Psalm 117 is the shortest Psalm in all of the Psalter. In fact, it’s the shortest chapter in all of the Bible—but there’s a lot more meaning packed into this short Psalm than you may have realized:
Praise the Lord, all nations;
Laud Him, all peoples!
For His lovingkindness is great toward us,
And the truth of the Lord is everlasting.
Praise the Lord! (Psalm 117)
“Praise the Lord, all nations.” The notion here, of course, is that the God of Israel is the God of all the earth. Therefore, since He’s created all the earth, everyone ought to worship Him. There are even prophecies that state that one day all the earth will worship Him. One day the Gentiles will stream to Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel.
“Laud Him all you peoples. For His lovingkindness is great toward us and the truth of the Lord is everlasting.” The Psalmist uses important covenant words like lovingkindness, which refers to faithfulness, and truth, which refers to loyalty. This Psalm emphasizes that all the earth belongs to Him and that the divisions between Jew and Gentile are not the divisions that ought to prevail in the world.
According to Your Will
Of course, divisions have always existed, both in the ancient world and in our world. In the Jewish prayer book of Paul’s day, for example, there was a well-known prayer that men would have recited as many as three times a day. The prayer went something like this:
I thank thee, O God, that thou hast made me a Jew, and not a Gentile.
I thank thee, O God, that hast made me free, and not a slave.
I thank thee Lord God that thou hast made me male, and not female.
The role of women in the ancient world was much more elevated in Judaism than it was in other places throughout the world. Still, the alternate reading of this prayer, the reading that an ancient Jewish woman would have used, went something like this:
I thank thee, O God, that hast made me Jew, and not Gentile.
I thank thee, O God, that thou hast made me free, and not a slave.
I thank thee, O God, that thou hast made me according to Your will.
The existence of this kind of divisive attitude makes it all the more powerful when, because of the preaching of the gospel, the stratification of the old creation begins to fall away.
The early church experienced great conflict and confusion over the question of Gentile converts: did the men need to be circumcised? Should families observe Jewish holy days? Did Christians need to follow the Jewish diet?
Paul taught that such matters do not matter in the new creation. In his letter to the Romans, he argued that both Jew and Gentile were made by the one God, and both are saved through Jesus Christ. His entire argument came to its culmination with God’s people:
Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, accept one another… (Romans 15:5-7)
What does this mean for you?
The word “accept” in Romans 15 has to do with hospitality—with welcoming one another into the family, into the household. Show hospitality to one another, just as Christ also welcomed us to the glory of God. Paul went on to quote from the Psalms, the law, and the prophets—from all three parts of the Old Testament Scriptures— to confirm his point. He quoted from Psalm 117 to emphasize that those who are apparently outside the people of God have, through Christ, been brought into God’s family:
Praise the Lord all you Gentiles
And let all the people praise Him. (Romans 15:11)
In Christ Jesus, God is making a new world. The Church is the present-day witness to the coming kingdom of God where all these distinctions of indifference will finally, fully, fall away.
The hatred, the labeling, the power plays, the diminishing—all of that will one day be done away with. May we be a people who welcome all the earth, through the gospel, to worship the one true and living Lord.
The preceding was adapted by Rachel Motte from a sermon Dr. Sloan delivered at Kingsland Baptist Church on July 28, 2013. A video of his original remarks may be viewed here.