Before there was the Siddur, Israel had a prayer book. It’s the book of Psalms. In this divinely inspired prayer book, Psalms 113-118 focus on God’s saving power and are used during Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot and Chanukkah to praise Him for various aspects of His saving power. Since we use the Hallel Psalms a lot in our prayers, I thought I would focus our attention on them today.
Psalm 113 praises God for being so great, yet concerned about helping the lowliest human being! Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, you His servants; praise the name of the Lord. “The name of the Lord” means the Lord Himself. 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.
Praise the Lord! Hallelu-Yah! Praising the Lord is a command. To praise the Lord, we don’t say “Praise the Lord.” We praise the Lord by saying nice things about who Yah, the Lord, is and what He has done, is doing and will do.
Who needs to praise Him? Everyone, but particularly those who serve Him. Praise the Lord, you His servants.
When should those who serve the Lord declare truths about who God is and what He has done, is doing and will do? Let the name of the Lord be praised both now and forevermore. Because He is eternal, and He will give His servants eternal life, the Lord’s servants should praise Him now and forever!
Where should the Creator be praised? Everywhere on Earth. From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised. There is no place where our great God should not be extolled. If you are in a place where you can’t praise Him, maybe you shouldn’t be in that place.
Why should the Lord be lauded? Because He is greater than all of humanity and the entire universe The Lord is exalted over all the nations, His glory above the heavens. This supreme ruler is greater than everyone and everything in the universe. Like a man who has to bend over to look at a pebble at his feet, the Lord has to stoop down to look at the universe with its billions of galaxies and trillions of stars and planets. 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?
Why should the Lord be praised? Because He is so much greater than us, yet He knows us intimately, loves us and is concerned about us, and wants to help even the poorest and lowliest among us. 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. Shouldn’t the God who is so great, yet concerned about helping the lowliest human being, be praised? Yes. And so the psalm concludes with Hallelu-Yah! Praise the Lord!
Psalm 114 praises God for being so great that He can rescue a nation enslaved to the most powerful nation on earth, part a sea and a river and miraculously provide water from a rock for millions of people and their animals. When Israel came out of Egypt, Jacob from a people of foreign tongue, Judah became God’s sanctuary, Israel His dominion. God got very involved with the Chosen People during our exodus from Egypt. He got very close to us. He took control of us.
It shouldn’t surprise us that when the Creator got close to us, and took control over us, creation responded in unusual ways. The sea looked and fled, the Jordan turned back; the mountains leaped like rams, the hills like lambs. Why was it, sea, that you fled? Why, Jordan, did you turn back? Why, mountains, did you leap like rams, you hills, like lambs? The Red Sea parted before the people that God was close to. Mount Sinai was shaken when the presence of the Lord descended on it. The Jordan River parted before us. Don’t you want this same God close to you, ruling over you? Imagine what might happen to your Red Seas, to your Jordan Rivers!
The lesson to be learned: All of the inhabitants of this planet should treat the Creator with fear, reverence, respect. Tremble, Earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a pool, the hard rock into springs of water! Don’t you want this same Supreme Being, who was able to free a nation of slaves from their more powerful oppressors; part a sea and river; shake the mountains and miraculously meet the physical needs of millions of people – close to you, ruling over you, meeting your needs? If so, transfer your loyalties to Him and obey Him.
Psalm 115 praises God that salvation comes only from Him, the True God, the Living God, and not from the false gods of other religions. The Jewish people were being threatened by enemies. The people prayed that the Lord would save us, not only for our benefit, but because by saving us, He would be honored. Not to us, Lord, not to us but to Your name be the glory, because of Your love and faithfulness. By saving us from our enemies, His love and His faithfulness would be revealed to more human beings, and He would be honored. And the Creator being honored is such a good and right thing.
Our enemies might taunt us, claiming that our invisible God wasn’t real and couldn’t help us. After all, everyone knew that gods should be visible and tangible and made from the most precious materials. Why do the nations say, “Where is their God?” The God of Israel may be invisible to human beings, but that doesn’t mean He isn’t real. He is real and powerful and is in control of all things. Our God is in Heaven; He does whatever pleases Him – in His time, and in His way and to accomplish His purposes – so, it’s wise to make sure you are lined up with His purposes.
The reality is that it was the false gods of our enemies who were powerless. But their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but can’t speak, eyes, but can’t see. They have ears, but can’t hear, noses, but can’t smell. They have hands, but can’t feel, feet, but can’t walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats. It’s very important what you believe and what you don’t believe. Not all religious opinions are equally valid. Not all gods are the same. Baal is not the same as Adonai. One is the real Creator God. One isn’t. One saves human beings from Satan, sin and death and one doesn’t. And, since it’s a principle that we become like our God, if our god is cruel and capricious and foolish, we will become cruel and capricious and foolish. If our God is faithful and kind, we will become faithful and kind. If our God is real and lives forever, we will live forever. If our god is false and temporary, we will perish. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.
