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!
The mission of God extends to all nations. The mission of Israel to the nations is repeated several times following its original occurrence given to Abraham and his offspring in Genesis 12:2-3.
- Gen 18:18, Seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him?
- Gen 26:4, And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;
- Gen 28:14, And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
As we have seen in our reflections on Psalm 67, at the end of time, representatives of all nations, even nations that had been at war with God’s people, will worship the King in the City of God.
Now in this short psalm, we note in verse one that all nations and all peoples will praise the Lord. Also, note the “us” in verse two: God’s steadfast love and faithfulness is extended from Israel, the channel of blessing, to all peoples who are the recipients of that blessing.
Psalm 117 reminds us that Israel is God’s people, chosen to reveal to the nations His faithfulness and nearness, and the righteousness of His laws and ordinances.
Israel the model nation
God can bring good from human disasters. He can transform nations of poverty into nations of flourishing; slave nations into free, self-governing peoples. Israel is chosen by God to model for the nations the power of obedience to His laws and ordinances, to demonstrate that such obedience has a transforming impact on a nation. We witness this in Deuteronomy 4:1-7, when God speaks to his people as they enter the promised land.
And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you … See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?
Israel a picture of hope
The obedience of God’s people will show other, enslaved nations,
- The wisdom and understanding of God’s people.
- That Israel has become a great nation because
- God is so near to them,
- God hears His people when they call upon Him,
- God’s statutes and rules are righteous and transformative.
God could have used an already-great nation to show His power to the world. But instead he transformed a small, insignificant, impoverished nation into a great nation to establish that there is hope for other nations.
Deu 7:6-8 clearly states the nature of Israel’s calling.
For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.
Why did he call Israel? Not because they were the most numerous, in fact they were among the smallest. Not because they were a great nation, they were in fact slaves. He called Israel because He loved them and is keeping the covenant He made with Abraham.
Israel was called for the sake of others
When Israel sang this psalm, they remembered both their unique calling and their purpose. Again, the unique calling is reiterated in Psalm 147:19-20.
He declares his word to Jacob,
his statutes and rules to Israel.
He has not dealt thus with any other nation;
they do not know his rules.
Praise the LORD!
Their calling is not for themselves, but for others. They are the instrument of God’s mission, the circumcised to the uncircumcised, the Jews to the Gentiles. The smallest shall be used greatly in the hands of God.
We have written of the gift of the Jews to the nations. We know, also, that the blessing of the Jews to the nations comes through the messianic line leading to our Lord and Savior. We also see this blessing in God’s call of a fanatical Jew, Saul, who became Paul, missionary to the Gentiles.
Paul testifies to the same
Paul traces his mission to the Gentiles as a manifestation of God calling the Jews to be a blessing to the nations. He refers to the Psalms (including Psalm 117) to Deuteronomy, 2 Samuel, and Isaiah, to remind the world that the Jews were not chosen for themselves but called to bless the nations.
For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written [2 Sam. 22:50; Psalm 18:49], “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” And again it is said [Deu. 32:43], “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again [Psa. 117:1],“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” And again Isaiah [11:10; 11:1] says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” Romans 15:8-12
Paul begins by reminding Jews and Gentiles that Christ is the seed of promise and the servant to the people of the promise, the Jews, to show the world that God is faithful to keep His promise.
What is the promise to the patriarchs? That God would bless the nations through the seed of Abraham.
Why is this the mission to the Gentiles? That the Gentiles would receive God’s mercy in Jesus Christ and glorify God for His work. God plans to save the Gentiles and join them to the Jews as one new and complete humanity (Ephesians 2:14-18).
Unity rather than artificial divisions
What an incredible picture! Instead of the artificial divisions manufactured in the intersectionality of postmodern culture, we find the unity of diverse people in one body, under the Lordship of Jesus Christ:
For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
This is such good news in our increasingly fragmented world.
As we reflect on this short psalm, let us remember our own calling, as non-Jews, has come through the Jews. May we rejoice in God’s plan of redemption. May we be grateful for the Jewish people and remind the world to be thankful for the contribution of the Jews to human flourishing. Finally may we stand four-square against anti-Semitism, be it in the church or any place where it is sprouting.
– Darrow Miller