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!
Psalm 117 is memorable as the shortest psalm in the Hebrew hymnbook, the shortest chapter in the Bible, and (someone has calculated) as the center chapter of the Bible. All of that, I suspect, is intended to draw it to our attention. God does nothing without a purpose. There must be a purpose for including a psalm of just two verses and only 17 Hebrew words.
It is a messianic psalm. It is quoted by Paul in the New Testament in connection with the work of Christ. It includes a Passover invitation from Israel to the Gentiles, to come and join them in their Passover. As Rotherham says, “We heartily thank them for this their Passover invitation.” And we hasten to join them – only we will join them on the ground not of a foretelling Passover but of a fulfilled Passover.
Then, too, this is a millennial psalm. It looks forward to the day when Jesus will reign, when Israel – regathered to the promised land and dwelling in peace and security as head of the nations – will invite all peoples to come to Jerusalem and join intheir annual feasts of thanksgiving.
Israel belongs to the nations. It was never God’s plan that the Hebrew people should exclusively and selfishly hug their blessings to themselves, snapping and snarling at other nations with a doginthemanger attitude. Even in their punishment and dispersal among the nations, they are a universal reminder to all that God is sovereign in human affairs: That Jewish dispersal gave wings to the gospel.
The Jews had already spread the concept of the one true God to all nations by the time of Christ. In their law and through their prophets, the world saw evidence of their access to higher truth. When the gospel evangelists went from city to city they always made straight for the synagogue. It was the Godfearers among the Gentiles, orbiting around the outer fringes of Judaism, attracted by what they heard, repelled by what they saw, who first embraced the gospel among the nations.
Finally, this is a missionary psalm. Paul appealed to it in Romans 15 to show that God always had loved the Gentiles. The Jews indeed were given light from God which the Gentiles neverhad, but they were never given love from God which the Gentiles did not have. God loves Gentiles just as much as He loves Jews. That is the missionary message of this psalm.
It was because “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son.” It is not just the world of the elect as the extreme Calvinist would say, or just the world of the Jew as the rabbis ofold would have said. It is the world in its totality.
Short as it is, the psalm divides into three parts.
I. THE CALL TO PRAISE (117:1)
“O praise the LORD, all ye nations: Praise Him, all ye people.”
A. The World in Its Totality Is Lovingly Invited to Adulate Him
“O praise the LORD, all ye nations.” The word for “praise” is hallel from which comes our transliterated “Hallelujah!” It means “to shine” or “to glorify” or, more commonly, simply “topraise.” The invitation is given to the millions of mankind, red and yellow, black and white, oriental and occidental, from pole to pole, from sea to sea, to come and praise the Lord. “The Lord” is literally Jehovah Himself. Nobody else. Jehovah Himself – Jesus Himself.
How the heart of our God yearns over lost men and women. He sees the Russians, Chinese, Cubans, Vietnamese, and His heart longs over them. They are seeking to build secular paradises on earth, motivated by the vision of Karl Marx, the visionof man without God: brainwashed to believe that God does not exist, that all things result from the blind working of evolutionary force, that man is simply a social insect caught in the web of time. The psalmist calls to them too: “O praise the Lord, all you atheist nations.”
God sees Europeans and Americans seeking a solution to their problems in humanism and materialism, in pleasureseeking and money making, in permissiveness, in drugs and drink. He sees lands once ablaze with gospel truth now wrapped in darkness. “O praise the Lord, all you Western lands.”
God sees the millions of India and Japan bowing down to wood and stone. He sees the clever Japanese make pilgrimages to shrines to worship the spirit of their ancestors. He sees Hindus chained to idols, revering cows, crocodiles, insects, vermin,and rats.
What abysmal folly to worship a rat, the most destructive creature on earth, which devours the grain the starving millionsof India need.
