Messiah, the Condescension of God Transcendent

a brief study of Psalm 113, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 4 Nov 2010


Psalm 113 begins a section of the Psalter known as the “Egyptian Hallel” to the Jews. This section comprises Psalms 113-118. The Jewish scholar Alfred Edersheim suggests that it is called ‘Egyptian’ because it particularly celebrates “the goodness of God towards Israel, but especially their deliverance from Egypt.”[1] Edersheim points out that the first verse of Psalm 113 hints at this theme as it reminds the LORD’s people to praise Him seeing they are no longer Pharaoh’s slaves, but the LORD’s servants.

Now, the Egyptian Hallel as a group was regularly used by the Jews during their Passover Observance. They were sung when the Passover lamb was sacrificed; and they were sung when the each family or pascal company ate the Passover meal together. So few commentators would disagree that the hymns which our Lord sang with His disciples at the Passover He observed with them (Mt 26:30; 14:26) would be from the Egypt Hallel.

Psalm 113, in other words, would be one of the Psalms, which our Lord used on the occasion when He instituted the Lord’s Supper. It is therefore an appropriate Psalm for our meditation whenever we prepare to go to the Lord’s Table.

We may entitle it: “Messiah, the Condescension of God Transcendent.” The word ‘Messiah’ is not mentioned in this Psalm, but if you meditate carefully on the contents of this Psalm, you will realise that it paints for us a picture of the condescension of God towards His people, which is really the basis of the Messiah and His work. Which, is also why this Psalm is a paschal psalm by which God’s people are encouraged to turn their eyes to the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world.

This Psalm has two parts. The first part, verse 1-3 is a Call to Praise. The second part, verse 4-9 contains the Cause to Praise.


1. The Call to Praise

1 Praise ye the LORD. Praise, O ye servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD.

Like the previous 2 Psalms, Psalm 113 begins with the word ‘halleluyah’, ‘Praise ye the LORD.’ In fact, it also ends with the word ‘halleluyah.’ So this clearly is a Psalm of praise. We must praise the Lord in all circumstances. We must praise Him especially when we think of His work of redemption in Christ.

So notice how, the call to praise is repeated twice in verse 1. There is a threefold praise: hallelujah, hallelu, hallelu.

Who are to praise Him? The servants of the LORD must praise Him gratefully as Israel of Old were slaves of Pharaoh and called to praise their Redeemer; so we were slaves of Satan, and therefore we must praise the LORD for our redemption so rich and free. We must call out to one another to join us to praise the LORD.

When must we praise Him? Where will He be praised? We must praise Him now and forever more. We must praise Him everywhere, wherever we are in the world:

2 Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time forth and for evermore. 3 From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same the LORD’S name is to be praised.

The phrase “From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same” refers to the place and not to the time. Of course God’s name is to be praised from sunrise to sunset. But our text is emphasising on how He is to be praised from East to West on the earth. That is to say, the Lord is to be praised by every nation and people in the world wherever we may be.

But why? Why are we to praise the LORD?


2. The Cause to Praise

Why must we praise the LORD? Well, we must praise the LORD for who He is and what He has done and is doing. And our reason for praise must be right reasons, otherwise our praise becomes an insult. A very sincere professing believer may praise God for loving the whole world and therefore refusing to punish anyone for sin. But such a praise is an insult. It would be like going up to a man, saying to him: “you look very pretty.”

So let’s make sure we praise God for the right reasons. Our text gives us excellent reasons for praise.

In the first place, we must praise the LORD because He is transcendent, and yet immanent. He is holy and utterly outside creation. And yet, He condescends to take interest in creation.

4 The LORD is high above all nations, and His glory above the heavens. 5 Who is like unto the LORD our God, who dwelleth on high, 6 Who humbleth Himself to behold the things that are in heaven, and in the earth!

There is, of course, no other gods who is transcendent, but the LORD, the Creator.

What does it mean to be transcendent? To be transcendent is to be above and apart from creation. If someone goes to space and come back and tell you: “I have been to the heavens, and I did not see God, so there is no God!”[1] How would you answer? Well, our text gives us the answer: You have not gone high enough! God’s glory is above the heavens. The heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him because He is not part of creation (cf. 1Kgs 8:27 etc).

But marvel of marvels, this same transcendent God has not only created the World, but has a special concern for all things in the world.

God created the heaven and earth, really for the sake of His elect. In His eternal counsel, His plan is that a body of redeemed sinners should enjoy eternal communion with Him through His Son. But for this purpose, heaven and earth must be created. And not only created but watched over and superintended with special interest. God who dwelleth on high, is humbling Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and in the earth!

Indeed, He is not only standing by as an observer, but has as it were, entered into Creation to accomplish His ultimate purpose. How did He do so, but by the Emmanuel, who is God with us?

Christ the Eternal Son of God took on human flesh in order that God might have compassion upon us, and that we may know His love and compassion.

Through Christ, God blesses His people. In particular, He lifts up the poor out of the depth of misery.

This is the second reason why we should praise Him:

7 He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill; 8 That He may set him with princes, even with the princes of His people.

God is always concerned for the poor and miserable. He takes care of them. He feeds the birds of the air and clothes the grass of the field. But God is especially concerned for the poverty and misery of His people.

We were poor, wretched, miserable sinners. But God sent His Son that through Him the gospel might be preached to the poor (Mt 11:5). “For” as Paul puts it, “ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich” (2Cor 8:9).

Indeed, we are not only made rich but He “raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6); and have made “us kings and priests unto God and His Father” (Rv 1:6; cf. Rev 5:10).

For Christ’s sake our poverty has been turned to riches; and our lowliness has been turned to exaltation.

And not only so, but thirdly, the Lord has healed us of our barrenness and make us fruitful unto Him both individually and corporately. This thought is expressed in our final verse:

9 He maketh the barren woman to keep house, and to be a joyful mother of children. Praise ye the LORD.

Immediately, when we read this, we are reminded of Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Manoah’s wife, Hannah and Elizabeth. The Lord opened their wombs and gave them a child each. But let us remember that, these instances are actually illustrative of what the LORD does for His people as a whole. They are not to be taken as normative so that we begin to think of those who have no children as being not blessed of the Lord. No, no; the promise is that the LORD will heal our barrenness or fruitlessness through Christ.

Look at Isaiah 54:1—

Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith the LORD.

Is it not likely that Isaiah had Psalm 113 in mind when he wrote these words? And what is the context of these words? What is the previous chapter about? Yes! It is about the substitutionary atonement of Christ on behalf of His people. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter (v. 7). “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (v. 6a). “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with his stripes we are healed” (v. 5). “The LORD hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (v. 6b).


Conclusion

Can you see, beloved brethren and children, how this Psalm is about God’s condensation and redemption in Christ? Can you see how God cares for us so much that to lift us up of poverty and misery and barrenness, He condescended not only to look down from heaven but to send His Son?

Christ died for us that the promise of this Psalm might be fulfilled. Christ died for us that we do not need to remain in misery and barrenness.

As we prepare to go to the Table of the Lord, let us once again stir our hearts to praise the LORD for what He has done for us. And let us think of how greatly Christ our Lord suffered for us in order that we might truly enjoy the life that is free and abundant today and forever more. Amen. Ω



[1] Often erroneously attributed to Yuri Gagarin. But there is no evidence that he said those words. He was a Russian Orthodox Christian. It was probably spoken by an anti-religious Soviet politician, Nikita Khrushchev.


[1] The Temple: Its Ministry and Services, chap 11