Reflections On The Haggadah

[Note:  What follows is a somewhat lengthy reflection of the Haggadah (Psalms 113-118, 136) that I wrote in 2007 during the Passover season.  I have shared these reflections with a few friends who are likewise interested in some of the deeper significance of these often neglected psalms for Christians today, though hopefully these reflections will not be seen as particularly ignorant by those Messianic Jews whose practice in dealing with these psalms is much more lengthy and extensive than my own.]

Introduction

Psalm 113-118 make up the Haggadah, which is a special group of the Psalms that is recited during the Seder1. These psalms are obscure, for the most part, to those who are not Jewish, but have long been of interest to me (especially because of their views on social justice). The general format goes as follows: Psalms 113 and 114 are read or sang before the feast, and after the meal Psalms 115-118 and 136 (also known as the “Great Hallel”) are read or sung. The whole point of these psalms is to praise God and thank Him for his saving work. We will examine briefly, in this paper, just how this is the case.

Scope of Paper

The scope of this paper is as follows. Each chapter in the Haggadah will have a section of its own with a verse-by-verse commentary. After this will be a brief examination of the themes of the psalm. Following this will be an examination of how the psalm relates to the Haggadah as a whole, as well as a brief look at any parallels between the psalm and other chapters of the Bible. And so we begin.

Psalm 113

Psalm 113 begins the Haggadah. First we will undertake a verse-by-verse commentary on Psalm 113. After this we will look at the themes of justice as well as the unusual work of God. Then we will look at why the Haggadah begins with this ironic psalm and what parallels this psalm has with some interesting other chapters in the Bible.

Verse-By-Verse Commentary

Verse One

Verse one states: “Praise the Lord2! Praise, O servants of the Lord, Praise the name of the Lord!” This verse begins with praise for God, an appropriate place to begin any celebration of deliverance. Those who are God’s servants, who love Him and follow His ways, will praise their Lord and Master and praise His name. Praising the name of God also praises the character of God, which is important to truly follow Him.

Verse Two

Verse two states: “Blessed by the name of the Lord from this time forth and forevermore!” While God’s name and character are always blessed in the sense that they are good and righteous, the anonymous psalmist here fervently wishes that God’s name and character are to be praised for all time. In wishing this, the psalmist understands the timeless value of God’s work of salvation, and in reciting and singing this psalm, we too help make the psalmist’s wish a reality.

Verse Three

Verse three states: “From the rising of the sun to its going down the Lord’s name is to be praised.” This verse states that praising God’s name and character are not to be occasional acts of behavior, but part of the fabric of our everyday lives. I personally regret that this is not always the case with me (and many people no doubt would regret this also), but our praising of God is not to be weekly alone, or fifteen minutes out of every day, but is to take place during our every action, word, and thought. This is a tall order.

Verse Four

Verse four states: “The Lord is high above all nations, His glory above the heavens.” This verse demonstrates one reason that we are to praise God—he is above all of humanity, and even above the physical creation that is so immense to us. As the Creator of all that is, God deserves our respect and honor. Furthermore, the transcendence of God makes his imminence all the more touching and surprising, as we are but protozoa when compared with our Creator God.

Verse Five

Verse five states: “Who is like the Lord our God, Who dwells on high?” The answer is: no one. None of us, no matter how wise or powerful or good, can hope to remotely compare ourselves to God. Witness the book of Job for a particularly compelling example, or numerous other examples of misplaced pride. Or, if one is like this author, one could look in the mirror. The truth is, we aren’t like God nearly as much as we should be, and in many ways we cannot be like him at all in our human state.

Verse Six

Verse six states: “Who humbles Himself to behold the things that are in the heavens and the earth?” Though God is far above the material creation, He pays close attention to us and our lives and our problems even though we are insignificant in comparison to Him. Furthermore, He does so in a way that is respectful and honorable, in seeking to reason with us and plead with us, rather than order us around tyrannically. This is an example to those of us who are humans who view ourselves far above others. If God can deign to respect us, who are nothing compared to Him, we should all be willing to respect each other likewise, as no difference between us is even close to the gulf that separates us from our Creator in abilities and character.

Verse Seven

Verse seven states: “He raises the poor out of the dust, and lifts the needy out of the ash heap.” This verse comments on the fact that God often chooses to work with those who are the lowest of the low—like the slaves in Egypt, or with the weak and base things, those who are despised. God works with those who are low because they know where they are and that they owe their day-to-day survival on God. Those who are well off, or who are wise in their own sight, trust in what they have rather than He who gives all. It is easiest to see God’s work in our lives when we have nothing to rely upon other than His grace and mercy.

Verse Eight

Verse eight says: “That He may seat him with princes—with the princes of his people.” Not only does God look to those who are low, but he makes them princes of His people. God delights in making the last first and the first last, demonstrating His power over humanity as well as demonstrating His lovingkindness towards those who have nothing (slaves, widows, the abused, the unpopular, the poor, and so forth). If we are to be like God, we must do likewise, remembering that clothes and possessions and popularity do not tell the true character and worth of humankind.

Verse Nine

Verse nine says: “He grants the barren woman a home, like a joyful mother of children. Praise the Lord!” Finally, God looks down on the barren woman, she who can bear no children, and grants them what they wish. The fate of a childless woman in Israel was an unenviable one, and often today there is a similar sadness in barrenness, as it is good and natural to wish to have children, to raise up a generation to follow in our footsteps. Truly God is to be praised for answering our requests and for easing the sadness that we often face in this life.

Themes of Psalm 113

Psalm 113 has quite a few important themes that are worthwhile to examine, some of which are of great spiritual importance. Three at least are worthy of discussion here: the importance of praising God, God’s imminence and transcendence, and the characteristics of those whom God works with. Each will be discussed briefly in turn.

First, it is vitally important to praise God and to live our lives in reflection of the regard in which we hold Him. If we claim to be God’s servants, or followers, we have the responsibility to act like it. God created us (we did not, after all, ask to be created, nor were we created for our own purposes, but rather for His), and He created all there is3. What we possess in this life, be it our gifts, our lives, our property, our reputation, we owe to God. The only thing we possess of our own is our character, and even this is formed with loving care by God as a potter molds a clay jar. In other words, we ought to praise ourselves less and God more.

It is also important to note that God is both imminent and transcendent. Genesis 1 and 2 reveal these two truths about God and instead of being different Creation accounts are rather the same account told through two perspectives that are both true at the same time about God. First, God is transcendent. As the creator of the material universe (including us), God is beyond matter and energy and the limitations of our universe and our existence in it. Thus we cannot reach God unless he first reaches out to us. However, rather than being a deist sort of deity, God does reach to us to seek to have an intimate and personal relationship with us. Therefore God is imminent as well—seeking to be close to us, even within us. However, due to God’s transcendence, God is not merely some genie who fulfills our wishes and comes out of the bottle when we rub it. Rather God is at the same time far above us and with us, worthy of our admiration and respect as well as our love and devotion.

Also, God chooses to work with those whom the world little regards. We human beings tend to judge others on superficialities, believing the wealthy and intelligent and powerful to be righteous due to their good fortune. Furthermore, if we are intelligent or beautiful or popular or wealthy we tend to view ourselves as being self-sufficient, when we are all pitifully dependent on the continued mercy and faithfulness of God for every facet of our existence. Those who have nothing, and who struggle with themselves and their inner demons continually, often have a better understanding of God’s importance in their lives. This is why God calls those who are low rather than those who are high, because those who are low see reality more clearly than those who are blinded by their own glory, which is but a pale reflection God’s, but nonetheless often gets in the way.

Psalm 113 In The Haggadah

As the beginning of the Haggadah, Psalm 113 sets the stage for the Seder. The Psalm focuses on praise of God—the main theme of the Night to Be Much Observed, as we are to praise God for saving Israel from slavery and saving us from our own wicked ways. Furthermore, the Psalm sets the right context by focusing on what we owe God as well as the nature of God in being both far above us and with us. Finally, Psalm 113 relates to the Seder by reminding us that God takes special pleasure in working with those who are poor and who are neglected and mistreated, for just as God delivered the slaves of Israel from their cruel bondage in the land of Egypt, so God also wishes to deliver those who suffer now also. And if we are followers of God, we too will wish to help those who suffer and behave with mercy and justice and grace, just as God has treated us.

Parallel Chapters

Two chapters stand out as parallel chapters of Psalm 113. The first is 1 Samuel 2, the Song of Hannah. This particular song, sang when Hannah gave birth to Samuel after having been barren, also sings of the glory due to God in reversing the position of the strong and weak in His justice [1]. As we have previously seen, this is also a concern of Psalm 113. Like Hannah’s Song in 1 Samuel 2:1-10, Psalm 113 also looks forward to the Magnificat of Mary in Luke 1:49-57, another examination of how God works profoundly with those whom the world lightly regards. In this light, Psalm 113 also has an interesting parallel with 1 Corinthians 1 (the latter part, especially) where we also see that God chooses to work with those who are little regarded in this world to put to shame those who view themselves too highly. Again, God in His justice chooses to make the first last, and the last first.

Psalm 114

Psalm 114 is the second psalm of the Haggadah, and like Psalm 113 it is read or sung before the dinner portion of the Seder. First we will subject Psalm 114 to a verse-by-verse commentary. After this we will look at the themes of deliverance and sanctuary found in Psalm 114. After this we will look at the importance of Psalm 114 in the Haggadah, and then we will look at some parallel scriptures that relate to this psalm.

Verse-By-Verse Commentary

Verse One

Verse one says: “When Israel went out of Egypt, the house of Jacob from a people of strange language–“ This verse provides the example of the Exodus, a rather appropriate subject for the Night To Be Much Observed4. It should be remembered that Israel did not belong in Egypt forever, for they were not to follow after the customs and paganism of the Egyptian people but were rather to be a godly people worshipping Him. The strange language of the Egyptians would have therefore symbolized the corrupt and debased religion and culture of Egypt, whereas Israel was to be true to God. Unfortunately, Israel was not for most of its history.

