Psalm 117 – Calling All Peoples to Praise the LORD
“This is the shortest song in the whole collection, but there is none greater or grander in its expression of praise.” (G. Campbell Morgan)
“Martin Luther devoted thirty-six pages to this psalm, expounding it in four important categories: (1) prophecy (the Gentiles will participate in gospel blessings), (2) revelation (the kingdom of Christ is not earthly and temporal but rather heavenly and eternal), (3) instruction (we are saved by faith alone and not by works, wisdom, or holiness), and (4) admonition (we should praise God for such a great salvation).” (James Montgomery Boice)
A. The call to praise.
1. (1) Gentiles called to praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD, all you Gentiles!
Laud Him, all you peoples!
a. Praise the LORD: Previous psalms called on Israel to give praise to Yahweh, but here all the Gentiles are called to praise Him. This showed a largeness of heart that God intended Israel to have from the beginning, pointing to the truth that in Abraham all the peoples of the world were to be blessed (Genesis 12:3).
i. “For the most part the Jews looked with little sympathy on their Gentile neighbors, and had no desire that they should laud Jehovah, save as they became proselytes of Judaism. But where the love of God is strong in the heart, it overleaps the bounds of custom and racial prejudice, and yearns that all the world should know and love the Saviour.” (Meyer)
ii. “The Psalm was an intimation to Israel that the grace and mercy of their God were not to be confined to one nation, but would in happier days be extended to all the race of man.” (Spurgeon)
iii. Since this is one of the six Egyptian Hallel Psalms (113-118), sung as part of the Passover service, Jesus would have sung Psalm 117 with His disciples (Matthew 26:30, Mark 14:26). Therefore, on the eve of His crucifixion, we know that Jesus had all the peoples, all the Gentiles in mind. Through His work on the cross and victory over death at the empty tomb, God would call a people to Himself from every tribe and tongue.
iv. “The historical limitations of God’s manifestation to a special nation were means to its universal diffusion. The fire was gathered in a grate, that it might warm the whole house. All men have a share in what God does for Israel.” (Maclaren)
b. Laud Him, all you peoples: To laud is to say praiseworthy things about a person. The psalmist called upon all peoples to praise God intelligently, and he provided reasons why He is worthy of worship.
i. “Inasmuch as the matter is spoken of twice, its certainty is confirmed, and the Gentiles must and shall extol Jehovah.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Some suggest that all you peoples refers to the Jewish people, but Paul’s quotation of Psalm 117:1 in Romans 15:11 leads us to believe that this is a call to the nations.
iii. The word for peoples suggests all the tribes of the earth. “The very diversity of God’s subjects comes out in the expressions all nations…all tribes.” (Kidner)
iv. “Here then is a true Christian universalism, not that all people will be saved regardless of the god they believe in, but rather that all people may be saved through Jesus Christ.” (Boice)
v. The call to all you peoples makes this a strong missionary psalm. “Are we doing all we can to kindle the nations to praise? They cannot praise Him whom they do not know. It is mere hypocrisy to bid them praise Him, if we have never sought to spread, by lip or gift, the mercy and truth revealed in Jesus our Lord.” (Meyer)
B. The reasons for praise.
1. (2) Praising God for His mercy and truth.
For His merciful kindness is great toward us,
And the truth of the LORD endures forever.
Praise the LORD!
a. For His merciful kindness is great: In thinking of reasons to praise God, the psalmist first lists, because of His great hesed (merciful kindness). The Hebrew actually has His hesed hesed is great, with the idea of God’s loyal, covenant love repeated twice for emphasis.
i. Is great: The Hebrew word doesn’t have the thought of exceedingly large, but as something that is mighty and prevails. “Gabar, is strong: it is not only great in bulk or number, but it is powerful; it prevails over sin, Satan, death, and hell.” (Clarke)
ii. “…lovingkindness is ‘mighty over us’ – the word used for being mighty has the sense of prevailing, and so ‘where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.’” (Maclaren)
b. Great toward us: This is further reason for praise; not only does God have great lovingkindness, but that merciful kindness is toward us. By us the psalmist has in mind Israel and the all peoples as mentioned in the previous verse.
i. “Towards all of us, all the children of Abraham, whether carnal or spiritual, who were to be incorporated together, and made one body and one fold by and under the Messias, John 10:16, Ephesians 2:14, which mystery seems to be insinuated by this manner of expression.” (Poole)
ii. “It may also be that the ‘us’ of verse 2 has already found room for the ‘you’ implied in verse 1, by seeing Israelites and Gentiles as one people under God.” (Kidner)
c. The truth of the LORD endures forever: God is to be praised not only for His loyal love, but also for His truth. His ever-enduring truth means that He will not change in His love and goodness to us.
i. When mercy and truth are praised together like this, it reminds us that the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).
ii. “If God stood for truth alone, there would be no hope for us. On the other hand, if the grace of God could act apart from truth, we should equally be without hope.” (Morgan)
iii. “Once again we can imagine with what perfect joy our Lord sang this song, as He moved to the uttermost in His sorrows; for He did so in full and perfect apprehension of the union of lovingkindness and truth in God.” (Morgan)
iv. Endures forever: “Not only is his love so great in depth and height (cf. Rom 5:20; 1 Tim 1:14), it is also lasting (‘endures forever’).” (VanGemeren)
d. Praise the LORD: Once again, all peoples are called to say, Hallelujah!
i. “By the union of grace and truth, in and through Jesus, the call to praise went out to all nations and peoples.” (Morgan)
ii. “Let the hallelujahs of the redeemed be suitable to that ‘mercy,’ and co-eternal with that ‘truth.’” (Horne)
iii. “In God’s worship it is not always necessary to be long; few words sometimes say what is sufficient, as this short Psalm giveth us to understand.” (Dickson, cited in Spurgeon)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org