A little over a decade ago, Paul Froese and Christopher Bader published a book titled America’s Four Gods: What We Say About God—and What That Says About Us. The book reported the findings of a 2005 survey of religious views, which suggested that religious people hold, generally speaking, to one of four views of God. The authors describe these views of God as “authoritative,” “benevolent,” “critical,” and “distant.”
The first two conceptions of God (“authoritative” and “benevolent”) view him as being active in the world and in our lives but in different ways. Those who view God as “authoritative” consider him to be generally angry, while those who view him as “benevolent” consider him to be generally loving.
The latter two conceptions of God (“critical” and “distant”) view him as being distant, but again with slightly different emphases. The “critical” view asserts that God does not interact with humanity in this life but will sit as final judge in the next. The “distant” view of God asserts that God has nothing to do with humanity in this life or the next.
One revelation from the survey and the book it spawned is that humans tend to view God rather one-dimensionally. He is either near or distant. He is either angry or loving. He is either involved or ambivalent. The Scriptures uphold an altogether different vision of God, one that defies such one-dimensional tropes. Psalm 113 is a case in point.
Kirkpatrick observes that this psalm is “is a call to praise Jehovah, who, though enthroned in majesty in heaven, condescends to care for the weak and lowly on the earth.” Kidner titles it, “Nothing Too Great for Him, No-one Too Small.” It teaches us that God reigns over all things, so there is nothing too great for his rule, and yet stoops in love to minister to his people, so there is no detail too insignificant to escape his care.
Historically, this Psalm forms the first of six Hallel Psalms. The Jews sang these psalms at particular times during the various feasts. It is likely that Jesus sang this psalm with his disciples after the Last Supper before he went into the garden of Gethsemane. It would, no doubt, have been a source of encouragement to him to be reminded that God was reigning even in the most difficult night of his life.
Consider some of the encouragements from this prayer.
We are told that “The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens!” He “is seated on high” and “looks far down on the heavens and the earth” (vv. 4–6). This portrays God as transcendent: as far above and apart from his creation. It reminds us that there is nothing in the universe, and therefore nothing in our lives, that is too great for God to handle. Nothing is outside of his control.
At the same time, this transcendent God “raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children” (vv. 7–9). He is not so busy with the great things that the small things escape his eye. The poor and the barren were among the most despised and neglected people in the ancient world. Certainly “princes” would never defile themselves by stooping to interact with the poor and barren. But the God who is high above all nations is concerned enough about the poor and barren to minister intimately to them. He is committed to raising them up and affording them the dignity that humanity warrants.
This idea of the sovereign God, for whom nothing is too great, ministering to mortal human beings in such a way that no one is too small should produce in us one particular response: “Praise the LORD!” (vv. 1, 9). The entire psalm is bracketed by these exhortations to praise.
As you reflect on Psalm 113 today, allow it to encourage you that the sovereign God of the universe cares enough about his people to minister intimately to them in their need and despair. And allow that truth to drive you to praise.