Verse Two

Verse two states: “Judah became His sanctuary, and Israel His dominion.” Judah, as the long-term home of God’s temple and the place where the priests and Levites settled, was to be the sanctuary of God. It is noteworthy that God’s sanctuary, even here in the Psalms, is a group of believers and not buildings5. Israel as a whole was to be the place where God ruled and where His laws held sway. This will have to be fulfilled in the Kingdom of God, as it has never happened fully yet, except for a brief period of time, and that imperfectly.

Verse Three

Verse three says: “The sea saw it and fled; Jordan turned back.” The fleeing of the sea would appear to be the Red Sea before the awesome power of God, which delivered the freed slaves of Israel and then drowned the Egyptians in their chariots. The turning back of the Jordan references the end of the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness when Israel entered, at last, the Promised Land. Therefore, this verse comments on the beginning and ending of Israel’s time in the wilderness between Egypt and the Holy Land.

Verse Four

Verse four says: “The mountains skipped like rams, the little hills like lambs.” Here we see an amusing picture of mountains jumping up and down before the power of God. Perhaps this may be seen in such events as the coming of God to Mount Sinai6 (or Horeb). Otherwise, there seems little precedent in the Exodus for this particular event to have taken place. However, the word picture itself is quite a dramatic demonstration of the failure of mountains and hills, which we normally associate to be solid and rigid, to keep their shape when faced with the awesome power of the Eternal God.

Verse Five

Verse five states: “What ails you, O sea, that you fled? O Jordan, that you turned back?” Here the anonymous psalmists asks two rhetorical questions as to why the Red Sea and Jordan River behaved the way they did when God acted in ways beyond the normal physically acceptable manner of seas and rivers to miraculously deliver Israel from the Egyptians and to their home.

Verse Six

Verse six says: “O mountains, that you skipped like rams? O little hills, like lambs?” Again, this verse is an ironic and rhetorical question that proposes to ask the mountains and hills (which, of course, cannot speak7) why they could not resist the power of God. Again, this question is obvious enough that an answer is superfluous. Nonetheless, as a commentator I feel somewhat compelled to at least hint at the obvious answer anyway.

Verse Seven

Verse seven states: “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob–”. This verse is a call to the earth to worship its Creator, and a further comment that the physical creation cannot help but follow the commands of God. When God chooses to make His presence known on the earth, there cannot be but dramatic consequences of that decision and a momentous time at hand for the earth and its inhabitants.

Verse Eight

Verse eight says: “Who turned the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a fountain of waters.” This verse closes this Psalm by reflecting on the actions of God to bring water from rocks in Exodus 17 and Numbers 20. God provided for the needs of His people in the wilderness. Water can also be symbolic of the Holy Spirit, in which case this verse can refer to the work by which God brings salvation to all of us today through His Holy Spirit.

Themes of Psalm 114

Psalm 114 has three themes that we will examine here today. The first is the power of God over Creation. It may seem obvious, but the earth is the Eternal’s to do His bidding, and when He chooses to act His will will be done. Second, God chose to deliver Israel from slavery in Egypt, and the salvation work of God is a fundamental purpose of humanity’s existence. God desires godly offspring, and to have this He must deliver us from sin and its consequences in our world. Finally, God chooses to make His home with us and our true home is only with Him.

Throughout the Bible we see evidence of the strength and power and might of God, and this psalm demonstrates this power in a particularly dramatic form by recounting God’s work in saving Israel from slavery in Egypt and bringing them through the wilderness to their inheritance. As the Creator of the universe, God has the power to do what He wills with it. The seas, rivers, earth, mountains and hills are nothing before the strength of God to do what He wishes for His own purposes. It is good (for us) that God has decided on salvation as His purpose rather than destruction.

God’s work of deliverance has both physical and spiritual components. The children of Israel were delivered from physical slavery and their children entered into physical blessings. However, today God has delivered us from spiritual slavery (because all of us are slaves to sin) into his spiritual kingdom with spiritual blessings. God has chosen to tabernacle with us not because of our own worthiness, but because He has called us to salvation. And for that, we cannot thank Him enough.

Finally, God chooses to make His home with us just like He made His home with Judah and Israel. We may often wish to claim that God makes His home in organizations, or in glorious physical buildings, but this is not true. First and foremost, God makes his home in each of us individually if we choose to accept His offer of salvation. This carries with it certain responsibilities, and among those is the responsibility for us to fellowship with others of like mind, so that we may tabernacle with others in peace just as God dwells in and with us.

Psalm 114 in the Haggadah

Psalm 114 plays an important part of the Haggadah because it serves as a reminder of the saving work of God in delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt, and also in reminding us that God continues his saving work in spiritual Israel today. As this night celebrates the delivery of Israel from Egypt, recounting the work of God in protecting Israel at the Red Sea and then through the wilderness, in providing for their needs, and in delivering them safely to the Promised land, this psalm is useful. Of course, this psalm should also have meaning for us personally as we reflect on the wilderness we must all travel in our lives between our sinful past and our glorious future in God’s kingdom.

Parallel Chapters

Psalm 114 gives an abbreviated account of a few important incidents during the Exodus and time in the Wilderness, and some have already been mentioned. For example, the psalm references several chapters of Exodus (6, 12, 13, 14, 17, 19, 25, and 29, to name a few), as well as referencing Numbers 20 and Joshua 3. In this way this psalm provides a snapshot of God’s role in providing for the salvation of Israel. Obviously, reading the Exodus account as a whole would be useful during this time as well, as would reading the account of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In both cases God worked salvation in exciting and important ways.

Psalm 115

Psalm 115, the third psalm of the Haggadah and the first psalm of the after dinner portion, is a psalm that praises the faithfulness of God and comments on the futility of idolatry. First we will examine the psalm in a verse-by-verse commentary. After this we will examine the themes of divine faithfulness, foolish idolatry, and the eternal fate of mankind. Then we will look at the place of Psalm 115 in the Haggadah, and then compare Psalm 115 with some similar sections of scripture.

Verse-By-Verse Commentary

Verse One

Verse one says: “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but to Your name give glory, because of your mercy, because of your truth.” This psalm begins with the rather true and sensible aim to give credit (glory) to God rather than to us because what we have is due to God’s mercy and God’s truth rather than to any sort of goodness that we might possess on our own, unaided. Because what we have we owe to God, therefore we have a responsibility to give glory to His name because He is the source of all blessings.

Verse Two

Verse two states: “Why should the Gentiles say, ‘So where is their God?’” In the ancient world, just as today, it was common (and erroneous) to assume that blessings and divine favor went hand in hand8. Nonetheless, Israel appealed to God’s desire for the glory of His name to be known throughout the world in order to help obtain the blessings promised by God for national obedience. Obviously, the same could be said individually, as it is a common taunt of the irreligious towards the religious that if religious beliefs do not serve to one’s benefit, then they are useless.

Verse Three

Verse three says: “But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.” Unlike the pagan gods, who were supposedly bound to answer the requests of the faithful so long as the right superstitions and proprieties were followed, the true God possesses His own will and can act according to His own pleasure. Furthermore, being omniscient and omnipresent, He cannot be manipulated through ritual. Also, God, being in heaven, is beyond the concerns of this material world, though He plays a role in this universe on our behalf.

Verse Four

Verse four states: “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands.” Frequently, and pointedly, the Bible ridicules idolatry. While the true God is in heaven and is not represented on earth by any physical analogues except for humankind, created in His image and likeness, pagan deities were frequently represented by idols. God condemns the use of icons and other graphical representations as inadequate of expressing the greatness of God. Furthermore, the act of praying to a work of human hands is ridiculous.

Verse Five

Verse five says: “They have mouths, but they do not speak; eyes they have, but they do not see.” This verse again points out the folly of worshipping to idols. They are dumb, in the sense that they cannot speak (unlike God, who speaks through His Bible, and through various other ways according to His will). Furthermore, idols cannot see, and therefore the worship of such things is folly.

Verse Six

Verse six states: “They have ears, but they do not hear; noses they have, but they do not smell.” Again, this verse continues the solemn listing of the ways in which idols are basically being sold under a false bill of goods. What is the point in creating an idol having ears when one cannot hear, or a nose when one cannot smell? Even more to the point: why create an idol at all rather than worship the living God?

Verse Seven

Verse seven says: “They have hands, but they do not handle; feet they have, but they do not walk; nor do they mutter through their throat.” Again, idols are ridiculed here for lacking the capacity to handle things (like the sacrifices offered to them), or the capacity to move around, or even mutter. Indeed, idols are completely lifeless and stationary, and are not fitting objects for worship and devotion. They are better to be melted down and used for some useful economic purpose rather than existing as testaments to foolish devotion.

Verse Eight

Verse eight states: “Those who make them are like them; so is everyone who trusts in them.” This verse adds an additional stinger onto the preceding verses in claiming that those who make idols and worship them are just as dumb as the idols they make and worship. This is obviously a harsh insult, and also reflects that idolatry will keep us from entering into God’s kingdom, and therefore continuing on a path of idolatry will lead us to eternal death.

Verse Nine

Verse nine says: “O Israel, trust in the Lord; He is their help and their shield.” We cannot trust in our own strength (for it is weak), and here the anonymous psalmist sensibly reminds us that just as Israel needed to trust in the Eternal for their help, we need to do so likewise. God, in being our help and shield, is our protector and defender. We could all use that in our lives.

Verse Ten

Verse ten states: “O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord; he is their help and their shield.” Just as the people of Israel at large and their civil government needed God’s help and protection, so did the religious leaders of Israel. Just because someone has a position of religious authority (as the priestly house of Aaron did) does not automatically mean that one trusts God or has an intimate and personal relationship with Him. Such people need to put their faith in God just as much as anyone else.

Verse Eleven

Verse eleven says: “You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord; He is their help and their shield.” This verse continues the parallelism of the previous verses and applies it to any believer of God. As was mentioned above, we all need to trust in God and have him help and defend us. We simply are not up to the task ourselves, and any realistic person will see that we need more help than we can provide on our own.

Verse Twelve

Verse twelve states: “The Lord has been mindful of us; He will bless us; He will bless the house of Israel; He will bless the house of Aaron.” Despite the fact that God acts according to His own will and not our own, God is faithful to His promises. As he has promised to bless His people, He will fulfill that promise.