Some years ago National Geographic carried a series of photographs, one of which showed a Hindu shrine dedicated to rats. It pictured a distinguished, greyhaired man in an attitude of worship. Other people, including a young boy, were in posturesof adoration before the objects of their worship: a dozen wild rats were crowded around a dish thoughtfully provided to feed their ravenous appetites, given to them as an act of worship, an offering to the gods. God’s heart weeps. “O praise the Lord, allyou idolatrous lands.”
B. The World by Its Tribes Is Loudly Invited to Adore Him
“Praise Him, all ye people.” The psalmist now uses a different word for praise, a comparatively rare word, one that occurs only four times in the Psalms. It is translated “Laud Him!” by some scholars. It means to “sing aloud.” It conveys the idea that God should be praised with a voice loud enough for everyone to hear.
It is amazing how reserved we are in most of our services. This is one reason why the charismatics are so appealing: they get excited about their religion and put enthusiasm into it. They may go to excess and sometimes border on the blasphemous. They may get carried away with tongues. They may let themselves go, foolishly handing mind and body over to the control of they know not what. But at least they enjoy their religion.
Most of us are scared to shout a loud Amen even when we heartily agree with what is being said. We all have either been to a ball game or seen one on television, when the bases were loaded and a home run was needed to win the game. We have felt tension mount as the last batter comes out on the field. The pitcher throws a fast ball. Strike one! He pitches a curved ball. Strike two? The batsman spits on his hand and looks anxiouslyat the bases, at the pitcher, at the crowd. The pitcher winds up for the kill. The ball comes flashing in. The batsman strikes.
There is a solid resounding smack as a good connection is made between bat and ball. The ball soars up, up, straight and true, and flies clean out of the park. And the crowd goes wild! They yell and shout, they hug each other, they rush out onto the field. All for a game that will be forgotten in a week. Yet we can’t even say a loud Amen when someone says something about the Lord that stirs our hearts.
So we have the call to praise. The Holy Spirit calls on the Gentile nations to praise the Lord. When this verse was quoted by the apostle Paul (Romans 15:11), his missionary outreach was to the Roman Christians. He had been writing about accommodating the weaker brother, telling us that there are some matters about which we should be willing to give and take. We are not to do things that might cause someone else to stumble. We are to bear the burden of the weak. Love compromises.
But then he comes to a bedrock issue, a point of belief on which there can be no concession. In this case, love goes on loving but stands its round and refuses to compromise. The issue at stake in Paul’s argument was the bringing of Gentiles into the church of God on the same basis as Jews. To support his point, Paul quoted from Psalm 18:49, Deuteronomy 32:43, and Isaiah 11:10. Note that he quoted from all sections of the Hebrew Bible, from the law, the prophets, and the book of Psalms. Then, amid an avalanche of quotations he quoted from Psalm 117:1. “And again, `Praise the LORD, all ye Gentiles; and laud Him, all ye people.” (Romans 15:11). He nailed down his point with a quotation from this minipsalm. Let us remember that, if we are tempted to pay it scant heed.
There is always the temptation to overlook the little fellow. This little fellow, however, has a mighty voice; he packs a powerful punch; he is not about to be ignored. Nor is he about to be overshadowed by Psalm 119. We have a pygmy and a giant among the psalms – almost nextdoor neighbors. Let us Gentiles remember that this little fellow puts in a powerful voice for us. Without him we might have found ourselves secondclass citizens in the kingdom of God, poor brothers and sisters in the family of faith.
This little psalm refuses to let us be overlooked. It brings us in as joint-heirs with Christ to join our voices with those who praise His Name.
II. THE CAUSE FOR PRAISE (117:2a, b)
“For His merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the LORD endureth forever.”
The focus is now on Israel. The psalmist recounts:
A. The Loving Triumph of the Lord
“For His merciful kindness is great toward us.” And so it is. The expression “merciful kindness” is the usual and oftenused expression in the psalms, “lovingkindness.” It has the Old Testament equivalent of the New Testament word grace. “His grace is great toward us.”
