Out of today’s reading, Psalm 113 stood out to me the most, perhaps because of a feature inherent in it that is common to many of the Psalms. The psalmist begins by simply saying, “Praise the Lord!”
Now I know that this is an expression quite common to many Christians in our day, but foreign to others. By that I mean that many Christians feel quite comfortable suddenly blurting out “Praise the Lord!” whenever something good happens in their day. Other Christians, who view their religion as a more private matter, would never think of taking such words upon their own lips in everyday conversation. However, I would imagine that those same Christians, who view religion as a private matter, probably attend, or have attended, worship services where the Psalms are regularly recited in worship, and so they are familiar with such phrases in a liturgical context.
For both types of Christians, I think there are at least three ways of viewing this sort of expression in the Psalms. We may view “Praise the Lord!” as:
- An expression of the Psalmist’s personal praise of God.
- A command to the reader or hearer to join in praising God.
- An invitation to join the psalmist in praise of the Lord.
There may be a bit of truth in viewing this expression in all three ways. In Psalm 113:1 the psalmist quickly follows up what may be his own expression of praise with this sentence: “Praise, O servants of the Lord; praise the name of the Lord.” This is certainly either a command or an invitation. It was probably originally directed toward those men appointed to praise God with music in the Temple.
However, when we think of this as a command to us, today, to praise the Lord, I know it can have the opposite effect from what the psalmist intended. By that I mean that for some of us whenever someone commands us to do something or say something our first reaction is to do just the opposite, or to remain stoically silent. Our reaction to such a command may be something like, “But I do not feel like praising the Lord right now. I have had a terrible day. Perhaps it is true that the Lord should be praised from the rising to the setting of the sun, but I do not feel like doing that right now and I do not want to be inauthentic. I do not want to be hypocritical and say something I do not mean.” Personally, I believe such a response to this sort of psalm is perfectly natural and even right.
However, I think there is another way of looking at what the psalmist is doing here. If we look at what the psalmist is saying as an invitation rather than a command, then that changes everything.
What do I mean?
What I think the psalmist is doing is saying something like, “Look, here is what I have experienced of God. I have experienced so much of God’s goodness, love, and faithfulness that I just have to sing about it. Furthermore, I want you to experience the same thing too. It is not enough just for me to praise God with my voice and with my life. I want everyone to experience the goodness, love and faithfulness of God and so desire to join me in praising the Lord.”
To me, looking at psalms like 113 as an invitation is, well, more inviting than looking at it as a sort of command. Furthermore, it makes sense.
When we are in love, we naturally praise the person with whom we are in love. On top of that, we want others to praise our beloved as well. We want everyone to see how wonderful our beloved really is.
The same holds true in countless other situations. When we have seen a really great movie, or tasted some wonderful food at a new restaurant, or when we are enjoying a beautiful sunset, we naturally (if we are psychologically healthy individuals) want others to share our joy in the new movie, or the great restaurant, or the beautiful sunset.
That is what the psalmist does over and over again. He says, “Here is what I have tasted of the Lord. I want you to taste of his goodness too.”
Such an invitation makes me curious. It makes me want to investigate further. It makes me want to find out more about this God whom the psalmists seem to know so intimately.
What about you?