Verse Thirteen

Verse thirteen says: “He will bless those who fear the Lord, both small and great.” God does not give favor only to the high and mighty (as some would erroneously hold), but blesses all of those. Indeed, as has already been demonstrated in Psalm 113, God takes special pleasure in blessing those who are small. However, he obviously also blesses those who are great and fear Him (like David and Moses and other biblical giants of important positions). God is fair and just in His dealings, and for that we can be most thankful.

Verse Fourteen

Verse fourteen states: “May the Lord give you increase more and more, you and your children.” God’s blessings are intended for permanent increase, as His kingdom is also to increase without end. Furthermore, God’s blessings are not confined to believers alone, but to their children as well. The same is true of God’s saving work as shown in Acts 2 and other places. What God does for us has consequences far beyond ourselves.

Verse Fifteen

Verse fifteen says: “May you be blessed by the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.” This is a great blessing to give to anyone. Being blessed by our Creator is a great thing, something I wish I could speak about more in personal detail. However, those who love God and keep His commandments will be blessed by God, either nor or later, or both.

Verse Sixteen

Verse sixteen states: “The heaven, even the heavens9, are the Lord’s; but of the earth He has given to the children of men.” The entire universe belongs to God. However, He has given the earth to mankind for us to take care of as stewards so that we can learn proper behavior and gain character in what amounts to a controlled environment.

Verse Seventeen

Verse seventeen says: “The dead do not praise the Lord, nor any who go down into silence.” After death we do not go to heaven or hell, but rather we go to the grave, and there we sleep. The dead cannot praise God, for they have no existence until God resurrects them either into His kingdom (for the just) or into judgment (this need not imply condemnation).

Verse Eighteen

Verse eighteen states: “But we will bless the Lord from this time forth and forevermore. Bless the Lord!” This verse closes with a praise for God and a confidence in either eternal life or in the lasting survival on the earth of those who call on God’s name. As such, in closing with praise to God rather than melancholy reflection on the dead, this psalm reaffirms that the Seder is about life, ultimately, more than death, even if death is a part of what we must reflect upon in this time of year.

Themes Of Psalm 115

There are at least three important and obvious themes in Psalm 115. The first is the faithfulness of God to keeping His promises. The second is the folly of believing in idols rather than the one true God. The third is the fate of the dead and the reality of (eventual) eternal life for the righteous. Each of these themes is important in this time of year as we reflect upon God’s salvation.

God is faithful to His promises, even if His timing is different from our own, and even if the rewards He promises are only given in His kingdom rather than on earth. In order to have faith in God, we must not only believe that He is, but that He faithfully rewards those who serve Him (see Hebrews 11). Belief in the righteous and just character of God is pivotal to genuine faith. God has promised blessings to His servants, whom He wishes to make sons, and we should be thankful for these blessings, for we can enjoy them even though we cannot deserve them.

A major theme of Psalm 115 is the folly of idolatry. Idols were a particular curse of Egypt and other ancient polytheistic societies, and are a curse in our own society which demands visual representations instead of the Holy Scripture that God offers to us for us to read and understand. Indeed, God desires literacy and intellectual and moral development such as is found by reading and speaking and listening rather than the passive visual stimulation offered by ancient idols and modern icons. Just because our idols are different does not mean we do not need to worry about them today. In addition, the commands against idolatry are in force just as much today as they ever were.

A third theme of Psalm 115 is the eternal fate of the dead. Psalm 115 makes two statements about the dead, both of which are often misunderstood and both of which appear in other areas of the Bible. The first is that the dead sleep in the grave, know nothing, and are beyond the ability to praise God (see Job, Ecclesiastes, 2 Samuel 12:22-23). Therefore the belief in the immortal soul is incorrect. We do not have consciousness when we die, even if we have a spirit in man that records our character for all eternity and gives us higher reasoning capabilities. Second, the righteous have a just expectation of eternal life upon the return of Jesus Christ. Even among the faithful of the Old Covenant, there was the expectation of eternal life (see also Psalm 110). This became even more pronounced during the New Testament (1 Corinthians 15, 1 Thessalonians 4, Revelation 21). Therefore, if we are faithful to God we will bless Him forever.

Psalm 115 In The Haggadah

Psalm 115 is the first psalm sung or recited after the Seder meal, and is the third psalm of the Haggadah as a whole. This particular psalm is useful in reminding us of God’s work of salvation and blessing. In pointing to the state of the dead and to eternal life it influences us to reflect upon the work of Jesus Christ in saving us from eternal death and opening the way to eternal life. Also, this psalm is very useful in pointing out the devotion we owe to the true God who can truly help us and defend us as opposed to the foolish and pointless devotion of those who worship idols. As such this psalm is a vital one in the Haggadah.

Parallel Chapters

There are some parallel chapters that discuss similar themes as Psalm 115. One is Jeremiah 10, which similarly focuses on the futility of idols. Hebrews 11 focuses as well on the issue of faith. Other chapters like 1 Corinthians 15 and 1 Thessalonians 4 deal with the fate of the righteous dead. Some of the language in this Psalm is also similar to various chapters of Isaiah as well.

Psalm 116

Psalm 116 is a messianic psalm, and is of considerable importance despite its relative obscurity even among messianic psalms. This particular psalm reflects upon the suffering of the saints as well as their service, and also reflects the salvation work of God. As such it is an important psalm in the Passover season, and is useful to reflect upon beyond that. First we will look at Psalm 116 in a verse-by-verse commentary, and then we will examine the themes mentioned above before looking at the place of Psalm 116 in the Haggadah and examining some parallel chapters.

Verse-By-Verse Commentary

Verse One

Verse one says: “I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my supplications.” Before we can love God we must know not only that He exists but that He cares about us and about our well-being. When God hears our voice (our requests to Him and our appeals for His aid) and answers those requests, our faith is built up and we have more belief than we did before about our importance to God. Though we are short-sided beings, God still works with us in love, and that is worthy of our devotion.

Verse Two

Verse two states: “Because He has inclined His ear to me, therefore I will call upon Him as long as I live.” To the faithful believer, God’s answering of our requests means that we will look to Him for our entire lives as the source of our well-being. Though God may not always answer our requests faithfully, we may know that He seeks our best interests (even when we do not know them ourselves) and so we can faithfully trust Him.

Verse Three

Verse three says: “The pains of death surrounded me, and the pangs of Sheol laid hold of me; I found trouble and sorrow.” Jesus (or Yeshua, or what you will) must surely have thought of these words as He faced His approaching death on the evening of the 14th of Nisan in AD 3110. However, this applies to all of us who suffer greatly, even thinking we will perish, finding trouble and sorrow in our lives instead of the joy and happiness and ease that we seek.

Verse Four

Verse four states: “Then I called upon the name of the Lord: “O Lord, I implore You, deliver my soul!”” Again, our souls are not immortal, and when we are faced with death it is natural and proper for us to call out to God to save us. If God is not through with us, and if we have not completely run our race, then we can expect for God to deliver us so that we may complete our time on earth according to His will. God may have planned to deliver us, but He may also wish for us to ask for His help.

Verse Five

Verse five says: “Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yes, our God is merciful.” Even in our darkest moments (I know I have many such dark moments, and I imagine others do as well.), we have much to reflect upon about the mercy and goodness and graciousness of God. God does not wish that we should suffer, except that our suffering have some sort of purpose. When we are down about a trial, it is useful to reflect upon the good that God has done for us and that He will do for us.

Verse Six

Verse six states: “The Lord preserves the simple; I was brought low, and He saved me.” Again, we see God’s concern for the humble and for the lowly of the world, unwanted and disregarded. God brings us up when we are low as a reminder that He is responsible for our success and for our glory—which reflects on Him, and that we are not the (sole) authors of our own destinies but are rather His servants. Indeed, God wishes for us to remain simple—in innocence and cleanliness, though that state is hard for some of us to find and maintain.

Verse Seven

Verse seven says: “Return to your rest, O my soul, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” After our time of trouble passes we can return to our restful state, trusting in God, knowing that God has greatly blessed us. When our perspective changes from one of fault-finding and ingratitude to one of thankfulness, we can realize even when we are struggling that God has greatly blessed us in the past, and is still blessing us right now, and will bless us again in the future. This recognition can ease our troubled minds and spirits.

Verse Eight

Verse eight says: “For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, and my feet from falling.” Here we see the anonymous psalmist comment on How God delivered Him (and delivers us) from death, sorrow, and falling. These can be said to be three types of trials. Death is the final closing of our lives, the end of our labors and of our ability to praise God and serve God on this earth. Sorrow removes the joy from our lives, and reflects suffering. Falling is what happens when we miss the mark and stumble in our walk of godliness, and happens often in the darkness when we cannot see the lamp of light shining along our way. All of these states befall mankind, but God delivers us from these (though, in the end, we all must die eventually at least one, but hopefully not twice).

Verse Nine

Verse nine says: “I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” Continuing the point of the last verse, this verse is a statement that the psalmist demonstrates conviction that His time of death has not come and that he will once again be able to obey God on this earth rather than die and lose consciousness and be buried in the grave without thought in that state of sleep.

Verse Ten

Verse ten states: “I believed, therefore I spoke, “I am greatly afflicted.”” Paul quoted these words in 2 Corinthians 4:13-14 as proof of the Christian’s faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and in general, of the faith in the resurrection of the just. Because we believe in God and in His justice, we can speak to God of our pain in the hope that He will deliver us from it.

Verse Eleven

Verse eleven says: “I said in my haste, “All men are liars.”” When we are distressed we may lash out at those around us, hurriedly thinking that all mankind is dishonest (especially those who try to calm us when we are upset with what we take as soothing but empty platitudes). Of course, in one way, we are all liars at least at some times in our lives, but our kind words can be taken by those who are suffering as dishonest attempts to fob off the serious questions of human suffering.

Verse Twelve

Verse twelve states: “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me?” This verse opens up the theme of service, as it is natural for us to reflect (once we are aware of what God has done for us) as to what we owe Him. Obviously, we cannot pay off the debt we owe to God, or give Him anything that could equal the worth of what He gives to us, as we owe everything to Him. However, it is natural and proper to reflect upon God’s expectations for us once we see what God has provided for us. In this way, even if we can never pay God back we may at least be profitable servants to Him.

