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Psalm 113

Praise the high yet humble God

The rich and powerful domesticate religion, making it an opiate to control the masses. But Israel’s God will have none of it! He sides always with society’s outcasts and most vulnerable against their oppressors.

Praise Yahveh!
You who serve Yahveh
praise Yahveh for all he’s shown himself to be.
2 May Yahveh’s good name
be blessed both now and forever.
3 Yahveh’s name is to be praised
everywhere on earth.
4 Yahveh reigns supreme over all the nations
his glory transcending the heavens.

5 Who could compare with Yahveh our God?
He’s enthroned so high
6 and yet he stoops down
to attend to the lowly heavens and earth.
7 He raises the poor up from the dirt
and lifts the wretched from the garbage dump
8 seating them with the best and brightest
the most influential among his people.
9 And the woman grieving in a childless home
he makes the happy mother of children.[1]

Jews still use this psalm in celebrating Passover, when God rescued Israel from slavery. Beginning a series of five praise psalms, it calls Yahveh’s servants to praise him for earning a reputation in all his dealings with Israel like no one else. By calling for universal praise, the psalm is both missionary and polemical, implying that no other power has a prior claim on us.

Everyone in the surrounding nations thought exaltation equaled the extreme arrogance and aloofness characteristic of their gods. By contrast, though Yahveh is the highest of the high, yet he cares enough for the lowest of the low—implicitly, the enslaved Israelites and their descendants—to bend down and pick them up out of the gutter. In a world that valued wealth and children above all else, garbage pickers and childless women were badly shunned and overlooked. But not by Yahveh!

Combining such extremes of exalted majesty and humble condescension in one person was no less shocking in ancient times than it is today. And Yahveh doesn’t just extract the outcast from their mess. He creates astonishing new possibilities for them. He empowers the weak and completely reverses their fortunes, underscoring the fact that he’s like no rival god and deserves everyone’s praise everywhere on earth, both now and always.

Jesus, your disciples sang this song the night you washed their feet and then wept alone in dark Gethsemane. They didn’t know they sang of you. Exalted beyond all our imagining, you laid aside your glory and came down to lift us up. I worship you, Jesus. Who can compare with you? Amen.

In your free moments today, meditate on these words:

He’s enthroned so high, and yet he stoops down
to attend to the lowly heavens and earth.


[1] The Hebrew text ends with “Praise Yahveh,” but it seems more likely that that call to praise belongs at the start of Ps. 114 instead. For more on this, see the note at Ps. 114:1.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.