This is a typical hymn of praise, containing the basic parts--the call to praise and the basis for praise. "Praise the Lord, because…" is the regular structure of the hymns (see Psalm 117 for the shortest example). Indeed, it is the "because," the remembrance of God's gifts and promises, that elicits the praise.
"Praise the Lord!" functions as an inclusio surrounding the psalm, as it often does. Within these bookends, we learn the how and why of praise.
The servants of God are called to praise the Lord, or, in the parallel line, to praise "the name of the Lord." Here, as often, the "name" of God stands for God's own self (v. 1).
God's name is to be blessed in every time (v. 2) and every place (v. 3), for the Lord is above the nations and even above the heavens (v. 4). But what does this look like? What does God do to be worthy of praise?
The psalm begins to answer that question with one of its own: "Who is like the Lord our God…?" (vv. 5-6). Such a rhetorical question is itself a form of praise, for it begins to proclaim just who this God is. Amazingly, though seated on high (an appropriate place for a god, as we learned in v. 4), this God "looks far down on the heavens and the earth" (v. 6). More than that, really. The NIV offers a better translation of the Hebrew text: "who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth." The God of Israel stoops in humility to look on and to look after the heavens and the earth--an "inappropriate" posture for a god, but the right thing for a God of love.
Now the psalm turns to praise God for the surprising way God acts: raising the poor, lifting the needy, giving the barren woman a home (vv. 7-9)--the barren woman would have been among the most unprivileged of people in the ancient world. The psalm echoes the songs of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:1-10) and Mary (Luke 1:46-55), both of whom praise God for showing mercy to people regarded as low and overturning the power of unjust wealth. In this, Psalm 113 comes near to defining the true center of the biblical message, that God Most High, the maker and ruler of all things, comes down, in all humility, to care for the least of the least. This was the content also of the Christ hymn in Philippians 2:5-11: Christ Jesus, "though he was in the form of God…emptied himself, taking the form of a slave…and became obedient to the point of death." This is why, says Philippians, Christ is worthy of great praise, and why, says Psalm 113, so also is God.
1 Praise the Lord!
Praise, O servants of the Lord;
praise the name of the Lord.
2 Blessed be the name of the Lord
from this time on and for evermore.
3 From the rising of the sun to its setting
the name of the Lord is to be praised.
4 The Lord is high above all nations,
and his glory above the heavens.
5 Who is like the Lord our God,
who is seated on high,
6 who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth?
7 He raises the poor from the dust,
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
8 to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.
9 He gives the barren woman a home,
making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the Lord!
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org
10 February 2011