Psalm 113

Psalm 113

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 setting,
    the name of the LORD is to be praised!

The LORD is high above all nations,
    and his glory above the heavens!
Who is like the LORD our God,
    who is seated on high,
who looks far down
    on the heavens and the earth?

He raises the poor from the dust
    and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
    with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home,
    making her the joyous mother of children.

Praise the LORD!

Hallelujah!  Hallel – – Jah!  Praise Yahweh!  Praise Jehovah!  Praise the LORD!  This psalm is the first of the first of three sections of psalms called the Hallel Psalms.  There are many psalms that are more concerned with lament than praise, but these Hallel Psalms are taken up with praising God.  

The psalmist calls the servants of God to praise Him.  Who are these servants of the LORD?  Those whom He has called into His service by saving them out of some kind of slavery – to bad habits, to aimlessness, to dark powers, to ignorance, to selfish ambition… ultimately to sin that weakens and leaves thirsty and ends with a deeper and deeper plunge into death.  

Saved through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus..  By His death brought back from the land of sin, guilt, death.  Reconciled to the living God.

Yes, the servants of the LORD are those He has redeemed.  They are freed back to what they were created to be: servants of God, particularly as those who are to bear the image of God.  

I can’t say it enough: humans are image-bearers of God.  That’s what they are, what they do, what they’re built for.  Another way of saying that is they…we… are created fundamentally to serve: Paul said that Jesus took “the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”  Serving is what humans do.  Servants of the creation by collecting praises throughout the creation and bringing them to God.  Ultimately servants of God in that we rule for Him, are the intermediaries between the Creator and the rest of Creation.  

King and priests.  Rulers and worshipers.  Formed to govern and praise.  That’s what humans do.  What we’ve been brought back to.

So let the [redeemed] servants of God praise Him.  Praise!  What is it to praise?  One important point: praising God doesn’t necessarily happen when you say you’re praising God.  

Because the first ingredient of praise is attention: God has your notice.  Really!  And then as you attend to God – His Being, His Character, His actions [particularly the ones He keeps associating Himself with], all that together is His name –you start to perceive that God is exalted.  

God rises above.  Meaning, He’s smarter…the smartest.  In His attributes and ways: His wisdom, His loving, His ruling…all of His actions, God leaves everything else behind. 

His involvement in matters is what makes the difference.  

He is great, His works are great: meaning that every other cause and causer gives way to what God wants and what God does.  

Now again, you can say, I praise you God, but you’re thinking about your sore throat or how nobody liked your Facebook post or the ongoing yard project or a romance.  That’s fine to think about those things sometimes, but don’t call what you’re doing praising God just because you’re mouthing praise words as you’re thinking about these other things.

Praise is attending.  Thinking and concentrating.  Comparing and contrasting God with other…persons, forces.  And concluding that God is superior.  P 

In vv. 2-3, the summons is to bless God, that is, rate Him highly, comment on, sing about…at all times.  

In every era God should be praised.  Which means the work of every generation is to both praise God and to prepare the next generation to praise God.  

Church, look at the young folks among us.  What if they turned out to be successful in career, flush with cash, living peacefully in a great country…but they’re not skilled in praise?  Their thoughts about God are immature; they have no musical talent that they can bring to bear in worship; they’ve lost the power of attending to anything, including God?  

May it never be!  From this time forth and forevermore, God’s name is to be praised!

And throughout the globe, God’s name – His being, His character, His acts through which He’s known– is to be remembered, considered, celebrated.  Amazingly, when this psalm was penned, this global praise to God from his servants might have sounded like just a starry-eyed aspiration.  But no!  Even this morning and throughout the day, the servants of God are gathering from one end of the globe to the other to praise Him.  

For what should we praise God?  Well, with praising, we don’t have to start from square one.  This psalm, and plenty of others, and many other parts of the Bible, and indeed, many Christian writings from the past, supply us with resources to praise.      

