Every year, at the beginning of the Days of Unleavened Bread, it is the custom of the Church of God to have a special meal to commemorate the people of Israel leaving slavery in Egypt, which is symbolic of our leaving the slavery of sin. The Jews, in celebration of this evening, sing a collection of songs called the Haggadah, while drinking four symbolic cups of wine, after a dinner of lamb and bitter herbs. The Psalms they sing are Psalms 113 through 118, as well as Psalm 136.
We do not have time tonight to cover all of these hymns and their meaning. One year before the Days of Unleavened Bread I took this task upon myself and it took me almost 40 pages of typed paper to do so for my own personal studies . This message will be much shorter and we will look at only two of the short hymns that the Jews sing every year at the beginning of the Days of Unleavened Bread. Our question for tonight’s Bible Study is very simple. What truths do Psalms 113 and 117 tell us about the purpose of the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread that should have been obvious to the Jews but remains misunderstood to this day by those who claim to know the Bible best.
He Raises The Poor Out Of The Dust
If you listen to many preachers from the West, or if you read the writings of many Jews of Jesus’ day, you would think that God has no interest in the poor or needy. You would think that they are as unimportant to God as they are to the vast majority of society. It is a common but mistaken belief today among many that people are poor or suffer from illnesses because of their sins. It is also mistakenly assumed that the wealthy and powerful are that way because they are righteous. Neither of these are necessarily true, or often true even. Some poor people are that way because of their sins, but for many more others their poverty and suffering is the burden they are called to bear, a trial that refines their character in the eyes of God, and is little or no fault of their own. In the same way, some wealthy people are righteous, but many people gain their wealth or increase it unrighteously, and fail to use that wealth in a godly manner, so their wealth gives them greater judgment and wrath from God.
We see this, in part, in Psalm 113. Psalm 113:1-9 reads as follows: “Praise the Lord! Praise, O servants of the Lord! Blessed be the name of the Lord from this forth and forevermore! From the rising of the sun to its going down the Lord’s name is to be praised. The Lord is high above all nations, His glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, who dwells on high, who humbles himself to behold the things that are in the heavens and in the earth? He raises the poor out of the dust, and lifts the needy out of the ash heap, that He may seat him with princes—with the princes of His people. He grants the barren woman a home, like a joyful mother of children. Praise the Lord!”
This hymn begins the Jewish Passover ceremony. It is a song of praise to God for his greatness, for His grace and lovingkindness, for His mercy and His humility. God’s name is to be praised all hours of the day. God’s greatness is far above the heavens above or the earth below. And yet Jesus Christ Himself, Creator of heaven and earth, humbled Himself to death by crucifixion as a criminal and rebel in the eyes of the corrupt kingdoms of this earth so that he could lift us from the dust and seat us with princes as part of His royal family. He also cares for those who are without children so that they may have godly spiritual families just as God is creating a family from the peoples of this earth.
This truth is as true in the Church of God today as it was for the people of ancient Israel. Just as God said here in Psalm 113 that He raises the poor out of the dust, so Paul said the same thing about the Church of God in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31. 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 makes the same point as Psalm 113: “For you see your calling brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things which are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.”
This is exactly the point of Psalm 113. God chose Israel, a people in slavery who were not a free nation, who were oppressed and abused and bullied by harsh rulers, to become His holy nation and His chosen priesthood, to be a model and example of obedience to God’s ways. Israel was chosen not because of their glory but to reflect God’s glory and to teach the nations the blessings of obedience to God. The same is true for us. Most of us are nothing special in our backgrounds. We do not come from pampered elites or royal families. Most of us are not highly educated intellectuals or wealthy or powerful people whom the world considers important. The gifts that God has given us are to be developed to serve for the glory of God. For we are not anything special except that God has chosen to work with us, to turn our ignorance into wisdom, to turn our weakness into strength, and to turn our poverty and obscurity into being a part of God’s royal family, to be kings and priests over the whole earth, if we are willing and remain repentant and obedient.
Praise The Lord All You Gentiles
Let us now turn to our second psalm for this evening, Psalm 117. Psalm 117 is the shortest chapter in the entire Bible, at only 2 verses. But its message is important even if it is very brief. Psalm 117:1-2 reads: “Praise, the Lord, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples! For His merciful kindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord.”
