Psalm 117

“Praise the Lord, all you nations;

Extol him, all you peoples.

For great is his love toward us,

And the faithfulness of the Lord

Endures forever.

Praise the Lord.”

Psalm 117 is the shortest psalm. It may seem to have little to say, but its few words are usable and helpful. It is a psalm of praise. The author is unknown, maybe David. The New Testament quotes the Psalms about 68 times, but not Psalm 117. Nonetheless, this short psalm teaches vital truths.

            The Psalm begins with an imperative to join the author in worshipping God: “Praise the Lord, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples.” Many psalms of praise begin this way. It seemed insufficient for the author to merely keep his praise to himself. The pattern you see is that the psalmist expresses himself publicly, and furthermore, he implores others to join him. Walter Brueggemann suggests that “praise is an effective, performative acknowledgement that one’s human life is rooted elsewhere and not in the self.”[1] The reason we worship God is because we find value beyond ourselves to such a point of deserving praise. However, Brueggemann continues later to write, “So exuberant is this yielding of self in gladness that the self summons the whole congregation to join in the doxology; and beyond that, the glad self requires (or at least hopes for) the active consent and participation of other peoples in this affirmation.”[2] The joy of the psalmist is overflowing into a public display of exaltation in which he implores all his listeners to join in this joyous occasion. However, this call to praise reaches out to more than just other humans. In Psalm 148:7-8, the writer is urging “all creatures of our God and king” to join in the praise. The single element here that is crucial to see is that it is not enough to keep the praise of God to one’s self.

            It is natural for praise to be expressed, but furthermore, we wish for people to join us in the praise. Consider if you were to buy a new house, get engaged, or if you were a husband receiving news that your wife was with child: is it not natural and expected that you would want to express your joy to your friends and the community around you? C. S. Lewis expresses this beautifully when he writes:

The most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless …shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game—praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars.…I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. …I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.[3]

It is natural for us to express our praise outwardly and also urge those around us to join us in the event. I agree with Lewis in the expressive and inviting element of praise, but also in that it completes the whole event. In Psalm 117, the author is elated with the knowledge of his God and desires to praise him. He follows the natural discourse to complete his joy and urges the nations and peoples around him to join him.

            Now let’s look at the second verse. The author does not merely implore the nations and people to join him in this praise for just any reason, rather with good cause. The psalmist gives the reason why God is worthy of such praise. As in his heart, he writes, “For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.” This same format is seen throughout the psalms of praise. The author typically would write it in the imperative, urging everyone to join him, but the author would hardly make such a request without cause. Consider Psalms 106:1 and 107:1, both urging, “Give thanks to the Lord…” But we must have reason and cause. The author finishes to say, “for he [God] is good; his love endures forever.” Brueggemann, when speaking of particular praise psalms, says that “God is found to be reliable in every circumstance.”[4] A careful study of all of the covenants God has joined with man shows that God has been faithful in all of them. We learn that the authors of these psalms do not praise God with no cause, rather, they have much cause and share that cause with everyone around. Furthermore, they urge others to praise God with them because of that cause.

            What a beautiful day it would be when people know God in such a way to want to praise him so publicly, urging others to join. C. S. Lewis spoke of all the different things we can be pleased to be a part of and how the joy is complete when we share and express that joy with others. I urge you to take time to consider the reasons why you worship God. I assure you that you will find enough cause to praise him. Will you praise him for others to see? Will you urge others to join you in such a praise? Would you believe me if I told you your joy will be more complete when you do so? God is still as faithful and good, and worthy of such exaltation today as he was when the psalmist wrote these beautiful words. “Praise the Lord, all you nations; extoll him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord.”

[1] Walter Brueggemann, “On ‘Being Human’ in the Psalms,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Psalms, ed. William P. Brown (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) 516–17.

[2] Brueggemann, “On ‘Being Human’ in the Psalms,” 516–17.

[3] C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2014), 46 (emphasis added).

[4] Brueggemann, “On ‘Being Human’ in the Psalms,” 516–17.