The Hidden Meaning of Psalm 117

"The truth of the Lord endures forever." Psalm 117:2

"The Hidden Meaning of Psalm 117" by Steppes of Faith

“The truth of the Lord endures forever.” Psalm 117:2

If you open your Bible and turn to the exact center, you will find Psalm 117. This psalm is special all on its own—it’s the shortest of all the psalms (only two verses), the shortest chapter in the entire Bible, and is the middle chapter of the Bible.

On the surface, Psalm 117 appears to be geared completely toward praising God. But if you take a closer look, you’ll find it has a hidden meaning for everyone.

Quick History of the Psalm

Psalm 117 actually begins in Psalm 113. It is part of a six-psalm method of praise to God called the Egyptian Hallel or just Hallel (“hallel” means praise in Hebrew). Psalms 113-118 are recited verbatim by observant Jews on all Jewish holidays involving communal salvation, most especially Passover.

Traditionally, the Hallel (from the familiar word “hallelujah” meaning “thank God”) is sung before and after the Passover meal. So, it’s very likely Jesus and the disciples sung this song in the upper room on the night Jesus was arrested.

Because it’s a psalm, many notable composers such as William Byrd, Johann Sebastian Bach, and Mozart have put its words to music. More recently (for those of a certain age), it formed the introduction to the song “Happy Nation” created by the 90s Swedish pop group Ace of Base.

A Global Invitation

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles! Laud Him, all you peoples!”

Psalm 117 begins in verse one with a command to praise the Lord. But the command isn’t just for the original Jewish reader. The psalmist specifically commands Gentiles to also praise Him. This is called a Global Invitation, and it means God is indicating His salvation goes beyond the borders of Israel.We are called to praise the Lord whether we are Jewish or Gentile.

The command to Gentiles is a look back at God’s original intent for all mankind going back to Adam and Eve. God longs to draw everyone to Himself so there can be divine fellowship with us through an eternal relationship.

The command is also foreshadowing, a look ahead, to the ultimate fulfillment of His salvation plan during the Tribulation. Revelation 21 says,

“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also, there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God….”

One day, there will be a new heaven and earth, and the new city of Jerusalem will descend from the third heaven where God is. This will be the moment when His salvation plan is completed. His offer of eternal life is for both the Jew and the Gentile (Romans 1:16), and God is making this abundantly clear.

A Grand Explanation

“For His merciful kindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord endures forever.”

Following God’s command in verse two is a grand explanation of His invitation. The psalmist gives us two reasons to respond to Him—His merciful kindness is great, and His truth endures forever.

The apostle Paul references this exact verse several times throughout his ministry (most directly in Romans 15:11) to help drive home the point that God’s redemption plan is for everyone, not just Jews. Other Old Testament verses Paul uses in Romans 15 are…

Romans 15:10/Deuteronomy 32:43: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people; for He will avenge the blood of His servants and render vengeance to His adversaries. He will provide atonement for His land and His people.”

Romans 15:9/2 Samuel 22:50: “Therefore I will give thanks to You, O Lord, among the Gentiles and sing praises to Your name.”

Romans 15:12/Isaiah 11:10: “And in that day, there shall be a Root of Jesse who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious.”The psalm tells us about Jesus coming to save us because of His mercy and kindness.

Paul preaches this same message in…

Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek [Gentile]…”

1 Corinthians 12:13-14: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks [Gentiles], whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit. For, in fact, the body is not one member but many…”

Colossians 3:11: “…Where there is neither Greek [Gentile] nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.”

…and all of Galatians 3.

Peter also preached salvation for all in Acts 10:34-35, “In truth, I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.”

The Lord is Faithful

Why does the psalmist demand such exalted praise in chapter 117? Because of God’s redemptive kindness and His eternal truth. His eternal truth is His faithfulness to complete what He has started, which includes salvation for everyone.

John 6:37-40 quotes Jesus as saying,

The Lord turns no one away from His saving grace, just as Psalm 117 says.

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me…And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

God always keeps His promises. And, whatever He promises, He will provide.

We can’t help but think of the cross when we fully understand, from the beginning, God had a plan of redemption for everyone so that no one will eternally perish. We can also feel hope and assurance knowing He has everything already worked out “at the last day.” When Jesus comes again, those who believe will rejoice with Him in the New Jerusalem.

But why wait until the last day? Rejoice now!

Psalm 117:1 says, “Laud Him, all you peoples!” Verse two says, “Praise the Lord!” And, Psalm 150:6 says, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”

Let’s not hold back the praise the Lord is so worthy of receiving. His merciful kindness and eternal truth of salvation is for everyone right here, right now, today.

Further Reading"What is the Hallel?" by Rabbi Josh Feigelson

Hallel is a Jewish prayer based on Psalm 117 that’s recited as an act of praise and gratitude. Learn more about this powerful prayer in this video featuring Rabbi Josh Feigelson of the University of Chicago Divinity School.

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