Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Shortest Psalm but with a Big Message! (Ps. 117)

Isn’t it amazing how cool it is that the best stuff often comes tightly packaged in very small things? A friend celebrates the breaking news of his wife’s pregnancy on Facebook... small being but it’s a big issue!

And so it is with certain Scripture. Small in size but large in theological stature and relevance, is Psalm 117. The most interesting rendering of this Hallel psalm for the lay reader is possibly the Message:

“Praise God, everybody! Applaud God, all people!
His love has taken over our lives;
God's faithful ways are eternal.
–Psalm 117 (Msg).

Hallel (Praise)

This psalm was chanted with joy together with the suite of Hallel psalms (Pss. 113-118) during Jewish festivals. Hallel, or praise, was due entirely to the Lord, Yahweh (YHWH). “Praise in the Psalter is both descriptive of Yahweh’s character and deeds [his steadfast and faithful love], and declarative of his particular acts of deliverance [as chronicled through biblical history i.e. the Exodus and the return from Exile].”[1]

Praise and joy in the Bible don’t come in isolation to the pains of everyday life; they come in the expectation and in the midst of this pain and the drudgery and normality of life.

“Praise in the Psalter arises particularly from a circumstance-defying belief that Yahweh’s covenant promises will come to realization--through the arrival of the Davidic king.”[2]

Christians know that this king has arrived and indeed lives in us, within this world, pervading existence and creation. He is the Christ.

Yahweh’s Steadfast Love and Faithfulness

This psalm speaks generously though with great brevity of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness toward his chosen people, the Hebrews, and their response is compulsive praise.

And it speaks forth to us also--and all God’s chosen--everyone.

The first verse calls for all people to praise the Lord, universally, and not for extravagant reasons of Israel’s victory over the other nations, but simply that God deserves nothing less.[3]

The second verse expounds YHWH’s steadfast love and faithfulness descriptively (per Westermann) but specifically around the Lord’s attributes--his intrinsic character--and not his deeds.[4]

Such is the truth (see Septuagint[5]) of his love, his attributes overwhelm us; for believers and unbelievers as a whole--“his love has prevailed over us.”[6] We see in this, not only God’s hope, but ours too, that the whole world will join in the choruses of praise to God our Father.[7]

His love is, after all, irrepressible. We have here an obligation to praise his holy Name.

Copyright © 2009, S. J. Wickham. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.
[1] James Hely Hutchinson, “The Psalms and Praise” in Interpreting the Psalms: Issues and Approaches, Eds. Philip S. Johnston & David G. Firth (Leicester, England: Apollos, imprint of Inter-Varsity Press, 2005), p. 89. This is a quote taken from Claus Westermann, Praise and Lament in the Psalms, tr. K.R. Crim and R.N. Soulen (Atlanta, Georgia: John Knox and Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1981), p. 31.
[2] Hutchinson, Ibid, p. 97.
[3] Craig C. Broyles, Psalms – New International Biblical Commentary (Old Testament Series) (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers/Paternoster Press, 1999), p. 436-37.
[4] Broyles, Ibid, p. 436-37.
[5] Greek version of the Old Testament Scriptures called the “LXX.” The LXX clearly uses the word aleitheia ("truth") whereas the Hebrew reading is not so plain regarding the allusion toward "truth."
[6] Broyles, Ibid, p. 436-37.
[7] James L. Mays, Psalms – Interpretation Series (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 1994), p. 373.

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