Verse Thirteen

Verse thirteen says: “I will take up the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord.” It is ironic, perhaps, that this psalm is read or sung right after the third cup of the Seder—the cup of salvation—is taken. When God has called us and when we heed the call (and meet the requirements and expectations that God has for us) we can take the cup of salvation with confidence that we will enter God’s kingdom.

Verse Fourteen

Verse fourteen states: “I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all His people.” Our duty to God is not only in private and personal obedience but also involves a public confession and demonstration of our faith. While our relationship with God is a personal matter, the consequences of that relationship and belief of necessity involve other people as witnesses of our belief, whether as fellow believers or as people who are being presented with the opportunity to follow God thanks to the good behavior of others who are already following Him. We cannot neglect the powerful witness of our personal example in everyday life.

Verse Fifteen

Verse fifteen says: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” This verse can be taken several ways. In one way, God sometimes requires our death (martyrdom in this case) as the demonstration of our faith to the extreme limit. On the other hand, our physical death need not be depressing, as it means that our salvation has been assured, so long as we die in the faith and endure in our faith until the very end. In this way our death is precious—as it is a sign of sure salvation and as a powerful witness to powerful faith to serve as a positive example to others in times of great tribulation.

Verse Sixteen

Verse sixteen states: “O Lord, truly I am Your servant; I am Your servant, the son of Your maidservant; You have loosed my bonds.” This verse has both messianic and more mundane implications. For one, Jesus Christ manifested His servanthood at the Passover through the footwashing. Also, this verse demonstrates that God has loosed all of our bonds, and He is responsible for our freedom, not we ourselves. Also, a certain familial connection is mentioned here, for we have relationship with God also due to the fact that we are born in the first place.

Verse Seventeen

Verse seventeen says: “I will over to You the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and will call upon the name of the Lord.” Part of the consequence of knowing and admitting that our freedom and existence is owed to God is thanking him for the gifts of life and freedom (and whatever other gifts we possess11). Furthermore, knowledge of God’s role in our lives gives the responsibility of obedience to God and the responsibility of building a personal relationship with Him12.

Verse Eighteen

Verse eighteen states: “I will pay my vows to the Lord now in the presence of all His people.” A consequence of developing a personal relationship with God is the further responsibility of making that belief public and of forming relationships and assembling with God’s people, wherever they may be13. God does not desire people to believe and remain hidden in their own homes, but people who boldly proclaim Him through their actions and behavior (if not their words).

Verse Nineteen

Verse nineteen says: “In the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem. Praise the Lord!” Again, it would appear that a commitment to God must lead to a commitment to public worship of God (presumably in a congregation, or at least a fellowship group). Ultimately, we seek to be a part of God’s enduring temple, and so we must put up with the imperfections of this earthly one (while always seeking to reform and improve it). Of course, every believer is as well the temple of God, so that commitment is to our own health and well-being in our daily activities.

Themes of Psalm 116

Among the themes of Psalm 116 are the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the suffering and sacrifice of believers, and the salvation work of God. Psalm 116 is, after all, a Messianic psalm, with parallels to the Gospels. The suffering of Jesus Christ himself resembles our own suffering as believers, and even as common human beings, with the difference that Jesus Christ was sinless and did not deserve to suffer, while we all have sinned and thus are worthy of the death penalty14. Finally, this chapter does reflect the salvation work of God and the consequences of the salvation that God offers us.

Briefly, at least, it would be useful to demonstrate the features of Psalm 116 that are messianic. Jesus Christ was God’s ultimate servant (indeed, being God Himself), and was the daughter of a maidservant of God (namely, Mary). He lived a life of continual calling upon God, and performed mighty works demonstrating the love, mercy, and justice of the Eternal. He was acquainted with sorrow and death, was greatly afflicted, suffered wrongfully at the hand of the unrighteous, and was brought near to death—indeed, crucified for our sins. He was, however, delivered from death and has therefore opened a way for us to salvation. And He today continues to serve on our behalf and gives us an example to follow ourselves.

However, this psalm is not merely reflective of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ alone, but is also reflective of the experiences of believers in general. After all, the death of saints is precious to God. Furthermore, the community of believers as a whole is called on to witness the vow of other believers in worship and obedience15. For many of us, if not all of us, we have the personal experience (or, multiple experiences) where God has delivered us from death and from truly harrowing situations. God does not answer every prayer, at least not in the ways we would wish or expect, but He does answer them according to His own will.

God desires us to be saved, but the salvation He offers to us is not a salvation into ease and freedom from any kind of trouble whatsoever, but is a different sort of freedom. God desires to save us from spiritual death, the fate of all beings whom have set their will against God. This sort of salvation and freedom requires commitment (even public commitment) and requires action on our part, and may even require suffering and physical death. It is for this salvation that we are to be thankful for, for it grants us a life eternal where we will always dwell in the land of the living in the presence of our fellow believers for all time. This is praiseworthy.

Psalm 116 in the Haggadah

Psalm 116 is typically read immediately the cup of salvation (the third cup of four in the Seder) is taken. Both Psalm 116 and 117 deal with the issue of salvation in very direct terms. The psalm is of moderate length and qualifies also as a praise psalm (though it is mainly a messianic one). This psalm is exactly in the middle of the Haggadah, the fourth psalm read (or sung) out of seven.

Parallel Chapters

Psalm 116 has some parallels, but they are not as dramatic as some of the psalms in their parallels elsewhere. Most notably, this psalm parallels Matthew 27:27-35 (the anguish of Christ on the cross), John 13:1-17 (the obligations of the believer to serve), and the betrayal of Jesus Christ leading to salvation for mankind (Matthew 26:27, Luke 22:14-22). These parallels from the Gospel are the most notable. The psalm was quoted by Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:13-14 as proof of Jesus Christ as the hope of salvation for mankind. There are a few psalms with similar language, but none that is a direct parallel to this one. Also noteworthy, perhaps, is the fact that this psalm has a different meaning of “simple” than is found typically in the Proverbs, essentially equivalent to the difference in English between child-like and childish.

Psalm 117

Psalm 117 is the shortest of the psalms in the Haggadah, and indeed the shortest of all the psalms, coming in at a very small two verses. However, it is quite an important chapter far beyond its modest size. First we will do a verse-by-verse commentary, and then we will examine the promise of salvation for all mankind told in this chapter. Then we will look at its place in the Haggadah and then examine some parallel chapters.

Verse-By-Verse Commentary

Verse One

Verse one says: “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples!” All of those who were not of Israel are Gentiles, and peoples here refers to ethnic groups. Not only Israel, but the entire world, was to praise and worship God. God never intended his saving work to be on a racial level, but intended Israel to be an example to lead other nations to worship of God. Sadly, Israel failed in this task and the task was given instead to the spiritual Israel.

Verse Two

Verse two states: “For His merciful kindness is great towards us, and the truth of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!” God’s mercy is great not only towards Israel, but towards all of humanity. This was a fact often overlooked by Jews, especially in the accounts of New Testament. God’s truth endures forever because it is absolute truth and not relativistic. Therefore the truth is objective, and stands beyond the vicissitudes of time. It only remains for us to obey and seek after the truth.

Themes of Psalm 117

There are two main themes of Psalm 117. The first is the fact that God’s salvation is not only for Israelites, but for the entire world. Even the original Exodus included a mixed multitude of Israelites and others. Also, the Mosaic covenant stipulated terms by which foreigners could become full members of Israel without any sort of second-class citizenship due to ethnic origin16. The universal meaning of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ made this opening of salvation to all even more obvious. It should be noted, however, that astute Israelites should have long understood that God’s plan was about grace and not race.

However, it appears as if this chapter, if understood at all, was flagrantly misunderstood to support a sort of Jewish chauvinism. For example, people may have falsely understood this psalm to be telling the Gentiles to praise God for his favor for the Jews. In this case, what was originally a command to praise God for His mercy to all humanity would become a way of making one people appear to be a “master race” above a large group of lesser sorts of people. Obviously, the Gentiles would have little reason to rejoice in salvation that did not include them. This chapter provides vivid evidence that God’s plan for salvation always included those outside of Israel, despite what has often been popularly believed.

Another major theme of Psalm 117 is the eternal nature of the truth of God. It has become fashionable in these times for people to proclaim that there is no objective truth, but that all truth is rather particular, personal, and relative, dependent on culture and individual preference. This is false. As God is beyond the problems of perspective that prevent humanity from reaching full objectivity, God’s truth is beyond the changeable nature of our universe and thus is eternal and enduring. Thankfully, among those eternal truths that do not change at all is the love that God has for humanity, despite our own unworthiness.

Psalm 117 In The Haggadah

Psalm 117 is the fifth psalm of the Haggadah as a whole and the third of five after-dinner psalms for the Seder. Like much of the Haggadah, Psalm 117 is a psalm of praise where God is to be thanked for his lovingkindness for humanity. The focus on the potential universality of salvation makes Psalm 117 distinctive, as does its small size. Unusually among Psalms, there is no glorious repetition of elements here, but rather a direct call to praise God among all humanity.

Parallel Chapters

There are some chapters of the Bible that contain similar concerns to Psalm 117, such as Acts 15 and numerous chapters in the writings of Paul as he commented on the salvation of the Gentiles (see Romans 9-11, Galatians 2, etc.). Isaiah was also concerned with the general nature of salvation, and Zechariah 14 also contains some references to that effect as well. There are also some passages, such as James 1, which deal with the unchangeable nature of God’s truth. Psalm 117 also echoes the anti-racist tone and content of Psalm 87 [2].  However, Psalm 117 is unique for its directness and brevity regarding these points.

Psalm 118

Psalm 118 is generally held to be the climax of the Haggadah, and is a psalm of praise that contains with it some messianic implications also. The psalm is a relatively long one, and also sets up the praise found in Psalm 136 that closes the Haggadah. Of great importance in this psalm is the connection of the experience of believers to that of Jesus Christ as well as the help and salvation that God provides, and the praise we owe to God. After all, the importance of this chapter to the Haggadah should not be neglected.

