Psalm 117 ~ An Introduction

The next Old Testament scripture to which Paul refers is found in Psalm 117. In Romans 15:8-12 the Apostle Paul has already quoted Psalm 18:49 (or II Samuel 22:50), then Deuteronomy 32:43, now he quotes Psalm 117, which is a two verse chapter.

If Psalm 117 is meant to stand by itself, our study would be quite brief and general in nature. The Gentile nations are commanded to praise God because of His merciful kindness toward a certain group. It could be implied that the group is Israel, but the chapter is too short to make any other determination. Another reason is that the truth of the LORD endures forever. What truths are being sung about? We can’t quite tell.

Conclusions thus far: Gentile nations will be commanded to praise the LORD sometime after the writing of this psalm. The Old Covenant Israel never shone the light to the nations as God had originally intended. But here is a little pocket declaring that Israel will give an unction to the Gentile nations to praise the LORD alongside them. But as far as how that will develop, under what circumstances, and what the timing will be, we can’t really determine anything else. Or can we?

After examining the surrounding psalms, I have come to the conclusion that Psalm 117 is in the midst of a sort of grand Messianic opus or concerto. The word Messiah does not appear in this set of psalms, but the theme is definitely there. We know that in other places, chapter divisions were inserted into places which were originally one psalm with different sections. It is fairly undisputed that Psalm 42 and 43 were originally one psalm. Psalm 42:1-5 is the first section, 42:6-11 is the second section, and 43 is the third section. Each section of this psalm ends with the similar stanza

Why are you cast down, O my soul?

And why are you disquieted within me?

Hope in God;

For I shall yet praise Him,

The help of my countenance and my God.

which acts as a refrain to the song as a whole. Once this is recognized, the cry for vindication in Psalm 43 is not isolated, but stands in unison with the earlier voice of sorrow which felt as if God had abandoned them. The key to unlocking this is in the headings. We know that they are a part of the text which is considered to be inspired. Older translations such as the Geneva Bible included the headings in with the first verse. We see the heading of Psalm 18 recorded as scripture in II Samuel 22:1. The headings convey information concerning the song. Habakkuk 3 demonstrates which section of the heading belongs to the previous psalm and which section belongs to the upcoming psalm. "A prayer of Habakkuk the prophet upon Shigionoth" is the heading for the song contained in Habakkuk 3, while "To the chief singer on my stringed instruments" is the postscript. They function sort of like a forward and an afterward to the psalm.

Obviously with Psalm 42 and 43, the translators have decided to place a chapter division in the midst of one song. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, but this is what they have done. In between Psalm 42 and 43, there is no heading dividing them to indicate a new song. We have the same thing with Psalm 92-97. There are no headings acting as divisions in between these chapters. I have concluded that Psalm 92-97 is one continuous apocalyptic song. I may blog on that later. Readers of my blog may remember the apocalyptic language in Psalm 18 which demonstrates Messiah’s future victory over His enemies.

In examining the psalms surrounding Psalm 117, we see no headings which would divide Psalm 117 from the previous psalm or the following psalm. In fact, from Psalm 110 all the way through Psalm 118, there is nothing to separate them as far as official headings. Could we have one song with many sections spanning from Psalm chapter 110 extending through chapter 118? The mere mention of Psalm 110 and 118 should raise the eyebrow of any student of prophecy. Both are clearly messianic, are quoted in the New Testament multiple times, and contain portions with aspects yet to be fulfilled. If this section is one psalm, these clear messianic portions act as bookends with a common theme able to be traced throughout this extended psalm. This will directly impact our view of these two verses found in Psalm 117.

Upon examining the way the lines are arranged in the NKJV, there seems to be a perfectly good explanation for why chapter divisions were placed in between these different sections of the same song in every case except in between 114 and 115. Notice the phrase "Praise the LORD!" You may not think this three word phrase is a big deal, but each time it occurs, the translators of the NKJV have set it apart on its own line as a stanza all by itself. It occurs at the beginning of 111, 112, and 113. Then it occurs again at the end of 113. Then we see it at the end of 115, 116, and 117. If we take this phrase "Praise the LORD!" as a lyrical or musical division separating movements within a grand Messianic concerto, we can understand why the translators divided the chapters the way they did in every case except in between 114 and 115. This would make Psalm 117 not to be simply a two verse song, but one score within a great Hebrew overture.