In vv. 4-6, the psalmist reminds us that God is above the nations, above the heavens, seated above the heavens and the earth.  So high above everything that He has to stoop to see the goings on of the heavens and earth. 

So we should praise God’s name for the fact that God’s name – His Being, character, acts by which He’s known – is transcendent.  

Before Him, the nations – the political maneuvering, the power and transfers of power, the tides of the affairs of men, the leaps forward by technologies, the wars and calamities, everything that has us so worked up – are so much minutia.  They are the clods of dust under the bookshelves. 

VV. 5, 6: When God goes to look at the great current events, the happenings that have all our attention, the seismic shifts in parties, in culture…

When God goes to look at the heavenly principalities that are behind these earthly developments, these mighty creatures of seraphim and heavenly conglomerations of cherubim and other classes of angels and powers…

ACT THIS OUT: He has to come down from His exalted throne, and bend his knees, and get down on His elbows, and peer into the carpet…

Holy, holy, holy – this chant about God that the seraphim never tire of – doesn’t first of all refer to His righteousness or goodness, but to His remoteness from everything else.  God’s Being is absolutely separate in quality.  

The song says there’s a wideness in God’s mercy, and that’s true.  But too there’s a wildnessto the Being of God: In that He will not be domesticated, His Being isn’t something we can capture or sum up or bring close to us and inspect.  God is Other.  In His Being and Character separate from all that He’s created.  Greater.  Higher.  

Did you notice and sense the strangeness the phrase in v. 4: His glory [is] above the heavens ?  “Glory” carries two senses: heaviness and a shining forth.  God is heavy in that He’s deeply important, weighty.  

And there is out of Him a radiance of splendor and majesty – of everything that isn’t shabby, that isn’t death – streaming from His Being.  This light that we call “light” and “glory” must come from Him because it’s who He is, His nature.  

Our line says that the importance and splendor and wonder of God is, in a way, out of our sight, “above the heavens.”  We see the glory of God – indeed, the “whole earth is full of His glory,” but this verse informs us that we don’t see anywhere close to the heart of that glory!  What we’re seeing are the rays, the residual of God’s glory, but the burning center is concealed, “above the heavens.”  

But hold on!  This is amazing!  What we observe about the acts of God is already mind-boggling.  Just the traces of the glory of God are wildly impressive!  Look at the Tetons in Wyoming.  Take time to peer down at the common fern.  Crane your head and look up at the wisps of clouds swimming in a deep azure blue.  And keep looking up, because throughout the day  in the sky you’ll see the most spectacular colors.  The visible spectrum of light contains millions of colors.  

The common processes of life are amazing.  Speaking of clouds, how about rain that comes down from those clouds?  The water vapor bonds with microscopic particles that the sun has lifted from the earth, often salt from sea water, and together they form liquid droplets.  Gas into liquid, which might eventually turn to solid.  In our church in Boston we had a fellow from Brazil who was Ph.D. student at B.U. who had given his life to studying water.  He would love to bend your ear for hours talking about what makes water genuinely unique, amazing.  

And after the rain drenches the earth, eventually the sun comes out to dry everything.  That sun coming from 93,000,000 million miles, the heat coming out of a core temperature of 27 million degrees.  Only about ½ billionth of the sun’s energy reaches the earth, and yet that’s enough to give us life.

That sun is more than a hundred times larger than the earth, but it’s merely a medium sized star.  And the closest star beyond the sun is 25 trillion miles away.  The most distant stars are more than a billion times farther than that.  

The sun in the Milky Way one of approximately 100 billion galaxies.  The next closest galaxy is 160 thousand light years away…

We could keep going with this glory:  Deep caves.  The lines of a sand dune.  Great arches.  The power in every atom.  Our brains that carry 100,000 miles of nerve fibers.  Go look at close-ups of insects flying.  

Glory!  Glory everywhere.  John Muir, the conservationist observed that nature was very much like a temple in that it carried great glory, “Every hidden cell is throbbing with music and life, every fiber thrilling like harp strings, while incense is ever flowing from the balsam bells and leaves.”