Verse-By-Verse Commentary

Verse One

Verse one says: “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For his mercy endures forever.” In a similar fashion to numerous verses of Psalm 136 (indeed, the entire chapter), this verse predicates our thankfulness to God on His goodness. Many tyrannical and wicked leaders wish to be thanked merely for existing, and considered as benefactors without having benefited the people. God is not like this, and thus is worthy of praise on moral grounds apart from His power alone.

Verse Two

Verse two states: “Let Israel now say, His mercy endures forever.” Again, this verse reminds one of the Great Hallel, and is a call for all of us, whether of physical or spiritual Israel, to reflect upon the mercy of God. The mercy of God is a blessing we all should appreciate, being aware of our need for it.

Verse Three

Verse three says: “Let the house of Aaron now say, His mercy endures forever.” The house of Aaron, being priests in service to Him, ought to pay special attention to the mercy of God because they held their power despite being sinful human beings like the rest of humanity. This was true despite the fact that the priests often abused their power and were ultimately unworthy of it17.

Verse Four

Verse four states: “Let those who fear the Lord now say, His mercy endures forever.” In addition to those who were priests and Israelites, there have always been those who feared God but who were not a part of the people of Israel. Such God-fearers are what God intended the entire world to be, at least potentially, though the decency and obedience of Israel.

Verse Five

Verse five says: “I called on the Lord in distress; The Lord answered me and set me in a broad place.” It is common for the psalmists to reflect upon distress as being in a valley, of being trapped or constricted. Being placed in a broad place signifies that God has given us space and has delivered us from pressure and fear.

Verse Six

Verse six states: “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” This is the attitude we should have about God. If God is on our side, who can be against us? Obviously, the power of God trumps all other combinations that can be formed against us, and the psalmist is right to reflect upon the confidence that comes from God being on our side, something that we cannot take for granted18.

Verse Seven

Verse seven says: “The Lord is for me among those who help me; therefore I shall see my desire on those who hate me.” Those who hate the just servants of the Eternal hate God Himself, and that is a decision that leads to ruin and utter destruction. To paraphrase the words of Haman’s wife in Esther, if we oppose God’s servants, we will most certainly fail. The desire of all believers should be for the salvation of our enemies, the conversion of those who hate us to our cause, but sometimes that cannot occur in this life.

Verse Eight

Verse eight states: “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.” This is certainly true. God is eternal and just and mankind is often fickle and unreliable. However, we often place our trust in men rather than God. Why is this? Often because we realize that God will not support us in the wrong endeavors, while men will. Instead of changing our ways and seeking the sure will of God, often we would rather trust in our own cleverness.

Verse Nine

Verse nine says: “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes.” If we cannot trust mankind, we can trust leaders even less, for they are even more fickle and wicked than ordinary human beings. If we trust in leaders, we are likely to be left for the vultures at the change of winds for “reasons of state” with no recourse when unsavory plans go awry. This has been a common thread in history in nations and churches and companies.

Verse Ten

Verse ten states: “All nations surrounded me, but in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.” Though we may be opposed by the entire world, if God is for us, the entire world will fail. This verse strikes one as rather messianic, when one reflects that at the second coming all mankind will be against Jesus Christ, but the armies will be destroyed. To a lesser extent this is true of all of us at times when we face extreme opposition.

Verse Eleven

Verse eleven says: “They surrounded me, yes, they surrounded me; but in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.” Again, no matter how trapped in and encircled we may feel by our enemies, if God is for us our enemies will be destroyed. This is something on which we can be sure.

Verse Twelve

Verse twelve states: “They surrounded me like bees; they were quenched like a fire of thorns; for in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.” Again, this verse emphasizes the destruction of the enemies of God, in particularly dramatic terms. Though our enemies may swarm around us like angry bees19, if God is for us our enemies will be burned as if they were thorns in a brushfire.

Verse Thirteen

Verse thirteen says: “You pushed me violently, that I might fall, but the Lord helped me.” Often, our enemies push us down from behind (and then, it can be imagined, laugh at us while we are down20). Such is the behavior of bullies and tyrants. However, God helps us, as he often helps the oppressed (at least ultimately), much to the disappointment of those who assume that God rubber stamps those in power without regard to their morality.

Verse Fourteen

Verse fourteen states: “The Lord is my strength and song, and He has become my salvation.” Ultimately, our strength and salvation come from God and not through any abilities or goodness that we may possess ourselves. All that we have is a gift from God, a point that cannot be emphasized enough. When we give God due credit for what he does and keep life in a proper perspective, we avoid the pitfall of feeling too proud about ourselves, or too discouraged either.

Verse Fifteen

Verse fifteen says: “The voice of rejoicing and salvation is in the tents of the righteous.” Sin brings with it pain and suffering, but ultimately righteousness brings eternal joy and salvation. For that, those who do what is right will be blessed in the end, while those who willfully disobey God will suffer accordingly, not out of the spitefulness of God, but through the natural result of sin.

Verse Sixteen

Verse sixteen states: “The right hand of the Lord is exalted; the right hand of the Lord does valiantly.” As a left-handed person, the consistent references to the power of the right hand of God can be a bit irksome. However, the Bible consistently looks upon the right hand as the signifier of power and might. Obviously, one is guaranteed victory when God is on one’s side.

Verse Seventeen

Verse seventeen says, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.” This verse is, first and foremost, messianic, in that it points to the eternal life and eternal praise from Jesus Christ, as well as His duty as the Word of God. However, the same is true for all believers—we shall all live and declare the works of the Eternal forever.

Verse Eighteen

Verse eighteen states, “The Lord has chastened me severely, but He has not given me over to death.” Again, this verse points to the fact that Christ was not to be dead in the sense that ordinary humans are given over to the grave. This could be said to be similar to the statement that God would not allow His Holy One to see corruption (in the sense of the decay of dead bodies). The same is true of the rest of believers, though. Those whom God loves He rebukes and chastens, but He has not given us over to (eternal) death, but rather calls us into life everlasting.

Verse Nineteen

Verse nineteen says, “Open to me the gates of righteousness; I will go through them, and I will praise the Lord.” Only Jesus Christ, alone among human beings in being without sin, can call on God to open the gates of righteousness, entry into salvation in the Kingdom of God. However, when we accept the call to repentance, then we too can say, with our sins cleansed and our lives made right with God, open to us the gates of righteousness, as well.

Verse Twenty

Verse twenty states, “This is the gate of the Lord, through which the righteous shall enter.” God’s kingdom is only accessible to those who heed the call, repent of their sins, and then follow God’s says. While we can in no way earn our salvation, the gift of salvation requires righteousness. Jesus Christ mentioned in John 10:9 that He was the gate of salvation, though which all who are saved must enter.

Verse Twenty-one

Verse twenty-one says, “I will praise You, for You have answered me, and have become my salvation.” Our response to the grace of God is praise. If we are aware of the depth of human depravity inside of every single one of us, and are aware of the fact that we are nowhere remotely near worthy of entering into God’s Kingdom without the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, then we have reason to be thankful and appreciative of God’s deeds and to praise him through our words and through our righteous conduct.

Verse Twenty-two

Verse twenty-two states, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” This clearly Messianic verse, referred to in Matthew 21:42, Isaiah 53:3, Mark 8:31, and Luke 9:22 and 17, and, furthermore, expounded upon by Jesus Christ Himself in Mark 12:1-12 in the parable of the vineyard owner, clearly refers to Jesus Christ Himself. Despite the widespread rejection of Jesus Christ by mankind, both in His time and afterwards (for though many say they are Christ’s, few act accordingly), J4esus Christ is the only way to salvation for humanity.

Verse Twenty-three

Verse twenty-three says, “This was the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” The work of salvation and the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection into eternal life, the first to take up the immortal form from physical flesh (though, to be fair, Jesus was merely taking up what He had always possessed), is a marvelous work because it foretells our own change from the corruptible to the incorruptible. This too will be the Lord’s doing.

Verse Twenty-four

Verse twenty-four states, “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” God has chosen, for whatever reason, to call us at particular times, and to place us in particular times. Because God has crafted this time for us, we should rejoice and be glad because it is the only time we have. We do not know how long we will inhabit this earth, so we should make the most of what time we have.

Verse Twenty-five

Verse twenty-five says, “Save now, I pray, O Lord; O Lord, I pray, send now prosperity.” Believers, individually and collectively, may call upon God to send blessings to them (though the prosperity He sends may not be physical), and have the right, due to their relationship with God, to call upon Him for salvation. The salvation and prosperity God sends may be physical, but it is most certainly spiritual.

Verse Twenty-six

Verse twenty-six states, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! We have blessed You from the house of the Lord.” This clearly messianic verse (see Mark 11:9, Luke 19:38, Matthew 21:9, John 14:8-11) is so important that if the crowds in Jerusalem had not said this upon the entry of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem, it would have been necessary for the stones to stay them21. Jesus Christ is the one to whom this verse refers, coming in the power of God and the one who reveals to us God and his nature to us.

Verse Twenty-seven

Verse twenty-seven says, “God is the Lord, and He has given us light; bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar.” This verse is intriguing. In light of the messianic focus of much of this verse, it could be a call to make our salvation in Jesus Christ sure. It also seems to be an oblique reference to that other sacrifice, that of Isaac, that was substituted with a ram. In both cases, the reference is messianic. It is through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that we have access to the light of God. This is no light matter.

Verse Twenty-eight

Verse twenty-eight states, “You are my God, and I will praise You; You are my God, I will exalt you.” Again, when we are faced with both the power and the goodness22 of God, our response is to praise and exalt God. We have the responsibility of recognizing and appreciating the greatness of God, especially in the light of what He does in our own lives.

Verse Twenty-nine

Verse twenty-nine says, “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” And so the chapter ends as it begins (see verse one) in the celebration of thanks to God for His mercy. Thanks to the enduring mercy of God, we need not fear God (in the sense of terror) but can love and respect Him.

Themes of Psalm 118

Among the themes of Psalm 118 is a strong messianic focus, our need to trust and rely on God, and the salvation that God provides. These themes, which are interlocking, provide us with a great deal of understanding about the (moral) nature of God. In reflecting upon them, it is noteworthy to remember that they are an important bridge in showing how the Old Covenant is a shadow of the New Covenant, but this does not lessen the importance of the old in any way. Rather, a shadow gains importance based on the greatness of what it foreshadows. So it is with the Bible.