It should be obvious from this psalm that all the people of the earth were supposed to praise and worship God. God did not have some people that were special enough to get to know him while ignoring all the rest of the world. Instead God is the Father and Creator of all mankind, and all men and women and children, no matter what tribe or nation they come from. This should not be hard to understand. The people of Israel had been the firstfruits not because they were anything special themselves, but because God had chosen to do a special work through them. They failed in their purpose, and so instead God chose to work through the “Israel of God” made up of believers from all nations. And yet some people today still view their ancestors as more important than their faith.
It should have been obvious to the Jews that God was intending on calling the Gentiles to worship Him in spirit and in truth all along, and He would have been able to call more Gentiles had the people of Israel and Judah been less arrogant in their own ancestry and more faithful to the God of their fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This leads to another question. Are the Sabbaths, all of them, like we are keeping today, for the Jews only or for all peoples? Many Jews falsely believe that these Sabbaths are only for the Jews and Israelites.
Yet that is not so. Let us read Isaiah 56:1-8. Isaiah 56:1-8 makes it plain that salvation and the Sabbaths are for the Gentiles as well as Israelites: “Thus says the Lord: “Keep justice, and do righteousness, for My salvation is about to come, and My righteousness is to be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, and the man who lays hold on it; who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and keeps his hand from doing any evil.” Do not let the son of the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord speak, saying, “The Lord has utterly separated me from His people;” nor let the eunuch say, “Here I am, a dry tree.” For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant, even to them I will give in My house and within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants—everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant—Even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” The Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, says, “Yet I will gather to him others besides those who are gathered to him.”
What does this mean? Let us be blunt. God here is making it clear that through Jesus Christ He opens up salvation to all peoples. It does not matter what tribe or people one is descended from, for if you believe you are gathered to Israel and become a citizen of the New Jerusalem, to inherit eternal life as a child of Abraham, father of the faithful. Nor does it matter if one is a eunuch, someone who cannot marry and have children. The Jews looked down on the Gentiles, calling them dogs. Today, many people in the Church of God look down on those who are unmarried. And yet God says that all who call on His name, who hold fast to His covenant and follow His laws, especially the Sabbaths—the weekly Sabbath, the holy days, the land Sabbath, the Jubilees—will enter His kingdom and be given an everlasting name and eternal life. God calls the outcasts of the world today, just as He always has.
It took the apostles a long time to realize this fact themselves. Let us turn to Acts 11:17-18. It took several visions and miracles before the Apostle Peter and the early Church of God realized that God was calling the Gentiles. Acts 11:17-18 reads: “”If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?” When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” ”
Did these people not read Isaiah 56, or Psalm 117 or Psalm 87, or 2 Kings 5 or any of the other places in the Hebrew scriptures where it is plain that God has brought salvation to all peoples? It should have been obvious to them, just as it should have been obvious to the Jews who tried to kill Christ when He told them in Nazereth that God had always been working salvation among the Gentiles in Luke 4. But even with the Holy Spirit working miracles through them the early Church of God was so blinded by their pride in their ancestry that it took divine action for them to realize that God was calling the Gentiles to salvation as well. May we be less blinded by our pride than they were by theirs.
Today we celebrate the children of Israel leaving slavery to become the people of God, just as Jesus Christ frees us from sin and ignorance to become His chosen people and His royal family. Every year the Jews read and sing Psalms 113 through 118 and Psalm 136, just as they have for thousands of years. And yet they did not see that God had always chosen to work through the poor and hated of the world, the neglected and the outcasts, to turn them into His people. They were, and remain, proud of their ancestry and deny that God is working through all peoples to make His family, because He is the father of all peoples and all nations and all tribes, the Creator of all heaven and earth. For we are all His potential children, created in His image and His likeness, to receive eternal life and glory if we remain loyal to His covenant and avoid defiling His Sabbaths. Let us therefore take this evening to celebrate God’s grace in bringing us all into His family to share in His glory, not because we are great, but because God is great. Praise the Lord!