Purposeful Praise

Everyone enjoys receiving praise. In general it denotes respect, appreciation, and admiration. In learning it indicates satisfaction, competency, and progress. Praise can motivate us toward reaching new heights while justifying the effort made to that point. People have so valued praise that they began treating it as a means of building self-esteem, even to the point of offering praise for meaningless non-accomplishments and failed attempts. Sadly, this latter practice divorces praise from worth, acting as if the words themselves hold the power instead of realizing that the power of praise lies in the truth of the statement, the sincerity of the speaker, and the relationship between those involved. And while many might recognize the folly of empty praise lauded on children for spelling cat with a k, and though many might reject vain offerings of adulation heaped upon them undeservingly, Christians sometimes fail to reflect deeply on the meaning and purpose of praise when they bow before Almighty God. 

The writer of Psalm 113 had no such difficulty. For him, praising the LORD came naturally from a consideration of the distinctiveness of His being, the grandeur of His sovereignty, and the blessings of His covenant. He opened with what might seem generic praise and yet proves to be far from it: “Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD, Praise the name of the LORD!” (Psa. 113:1). This is personal praise—praise offered to the One who revealed Himself as Yahweh to Israel, praise given by servants who humbly bow in reverence and devotion, ready to do His will, and praise rooted in the personal relationship the covenant He established made possible. As He explained to the Israelites while they still suffered in Egypt, “I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name LORD I was not known to them” (Ex. 6:3). The covenant created a special relationship, and that relationship elicited personal praise. But this praise did not usher forth lightly, casually, or routinely. The closeness of the relationship proved all the more amazing when considering the great majesty of the LORD. Eternal, omnipresent, and sovereign—no small sampling of appreciation could do. The praise must match the One praised, and for the LORD that requires a recognition of His transcendent spirit, submission to His sovereignty, and a heart giving its all (Psa. 113:2-4). Then, having reached up to touch the hem of divine majesty, the psalm takes an unexpected turn that distinguishes Jehovah from the pagan claimants to the throne of deity in the form of a rhetorical question: “Who is like the Lord our God, Who dwells on high, Who humbles Himself to behold The things that are in the heavens and in the earth?” (Psa. 113:5-6). He is indeed unique. And His interaction and attention to man proves just how different He truly is. The glory of the LORD is visible not in His aloofness towards mankind but rather in His loving interest in every man. Nothing escapes his notice, and nothing is beneath His interest. This description defies not only the gods of mythology and paganism but also the pretensions of Gnosticism and Deism. Through divine providence, the LORD reaches down from the heights of heaven to lift up the lowly upon the earth. He lifts the poor out of their poverty and the needy out of their necessity (Psa. 113:7). He lifts up leaders from among the humble and gives recognition to the unknown (Psa. 113:8). He grants children to the barren and builds a nation for the ages (Psa. 113:9). There is nothing the LORD cannot do. 

These were no mere boasts. This praise reflected Israel’s history. The nation, as promised, sprang forth from the womb of Sarah. Their first two kings rose to prominence from obscurity. Then the LORD’s kindness renewed and from the poverty of captivity provided the means for rebuilding the temple, Jerusalem, and the nation. However, one final thought makes this praise all the more significant. The psalmist quotes from Hannah, who would bare a son given to the LORD. But more than that, this psalm anticipates Mary, who would sing a song of praise that not only celebrated a birth made possible by the LORD but also signified just how much He would be willing to humble Himself on behalf of mankind (Phil. 2:5-8). Praise the LORD!

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