Psalm 118 is a particularly noteworthy messianic Psalm. There are others, but the quoting of particularly verses 22 and 26 in the New Testament relating to the entrance of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem and to the rejection of Christ by the religious leaders of His day are especially noteworthy to us during the Spring Holy day season (and at other times as well). This verse is full of references to the salvation that Jesus Christ provides (itself an important theme) and it is worthwhile to understand that apart from Jesus Christ there is no salvation for anyone. This is a fact insufficiently recognized, but it bears repeating here because this psalm looks forward to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, for the anonymous author considers the promissory nature of the sacrifice. We look back on it, but that sacrifice has the same effect on us as it would on someone living before—we are aware that without the unblemished sacrifice of Jesus Christ we would not have our sins forgiven and we would stand condemned for all time to death because of our sins. We could not have a relationship with God (because our sins would separate us from Him) and we would have no way of bridging that gulf. Thanks be to God for bridging that gulf for us, and thanks be to our Savior for giving up his own power and glory to come as a human being and die for our sins, and then show us the way to glory by picking up his glory again and interceding for us as our high priest in heaven.

Our need to trust and rely on God is also important. For one, where we are weak, God is strong. God does not use this strength to tyrannize others (in contrast to all too many human beings) but rather uses this strength to defend the weak from the bullying of the wicked. This has particular meaning to me on a personal level, as I had to deal with a great deal of abuse from others as a child. When I became bigger myself, I determined to use my power and strength and force of intellect and will to help those who were smaller and weaker rather than to abuse them as I had been abused. Needless to say, I also find trust difficult. But like the anonymous psalmist, I too find it better to trust in God than to rely on the fickleness of other people and in the treachery of princes. For unlike these fickle and unstable beings, with God it can be relied upon that if God is for you, no one, and no combination of others, will ever be able to destroy you, regardless of how they outnumber and surround you. This is something all of us can take great pleasure in, recognizing it is God’s doing and not ours.

Finally, the salvation of God is of great importance in this psalm as well. Part of that salvation is from enemies. Our enemies are both physical and spiritual, and deliverance from destruction is an important element of salvation. In this sense, part of salvation is the escape from a fate that would be certain without God but is extremely unpleasant. God sometimes provides for us physical deliverance, but He always promises us spiritual deliverance first and foremost. We must remember that our aim is not to rule this physical world, but to enter the spiritual one, to become sons and daughters of God and receive the immortality and incorruptibility that comes therein. We must also take upon us the nature of God and Jesus Christ (that is, the character of them: their righteousness and justice and love and mercy). Only when we take upon us the essence of God and become like Him does He then allow us to enter through the gate of salvation. That it cannot be any other way is not to punish us, but should remind us that God will not allow another Satan—and that can only be done if we have the nature before we have the glory.

Psalm 118 in the Haggadah

Psalm 118 and Psalm 136 are the psalms that are read over the fourth cup of the Seder, the cup of praise. Psalm 118 forms the climax of the Haggadah, pointing to the New Testament and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. As such, Psalm 118 forms an interesting dual purpose. In reflecting upon our salvation (and at the author and finisher of that salvation) with praise, we gain a better understanding of ourselves and our duties and responsibilities, as well as about our own natural human state. It is not empty repetition of ritual, but reflection on that ritual, that provides us with the deep meaning we need. Psalm 118 gives much to reflect upon about the unpopularity of the righteous, as well as, ultimately, how little that matters to God.

Parallel Chapters

Psalm 118 does not have any real parallel chapters in the sense of different accounts of the same events. However, it does have strong connections with various parts of scripture. The same language used in this psalm is used in many other psalms (most notably Psalm 136, which we will turn to next). There are also some connections with various prophetic chapters in Isaiah, especially with regards to the messianic meaning of this psalm. The most notable connections this psalm has, though, is to the Gospels, where two verses are quoted of great importance (as already mentioned) and are widely reflected on in the early church of God (see 1 Peter 2:9, 1 Corinthians 1:18, Acts 7:56, Hebrews 12:2). Indeed, the importance of this psalm as a messianic psalm is reflected in these strong connections.

Psalm 136

Psalm 136 closes the Haggadah and is known as the “Great Hallel.” This anonymous psalm has this title because it is perhaps the most notable example of praise in the entire Psalms. Each verse of this psalm ends with “For His mercy endures forever.” This psalm also has notable links with the Songs of Ascents, which are another interesting collection of Psalms for the pilgrimage feasts of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles (in particular the last one). As such Psalm 136 is a very flexible psalm of great importance.

Verse-By-Verse Commentary

Verse One

Verse one says: “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” This verse sets up the pattern of giving thanks to the Eternal and remembering his enduring mercy. In this verse the celebration of God is due to His goodness, an essential place to begin reflecting on the nature of God.

Verse Two

Verse two states: “Oh, give thanks to the God of gods! For His mercy endures forever.” This verse celebrates that God is supreme over all over spiritual beings, especially the pagan gods of the nations surrounding Israel.

Verse Three

Verse three says: “Oh, give thanks to the Lord of lords! For His mercy endures forever.” Here the psalmist praises God for being in charger over all leaders, all kings, and supreme over all authority.

Verse Four

Verse four states: “To Him who alone does great wonders, for His mercy endures forever.” This verse begins a new section, retaining the reminder of God’s enduring mercy but now focusing on more specific reasons why God is to be praised. All wonders come from God—when people do what is wonderful, the wonder comes from God through us rather than being from us.

Verse Five

Verse five says: “To Him who by wisdom made the heavens, for His mercy endures forever.” Remembering God for his Creation is a wise course of action, for God created the universe in wisdom, not in folly or haste or incompetence. Indeed, God created the universe through intelligent design.

Verse Six

Verse six states: “To Him who laid out the earth above the waters, for His mercy endures forever.” Again speaking of the creation, God lovingly formed the earth above the waters so that mankind and other land creatures could live. Thus, God provides for us everything from the ground up, in a manner of speaking.

Verse Seven

Verse seven says: “To Him who made great lights, for His mercy endures forever.” Indeed, God made the sun, moon, and stars, as will be seen below.

Verse Eight

Verse eight states: “The sun to rule by day, for His mercy endures forever.” This verse comments on the sun as ruling over the day. Instead of worshipping the sun, as many heathen peoples of the time did, this psalmist wisely recognize that the sun rules over the day as a symbol of God’s rule over the light. Indeed, the sun symbolizes righteousness and God’s ability to banish shadows and uncover the works of darkness as well.

Verse Nine

Verse nine says: “The moon and stars to rule by night, for His mercy endures forever.” The moon and stars, which are dimmer (to us on earth) than the sun, symbolize the state of mankind apart from God. Though many of the stars are brighter than our sun, when we are cut off from God and God is distant, that light is weak when it appears to us. Also, our leaders, even righteous ones, are like the moon, for they have no light of their own but merely shine through the reflected glory that comes from God. Of ourselves we have no light. However, God in His mercy provides some light even in the darkness that is night.

Verse Ten

Verse ten states: “To Him who struck Egypt in their firstborn, for His mercy endures forever.” God is here praised for the final plague of slaying the firstborn in all of Egypt, which finally allowed Israel to be free from slavery. Therefore this psalm is particularly appropriate for the Night To Be Much Observed.

Verse Eleven

Verse eleven says: “And brought out Israel from among them, for His mercy endures forever. Again, God is worthy of praise for delivering us from slavery—whether that is physical slavery (as ancient Israel was delivered from) or the slavery to sin that is the fate of all mankind.

Verse Twelve

Verse twelve states: “With a strong hand, and with an outstretched arm, for His mercy endures forever.” God did not deliver Israel in a sneaky fashion, as though He were timid and afraid of the Egyptians, but with the full power that comes from acting in the light of day. In this way God also delivers us from sin through great power and by reaching to us, not in a way that is cowardly in the least.

Verse Thirteen

Verse thirteen says: “To Him who divided the Red Sea in two, for His mercy endures forever.” Again, God acted to deliver His people by acting outside the expected course of nature in opening a way through the sea, showing God’s power over the physical environment in a particularly dramatic way.

Verse Fourteen

Verse fourteen states: “And made Israel pass through the midst of it, for His mercy endures forever.” Not only did God open up a route through the sea, but the Israelites demonstrated some measure of faith due to the command of God to go through the way. God could have made a bridge for Israel to walk over the sea, but by walking through it Israel was reminded that their salvation was due to God alone.

Verse Fifteen

Verse fifteen says: “But overthrew Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, for His mercy endures forever.” While Israel was delivered by the Red Sea, Pharaoh’s chariots were destroyed in the same sea, demonstrating that no natural cause allowed Israel to be delivered into safety, but the very power of God Himself.

Verse Sixteen

Verse sixteen states: “To Him who led His people through the wilderness, for His mercy endures forever.” God demonstrated great mercy in leading Israel through the wilderness, for Israel was a rather complaining and grumbling lot of people. The actions of Israel can be compared to those of children on a long road trip who continually harry their parents by asking, “Are we there yet?”

Verse Seventeen

Verse seventeen says: “To Him who struck down great kings, for His mercy endures forever.” Many kings viewed themselves as being divine or semi-divine during this period, but God did not respect their arrogant hostility towards His people or their blasphemous claims, and he struck down many kings so that Israel could gain their promised land.

Verse Eighteen

Verse eighteen states: “And slew famous kings, for His mercy endures forever.” The kings that God dealt with were not obscure no-names. Some of them may have been mentioned in the Tel-Amarna letters23. These kings were the rulers of somewhat substantial states, but their kingdoms were of no safety to them when they opposed the will of God.

Verse Nineteen

Verse nineteen says: “Sihon king of the Amorites, for His mercy endures forever.” The end of Sihon, king of the Amorites, is described in Numbers 21:21-32. He had been a mighty foe of the Moabites, but when he attacked Israel at the site of Jahaz, he was killed, his armies were routed, and his kingdom was destroyed and taken over by the Israelites.

