The Global Purposes of the God of the Whole Earth: Psalm 117

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Psalm 117 (NIV)

Praise the Lord, all you nations;
    extol him, all you peoples.
For great is his love toward us,
    and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.

Praise the Lord.

Sing this psalm with the Seedbed Psalter today! Visit the resource here.

CONSIDER THIS

This is the shortest psalm in the Psalter, containing only two verses. Yet, this tiny psalm carries a big message. It is not uncommon for people to think of the God of the Old Testament as a God who is concerned only with Israel as his chosen people, to the silent neglect of the other nations of the world. However, this psalm dispels the notion that the God of the Old Testament was only a tribal God, concerned with only one tiny nation.

In contrast to that false notion, the Psalms are filled from beginning to end with the joyful declaration that God is the God of all the nations of the earth. While dozens of examples could be cited, we’ll share a few of our favorites. After the passion of Psalm 22, which so deeply and poignantly foreshadows Christ’s death on the cross, the psalmist joyfully erupts into a celebration of the global implications of the suffering of God’s Servant: “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations” (vv. 27–28). Psalm 46 has those familiar words “Be still, and know that I am God,” but as noted in our reflection on that psalm, it goes on in the same sentence to forcibly declare, “I will be exalted among the nations” (v. 10). We have already noted how Psalm 47 has this remarkable global perspective: “God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne” (v. 8). Additionally, Psalm 87 joyously celebrates even the enemy nations finally joining in the family of God as those “born in Zion” (v. 6)!

Psalm 117, like Psalm 47, is devoted entirely to the theme of global worship of the true and living God. The psalm calls all nations and all peoples to worship the Lord (v. 1). The reason given is the covenantal love God has displayed toward Israel. This shows that the Jewish people understood that God’s redemptive acts on their behalf were never meant to be reduced to only that which belonged to them. Rather, all of his covenantal actions on their behalf were a call to the nations to come and participate in the wonderful grace and love of God. For only God’s love and faithfulness endures forever.

This is why Jesus cleansed the temple of all the money changers in the New Testament. They had set up their operation in the temple area known as the court of the Gentiles. This means that they occupied the space in the temple designed to receive the nations of the world. Thus, when Jesus cleanses the temple, he recalls the words of Isaiah 56:7, “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations” (Mark 11:17). He could have just as easily quoted Psalm 117.

As Christians, we must never become settled or comfortable with just being part of the family of God. Rather, we should always be thinking of ways we can help bring the gospel to the nations. We must not rest until every people group in the world has access to the good news of Jesus Christ. This will not only fulfill Genesis 12:3, where God promises, from the beginning, to bless all nations, but will enable us to hasten that glorious day when we will all be standing with “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:9).

This may be the shortest psalm in the Bible, but wrapped up in these two tiny verses one finds the glorious, climactic purposes of God for the ends of the earth!

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Timothy C. Tennent is the President of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Professor of Global Christianity. His works include Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century and Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. He blogs at timothytennent.com and can be followed on twitter @TimTennent.

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