and his glory above the heavens!
Who is like the LORD our God,
who is seated on high,
who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.
He gives the barren woman a home,
making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the LORD! (Psalm 113:4-9 ESV)
“He’s so condescending!” When we hear these words, in today’s context, they are not said in a positive or complimentary manner. Americans don’t think much of royalty (except for maybe Will and Kate) and resent pompous, arrogant attitudes from those we see as our equals. Our response typically is, “Who does he think he is to treat us like that?!”
However, when using “condescension” in reference to Jesus Christ, it is a very appropriate term. He is infinitely superior to us and yet He stoops to lift up the humble and broken. The psalmist, here in Psalm 113, gives some great insights into this condescension:
“The LORD is high above all nations”
The psalmist starts with something that his readers could comprehend and yet find extraordinary. The Children of Israel knew what it was to be the weaker nation among the super powers… the little kid on the block with bullies up and down the street. But the Lord is not only more powerful than all the nations combined, He is also over all as Creator and Ruler—He is high above all nations. The prophet Isaiah boldly proclaimed, “Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust” (Isaiah 40:15 ESV).
“And his glory above the heavens!”
The psalmist now takes his description of his God a step further. It’s as if he places his hand under the chin of the worshiper and lifts it to now focus his attention on the heavens. The Lord’s glory, the sum of who He is, is above the heavens. All of creation can’t contain our immense God who is Creator of all things. The writer of the psalm quickly follows up this thought with the question, “Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high …?” The Lord dwells on high. This is His throne room. He has no equal… period.
What do we learn of God from the text? First of all, we learn of His infinite transcendence. God dwells outside of time and space. And there is no way to measure the distance or difference between God and His creation. Again, from the book of Isaiah, we read: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9).
Secondly, we get a glimpse of His infinite self-sufficiency. The Lord dwells on high. He needs nothing. He is never lacking anything, never frustrated, never changes. He is self-existent and self-sustaining. Man has nothing to offer God. This is one of the most humbling, but relevant truths found in the Bible. “Look at the heavens, and see; and behold the clouds, which are higher than you. If you have sinned, what do you accomplish against him [God]? And if your transgressions are multiplied, what do you do to him? If you are righteous, what do you give to him? Or what does he receive from your hand” (Job 35:5-7)? Why should God take the time to bother with the likes of us?
If we were to stop here, we would still be compelled to worship and stand in awe of God’s greatness. It is what happens when the finite meets infinity. When a man in Scripture meets up with an angel, he’s paralyzed with fear, how much more so when this man has an encounter with the Living God (think the apostle John in Revelation 1)? And this is all without having yet encountered grace.
But we need to finish the psalm: “…who looks far down on the heavens and the earth. He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.” Here we see absolute grace (God’s unmerited favor toward us) and this grace takes place through His infinite condescension. There is nothing within us that nudges God to take notice … nothing that catches His attention. The Lord is indebted to no one … He doesn’t owe us a thing! (Job 41:11). We are destitute, sick, unlovely, and unlovable.
And still, listen to the prophet Isaiah: “For thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the heart of the contrite’” (Isaiah 57:15). God, who stoops to even observe what His creation is doing, has descended an immeasurable distance to be with broken and spiritually bankrupt people to rescue them and give them what they don’t deserve … new life in Christ. God accomplished this by coming to earth, taking on flesh, suffering, and dying in the place of His creation.
The writer to the Hebrews wrote: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:14-18 ESV).
This is ultimate condescension—the Lord of the universe visiting the humble, contrite one, who trembles at His Word, and lifting him up. How undeserving and honored we are to receive such a Guest.
To the praise of His glorious grace.