Verse Twenty

Verse twenty states: “And Og, king of Bashan, for His mercy endures forever.” The end of Og, king of Bashan (the kingdom to the north of the Amorites on the east side of the Jordan river), is described in Numbers 21:33-35. Og attacked the Israelites at the site of Edrei, and he and his armies and people were destroyed until no one was left of his family and people, and Israel took over those lands also.

Verse Twenty-One

Verse twenty-one says: “And gave their land as a heritage, for His mercy endures forever.” Two and a half tribes, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of the tribe of Manasseh, settled in this area that had been taken from Sihon and Og. This rich area would later form the nucleus of a kingdom of Pekah, one of the last independent kings of Israel before the Assyrian captivity.

Verse Twenty-Two

Verse twenty-two states: “A heritage to Israel His servant, for His mercy endures forever.” God’s blessing of these kingdoms to Israel was not due to the greatness of Israel, but rather the plan of God Himself. Our blessings come by the permission of God, not by our own will alone.

Verse Twenty-Three

Verse twenty-three says: “Who remembered us in our lowly state, for His mercy endures forever.” Here God’s mercy is demonstrated by His focus on Israel when they were yet slaves, but became a great nation. God does not look only on the external glory of people, but chooses to give favor and grace to those who are lowly. We must remember this in our own lives. None of us are too insignificant to be blessed in the eyes of God24.

Verse Twenty-Four

Verse twenty-four states: “And rescued us from our enemies, for His mercy endures forever.” This verse reminds us that we cannot save ourselves from our foes, but God does It is possible that Psalm 136 was written after the Babylonian captivity, in which case this verse (and the last) would have additional meaning as to God’s rescue.

Verse Twenty-Five

Verse twenty-five says: “Who gives food to all flesh, for His mercy endures forever.” As Matthew 6 invokes us to give God thanks for our daily bread, this verse reminds is that God is responsible for providing our survival, as well as that of every creature. Nothing can exist apart from God.

Verse Twenty-Six

Verse twenty-six states: “Oh, give thanks to the God of heaven! For His mercy endures forever.” This verse closes the Great Hallel by reminding us to give thanks to God. Again, it is good (for us) that God’s mercy endures forever, or else we would be in truly desperate straits.

Themes of Psalm 136

There are quite a few themes in Psalms 136, but I would like to focus on three of them. The first is the enduring mercy of God, which is repeated at the end of every verse of Psalm 136. The second is the power of God and the uses this power is used for. Not only is God all-powerful, but the ways in which God uses His power are useful for us to know and imitate. Finally, a major theme of this psalm is our response to the power of God, which is thankfulness.

Why would God have to remind us of his enduring mercy? God could strike us down at any moment, and many people fear this for every sin, condemning God for His harshness whenever anything bad happens when God does not desire to punish us, but rather desires us to obey willingly and not out of fear. God is a loving and merciful being, slow to anger and quick to forgive. We often forget this and mistake his kindness for weakness. How frustrating it must be for Him to look down on us wallowing in our own despair unable to see the loving and just God who created us. This psalm is a welcome reminder of God’s mercy, which we need to remember in tandem to his righteousness and justice.

Second, it is important to remember God’s power. God shows His power in this psalm in several ways. The first is through the signs and wonders of the physical world and the physical creation, which exists because of God’s power and wisdom. Next, God demonstrates His power in this Psalm through his actions in delivering Israel from Egypt and through the wilderness. Here we see God use His power to deliver the powerless, a reminder of God’s justice and the ends of His power. We also see God’s power in his remembering the lowly and giving His people a heritage. God does not use His power to bully, but rather uses it to help others. Let us remember this and do likewise.

Finally, a major theme of this psalm is thankfulness. Our response to the saving action of God should not be sullenness or hostility, but thankfulness to God for doing what He did not have to do, but that He chose to do. Like God, we are beings of free moral agency, and it is important to remember that God can choose not to save us either. He is not a genie in a bottle at our command, and neither is he a distant deist watchmaker who sets perfection into motion and then leaves it alone to follow its own course. But our thankfulness cannot be compelled, and neither can we be truly thankful due to a guilt trip. We must choose to be thankful, and it is our choices that reveal our character.

Psalm 136 In The Haggadah

Psalm 136 closes the Haggadah. By reminding us of God’s mercy, God’s power, and the saving action of God through the Exodus, this psalm serves to remind us of what the Seder means. As the psalm is the quintessential psalm of praise in the Bible, it is a fitting way for the Haggadah (a collection of praise psalms, after all) to end. Seen in that way, what could have become a boring recititave becomes a rather glorious closing.

Parallel Chapters

There are a few parallel chapters to Psalm 136. The Creation is told in Genesis 1 and 2, and this forms the background of the first part of this psalm. The account of Israel escaping Egypt and being delivered through the wilderness is told in Exodus 12, 13, 14 and Numbers 21. The other parallels are relatively minor. This chapter does not appear to be a particularly cited one in the New Testament, but the concept of God’s enduring mercy is certainly a major one.

Why Is The Haggadah Important To Christians?

Many Christians do not know the term Haggadah, much less know the psalms it contains or the links the Haggadah contains to both the Old Testament and New Testament Passover. What, then, is the importance of the Haggadah to Christians in the New Covenant? Looking at the psalms themselves, there are a few reasons why it is important for Christians to be familiar with these hymns. There are, no doubt, reasons I will not mention, and some reasons may be more important to different people, but there is reason enough for all who respect the Bible to find great worth in the Haggadah.

Psalms In The New Testament

There are at least two ways in which Psalms, particularly the songs of the Haggadah, is important in the New Testament. The first of these involves the quoting of the Psalms of the Haggadah in the New Testament. The various ways in which the psalms of the Haggadah are referenced or quoted in the New Testament is worthy of note and itself demonstrates the value of the Haggadah to Christians. There is also, though, a way in which the book of Psalms as a whole is valuable in providing the template for psalms that appear in the New Testament. This aspect of the book of Psalms is worthy of reflection also.

There are a few New Testament books which contain references or quotes from the Haggadah. Some of these are worthy of comment. The books include 2 Corinthians (which references Psalm 116 and 118), Romans (which references Psalm 116 and Psalm 118), and Matthew, Mark, and Luke (which all reference or quote Psalm 118). In addition, Luke 22:15 refers to hymns, likely the Haggadah, that Jesus Christ sang with his disciples on the evening He was taken into custody. This alone makes the Haggadah of interest to Christians.

Though hymns in the New Testament often are not noticed as such, it is noteworthy to look at some Psalms of the New Testament that most resemble the Haggadah. One particular hymn occurs in Luke 1:46-55, called the Magnificat in Latin, is the hymn where Mary (who has just been informed that she is carrying within her our Lord and Savior) sings about the mercy of God, how God regards the lowly, and how God acts in ways that exalt the lowly and humble the mighty. The themes of this hymn are quite close in many ways to Psalm 113, which itself is quite similar to Hannah’s hymn in 1 Samuel 2. There are also similarities with the messianic theme of Psalm 118 also, among many other verses. The wonderful examples of parallelism throughout psalms have a New Testament parallel with the simple and elegant couplets found in 1 Timothy 3:16: “God was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up in glory.” The hymns of Revelation 4, for example, also demonstrate a kindred spirit with the psalms in their beautiful repetition with changes for emphasis. This is a further demonstration of the importance of Psalms in the New Testament.

Duality

There are quite a few aspects of the Haggadah that are valuable to reflect upon concerning the duality between physical and spiritual Israel. One of these aspects involves the duality between the Old Testament and New Testament Passover. This involves the two Exoduses and the two Egypts. Another aspect of duality involves the physical and spiritual Creation. Our reflection of God’s marvelous handiwork in the universe leads us, naturally, to reflect upon the new, spiritual, creation going on inside of those who have heeded the call of God to enter into His family. Indeed, these aspects of duality (and others) reflect the importance of the Haggadah to Christians today.

Though most Christians today do not keep the New Testament Passover25, the Haggadah provides a clear link in dualism between the original Passover and the New Testament Passover. For one, both the Old Testament Passover and the New Testament Passover are to be kept on the same day26. While the Old Testament Passover (see Psalm 114 for the reference in the Haggadah) celebrates the deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt, the New Testament Passover commemorates the sacrifice of Jesus Christ which delivers us from sin. In that way, the Haggadah forms a link between the two Egypts (the nation as well as the concept of sin). The sacrifice of the lamb (literal and metaphorical) is another tie between the two Passovers, as is the (unleavened) bread and wine. Furthermore, the four cups of the Seder form links with the experience of New Covenant Christians. Our salvation comes from Christ, who Himself took upon Himself the penalty for all of our sins, and the plague of our infirmities, and who is worthy of our praise and thanks.

Another aspect worthy of mention about the dualism in the New Testament concerns the physical and spiritual creations. Psalm 136 contains a praise to God for His creation (as well as praise for much else, including the deliverance of Israel from Egypt). But just as we celebrate God for his role in Creation, for his intelligent design of the universe and world and life, and even in his guidance of human affairs to fulfill His will, we also celebrate God for the New Creation He provides in us through His Holy Spirit. Just as the congregation of Israel celebrated their being a people chosen and peculiar by God, so do we in the congregation of God celebrate our chosen nature, chosen to set an example to the world so that all may have the chance to become sons of God through the promises made to Abraham, Moses, David, and others.

Salvation

A major theme of the Haggadah is salvation. This salvation is dual, but merits special interest because the salvation aspects of the Haggadah are pronounced, especially in Psalms 116-118. In fact, there are really at least three ways in which salvation is notable in the Haggadah. The first is the messianic focus of Psalms 116 and 118, which is of great importance for Christians (obviously). Next is the way in which salvation is expressed for the believer in Psalms 116 and 118. Finally, the way in which salvation (even in the Psalms) is open to Gentiles as well as Israelites is worthy of mention because this fact has not been sufficiently recognized by many people.

Both Psalms 116 and 118 are messianic, and this provides a particular importance to the Haggadah. Both Psalm 116 and 118 are quoted referring to Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Paul quotes Psalm 116:9-10 as a demonstration in the hope of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Matthew 21:42, Luke 19:38, and Mark 11:9 all quote verses from Psalm 118. In fact, the importance of Psalm 118 (see verses 22 and 26 in particular) is such that if the people had not quoted it to Jesus when he entered the city of Jerusalem, the stones would have done so. This is a remarkable demonstration of the importance of the Haggadah in the New Testament.

