Psalm 113 — The greatness of God is made greater in his humble generosity

Reading Psalm 113 surprised me. There seemed to be an abrupt shift from its beginning — where it talks about the magnificence of God — and its end.

Here’s the psalm in its entirety:

1 Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord, you his servants;
    praise the name of the Lord.
Let the name of the Lord be praised,
    both now and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
    the name of the Lord is to be praised.

The Lord is exalted over all the nations,
    his glory above the heavens.
Who is like the Lord our God,
    the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look
    on the heavens and the earth?

He raises the poor from the dust
    and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes,
    with the princes of his people.
He settles the childless woman in her home
    as a happy mother of children.

Praise the Lord.

It begins and ends with the same Hallelujah burst — “Praise the Lord!” And the first six verses follow form. If anyone is worthy of praise, it’s our God. He is above all nations. In fact, he is above the heavens themselves. He is the great King. In every place where we see the sun rises and sets, our God’s name should be lifted up and loved.

But then we get the shift.

In verse 6, we see the Magnificent One bend down and look at the heavens and the earth, the work of his hand. But for one so lofty, what we see him doing in verses 7-9 is shocking.

Does the Mighty One rub shoulders with the mighty among us? Does the Great King only spend time with our kings? Does the Maker of stars share his luminescence only with our superstars? Does the Celebrated One attend only to our celebrities?

Our Lord only attends to two kinds of people in this psalm. Obviously, this is not a complete list of those our God cares for. But the psalmist is making a point.

The poorest of the poor get God’s attention first. The unwashed. The dirt poor. Those who dwell on the edges of the garbage dump. Those who have fallen to the most low place of humanity. These are the ones who get God’s attention. And what does he do?

The Most High lifts them up. The Exalted One exalts them.

What is strikingly missing when compared with the way we humans tend to do anything similar is any form of judgment. The Lord just helps. There is no explanation why. There is no guess at how he feels about this. There is no knowing look that communicates, “I’m helping you out this time, but it’s your fault that you got into this predicament and I don’t intend to keep doing this if you keep doing that.” There is just action.

And that action is all God-initiated. We see elsewhere in the Scriptures that the poor and needy and vulnerable cry out to God in our distress and he answers. But here, all we see if God on the move, God lifting up those who have fallen into the dust.

This action is also God-inconveniencing. Well, he doesn’t seem to take it as an inconvenience, but we do see him bending down. Without acting condescending, he descends to be with us in order to take us in his arms and lift us up.

And where he lifts the lowest is to the place of the highest. There we are seated, presumably on thrones (since we are seated with princes) or at least at table.

The King has made us kingly.

And then there is the second and final action of God in this psalm: He fills the womb of the barren woman with children.

This may seem like a painful mockery for the childless couple who have prayed for years and have never conceived. As hard as this may be now, our modern struggles with infertility bring a fraction of the pain they brought to the generations of ancient Hebrew hearers of this psalm. The Scriptures are filled with stories of infertility. The woe of Hannah in 1 Samuel 1 is palpable.

It seems to be God’s joy to bring fertility to barren wombs, barren lands, barren souls.

Only when we know ourselves to be truly empty do we really come to the Source and ask to be filled. Only when we know ourselves to be truly broken, do we come to the Healer to be made whole.

How he does this, I don’t know? Does he always fill the wombs of all woman who long for children? I’m afraid not, and I wish I had an easy answer for why he doesn’t. He does with some. What I do know is that with others, he widens their view of family and they adopt others into their hearts if not into their homes.

In both images — the lowly lifted to the table with the princely and the barren being given a family — we see the Church as it ought to be. All at the table together and all become one wild and wonderful family.

Prayer: Glorious God, I am amazing by your majesty and by your humility. To have the two so fully expressed at the same time is so rare and so beautiful. You use your wealth to make us poor ones to be rich. You use your strength to make us weak ones to be strong. You use your wisdom to make us foolish ones to be wise. You are praiseworthy in your glory. And somehow you are even more praiseworthy in your humble generosity. Make us to be like you, humbly generous with all the good things you have graced us. Through Jesus our Lord, who has shown us this majestic humility so well. Amen.

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