The Egyptian Hallal
We now move into the first of six psalms that extol and praise the LORD for His faithfulness. These psalms are known as the Hallel or the Egyptian Hallel (due to 114:1), and are synonymous with the gathered feasts of Israel: Passover, Pentecost, and the feast of Tabernacles.
When we think of Passover, cannot read these but remind our hearts that in the Upper Room, the night the Lord was betrayed, He, the Blessed Man of Psalm 112, would have sung these psalms with His faithful disciples before and after the passover meal (Matt 26:30).
Pentecost would remind us of the beginning of the Church in Acts 2. Just think how those 3000 souls, gathered to old Jerusalem, would have sung these psalms with renewed gusto following their salvation. This teaches us that as we are renewed in Christ, we are made to be a worshipping people. This is our primary occupation, even in the face of the dark and difficult circumstances of life.
Finally, we come to the Feast of Tabernacles at the end of the year, and this takes our minds forward to look at this group of psalms prophetically. Here, we consider Israel re-gathered in Jerusalem at the end of tribulation days. With repentant hearts they are ready to receive their King and their praise will end on a familiar refrain – “Hosanna” – though sung with renewed meaning.
You’ll remember how on that day of the King’s first entry into Jerusalem, ‘meek and sitting upon an ass’ (Matt 21:5), a day commonly referred to as Palm Sunday, the people who followed Him took up these closing words of Psalm 118 as they welcomed Christ into the city. However, the people generally did not receive Him. ‘He came unto His own, and His own received Him not’ (John 1:11), and it wasn’t long before they were crying ‘Away with Him! Crucify Him!’ (John 19:15). But these psalms remind us that with God there is always the hope of restoration and reconciliation.
Call to Worship
These psalms begin with a threefold call to praise.
‘Praise ye the LORD. Praise, O ye servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD.’ (Psa 113:1)
This introductory call teaches us three things:
First, we consider the purpose of our lives. We are to be a worshipping people, and our primary occupation ought to be praise. We may have other occupations: nursing, teaching, baking, farming … to name a few, even evangelising, but whatever our occupation today, let us engage in this secondary occupation with a heart full of praise, ‘doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men’ (Eph 6:7).
Second, we are reminded of our position as worshippers. We must bow humbly, for we are but servants. How often does our heart rise in pride and seeking the worship of other for ourselves? Too often is the answer.
Of course, three is the divine number throughout Scripture, and this threefold call concludes by reminding us that it is the triune God, the LORD (Jehovah), who is the object of our worship.
His name is glorious. He is eternal and unchanging, the great I AM, who keeps covenant and is faithful.
Let us lift our voices today, and sing:
Great is Thy faithfulness
O God my Father
There is no shadow of turning with Thee
Thou changest not
Thy compassions they fail not
As Thou hast been
Thou forever will be
As we come to each psalm individually, we find that each (Psalm 117 excepted) asks a rhetorical question – a question that in itself gives us a flavour for the particular aspect of each psalm. We will look at each in detail over coming days, but for now let me just give you the overview, with a personal touch, if you’ll allow me a reference to my children.
Psalm 113 – Who is like unto the LORD our God? – This is Micah’s question, and this introductory psalm is fully focused on praising the LORD for who He is. The answer: There is none like Him.
Psalm 114 – What aileth thee, O thou sea, that thou fleddest? – This psalm leads us from its first line to Egypt, and praising the LORD for His mighty work of redemption. Judah is appropriately seen in this psalm.
Psalm 115 – Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is now their God? – This psalm looks at the surrounding nations and compares the deadness of earthly religion to the LORD, who is our ‘help (Ezra) and shield’, a phrase repeated three times.
Psalm 116 – What shall I render unto the LORD for all his benefits toward me? – This psalm brings us to Noah, and the place of deliverance and rest. We look back to see the blessings bestowed upon us by our God.
And this leads us to the pinnacle of praise within these psalms – the short but exultant Psalm 117. There are no questions here, just heartfelt rejoicing!
Psalm 118 – What can man do unto me? – And in conclusion, this psalm brings us back to the present difficulties we face, and reminds us of the confidence we can have in the LORD and His Messianic King whose ‘mercy endureth forever’.
Though He were ‘the stone which the builders refused’, yet He is now ‘become the head stone of the corner’ (v22). Victory is assured!
How joyous the shout: ‘This is the day that the LORD hath made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.’ (v24)