The messianic hope offered by the Haggadah leads in turn to salvation for believers. Both Psalms 116 and 118 present a picture of salvation for believers as a whole thanks to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Psalm 116 speaks of martyrdom (in verse 15), which indicates that the salvation may not be in this life (see also Hebrews 11 for a similar view). Psalm 116 also speaks of the response of the believer to the offer of salvation, which is praise in the community of believers. If someone truly believes, they will seek out and worship with other believers. Psalm 118 praises God for delivering believers from death and from widespread opposition. This is something that Christians must face, and God gives us the strength to deal with the difficulties of our lives. He does not promise that salvation is easy—but merely that it is worth it.

Psalm 117 gives one of the most dramatic (but not the only) indication that the salvation of all was part of God’s plan from the beginning. In two verses Psalm 117 demolishes the notion that the Israelites were alone to share in the salvation and worship of God. For if the Gentiles are to praise God and reflect upon His merciful kindness, they are to share in that kindness and mercy as well, which means the way of salvation is open to them. If they are to reflect upon the truth of God, then they must be aware of and be followers of His law, with full privileges as if they were Israelites in the flesh. And if race does not determine grace, then it is the conduct of believers, and not their ancestry, that determines whether they are blessed in the sight of God. Thus Psalm 117 naturally forms as segue into the questions of Acts, Hebrews, Galatians, and Romans about the status of Gentile believers. Since the sacrifice of Jesus Christ opens the way of salvation to all, we have no account for glorying because of the flesh—for if we are blessed by being in one ethnic group, gender, class, etc., it means God only expects more out of us due to our blessings. And if we are cursed with a disadvantageous position, we know that God has not denied to us the way into His kingdom because of that disadvantage.

Social Justice

The opening of salvation to all is a convenient point to reflect upon the last reason why I think the Haggadah is important to Christians. A common concern among many Christians today is the social justice aspect of the Bible, one that has often been ignored by established churches. All too often the clear mandates of the Bible concerning the poor, the mistreated, and the marginalized have been twisted to serve the interests of the wealthy, the abusers, and the powerful. The Haggadah shares (along with Jesus Christ and the Prophets) a strong focus on social justice. After all, social justice is a very important part of the command to love others (even our enemies) as we love ourselves, and we cannot fulfill the Golden Rule without being just and merciful to others.

One way in which social justice manifests itself in the Haggadah is present in Psalm 113. One of my favorite chapters of the Bible, Psalm 113 reflects upon the greatness of God and how God pays particular attention to the weak and poor, to the orphans, to barren women who have no children of their own. God, though He is far beyond us in understanding and power, pays particular attention to those whom society pays little attention to except for scorn and abuse. As someone who has struggled with a long history of abuse and ridicule from my earliest childhood, I strongly identify with this call for just behavior. God chooses those who are the least to bring to shame those whom are the greatest. And for that we praise the Eternal.

In another way, a bit more roundabout, we see the social justice of God in Psalm 118 when the anonymous psalmist reflects upon how God helps those who are outnumbered by what appears to be the entire world. Speaking as an American young man, I have seen with my own eyes that many people are not particularly friendly to genuine outsiders. There are many predators which prey on the weak and on those who are alone. God, however, is a friend to those who are friendless, and strength to those who are powerless against great numbers of enemies. Too often it is easy to despair when faced with so much wickedness in the world, so much pain and suffering, so much rejection and loneliness. But if God is for us, who can be against us?

Concluding Thoughts

Though these reflections have gone on a bit longer than I originally intended, I believe that the Haggadah is of great use, and hopefully I have not tried the patience of anyone who reads these thoughts. Perhaps in the future I will take a slightly less ambitious set of scriptures for my thoughts of the weekend, for this took me some weeks to write, far past the time I originally wished to spend. However, I considered the thoughts worthwhile enough to bring to a conclusion. While Christians may, by and large, be unfamiliar with the Haggadah, for Jews it may be an empty ritual repeated yearly without thought and reflection. For those blessed with familiarity with these psalms, it is important to understand their greater meaning and importance. For those who are just coming to any knowledge of these songs, especially as a unit, placing them in their context gives them a greater meaning than the mere words would originally indicate. Either way, these psalms, focused as they are on the Spring Holy Days, a time of particular reflection on our lives, give much food for thought as we reflect upon the nature of God, on our own nature, and on the state of our society. God is just, and merciful, and loving, and if we are true followers of Him, so shall we be also. Thus concludes my reflections on the Haggadah.

1 The Seder is also known as the Night To Be Much Observed, and celebrates the escape of the Israelites from Egypt.

2 Or “The Eternal,” or YHWH (Yahweh, etc.), and so throughout.

3 That which is evil or fallen or corrupt is not created such but is rather a perversion of an existing good and noble creation of God’s.

4 This is an understatement, of course, as the deliverance of Israel from Egypt, and what that means for us today, is the main subject of interest on this night.

5 In this sense, this verse has a doctrine of ekklesia close to that of the New Testament.

6 Probably to be identified with a mountain in Saudi Arabia rather than the mountain on which sits the Monastery of St. Catherine’s. It appears that the Byzantines were entirely incorrect with their placing of churches.

7 At least unless God chose to speak through them as he did through Balaam’s jackass, or decided to raise up stones to praise our Savior.

8 This was the understanding, after all, of Job’s three faithless friends. It was also the belief practiced by 1st century Jews, who also held to a form of “prosperity theology.” Finally, it remains particularly influential in the United States thanks to the influence of such books as “The Prayer of Jabez.” Obviously, while one would expect that righteousness would lead to blessings overall, this cannot be assumed, and there are clearly biblical indications that trials also come for true believers, and that blessings may wait until God’s kingdom to come in many cases.

9 Traditionally, there are three heavens: the atmosphere, the physical universe, and God’s throne.

10 An alternate chronology has AD 34 as the date of Jesus’ death. We can be sure, whatever the date that the last supper occurred on a Tuesday evening in order to fulfill the prophecy about Jesus Christ being in the earth for 72 hours (3 days and 3 nights).

11 We possess many more gifts than we admit in darker hours. As my first name means “gift” or “given,” I am often reminded of this concept.

12 This is a fact all too often neglected by the children of believers, who may wish to passively accept the blessings that accrue to them as children of believers without the need to recognize what sins they themselves need to repent of, and without the need to develop a personal relationship with God and face the difficult task of making a firm commitment to obedience and love.

13 God requires us to fellowship with other believers on a regular basis—weekly at least—with the intent that our relationships with other believers would strengthen our faith by giving us a greater understanding of God’s way as well as a greater understanding of what we need to overcome.

14 Thankfully, the justice of God is not of the pitiless sort.

15 For me, personally, a particularly touching example of this witnessing occurred when I was baptized into the family of God on February 26, 2000. After what was a relatively scary baptism, when I was unable to gain footing after the full-immersion baptism and had to be dragged up by the pastor, Mr. Robin Webber, to avoid drowning, I was welcomed into the family by other believers who had been watching the baptism. The camaraderie there was very much appreciated, and I have sought thereafter to greet new believers with a similar sense of welcome.

16 We see this most notably in the examples of Tamar, Rehab, and Ruth, who were all Gentiles (two Canaanites and one Moabitess) who became converts to the truth and were included in the lineage of our Savior Himself. For women, it was apparently necessary to convert and marry a believer to become a full part of the believing community. For men, circumcision was necessary.

17 Of course, it should be noted that my mother’s father is a member of the Cohenim, so I am, myself, a descendent of the Aaronic priesthood myself.

18 Indeed, our confidence in God being on our side should result from a true understanding of our conduct. If we are behaving wickedly (such as the South during the American Civil War, where both North and South famously invoked God as favoring their side), then we can have no just claim to the support and alliance of God.

19 Again, I have a personal story about this sort of thing. When I was a child I used a water hose on a beehive. It was an ill-advised decision.

20 I have many personal experiences about bullying, which I carry with me as scars in my soul, reminders of the cruelty and wickedness of humanity.

21 Not coincidentally, I make a frequent joke about the need for stones to speak given the lack of our lack of ability in preaching the full and accurate truth of God in these times. Some preach (truly) the need for obedience, and some preach (truly) the need for social justice in order to do as Christ did and as true servants of God have done for time immemorial, but the lack of people who call for the obedience of both of the Great commandments is lamentable.

22 Both are necessary for us to praise and exalt God. If God were good but had no power, we would not respect (exalt) Him. If God were powerful, but not good, He would be a bully and not worthy of our praise and love and devotion, but rather our abject terror. Those who have survived abuse are all too aware of this. It is because God is both powerful and good that He is worthy of our devotion. If only more people in authority would realize the need to focus on their goodness and not just their power.

23 These letters, written during the late 15th century, during the reign of Akhenaton, detail the invasion of Caanan by a group of “raiders” known as Apiru, which is suspiciously close to Hebrew. There are some discrepancies between the account in Joshua and the letters, but the writers of the letters, themselves kings of various Canaanite city-states, certainly had reason to shade the alarming accounts they wrote.

24 I had a discussion about this subject with a friend of mine, Stacey Seelig, a classmate of mine from the 2004 class of the Ambassador Bible Center, and, as of the date of this footnote (4/6/2007) a teacher at the Legacy Institute in Chang Mai, Thailand. This very day I discussed with her the mercy of God’s actions and his particular care to the lowly in this world. We both agreed that Christians, particularly in wealthier countries, had far too little concern for the needs of justice in this world. Like Thomas Jefferson, I tremble when I reflect that God is just and that His justice does not sleep forever. Truly, the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.

25 The New Testament Passover, as instituted by Jesus Christ in the Gospels, and defended by Paul (most notably in 1 Corinthians), and taught in the post-apostolic period by Polycarp and Polycrates,

26 Over time the Old Testament Passover has come to be about 24 hours behind the New Testament Passover, but many people who keep the New Testament Passover also keep what is called the Night To Be Much Observed 24 hours later to commemorate the Exodus, as well.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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