Today’s Chocolate: Green & Black’s Organic 85% Dark Cacao
Today’s Passage: Psalm 113
Once upon a time, a psalmist made a bet to see how many different ways he could say “Praise the name of the Lord.” He lost the bet, though, because he gave up halfway through, and that’s how we got Psalm 113. No, not really, but I have to write an introduction somehow.
In all seriousness, though, the first half of this psalm is pure call to worship: repeated exhortations to praise God’s name. It begins with the same line as Psalms 111 and 112: “Praise the Lord!” (113:1), or in the original Hebrew: “Hallelujah!” God’s name, YHWH, is all over the opening of this psalm, appearing three times in the first verse and once each in the next three. Out of a desire not to take God’s name in vain, the ancient Jews eventually developed a practice of substituting Adonai (“Lord”) for YHWH. I’m speculating here, but it seems likely to me that this psalm was written before that practice was widely adopted–can you imagine writing a song encouraging your people to sing about how great someone’s name is, then not use the name itself? But again, there are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding the psalms, and I’m only scratching the surface.
It’s also noteworthy that when the psalmist says, “O servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord” (113:1), the word “servants” is ebed, the word we looked at yesterday in the context of Proverbs 22:7: “The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower becomes the lender’s slave.” There’s no question in the psalmist’s mind that the Lord is worth serving, but why is that?
The psalmist gives his reason in the second half of the psalm: it’s that God is kind. “Who is like the Lord our God?” (113:5) he asks. Despite being enthroned in the highest place possible, God humbles himself to see the plight of humans on earth. “He raises the poor from the dust…to make them sit with princes” (113:7-8), he tells us. Is he thinking of the late King Saul’s crippled grandson, Mephibosheth, whom David not only spared but offered a place of favor at his table for every meal? Perhaps. David certainly fit the mold of the man who fears the Lord from yesterday’s psalm, especially the verse “He has given freely to the poor” (112:9). But again, I speculate. For all I know, this psalm may have been written by David himself, or it may predate David’s reign entirely.
In the same vein, the verse “He makes the barren woman abide in the house as a joyful mother of children” (113:9) brings to mind several women from Israel’s history. There’s Abraham’s wife Sarah, childless at 90, yet the mother of generations of God’s chosen people, just as God promised her. There’s also Hannah, whose womb God “closed” (I Sam. 1:5-6), but who becomes the mother of one of Israel’s major prophets, Samuel. And it occurs to me: while God most often raises up the poor from their impoverished situation by motivating others to show compassion to them, for most of human history we’ve had no say whatsoever in who has children and who doesn’t. If a barren woman in ancient Israel becomes a mother, it’s nothing she could have done for herself or received as a favor from any other human being.