Psalm 117 – All Peoples, Praise the Lord
At a mere two verses, Psalm 117 is the shortest in the Psalter. Yet we know that at times a brief text may bear a powerful message; this is especially true of Psalm 117. First, the text presents a call for all nations and peoples to praise the Lord (v. 1). This stands out as a significant point among the Hallel Psalms: these psalms are often prayed in the context of Israel’s great festivals, in which God’s saving deeds for the children of Abraham are recalled, but here we encounter a universal call for all nations and peoples to acclaim the One Lord, the God of Israel. The universality of God’s grace is echoed in the second Servant Song of the prophet Isaiah: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isa 49:6). The Babylonian captivity was a traumatic event for Israel, but the task of restoring the faith of those who survived was only part of what God was to bring about from that whole experience. Rather, Israel was to become a light to guide others to an experience of salvation in the One God of Israel. Nearer the end of the Isaiah’s writings we read, “From new moon to new moon, and from sabbath to sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, says the Lord” (Isa 66:23). The prophet offers a vision of all humanity coming before the Lord to worship the God who had entered into covenant with the people of Israel and revealed the holy name YHWH to them. Here in Psalm 117, the Psalmist takes up this vision bringing the whole human race into the act of praising the One God. The second point (v. 2) links the Hebrew words hesed (“merciful love”) and emeth (“faithfulness”). As previously noted (cf. Psalm 89), these two words are often used in tandem to express the particular character of God’s loyalty, steadfastness, and fidelity to the covenant relationship. The Psalmist here proclaims God’s trustworthiness in upholding his part of the divine-human relationship. The expression “has prevailed over us” derives from a Hebrew noun meaning a strong man, a warrior, one who triumphs and overcomes difficult situations. Despite Israel’s infidelities, God remains faithful; despite Israel’s lack of loyalty, God is always steadfast in fulfilling his part of the covenant relationship. Writing to his disciple Timothy, St. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, reaffirms the message of Psalm 117: “The saying is sure: If we have died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will also deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim 2:11-13). For Christians, the covenant offered us in Baptism, sealed by the blood of Christ, invites us too to experience the merciful love and fidelity of the Lord. And by the terms of that covenant, we are commanded to be a light for others, by which they too may come to know the goodness of our God.
1 O práise the Lórd, all you nátions;
accláim him, all you péoples!
2 For his mérciful lóve has preváiled over ús;
and the Lórd’s fáithfulness endúres foréver.
Prayer for Psalm 117
Faithful and merciful God, whose steadfast loyalty manifests to us both our origin and our destiny in you: so transform us by your grace that we may respond to your covenant with that faithful love so perfectly modeled in your Son. May his goodness draw all peoples to praise you with one accord. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.