Psalms 113—118 are known as the Hallel Psalms, or simply the Hallel (Hallel means “praise”). While many psalms praise God, this set of psalms became associated with Passover due the mention of the deliverance from Egypt in Psalm 114. The focus on the exodus is the reason these psalms are also sometimes referred to as the Egyptian Hallel. These psalms were recited at Jewish feasts, especially Passover. Depending upon which tradition was being followed, one or two of the psalms were recited before the meal, and the rest after.
Here is a brief description of each of the Hallel Psalms:
Psalm 113 is a short psalm of praise without reference to any historical context. Verse 3 may be the best known from this psalm: “From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the Lord is to be praised!” (ESV).
Psalm 114 is also a short psalm that poetically relates the Hebrews’ deliverance from Egypt: “The sea looked and fled. . . . The mountains skipped like rams. . . . [the Lord] turns the rock into a pool of water” (verses 3–4, 8).
Psalm 115 is slightly longer and contrasts those who trust in the Lord with those who trust in the idols of the surrounding nations. “Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them” (verses 4–8, ESV).
Psalm 116 is written from the perspective of an individual who has been delivered from a dire situation. “I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live” (verses 1–2, ESV).
Psalm 117 is both the shortest psalm and the shortest “chapter” in the Bible, with only 2 verses (although psalms are not technically chapters). This is the whole psalm: “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!” (ESV).
Psalm 118 is the longest of the Hallel Psalms. It admonishes both the nation and the individual to praise the Lord and expresses confidence that the Lord will save those who call on Him. It begins and ends with the well-known exhortation, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” (ESV). Also well-known is verse 14: “The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation” (ESV).
Taken as a group, the Hallel Psalms focus on deliverance, both nationally and individually. It is quite possible that, when Jesus finished the Last Supper and He and His disciples sang a hymn (Mark 14:26), the hymn that they sang was this group of Hallel Psalms. At the Last Supper, Jesus took the Passover meal and infused it with new meaning. The salvation that He promised was not deliverance from physical danger or human bondage but salvation from spiritual bondage and the grave danger of the penalty of sin.
In the conclusion to the great chapter on salvation, Paul in Romans 8:31 asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” This may be an allusion to one of the Hallel Psalms: “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalm 118:6).
The Hallel Psalms were a fitting passage to be included in Passover celebrations and fitting for today’s New Covenant believer to celebrate salvation from the power and the penalty of sin.