No matter who you are, don’t place your faith, your confidence your trust in anyone other than the true God. Don’t give your loyalty to anyone other than the living God, the God of Israel. All you Israelis, trust in the Lord – He is their help and shield. 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 Chosen Nation of Israel; and the priests within Israel, who brought Israel closer to God, and brought God closer to Israel; and the Gentiles who have come to know Israel’s God, should give their loyalty to Adonai and no other god. If they do, He will remember them, help them, protect them, do good things for them – those who are considered the least important to those we consider the most important. The Lord remembers us and will bless us: He will bless His people Israel, He will bless the house of Aaron, He will bless those who fear the Lord – small and great alike.
And, the One who created the universe, who has so much wisdom and power and love for those who are loyal to Him, will not only remember those who are loyal to Him, and treat them in a special way, and help them, and protect them, and do good things for them, but He is inclined to extend those blessings to their children. May the Lord cause you to flourish, both you and your children. May you be blessed by the Lord, the Maker of heaven and Earth. God is in control of the universe and rules over it according to His will. But, He allows human beings to govern this planet. The highest heavens belong to the Lord, but the Earth He has given to mankind. So, let’s use the free will the Lord has given us to rule this planet, not to defy Him; not serve false gods, false religions, false philosophies and ideologies; not to advance the demonic/human alliance/ rebellion against Him, but rather to honor Him and follow His wise principles. Amen?
Israel may have enemies intent on destroying us and suppressing our religion, but if the Lord saves us from them, and we are alive, let’s say nice things about Him, and about what He has done, is doing and will do. It is not the dead who praise the Lord, those who go down to the place of silence; it is we who extol the Lord, both now and forevermore. Prior to the coming of the Messiah, the dead, both the righteous and the wicked, went to Sheol when they died, which is characterized as a place of silence. The good news is that those who are loyal to the true God, no matter if they die, will live again and praise Him and serve Him forever! That’s a God worth praising. And so the psalm concludes: Hallelu-Yah! Praise the Lord!
Psalm 116 praises God because He is able to save us from the most desperate circumstances. We live in a very dangerous world. It’s a tremendous thing to have a Powerful Ally we can go to for help in times of crisis. I love the Lord, for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy. Because He turned His ear to me, I will call on Him as long as I live. It’s proper, right, appropriate, expected to give our affections and devotion to a God who hears and answers our requests for help.
In a fallen world, some dangers may be life-threatening. We may need divine help to escape from those dangers. The cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Lord: “Lord, save me!” And, often the Lord will graciously respond to our requests for help and we can once again be at peace. The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. The Lord protects the unwary; when I was brought low, He saved me. Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you. For You, Lord, have delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living.
When you are under attack and in danger, it’s better to trust the Lord and remain faithful to Him than to panic. I trusted in the Lord when I said, “I am greatly afflicted”; in my alarm I said, “Everyone is a liar.”
When God helps you, tell others about this God who saves. Serve Him and worship Him unashamedly. What shall I return to the Lord for all His goodness to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation (the drink offering of wine that accompanied sacrifices or a cup of wine lifted up to thank God for His help) and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people.
The Lord is able to save us from the most desperate circumstances. But, He doesn’t always do that. In spite of our prayers, saints are often taken from us. If God doesn’t save someone, it doesn’t mean that He doesn’t care or that their life doesn’t matter to Him. Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His faithful servants. God does care and the lives of those who serve Him are precious to Him – in life and in death and beyond death.
Again, if the Lord does help one of His sons or daughters, we should thank Him, worship Him, serve Him passionately, unashamedly, boldly. Truly I am your servant, Lord; I serve You just as my mother did; You have freed me from my chains. I will sacrifice a thank offering to You and call on the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the house of the Lord – in your midst, Jerusalem. A God who loves us and is committed to helping us faces life’s dangers and will help us in our time of death is worthy of our praise, isn’t He? And so the Psalm concludes with: Hallelu-Yah! Praise the Lord!
Psalm 117 praises God that salvation was designed to flow from the Chosen People to the other nations of the world. Praise the Lord, all you nations; extol Him, all you peoples! Why should Israel and the nations say nice things about God? Because He loves humanity a lot and His reliable, faithful way of treating us will last forever. For great is His love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. And all those, Jews and Gentiles, who return His love and who are faithful to Him will enjoy His love and faithfulness – forever. And a day is coming when the whole world will turn from their false religions and philosophies and laud the true God. Hallelu-Yah! Praise the Lord!
