PASSOVER PRAISE Psalms 113–118
“The Lord remembers us and will bless us; He will bless the house of Israel, He will bless the house of Aaron, He will bless those who fear the Lord—small and great alike” (Ps. 115:12–13).This cycle of six psalms, known as the “Egyptian Hallel” (praise), was used at Passover. While only one psalm mentions Egypt, the theme of each fits the season during which Israel celebrated redemption from a condition of slavery.
Israel celebrated the Passover season with this cycle of six psalms. They affirmed God for raising up the oppressed (Ps. 113) and for deliverance from Egypt (Ps. 114). They offered the praise of the community (Ps. 115), the individual (Ps. 116), and all nations (Ps. 117). The cycle concluded with an exultant shout of praise that looked forward to Messiah (Ps. 118).
Understanding the Text
Psalm 113: Raising the Poor. God is praised for stooping to lift the needy from the ash heap and seating them with princes. “Praise the Lord” Ps. 113:1–3. Passover was truly a season of praise. Israel recalled all God had done for His people as each Jewish family reenacted the supper held the night death struck Egypt and passed by the blood-marked homes of God’s own. At last Pharaoh acknowledged his sin, and released his slaves. Passover thus was a festival of freedom, a joyous celebration of God’s salvation. No wonder this psalm begins, “Praise the Lord!” and called on Israel to praise Him “now and forevermore.” “Who is like the Lord our God?” Ps. 113:4–9 No wonder God is praised. The God of Israel, who is exalted over all nations and whose glory is above the heavens, stooped down to “lift the needy from the ash heap” and seat “them with princes.” We Christians too have a passover to celebrate. God in Christ became a man, and humbled Himself to accept death, that we whom faith marks with His blood might be lifted up beyond princes, to stand before the very throne of God. Praise Him indeed! Psalm 114: Out of Egypt. The very earth trembled as God’s strong hand brought Israel out of slavery to freedom. The verses of this psalm allude to God’s historic acts of parting the Red Sea and Jordan River (v. 3), causing Sinai to quake (v. 4), and water to spring out of solid rock (v. 8). God’s love motivated redemption; His power accomplished it. Then, as now, all His people could do was to watch in wonder as God did it all. And offer Him praise. Psalm 115: Israel’s Praise. This psalm is a hymn sung by the whole community, rejoicing in its solidarity as a people of the Lord. “To Your name be the glory” Ps. 113:1–9. Passover recalls events which set the God of Israel apart from the deities of all nations. Pagans scoff because God cannot be seen, yet their idols of silver and gold are inanimate lumps. Grasping the vast difference between God and all the gods, the people of God cry out together: O house of Israel, trust in the Lord— He is their help and shield. O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord— He is their help and shield. You who fear Him, trust in the Lord— He is their help and shield. “The Lord remembers us and will bless us” Ps. 115:12–18. Together the people of God affirmed that God will bless (vv. 12–13), and wish one another His blessing (vv. 14–15). Together they “extol the Lord, both now and forevermore.” Perhaps the thing we need to learn from this psalm is the benefit, the vital importance, of corporate worship. The whole psalm reveals a worshiping community that by its worship encourages all to trust God more deeply. We need the mutual support shared worship offers. We need the reminder that we are part of a vast company who know God, who have experienced His blessing, and who are confident that God will continue to bless. No wonder the New Testament says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:25). Psalm 116: Personal Thanksgiving. Passover did not only commemorate the deliverance of the nation. It spoke of salvation of individuals as well. The true believer was sensitive to the personal nature of salvation, and cried out his thanks that “when I was in great need, He saved me!”“I love the Lord” Ps. 116:1–7. The believer of every age has had a deep sense of need, and an awareness that God has somehow acted to meet that need. Faith that “the Lord is gracious and righteous, our God is full of compassion” has been expressed by calling on the name of the Lord, saying, “O Lord, save me!” And in every age, that cry has brought the soul rest. It’s no wonder that we love the Lord. We have felt His presence in our darkest hour, and know Him not simply as the Great Architect of the universe, or as uncaused cause, but our own gracious and loving Lord. “How can I repay the Lord for all His goodness?” Ps. 116:8–19 When I tried to witness to other sailors after my conversion in the Navy, they were puzzled. How could salvation be free? After all, what beside fear of punishment could keep a person from doing whatever wrong he or she wanted to do? The psalmist knew what every believer understands intuitively. God has delivered us from death, and His salvation has awakened love. All we ask, all we want to know, is how can we even begin to repay Him for His goodness. This psalm says simply that we choose to be the slave of the One who has released us from slavery. We want only to serve the One who has served us. Our gratitude wells up, and with our life as well as our lips, we cry out, “Praise the Lord.” Psalm 117: God as Saviour: Passover is prophetic for all peoples, for it reveals a saving God. Here the psalmist celebrates a truth of which the prophets often spoke. God is the Saviour not only of Israel, but of the world. In Christ the vision of this psalm has been fulfilled. All the nations, all peoples, praise and extol the Lord for the salvation Jesus has won.
This Is the Day!(Ps. 118)
Look back to see ahead. Turn to yesterday to see tomorrow. It’s almost a paradox. But it’s true. When Israel looked back each Passover season at the redemption won for them from Egypt, they were in fact looking ahead, and viewing the ministry of the Messiah. What will His coming mean? A shout of praise, that “His love endures forever” (vv. 2–4). Freedom found by taking refuge in the Lord (vv. 5–9). A fresh awareness of our desperate need, relieved by the fact that the Lord “has become my salvation” (vv. 10–14). Shouts of joy punctuating the realization that “I will not die but live” (vv. 15–18). Endless praise, as we enter the gates of heaven to give God thanks for our salvation (vv. 19–21). And in it all, the exaltation of Jesus who, rejected by the builders, became the cornerstone of God’s plan of salvation (vv. 22–23). Then comes the stunning realization that “this is the day that the Lord has made”—a day that spills over into eternity; a never-ending day throughout which we will give God thanks, exalting Him for He is “my God” and because “He is good; His love endures forever.” Today when you and I turn to look back, we see our tomorrow in the cross of Jesus, our Passover sacrifice. In the shadow of Calvary we sense the dawn of the day that the Lord has ordained for you and me. When we turn again after looking back at the cross, and look ahead, we can see just beyond the horizon of tomorrow the return of Christ. What will that return mean? How clearly this majestic psalm tells us. For you and for me, Christ’s return will mean freedom, shouts of joy, and endless days of praise.
When you look back to the cross, look intently until you see tomorrow.