An Itty-Bitty Psalm
By David Ettinger
It’s the smallest of the 150 Psalms, but it carries a considerable message. It’s Psalm 117, which reads:
Praise the LORD, all nations;
Sing His praises, all peoples!
For His mercy toward us is great,
And the truth of the LORD is everlasting.
Praise the LORD!
What we have here is a command – or at least a course of action to take – followed by the reasons this command – or course of action – should be taken.
The Bigger Context
Though small – just 28 English words in my Bible of choice, the NASB – Psalm 117 is part of a larger context.
Psalm 117 is part of what is called the Hallel Psalms, or “Praise” Psalms. (Hallel is the Hebrew word for praise.) The Hallel Psalms consist of numbers 113 through 118, 4 of those 6 Psalms ending with the words “Praise the Lord.”
Most Bible scholars consider the Hallel Psalms to be those Jesus and His disciples sang just following the Passover Seder (see Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26. Also, see my blog: “Jesus on the Day of His Crucifixion: ‘Rejoice and Be Glad’”).
In Jewish tradition, Psalms 113 and 114 are sung before the Seder; Psalms 115-118 after.
The author is unknown, but as a unit, the Hallel Psalms are theologically similar. They share common themes of the Exodus / Passover events; God’s covenants with Israel; and emphasis on the obligation and desire to offer God praise and thanksgiving for His lovingkindness and sovereignty.
Psalm 117 is addressed to 2 audiences: Israel and the Gentiles.
In verse 1, the author orders the “nations” – that is, the non-Jewish people of the world – to praise the Lord. In verse 2, the Jewish author provides an answer to the Gentiles who would ask: “Why should we praise your God?”
He tells them that God has been merciful to Israel – which I take to mean that God has allowed Israel to exist when she deserved to be destroyed. The implication is that God would be merciful to the Gentile nations as well if they would obey Him.
The Psalmist goes on to explain that the “truth of the Lord is everlasting.” The Hebrew word for “truth” is emeth, which has the connotation of faithfulness, sureness, and reliability. By contrast, the pagan “gods” of the Gentile nations are futile and unreliable. Because they don’t exist, they are nothing.
The God of Israel is an all-powerful God – one who could wipe out a nation if He so chooses, but is merciful and faithful enough to show mercy.
Though itty-bitty, Psalm 117 is powerful in its message, which is that the destiny of all nations is linked to God’s faithfulness and work among His people Israel, which will culminate in the reign of King-Messiah Jesus on Earth in the coming Millennial (1,000-year) Kingdom.
Indeed, when Israel will at last accept Jesus as her true Messiah, the Jewish people will see fulfilled all the promises made to them throughout the Bible. And it that day, all the world will be blessed as never before (see Romans 11:1-12, particularly verse 12).
Yes, Psalm 117 is the smallest of the Psalms and can be read in mere seconds, but its message is encouraging, glorious, and downright colossal!
David Ettinger was born and raised in a Jewish family in New York. After moving to New Mexico as an adult, he suffered through many trials. The nudge of the Holy Spirit caused him to examine his heart and in 1986 he surrendered his life to Jesus and has walked with Him ever since. David holds a BA, and MA, in English from New Mexico State University. He began his journalism career writing for The Roundup, the university paper. After graduation he became the sportswriter for the El Paso Times. He has held many other positions as both writer and editor with major publications. David is active in providing his skills with Zion’s Hope, Inc., in Winter Garden, Florida. His publications include Lifeway publications, Single Parent magazine (Focus on the Family), Zion’s Fire magazine, and Real Life magazine. In addition, he served as managing editor for Zion’s Fire and Real Life. David’s book, Overcomers: 30 Stories of Triumph from the Bible, is available on