Psalm 118 praises God for the ultimate salvation that comes to us through the Messiah, who is the Lord who has become our Yeshua, our Salvation; the Messiah, who is the right hand of God; the Messiah, who is the gate that opens to righteousness; the Messiah, who is the stone the builders rejected; the Messiah, who comes in the name of the Lord!
The Jewish people, and the priests who were the mediators between God and Israel, and all God-fearers everywhere, no matter their national identity, should thank God because He is good and He loves us now and forever. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever. Let Israel say: “His love endures forever.” Let the house of Aaron say: “His love endures forever.” Let those who fear the Lord say: “His love endures forever.” The eternal God is eternal and will eternally love those human beings who respond to His love.
God expresses His love and goodness by getting us out of trouble. When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; He brought me into a spacious place. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? The Lord is with me; He is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies. Humans, even the most capable, aren’t reliable. They may ignore you, hurt you, let you down, betray you. Not God! It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. So, go with God, not people. Go with God, not the powerful. Go with God, not the majority. With God’s help you can overcome the most powerful forces that attack you. All the nations surrounded me, but in the name of the Lord I cut them down. They surrounded me on every side, but in the name of the Lord I cut them down. They swarmed around me like bees, but they were consumed as quickly as burning thorns; in the name of the Lord I cut them down. I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me.
Being in a right relationship with God, getting close to Him and staying close to Him enables Him to act powerfully for us. The Lord is my strength and my defense; He has become my Yeshua – my salvation – a hint of God giving us ultimate Yeshua, help, by becoming incarnate in Yeshua, Jesus. Again, being right with God and doing the right things unleashes the power of God to help us and brings us happiness and success. Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents of the righteous: “The Lord’s right hand has done mighty things! The Lord’s right hand is lifted high; the Lord’s right hand has done mighty things!” The right hand is the hand of greater strength. The Lord’s right hand is a way of describing His powerful activity. Yeshua is at the right hand of God. Yeshua is the right hand of God. God the Father uses Messiah the Son to accomplish His powerful works of creation, salvation and rulership.
The divinely-inspired poet knows that although he may suffer, he will survive. I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done. The Lord has chastened me severely, but He has not given me over to death.
He prays that God would enable him to go though gates, perhaps the temple gates, so that he will be able to get closer to God who manifests His presence at the temple and gives victory to those who are in a right relationship with Him. Open for me the gates of the righteous; I will enter and give thanks to the Lord. This is the gate of the Lord through which the righteous may enter.
God heard and answered the prayers for help from this righteous man, and so he thanks Him. I will give You thanks, for You answered me.
God helps the righteous, brings them salvation, and through the Incarnation, literally becomes our ultimate salvation, our Yeshua, our Jesus! You have become my Yeshua – my salvation!
God uses a stone that was rejected to bring salvation and stability to us. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvelous in our eyes. The Lord has done it this very day; let us rejoice today and be glad. Israel may be the stone rejected by hostile nations. The king of Israel might be the stone rejected by others. Regardless, God will make sure that the nation of Israel and the nation’s king will accomplish His purposes.
And ultimately, Messiah, who represents Israel and who is Israel’s perfect King, is the stone, rejected by the majority of Israel. But God overrules that rejection, and makes Messiah the cornerstone of a new and perfect and eternal universe!
Success comes from the Lord, especially ultimate help, final victory, ultimate success. Lord, save us! Lord, grant us success!
While others might reject those whom God has chosen, the Jewish people gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate welcome the one God has chosen to lead us. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. From the house of the Lord we bless you. The fulfillment of this is the ultimate leader that God sent to rule us and help us – the greatest Son of David, Messiah Yeshua, who perfectly represents God. We must welcome Him, bless Him if we are to be saved and have success.
There is only one God – Adonai, the Lord. And He has revealed Himself in this dark world, and shone His light on the Chosen People – giving us His truth, His wisdom, the way of victory and success and happiness and life. The Lord is God, and He has made His light shine on us.
This great God who is able to help us in life’s circumstances, and ultimately and eternally saves us through the Messiah, should be worshiped during the wonderful holidays He has given us. With boughs in hand, join in the holiday procession up to the horns of the altar.
And this good and loving and eternal God should be praised by each individual who comes to know Him as “my God”. You are my God, and I will praise You; You are my God, and I will exalt You. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever! Amen? Amen!
I love these psalms! Thank God for the Hallel, Psalms 113-118, which He has given us to enrich our understanding and to praise Him for various aspects of His great saving power!