And we’ve just been talking about matter here, the works of God in creation.  We haven’t even started talking about the Triune Fellowship of God, God’s Being; or God’s providence, His ways of deep justice in interacting with every detail of the creation.  Or His glory in salvation!  

And yet, the psalmist tells us in v. 4, after you’ve explored all the wonders of God’s glory in the heavens and the earth, you haven’t seen anything.  The center and depths of God’s glory He’s set above the heavens, no eyes have seen.  In all that we know or could know now, we’re hardly scratching the surface of the depths of the glory of God.

You servants of the LORD, praise His transcendent name!  Praise Him in wonder, all while remembering that there are so many things about God that are still concealed; and if what we already can observe is glorious, how much more…?

In vv. 7-9 the psalmist continues talking about the greatness of God, but from an entirely different angle.  Before He exclaimed over God’s transcendence: that He is Other, separate in quality, in greatness! from everything that is not God.  His name is Holy.  

But now, praise Him for His name: He deals with and salvages and restores and raises up that which is low.  Like dust and ash heap low.

Dust and ashes.  You don’t come into a room with a cozy fireplace and immediately get on your knees and start piecing through the burnt ash.  Ash is…ignorable.  Dust is…below us.  

But the name of God – not something He indulges in every once in a while but rather this is His very self – is to take that which is low and forgotten about and petered out, and improve upon it.  But “improve” is much too weak of a work – to make it splendid, regal, joyous.  

This is what God does because this is Who God is.  His name is Savior.  Renew-er.  You servants of the LORD, notice and praise God for His inclination to uplift those who are sunk, burned-out, fading.

Someone says, well, I’m searching the records for instances of God raising out of the dust and making princes, but I haven’t found any.  

And the response is, that’s all there is to see!  Every human being tells this about the name of God – that God is a raiser out of the dust – because God formed humans out of the dust and raised him as prince above the rest of creation.  You remember your high school Hamlet, don’t you?

What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how
infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and
admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like
a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals—and yet,
to me, what is this quintessence of dust?

In creating man, God raises him out of the dust and makes him something regal.  

And in order to save man, God takes a Man, Jesus the Christ, a Representative Man, out of the dusty grave, and raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. (Ephesians 1:20, 21)

And now, for those of us who have received Jesus Christ in faith, we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself. (Philippians 3:20, 21)

In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul speaks of our current body as being perishable, dishonorable, weak.  And that’s because we come out of the first man, Adam.  “The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven.”   “As was the man of dust, so also are those who are of the dust…”

But by the Spirit of God we have been taken out of the line of the first man and placed into the second man, Jesus Christ.  “…and as is the man of heaven, so also are those who are of heaven.  Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven.”  (1 Corinthians 15:47-49).

In one of the great sermons in Christian history, C.S. Lewis reflects on the people we men of dust will become, through Jesus Christ, by the raising up of God:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship… There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.” 

So when we read these lines of our psalm, God raises from the dust, rather than thinking them as exaggeration or obscure examples, we should come to realize: The whole of history boils down to those lines in 7 & 8: from dust to glory.  

The closing portrait of this psalm leaves us with the once-barren woman now joyfully in the midst of a child-filled home.  That’s what God does because that’s who God is, that’s His name: He not only provides and solves problem, but He opens up the way to fruitfulness.  

The cunning serpent tempted the first woman by insinuating that God was not only a liar, but that He was a certain kind of liar: trying to deceive humanity from reaching their full potential.  Because God is a bully.  A stifler.  A cosmic kill-joy who reins in potential rather than letting it be fulfilled.  

And we after Eve have carried around this idea of a pale, oafish, mean-spirited God ever since.  

But how far this is from the truth!  God’s very name…all of His dealings with people, is to release them to everything they were made to be.  

