“All Nations Praise Him!”

1 Praise the LORD, all nations!

Extol him, all tribes!

2 For great is his steadfast love toward us,

and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.

  Praise the LORD!

Psalm 117

While this psalm is short in length the reach of its message is vast. The scope of its invitation to “praise the LORD” encompasses “all nations” and “all tribes.” This universal scope was too big for many of Paul’s Jewish contemporaries to grasp. During his arrest in Jerusalem he was allowed to address those who accused him of defiling the temple by bringing Greeks into it (something he never did). His kinsmen listened to him right up until he explained that Jesus sent him away to the Gentiles. Then they cried out, “Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he should not be allowed to live.” (Acts 22:22)

But Paul was simply carrying out God’s will. The great mystery, hidden for ages, “has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Eph. 3:5-6) The origin of God’s plan stretches further back than even his promise to “bless all the families of the earth” through the seed of Abraham (Gen. 12:3). The creation of one diverse, multi-ethnic family “was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Eph. 3:11) Therefore, the diversity of God’s subjects (Psa. 117:1) was something decided “before the foundation of the world” (Eph. 1:4).

We see Psalm 117 in the multitude of Revelation 7:9-10, a crowd so large “that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!””

Israel was called by God for the sake of the world (Gen. 12:2-3; Ex. 19:5-6; 1 Kgs. 8:41-43). The Psalms anticipated the time when the nations would turn from their idols and join with Israel in worshiping the one true God (Psa. 96). Christ has come and, through his sacrifice, created one new humanity from the two (Eph. 2:11-22). We hear the unity of this praise in the “us” of Psalm 117:2. This is why Paul quotes this verse to clinch his argument for Jewish and Gentile unity in Christ (Rom. 15:11). The time for praise is now!

But what unites the world in this harmony of praise?

God’s steadfast love is great — The cause for this universal praise is that God’s “steadfast love toward us” is “great” (2a), in the sense that it is powerful. The same word was used of the stronger side in a battle (“prevailed”, Ex. 17:11) or of the flood waters which “prevailed and increased greatly on the earth” (Gen. 7:18-20). In Christ, God’s covenant love deluges us, his grace is “lavished upon us” (Eph. 1:7-8), and prevails mightily over all our sins.

God’s faithfulness endures forever — While God’s love is mighty, his faithfulness is eternal (2b), in the sense that it is continuous and never failing. God’s promises are as fresh and intact now as they ever were. And they will always be! Generations come and go, nations rise and fall, “the grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isa. 40:8). Peter helps us to see that that faithful “word” mentioned in Isaiah 40 is, in fact, “the good news that was preached to you,” the living and abiding word by which we were born again to love one another (1 Pet. 1:22-25).

Through the gospel, God is summoning all nations to praise him for his unconquerable love and his eternal faithfulness. The shortest psalm turns out to have the longest reach!