Ten Short Truths about the Shortest Psalm
Psalm 117 is the shortest psalm with only two verses.
Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!
This little psalm is bursting with praise to the Lord. As Spurgeon says in his Treasury of David, “This Psalm, which is very little in its letter, is exceedingly large in its spirit; for, bursting beyond all bounds of race or nationality, it calls upon all mankind to praise the name of the Lord.” Three times the psalmist calls us to praise or extol the Lord.
Psalm 117 is found right in the heart of the Bible. Interestingly, the Bible has 1189 chapters, meaning the 595th chapter is the middle chapter of the Bible. Which chapter is that? Psalm 117! Though certainly the chapter divisions are not inspired, as the original texts did not contain them, still the Lord was providentially in control of them.
God's presence is experienced in this chapter just as in any longer chapter of scripture. Again Spurgeon says, “The same divine Spirit which expatiates (writes at length) in the 119th psalm, here condenses his utterances into two short verses, but yet the same infinite fullness is present and perceptible.”
Psalm 117 is part of the Hallel of the Psalter. The Psalter has various collections of songs in it, and Psalms 113-118 form one section known as the Hallel, which means "Praise." These psalms praise God for his salvation from sin and death, and speak of one who will bring this salvation. The previous psalm, Psalm 116, says, "You have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.” The next psalm states, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. This is the LORD's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” These clearly are prophecies of Christ's death and resurrection.
This psalm exchoes the covenant promises given to Abraham. God had promised Abraham he would be a blessing to all the nations of the earth, even changing his name to Abraham which means "Father of many people." In Genesis 18:18, the Lord said, “Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” This psalms reminds us of God's promise made to Abraham and fulfilled in his seed of Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:1).
Psalm 117 was sung by Jesus and the apostles the night before he died. Matthew tells us that at the conclusion of the Lord and the disciples observing Passover and the first Lord's Supper, they sang "a hymn" before departing to the Mount of Olives (Matt. 26:30). Most commentators tell us that this hymn would have been actually these particular psalms, sung especially by the Jews at Passover. In the midst of the psalms that Jesus was singing the night before he died, he calls all nations to praise the Lord for his great love.
Psalm 117 is quoted in the Book of Romans. Paul quotes from this psalm in Romans 15. In this part of Romans, he is section explaining that the gospel is for all people, Jews and Gentiles alike. “I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy; as it is written (here then is the quote from Ps. 117), “Praise the Lord all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise Him.” So the early church saw this psalm fulfilled in God manifesting the gospel to the Gentiles.
This psalm finds its true fulfillment in the New Testament Church. Though given to the Jews, this psalm is certainly not limited to them. Rather, it is a call to all nations and peoples of the earth- in other words the Gentiles - to praise God.
Psalm 117 testifies to the everlasting love God has for the church throughout the world. The reason given for praising the Lord is for his great love that stands on his truth forever. Those redeemed by Christ will know of that love now and forever.
How the church throughout the world should rejoice and sing these words together!