The commands, the rhythms, the warnings, the protocols, the allowances of suffering: all of God’s ways with us are meant to bring us out from dishonor and weakness and scarcity and into flourishing.  Or as the Message paraphrases the words of Jesus:

Jesus told this simple story, but they had no idea what he was talking about. So he tried again. “I’ll be explicit, then. I am the Gate for the sheep. All those others are up to no good—sheep rustlers, every one of them. But the sheep didn’t listen to them. I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. – John 10:6-10

It is the nature of God to take away from isolation and unproductivity, and to bring to companionship and usefulness. 

Today, brothers and sisters, you servants of the LORD: we are again being summoned to praise the name of the LORD.  

  1. Open wide your eyes and ears and pay attention to the glory of God: 
    1. …in the creation.  Watch nature videos and make sure you chalk everything up to God.  See what there is to see, at night and during the day.  Get outside if possible and let the glory and grandeur hit you.
    1. …in history.  Become an amateur student of the past.  But not just to know facts but to figure out how God has moved in the affairs of men to advance His Kingdom.  In the hopes that men and women would “seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.”
    1. …in His Being.  Become someone who reads theology and tries to further his understanding about the Being of God.  Trinitarian God.  A God who exists of Himself, not contingent on any.  A God who hides Himself.  A God who makes Himself known.  Etc.  
    1. For Christmas, pick up some books and videos and microscopes and binoculars and apps that will help you attend to God’s glory.  
    1. Think about these things; talk about them too.
    1. But here’s the kicker: grow in your attentiveness to the glory of God all the while realizing that what You are seeing and learning about are only the scattered rays of God’s glory.  His greatness, as the psalmist says, is unsearchable.  He is Holy.  Other.  A lofty Being truly beyond our ken.  Isn’t that wonderful!?
  2. Just as much as you love and value the transcendence of God, learn to love and notice His tendency to deal with, to get His hands dirty with, all that is small and forgettable, even spiritually dead.  To revitalize that which is almost dying, to raise up that which has been stamped upon.  He changes for the better.  Sure, He has to stoop low to deal with us, but He does stoop low.  And not begrudgingly.  But out of Himself, His nature.  
    1. God raises out of the dust, and this applies to our prayers: take heart, brothers and sisters.  Our prayers are usually lacking in heart, in attention, in faith.  They are ALWAYS lacking in full knowledge and a true perspective.  But God takes our scattered mind and weak words and raises them out of the dust!  Courage!  Keep talking to God!
    1. In all His dealings with us, God must work in the dust.  Even our so-called best parts!  Face the fact that, in themselves, your talents and charms end up muddying the waters, leading yourselves and others astray, setting you up for failure.  But take heart, brothers and sisters: Jesus said, “apart from Me you can do nothing.”  He is a life-giving Spirit.  In Christ, God can take our fine points, which unexpectedly end up being dangerous to us, and raising it all up into something useful and life-giving.  He brings our talents and charms out of the dust and to their potential.  He makes us fountains of living water, giving life.  
    1. A friend of mine just told me that his son-in-law was getting laid off from his work.  I feel bad for that guy.  But not at all hopeless.  I’m full of hope.  Because God is who He is.  His name is to deal with those out of luck, out of money, out of connections, out of a job, and to raise them up, to improve them, to make this as part of His great glorification project.  Now this doesn’t change my actions toward this guy: I’m still going to feel sorry for him, feed him contacts, send him encouraging texts, if possible, give him money: but this is all done in hope, optimism.  

Brothers and sisters, get used to thinking of God as very great.  A dread sovereign.  Taunt yourself for your shallow thoughts about Him, for those times you act like you have him figured out.  Taunt yourself for your glib expressions about Him, your imagining Him confined to some religious box.  Your not realizing that He is a Tiger, a Lion, the One who rides the Thunderclouds, the Keeper of the Gates of Death and Hell.  

Brothers and sisters, at the same time, learn to collect and savor and celebrate those stories showing that our God is a Worker with dusty clothes and mud on His hands.  His works of salvaging and restoration are all over the place.  Hopefully you yourself are one of them. 

Praise, O (what is that “O” there for?) servants of the LORD!

Praise the name of the LORD! 

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