This psalm is generally thought to be a song of the Jews who had returned from the Babylonian exile. God’s mercy to them had just been written large on the page of history. For centuriesthe Jews had defied Him, turned their backs on Him, plunged into the grossest idolatry in which prostitution and child murder were common religious practices. They had filled the land with their abominations, injustice, pornography, and perversion. They had persecuted and killed the prophets.
At last God has uprooted them, allowed their temple to be burned to the ground, and ploughed Jerusalem like a farmer’s field. Now He had forgiven them, regathered them, given them a second chance. No wonder they sang, “His merciful kindness is great toward us.”
The repatriated remnant of the Jewish people will sing these words in a coming day when they are delivered from extermination in the fires of the great tribulation, when they look on Him whom they pierced, when they recognize at last in Jesus their Messiah. “Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven,” given a place of royalty in the millennial kingdom, they will sing “His merciful kindness is great toward us.” We, too, heirs to the spiritual promises to Abraham, we should sing this song.
A section in the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago is devoted to discoveries that have revolutionized modern medical science. Among those honored by a greaterthanlife portraitis Sir James Simpson, the man who discovered chloroform. Before the discovery of chloroform even the simplest operation was a nightmare. Simpson not only let people sleep through theworst horrors of an operation, but he opened the door to medical operations before impossible.
Sir James Simpson was a Christian. Once he was interviewedby a newspaper man who asked, “Sir, what do you consider your greatest discovery?” Sir James replied, “My greatest discovery was when I discovered I was a sinner in the sight of God.’ The newspaper man tried again: “Thank you, Sir James. And now would you please tell me your second greatest discovery” “By all means,” replied that great Christian. “My second greatest discovery was when I discovered that Jesus died for a sinner like me.”
B. The Lasting Truth of the Lord (117:2b)
“And the truth of the LORD endureth for ever.” Salvation does not rest on sentiment. It rests on truth, the truth that Godcannot deny His own character. It is not truth at the expense of mercy. If that were so, there could be no hope; it would mean thatGod would have to deny His own holy character. It would be as though a judge opened all the prisons and set free murderers and rapists, thieves and swindlers, just because He felt sorry forthem pining in prison.
Mercy at the expense of truth would turn Heaven into hell and drive God from His throne. David tried it with Absalom and, before long, he had a rebellion on his hands which drove him out of Jerusalem and into the jaws of death. God had to devise a means by which He could reconcile both His merciful kindness and His everlasting truth. The problem was solved at Calvary.
Jesus went to Calvary to die for us, the Just for us the unjust,to bring us to God. He took our guilt that we might take His goodness, took our sinfulness that we might take His sinlessness, took our ruin that we might take His righteousness. That was God’s way of bringing mercy and truth together in an everlasting embrace. That is our cause for praise.
Last of all, the psalm sets before us:
III. THE COMMAND TO PRAISE (117:2c)
“Praise ye the LORD.”
Astronomers are now discovering that many stars are binary stars, or twins. They are tied together and act and react the one on the other. God has a binary star,the bright and morning star. That binary star is Jesus. When Jesus came to Bethlehem, something unique happened in the universe. God took deity and humanity and so fused the one into the other that something new was brought into being – the person of Jesus. The child of Bethlehem was the Ancient of Days; the Son of God became the Son of Man; the eternal, uncreated, selfexisting One was now also a man born to die. That wondrous binary star has now made salvation possible forus.
We would be clods if we did not want to sing and shout His praise. We would advertise to the universe that we have no comprehension of Him at all, no real understanding of the greatness and the cost of our salvation.
That is the note that rings down through this Great Hallel: “Praise the Lord!”
Adapted from Exploring the Psalms, Volume 2: An Expository Commentary by John Phillips. Used by permission of Kregel Publications. The John Phillips Commentary Series from Kregel is available at your local or online Christian bookseller, or contact Kregel at (800) 733-2607.
John Phillips is a popular preacher and Bible study leader who now resides in Bowling Green, KY.