For my weekly quiet time this week, I'll blog about Psalm 113.
to Psalm 113, God dwells above the nations and even above the heavens,
yet God looks at what is going on below Him in heaven and on earth. And
God is not a passive observer, as far as the Psalmist in Psalm 113 is
concerned, for God lifts up the poor and seats them with princes and
gives children to women who are barren.
Patrick Miller in the HarperCollins Study Bible states that "the song stands in a line of tradition with 1 Sam 2.1-10; Lk 1.46-55." I Samuel 2:1-10 is Hannah's song of praise after God answered her prayer for a son, a prayer that she prayed when she was barren. And Luke 1:46-55
is the Magnificat, which Mary sang when she was pregnant with Jesus.
Hannah's song is about how God lifts up the hungry and the poor and
gives the barren woman seven children. And Luke 1:46-55 is likewise
about God elevating the lowly and the hungry.
Psalm 113 is similar to Hannah's song and the Magnificat in its theme of God exalting the lowly.
But Psalm 113 is also different from Hannah's song and the Magnificat,
for Hannah's song and the Magnificat are not just about the exaltation
of the lowly, but also the debasement of the well-off. I
Samuel 2:5, for instance, says that those who were full have hired
themselves out in an attempt to get bread, and that the woman who had
lots of children has become feeble. Luke 1:51 affirms that God has
scattered the proud, Luke 1:52 says that God has cast the mighty from
their seats, and Luke 1:53 states that God has sent the rich away
empty. Psalm 113, by contrast, is thoroughly positive in that it
focuses on God's elevation of the lowly, while it does not mention God's
debasement of the mighty.
Of course, Psalm 113 is part of a unit
called the Hallel or the Egyptian Hallel, which consists of Psalms
113-118. Many Jews sing the Hallel during the Passover. Was Psalm 113
originally written to be part of the larger Hallel unit? And does the
larger Hallel unit focus primarily on God's elevation of the lowly, or
does it also include the notion that God will debase the mighty? As I
glance at the Hallel unit, most of what I see is positive. Psalm
118:10-11 affirms that the Psalmist cut down the adversarial nations who
were surrounding him, but, overall, the Hallel focuses on God's
deliverance of people. That's my impression, based on my quick scanning
of the Hallel.
But I'd like to play a little bit with the theme
of thanking God for blessing us, rather than praising God for casting
down the mighty. Whenever I am told that I should pray for my enemies
and ask that God give them the things that I desire for myself (i.e.,
health, economic provision, etc.), I am very hesitant, for I don't want
for God to bless my enemies. But I should want for God to bless both of
us, not for me to be blessed while my enemies are cursed, or for my
enemies to be blessed while I have to struggle. I'd like to think that
there are plenty of God's blessings to go around! Of course, Psalm 113
does not even mention the Psalmist's enemies, but rather focuses on
God's elevation of the lowly. The reason that people tell me to pray
for my enemies is that they believe that this could cure my resentment,
and the curing of resentment does not appear to be a theme in Psalm
113. But Psalm 113 is still a Psalm that focuses on the
positive----on God's goodness and how far God has brought people who
once were in the dumps, and now no longer are. Such a positive attitude
is something I should strive for. At the very least, I should
appreciate and enjoy what God gives me, rather than looking at my
enemies to see how they are doing. But a state of spiritual advancement
beyond that is for me to pray that God will bless my enemies with the
blessings that I desire for myself (meaning that the prayer is for God
to bless both of us).
But is there a place for the
attitude of Hannah and Mary in the Magnificat, of wishing for the
downfall of those who are mighty? I would say "yes" and "no". I'd say
"yes" because Hannah and Mary were probably talking (at least in
part) about the oppression of Israel at the hands of the mighty.
Hannah, perhaps, was expressing her hope that God would use her son
Samuel to deliver Israel from her oppressors, such as the Philistines,
and that is what happened (I Samuel 7:13). And Mary had
Messianic expectations regarding her son Jesus, that in Jesus rested the
deliverance of Israel from those who afflicted her. It is right to
desire the end of oppression, which humiliates people, dehumanizes them,
or reduces them to poverty.
I'd say "no", albeit with some
hesitation, if Hannah were glorifying the woman with lots of children
becoming feeble because she did not care for her husband's other wife,
Peninnah, who had lots of children and mocked Hannah when Hannah was
barren. If Hannah in I Samuel 2:5 is hoping that God will make
Peninnah feeble, then such a sentiment is certainly understandable and
human on Hannah's part. But there is an attitude that is spiritually
advanced beyond that: to have compassion for Peninnah and to forgive
her. Peninnah may have mocked Hannah because Peninnah was jealous that
their husband loved Hannah more than he loved her (Peninnah).
Hannah perhaps should have sympathized more with Peninnah's predicament,
or she should have forgiven Peninnah. But I realize that this was
probably easier said than done, since it's easy for one to talk about
forgiveness, but it's harder to extend it to those with whom one comes
Prayer in the Earliest Church
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