, Neuhebr. Wörterbuch, i. 473 a.)
The choice of three Psalms from the Hallel (113, 114, 118) as the Proper Psalms for Evensong on Easter Day marks the connexion of the Christian Festival with the Jewish Festival which it succeeded.
This Psalm evidently belongs to the post-exilic period, and expresses the gratitude of Israel for its restoration from the Captivity. It is “a connecting link between the Song of Hannah and the Magnificat of the Virgin” (Bp Perowne).
It is a call to praise Jehovah, Who, though enthroned in majesty in heaven, condescends to care for the weak and lowly on the earth. It consists of three equal stanzas.
i. A call to the universal and unceasing praise of Jehovah (Psalm 113:1-3).
ii. His exaltation and condescension (Psalm 113:4-6).
iii. Instances of His condescension (Psalm 113:7-9).
Praise ye the LORD. Praise, O ye servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD.1. For the structure of the verse with repetition of the verb cp. Psalm 29:1. The same words recur in different order in Psalm 135:1.
O ye servants of the Lord] True Israelites, who as individuals answer to the calling of Israel to be “the servant of Jehovah” (Psalm 136:22; Isaiah 41:8-9; al.). Cp. Psalm 69:36; Isaiah 54:17.
the name of Jehovah, emphatically repeated thrice, is more significant than Jehovah simply would be. It is the compendious expression for His whole revelation of Himself, which is the object and ground of His servants’ praise.
1–3. A call to praise Jehovah’s name universally and unendingly.
Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time forth and for evermore.
From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same the LORD'S name is to be praised.3. From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same] Throughout the world from east to west (Psalm 50:1). Cp. Malachi 1:11; Zephaniah 3:9.
The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens.4–6. The ground of praise, Jehovah’s exaltation and condescension.
4 a. Cp. Psalm 99:2.
4 b. Cp. Psalm 57:5; Psalm 57:11; Psalm 8:1.
5 a. Cp. Exodus 15:11; Deuteronomy 3:24.
5 b, 6. The structure of these lines—lit. Who exalteth himself to sit, Who humbleth himself to see, in heaven and in earth—makes it probable that in heaven and in earth belong to the two preceding lines respectively. Keble’s paraphrase expresses it excellently,
“Exalting still His holy place,
Low bending still His eye of grace,
In heaven above, in earth below.”
The point is Jehovah’s condescension. Though He sits enthroned on high in heaven, yet He stoops to regard the earth. He is not “careless of mankind,” as heathen gods were often supposed to be. For the thought cp. Psalm 138:6; Isaiah 57:15.
Who is like unto the LORD our God, who dwelleth on high,
Who humbleth himself to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth!
He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill;7, 8. The first three lines are taken from the Song of Hannah, 1 Samuel 2:8, with only a slight variation of form in two words. “To sit in the dust” (Isaiah 47:1), or “on the dunghill” (Lamentations 4:5) is an oriental metaphor for a condition of extreme degradation and misery. Cp. Job 2:8. The dung and other rubbish of an Eastern town or village is collected outside it in a heap called the Mezbele. On this “the outcast who has been stricken with some loathsome malady and is not allowed to enter the dwellings of men, lays himself down, begging an alms of the passers-by by day, and by night sheltering himself among the ashes which the heat of the sun has warmed.” Wetzstein in Delitzsch’s Comm. on Job, p. 62, quoted in Prof. Davidson’s Comm. on Job, in this Series, p. 14.
7–9. Examples of Jehovah’s gracious condescension.
That he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people.8. ‘To dwell’ or ‘sit with princes’ is a figure for elevation to the highest rank and dignity. So Job 36:7, “[God] withdraweth not his eyes from the righteous: but with kings upon the throne he setteth them for ever, and they are exalted.” Cp. 2 Samuel 9:7.
 According to the Massoretic text the Chireq compaginis or binding vowel, which is characteristic of this Psalm (Psalm 113:5-7; Psalm 113:9), is here attached to the infinitive. But it is almost certain that, with the LXX, לּהושיבו ‘to set him,’ should be read for להושיבי.
He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye the LORD.9. He maketh the barren housewife to dwell
As a joyful mother of sons.
He gives her a secure and happy position in her home. The reference in Psalm 113:6-7 to the Song of Hannah suggests this further reference to the experience of Hannah, as an instance of the way in which Jehovah has compassion on those who are despised. But doubtless under the figure of the once childless wife gladdened with a family of sons the Psalmist intends to allude to Zion. Cp. Isaiah 54:1; Isaiah 66:8. So the Targum: “Who maketh the congregation of Israel, which was like a barren woman mourning for the men of her household, to be full of crowds, like a mother who rejoiceth over sons.”
Praise ye the Lord] In the LXX this Hallelujah is transferred, perhaps rightly, to the beginning of Psalms 114. See on Psalm 104:35.