Who is like God? What is God like? Have you ever asked yourself that question? It is a good question. The trouble is that it is unanswerable, because there is nothing God can be compared to. He is in a category of his own, unique. Therefore, the only way we have to talk about him—and it is always inadequate—is by analogy. We can say that he is like a loving father, or that he is like a great king. Or again, still less directly to the point, we can report what he has done. We say that God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. God is our Savior through the work of Jesus Christ.
Psalm 113 does both of these things. That is, it describes God by analogy, and it tells what he has done. Yet all the while it knows that God can never be adequately described. It asks, “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 (vv. 5, 6)? The answer clearly is no one. No one and no thing is really like God.
Psalm 113 is the first of six psalms (Psalms 113-118) commonly sung by Jews at the time of the Passover, called the Egyptian Hallel. Hallel means “praise.” These psalms were sung at the three great feasts, at the Feast of Dedication and at the feasts of the new moons, and by families at the yearly observance of the Passover. At the Passover, two were sung before the meal and four afterward. Since this custom goes back a long way, we can assume that these were the psalms sung by Jesus and his disciples in the Upper Room before our Lord’s arrest and crucifixion (Matt. 26:30; Mark 14:26).
Why are they called the Egyptian Hallel? It is because the second in the series begins with the Exodus from Egypt. True, it is the only psalm of the six that does. But, as Derek Kidner remarks, although
“only the second…(114) speaks directly of the Exodus,… the theme of raising the downtrodden (113) and the note of corporate praise (115), personal thanksgiving (116), world vision (117) and festal procession (118) make it an appropriate series to mark the salvation which began in Egypt and will spread to the nations.”
A number of hymns have been based on Psalm 113 or parts of it. The best known is by Frederick W. Faber (1848) beginning:
My God, how wonderful thou art,Thy majesty how bright!How beautiful thy mercy seat,In depths of burning light.
This psalm has been a blessing to the true people of God, both Jew and Gentile, through the centuries from the time of its composition.
1Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975), p. 401.