Psalms for Troubled Times – Psalm 117

The Pinnacle of Praise

No doubt you have climbed to the top of a mountain at some point, and you’ll have noticed there is not much at the peak. However, it’s not the peak itself that captures your attention, but panoramic views stretching miles in all directions. At times like this there is little to say. We just stand there and take in the awesome majesty before us.

This is Psalm 117. We have been climbing this mountain of praise from Psalm 113, considering various aspects of the glories of the LORD, and now we’ve reached the pinnacle. 

There is little to say: just two verses (the shortest chapter in our Bibles) and, in Hebrew, seventeen words. But these two verses are the “Wow!” of the psalmist, his emotional exclamation of praise at the glorious splendour of his LORD.

‘O praise the LORD, all ye nations: praise him, all ye people. For his merciful kindness is great toward us: and the truth of the LORD endureth for ever. Praise ye the LORD.’ (Psa 117)

Universal Praise

The psalmist is so overcome with wonder at the glories of the LORD, that he can no longer keep it to himself. In verse 1 he calls ‘all nations’ and ‘all people’ to join him in praising the his God.

He uses two different words for praise, and we could summarise them simply as ‘show and tell’. 

To ‘praise’ (hallel) is to show forth the beauty, splendour and glory of another. The root word means ‘to shine’, and is first used to describe how Abraham ‘commended’ his wife, Sarah, to Pharoah (Gen 12:15). You can imagine Abraham showing off his wife in a way that let her beauties shine forth. We wonder how Abraham could do such a thing, but to allow our thoughts to go in that direction would take us from higher considerations. So we’ll learn the lesson and come back to Psalm 117, asking ourselves: “how can we praise the Lord our Saviour today? How can we act to allow the beauties of Christ to shine forth? What can we say that would commend His glories to others?”

The point I’m making is that this ‘praise’ is more than just words. It’s a manner of life – an attitude that overflows from a heart full of love and devotion towards our Lord Jesus Christ.

This cannot be manufactured on the spot, and so I take the words of Paul, and pray ‘That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.’ (Eph 3:17-19)

The second word could also be translated ‘laud’, and focuses our thoughts more specifically upon what we say. It means ‘to speak well of’ or ‘to eulogise’. This too should be a very personal, heartfelt tribute to our living Saviour, but we also have a wonderful heritage of hymn writers who have penned beautiful eulogies expressing the glories and beauties of our Saviour. We can take these and make them the sentiments of our own hearts, such as this one by Samuel Medley (1738-99).

1 COME, let us sing the matchless worth
And sweetly sound the glories forth
Which in the Saviour shine:
To God and Christ our praises bring,
The song with which high heaven will ring,
Praises for grace divine.

2 How rich the precious blood He spilt,
Our ransom from the dreadful guilt
Of sin against our God;
How perfect is that righteousness,
In which unspotted beauteous dress
His saints have ever stood!

3 How rich the character He bears,
And all the form of love He wears,
Exalted on the throne;
In songs of sweet untiring praise,
We e’er would sing His perfect ways,
And make His glories known.

4 And soon the happy day shall come,
When we shall reach our destined home,
And see Him face to face;
Then with our Saviour, Lord and Friend,
The one unbroken day we’ll spend
In singing still His grace.

Triumphal Mercy

In verse 2, the psalmist gives his reasons to praise. Firsthe speaks of the Lord’s triumphal mercy: ‘For his merciful kindness is great toward us’.

In our world today, love, mercy and kindness can often be seen as weak attributes. Many think that greatness is only measured in prestige and power, and to achieve greatness requires a selfish ambition. But, come with me to the cross, and we shall see that the ‘merciful kindness’ of God our Saviour triumphs over all the might of Rome, and the powers of darkness. 

Consider Pontius Pilate – worldly greatness personified. History would tell us that he came from a family that occupied the middle rank of Roman nobility, and it is likely that it was through military skill that he worked his way up the pole to where we find him, a governor of Judea, and ‘Caesar‘s friend’ (John 19:12). What is more certain is that Pilate was known for his brutality, and with all the might of Rome behind him, we find him seated on his judgment seat.

Before him stood a Man unlike any other he had come across, one Jesus of Nazareth. Pilate could not understand the combination of meekness and majesty that Christ displayed, and he would ask him, ‘Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?’ (John 19:10)

Pilate was no doubt used to people grovelling at his feet, occupied with thoughts of self-preservation, but ‘Jesus answered, “Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above.”’ (John 19:11)

We praise the Lord that instead of self-preservation, Christ was motivated by ‘merciful kindness’, and willingly submitted to the dictates of Rome, and allowed Himself to be crucified, knowing that He was dying for us. Buried in that ‘new tomb’ (Matt 27:60), Pilate ordered a guard to be placed to ensure that it remained the final resting place of Jesus, but …

‘Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly … to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of quick and dead. To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins.’ (Acts 10:40-43)

And so, following their meeting that day, the pathways of Christ and Pilate diverged greatly. 

For Pilate, his selfish ambition and brutal power only took him so far to the detriment of many. Shortly after, he lost his job, disappears from view, eventually to perish.

For Christ, His selfless sacrifice and ‘merciful kindness’ led Him to ultimate glory. His final resting place was not the cold tomb, but ‘the right hand of the majesty on high’ (Hebs 1:3), to the blessing of many.

Truly, mercy will always, eventually, triumph!

Eternal Truth

The second reason the psalmist gives is that ‘the truth of the LORD endureth for ever’.

Study philosophy, and you will study the history of ideas. From stoicism, through empiricism, to post-modernism, the ideas of man come and go, and the children of men are ‘tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine’ (Eph 4:14)

How different the ‘truth of the LORD’? It is unchanging and enduring. It is eternal truth, and instead of being ‘tossed to and fro’, we can build our lives upon a firm foundation. This gives us a stability in life, for we see things presently for what they really are, and we calmly trust in the the Lord for the future, for He it is that gives the truth its eternal, unchanging character. 

Personally, we join with Peter, and say: ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.’ (John 6:68,69)

Then we go out, and call ‘all people’ to join with us in the enjoyment of eternal life, and to unite with us as we praise our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Hallelujah’ – Praise ye the Lord!

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