In this short hymn, the people of God are called to praise the Lord because of who God is and what God does.
This is a typical hymn of praise, containing the basic parts–the call to praise and the basis for praise. “Praise the Lord, because…” is the regular structure of the hymns (see PsalmA psalm is a song of praise. In the Old Testament 150 psalms comprise the psalter, although some of the psalms are laments and thanksgivings. In the New Testament early Christians gathered to sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. More 117 for the shortest example). Indeed, it is the “because,” the remembrance of God’s gifts and promises, that elicits the praise.
“Praise the Lord!” functions as an inclusioInclusio is a literary device in which a writer places similar material at the beginning and ending of a work or section of a work. For example, Mark's gospel contains an inclusio in which Jesus is recognized (at his baptism and crucifixion) as God's Son. More surrounding the psalm, as it often does. Within these bookends, we learn the how and why of praise.
The servants of God are called to praise the Lord, or, in the parallel line, to praise “the name of the Lord.” Here, as often, the “name” of God stands for God’s own self (v. 1).
God’s name is to be blessed in every time (v. 2) and every place (v. 3), for the Lord is above the nations and even above the heavens (v. 4). But what does this look like? What does God do to be worthy of praise?
The psalm begins to answer that question with one of its own: “Who is like the Lord our God…?” (vv. 5-6). Such a rhetorical question is itself a form of praise, for it begins to proclaim just who this God is. Amazingly, though seated on high (an appropriate place for a god, as we learned in v. 4), this God “looks far down on the heavens and the earth” (v. 6). More than that, really. The NIV offers a better translation of the Hebrew text: “who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth.” The God of Israel stoops in humility to look on and to look after the heavens and the earth–an “inappropriate” posture for a god, but the right thing for a God of love.
Now the psalm turns to praise God for the surprising way God acts: raising the poor, lifting the needy, giving the barren woman a home (vv. 7-9)–the barren woman would have been among the most unprivileged of people in the ancient world. The psalm echoes the songs of HannahThe mother of the prophet Samuel. More (1 SamuelThe judge who anointed the first two kings of Israel More 2:1-10) and Mary (LukeThe "beloved physician" and companion of Paul More 1:46-55), both of whom praise God for showing mercyMercy is a term used to describe leniency or compassion. God's mercy is frequently referred to or invoked in both the Old and New Testaments. More to people regarded as low and overturning the power of unjust wealth. In this, Psalm 113 comes near to defining the true center of the biblical message, that God Most High, the maker and ruler of all things, comes down, in all humility, to care for the least of the least. This was the content also of the Christ hymn in Philippians 2:5-11: Christ JesusJesus is the Messiah whose life, death, and resurrection are God's saving act for humanity More, “though he was in the form of God…emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…and became obedient to the point of death.” This is why, says Philippians, Christ is worthy of great praise, and why, says Psalm 113, so also is God.