But does this stand up under a textual examination? Some may see these psalms as being too diverse to be part of the same song. But how do we view some of the longer psalms? Sometimes in the midst of one psalm there are several stanzas which seem at first to be unrelated to each other, but the psalmist had that theme in mind whether we understand it or not. Psalm 102 is a good example. Verses 12-22 are an insightful look into the kingdom of God. Verses 1-11 and 23-28 may not seem to have anything to do with this theme of the kingdom of God at first glance, but the psalmist was seeing the kingdom as his glimmer of hope in the midst of his trials, weeping, and sorrows of his soul.

There is a common theme which I will be attempting to convey in a future post. Here is simply a preliminary examination which should give us reason to view 110 through 118 as being contiguous. Psalm 110 can be connected to Psalm 118 which brings the thought of the priest king full circle. In Psalm 110 He is a priest after the order of Melchizedek. In Psalm 118 the cornerstone which had previously been rejected has entered the gates of righteousness and orders the sacrifice to be bound to the altar. Only someone both a king and priest could fulfill the role as described in Psalm 118:19-28.

Psalm 115 has distinct language in a specific order that is replicated in Psalm 118. The terms of Israel, house of Aaron, and those who fear the LORD is used in 115:9-11, 115:12-13, and 118:2-4. This links Psalm 115 with 118 as being delivered on the same occasion. The only place in all of psalms with a similar structure is Psalm 135:19-21, yet it is not identical. These identical phrases this close to each other must act as a bridge.

Another bridge that is not overly compelling is the term which is translated Gentiles, nations, or heathen. The word occurs in 110, 111, 113, 115, 117, and 118. It is a common word in the psalms, but the way in which it is used is progressive in this concerto. In 110:6 it is stated that the Messiah will render judgement upon the Gentiles. In 111:6 the LORD is giving the Gentiles to His covenant people as a heritage. In 113:4 the LORD is above all Gentile nations. In 115:2 Israel is imploring God to demonstrate His superiority to Gentile idols. In 117:1 the Gentile nations are urged to praise the LORD because of His mercy to Israel. In 118:10 Gentile nations gather against the Messiah as He destroys them. This may seem a bit unclear now, but I hope to develop this further.

Upon closer scrutiny, we also see the identity of the covenant people of God throughout this concerto. In Psalm 110 they are "Your people" to be volunteers on the day of Your power. In Psalm 111 they are the assembly of the upright and the people of His covenant which He has commanded forever. Psalm 112 describes the individual man within the context of God’s people. Psalm 113 calls them the servants of the LORD elevating the seemingly poor to a place of equality with royalty. Psalm 114 identifies Israel as the place of His dominion when they went out from Egypt. Israel continues to serve as the identity of God’s people in Psalm 115. Based on this approach, I believe we can safely bind 110 through 115 together.

Finally, the voice of the Messiah is prevalent in differing ways throughout this concerto. He is undeniable in Psalm 110 as the victorious kingly priest. In Psalm 116 the voice is that of One going through death, Sheol, trouble, and sorrow. Then in Psalm 118 we have both aspects combined in one psalm. The victorious kingly priest and the servant who suffered death are both present in the same person as the Messiah in Psalm 118. Although the experience of death is only touched on, it is mentioned in verses 5, 17, and 18. Without this aspect, the phrase "the stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone" would not make any sense. Psalm 118 also describes Messiah’s victory vividly in verses 10-14.

To close this post, I would like to bring the attention back to the salvation of the Gentiles. I have wondered how Psalm 117 could be so short and other psalms could be so extensive. Psalm 117 must be part of an all encompassing plan to save both Israel and Gentiles through the Messiah. Each chapter within this Grand Messianic Concerto has a different focus. The focus of Psalm 117 is the truth that Gentile nations will praise the LORD right alongside Israel. It is short and to the point. It could have been included with another portion, yet the psalmist decided to set it apart in a musical movement of its very own. The salvation of the Gentiles is this significant to God that it must have its very own section.

Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

-The Orange Mailman

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2 Responses to Psalm 117 ~ An Introduction

  1. Pingback: Links for the Series on Prophetic Apocalypse in the Psalms | The Orange Mailman

  2. Pingback: The Salvation of the Gentiles in Romans 15:8-12 | The Orange Mailman

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