October 15 – Psalm 117


Graham Michael is a beloved lay elder at Vintage Church Downtown.

Main Focus: The Lord’s faithfulness warrants multi-ethnic praise and worship.

Psalm 117 is not only the shortest of all the psalms, but it’s also the shortest chapter in the entire Bible. As you can imagine, due to its brevity it is often overlooked, especially as it sits between two psalms that are longer and garner more attention (Pss. 116 and 118). However, even if the psalm is comprised of only two verses, it serves as a powerful shorthand for the cosmic scope of the gospel and the universal praise owed to God among the nations for who he is and all that he’s done.

The psalm has a basic structure that consists of a command in verse 1 followed by the rationale for the command in verse 2. The command is directed to all nations and peoples to “Praise Yahweh” (v.1). “Yahweh,” is often translated in all capital letters as “LORD” to signify the name of God. This is the divine name revealed to Moses when he was to declare to the Hebrew people enslaved in Egypt that “Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Ex. 3:15).

The command for all the nations and peoples to praise Yahweh in verse 1 is grounded in verse 2, which says, “For great is his steadfast love toward us and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.” The words “steadfast love” and “faithfulness” often occur together to describe God’s particular commitment to Israel as his people in light of their covenantal relationship (cf. Ex. 34:6; Pss. 25:10; 36:5; 40:11; 57:3, 10; 61:7; 85:10; 86:15; 89:14; 92:2; 98:3; 100:5; 108:4; 115:1; 138:2). As Psalm 25:10 says, “All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.” The word for “steadfast love” (hesed) can therefore be understood as God’s covenantal loyalty to his people, which is guaranteed by the trustworthiness of his character (i.e., his “faithfulness” [emet]).

In light of the seemingly singular focus on Yahweh’s covenantal relationship with Israel throughout the Old Testament, it may have been striking to see the nations commanded to praise Yahweh the God of Israel. In fact, Paul declares that the inclusion of the gentiles in God’s plan of redemption for Israel and his restoration of the world was a mystery “not made known to the sons of men in other generations” but was revealed later to the “holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit” (cf. Eph. 3:5–6 ESV).

Yet, through the Spirit’s gracious revelation in his Word, we can see the cosmic scope of the gospel from Genesis to Revelation, and specifically here in Psalm 117. It is remarkable that the command is for all the peoples to praise Yahweh because of “his great steadfast love toward us.” All the nations and peoples are included in the “us” who have received God’s overwhelming covenantal loyalty that is guaranteed by the trustworthiness of his character. What this means is that the “us” of God’s people are a beautifully diverse community of all peoples who are eternally unified by the inexhaustible, unfailing, always and forever love of God. It is for this and so much more, that we are commanded and compelled to “Praise the LORD!”

The simplicity and straightforwardness of this psalm helps to clarify the basic purpose for our lives, which is to praise the LORD––to glorify him, to honor him, to worship him as his redeemed people called to participate in his redemption for the world. As St. Augustine says, “You stir man to take pleasure in praising you, because you have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” To praise the LORD––to find our rest in him–– is the purpose for which every person and people group were created, and therefore, as the church, we are compelled to orient our entire lives to this magnificent calling as a beautifully diverse community who belong to God.

In discussion we’ll work through the argument of the passage, allowing the cosmic vision of God’s covenantal love to unfold from the command to the rationale and back to the command. The fact that all the nations and people groups are to praise the LORD reveals that Yahweh is not a tribal deity exclusively for Israel but is the one true God of all who is worthy of all praise from every nation, tribe, and people group. In verse 2, we’ll discuss God’s “steadfast love” and “faithfulness” from Exodus 34 and from our own personal experience. Finally, we’ll think through how, as a community group and as a church, we can participate more fully in the multi-ethnic praise of God here in Raleigh and throughout all the nations.

Questions for Discussion

• Could someone read Psalm 117 for us?

• What stood out to you from the passage?

• Let’s break down this psalm—who is it talking to, what is it commanding, and what’s the rationale for this command?

• Could someone read Exodus 34:6–7 for us?

• How can this help us understand God’s steadfast love and faithfulness?

• Head back to Psalm 117, and look at verse 2. In what ways have you personally experienced God’s steadfast love and faithfulness?

• Verse 2 uses the word “us.” When you think about who that pronoun includes in this context, who tends to come to mind?

•Look back at verse 1—what are some practical ways that we can further participate in the “all nations” praise of the LORD as a community group and as a church?

• Prayer Prompt: Take time to praise the LORD, declaring what is true about God and worthy of praise, and what he has done and continues to do on our behalf.