When you read Psalms 113-118, did you know that you were reading a historic document called the Egyptian Hallel? Hallel means “praise” and the word Egyptian reminds the people of their bondage and miraculous release by God. During the first century, Psalms 113-114 were sung before the Passover meal and Psalms 115-118 were sung after. These songs of praise , read by us today, connect back to King David and Solomon and the building of the Temple. We share those writings with our Lord, who used them to remember His people’s history the night before He was crucified.
Today, it is chanted in the synagogue on Sukkot, Hanukkah, the first day of Passover, Shavuot, and in some synagogues, on Israel’s Independence Day. Hallel is also recited during the Passover Seder service, when it is known as “Egyptian Hallel” because it commemorates Israel’s exodus from Egypt.
(There is another Hallel – the “Great Hallel” – which is Psalm 136 and is read on the last day of Passover.)
Psalm 113 We are reminded how high and marvelous God is and told that even so, He takes the time to look down at the lowly. He raises us from the dust to sit at the table with princes. Israel is represented as a barren woman who is redeemed and given fruit in a new land. This Psalm begins and ends with “Hallelujah”. Verses 7-8 mirror “Hannah’s Song” in 1 Samuel 2:8, sung as a prayer after Hannah gave Samuel to God.
Psalm 114 This Psalm celebrates Israel’s special status as God’s chosen people. We are reminded of the miraculous release from Egypt and can take comfort in knowing that as Christians, we are grafted into the family (Romans 11:11-24). If God can part the Red Sea for His people, can’t he take care of your problems today? Jesus came to die for Jews as well as the adopted siblings, the Gentiles.
Psalm 115 Reminds Israel that only they serve the true God and all other gods are false. We need to trust and worship only God. When we do this, He promises that He will bless us. Remember that in God’s time, there is no time, so the promise of a blessing can be earthly or heavenly. The Psalmist concludes that the dead don’t praise God, and today we see that those who are dead in sin (unbelievers) still don’t praise their Maker.
Psalm 116 Gives thanks for God’s redemption and lifts up a communal cup of thanksgiving. When we celebrate Christ’s Supper, we share in this communal cup of thanksgiving for God’s redemption through Christ’s voluntary death on the cross.
Psalm 117 Inviting all nations to share in God’s table. Everyone learns of God’s love through His love for Israel. Historically, it is paralleled by all the nations’ joy and celebration under King Hezekiah (1 Chronicles 30:25). This table is open to all who would receive Christ Jesus. It reminds us that God’s Temple (house of worship) is open to all regardless of race or nationality as long as a person places his faith in God. Paul quoted 117:1 to bolster his argument that Jews and Christians should welcome one another and worship together (Romans 5).
Psalm 118 Gives thanks for God’s deliverance. It reminds us that if God is on our side, nothing can harm us. Verse 26 may have been the inspiration for the people’s chant when Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and Jesus quoted this verse in Matthew 23:39, referring to His second coming. Joyously, Israel reminds itself that this is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
These Psalms remind us of the last celebration Jesus had before He died. It reminds us that in Him we have a new Passover – it is a day of redemption because of His work on the cross. No longer does the Jew need to save a place at the Passover table for their Messiah, for He has come!
Does this synopsis of the Egyptian Hallel help you in any way? Did it give you a better understanding of the history of the Bible, or of Jesus’ life? Did it help in some other way? I would love to hear from you!
See you Saturday with the regular end of week post.