Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. Praise the LORD! Psalm 117:1-2
The Psalms have played a central role in the preparation and celebration of Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread since the Jewish return from exile in Babylon. The Psalms of Ascent (120-134) were sung each year during the Jewish pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the spring celebrations as well as for the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Booths. The Egyptian Hallel (Hebrew for praise, 113-118) and the Great Hallel (136) continue to be recited as part of the Passover seder.
The Psalms (or Songs) of Ascent celebrate God’s deliverance and faithfulness, for He never sleeps and is always guiding His children as they journey through life. These songs, which were recited as the weary but excited travelers ascended into Jerusalem and up the steps of the Temple, declare the beauty of God’s holy city and its surrounding mountains. Beginning with lament in Psalm 120, the pilgrims’ eyes are set with joy on the character of God in Whom all hope is found and remain fixed on Him through the final, three-verse psalm in this collection (134):
Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD, who stand by night in the house of the LORD! Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the LORD! May the LORD bless you from Zion, he who made heaven and earth! Psalm 134:1-3
Like many of the Psalms of Ascent, the Hallel expresses praise, thanksgiving, and hope to God for past and future deliverance with the refrain “Praise the LORD!” or “Hallelujah!” The Hebrew word for praise, hallel, and many of its synonyms are repeated through this six-psalm collection, encouraging God’s people to keep eyes fixed on His goodness and provision.
During Passover preparations prior to the destruction of the Second Temple in A.D. 70, the Hallel was recited as the pascal lambs were led to slaughter. While sacrifices can no longer be made by the Jewish people because of the Temple’s destruction, the tradition continues of reciting Psalms 113 and 114 before eating the Passover meal to explain the significance of the night. The first words call participants into an evening of celebration:
Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD! Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time forth and forevermore! From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the LORD is to be praised! Psalm 113:1-3
In Psalm 114, the Lord is praised for rescuing the Israelites from Egypt and displaying miraculous works on their behalf:
When Israel went out from Egypt, the house of Jacob from a strange language, Judah became his sanctuary, Israel his dominion. The sea looked and fled; Jordan turned back. The mountains skipped like rams, the hills like lambs. Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turns the rock into a pool of water, the flint into a spring of water. Psalm 114:1-4, 7-8
Next in the Passover seder come questions and answers that involve all the generations gathered around the table about the “why” behind the celebration. You will find a link at the end of this post for a Messianic seder booklet we published last year that explains more about the meal and how it points to Jesus as the final sacrificial lamb.
In a traditional Jewish celebration of the Passover, Psalms 115-118 (and sometimes 136) are sung as the meal concludes. Psalm 136 remembers with thanksgiving God’s supremacy and steadfast love (vs. 1-3), His creation of the world (vs. 4-9), rescue of His people from Egyptian slavery (vs. 10-16), His victory over earthly rulers (vs. 17-20), and His covenant relationship with Israel and ongoing role as provider in the lives of His people (vs. 21-26).
Jesus and His disciples most likely followed the pattern of reciting the first two psalms of the Hallel before the Passover meal and then the final four to end their time around the table. Gospel writers record that after the meal they sang a hymn before leaving for the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26) and Jesus’ impending crucifixion. Psalm 118, the final song in the Hallel, may have been the one Jesus sang with His friends, and how fitting as it is full of messianic prophecy.
During the days leading up to Passover, this psalm was on the lips of Jesus and the crowd around Him. On Palm Sunday, “the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!’” (Matthew 21:9, John 12:13, Psalm 118:26a). On another occasion, Jesus declared Himself the cornerstone of verse 22: “Have you never read the Scriptures: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’?” (Matthew 21:42).
Jesus, our secure foundation, is calling all men and women regardless of heritage into His great love story, and we praise Him!
- UFC Women’s Passover post from 2021 can be found here.
- UFC Women’s Seder booklet from 2021 can be downloaded here.
- Psalms of Ascent by Zion’s Sake is an album of Psalms 120-134 set to music with a little Hebrew woven into the arrangements.
- Learn more about how the psalms fits together in this excellent overview from the Bible Project.