Messiah’s Call to Praise in the Great Congregation 

a brief study of Psalm 117, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 14 Jan 2011


Psalm 117 is famous. It is the shortest of the Psalms and the shortest chapter of the Bible. And it is the middle chapter of the Bible!

We seldom sing it for public worship because it is very short. But it is actually a very beautiful and meaningful psalm.

It is part of the so-called  “Egyptian Hallel” and so would have been one of the hymns that the Lord Jesus sang with his disciples in the upper room when he observed the last Passover and instituted the Lord’s Supper on the night He was betrayed.

Indeed, I believe we must take this psalm as the word of the Lord Jesus which He sings in union not just with His disciples, but with us.

We are led to this understanding by the apostle Paul’s use of this psalm in Romans 15:11. Let’s read the context:

8 Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: 9 And that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name [Ps 18:49]. 10 And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people [Dt 32:43]. 11 And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people [Ps 117:1]” (Rom 15:8-11)


Now, I will leave it to you to sort out the speakers in all these quotations of the apostle Paul. But one thing is clear: Paul is quoting them as the words of a single person. Who is this person? Well, he cannot be God Triune, for the speaker addresses God directly (v. 9b). And the speaker cannot be David or Moses because David could not have spoken Deuteronomy 32:43; and Moses could not have spoken Psalm 18:49!

Well, a natural reading of the text from verse 8 would lead us to understand that the speaker is none other than “Jesus Christ [the] minister of the circumcision for the truth of God” (v. 8). Or let me put it this way: if no one tells you that the quotations are taken from Deuteronomy and Psalms or no one tells you that Deuteronomy is written by Moses and the Psalms by David, you will naturally attribute all the words quoted by Paul to Christ Jesus.

And I believe this intuition is correct. Moses spoke in the Spirit of Christ in his song which is quoted. The Psalmist spoke also in the Spirit of Christ.

So then, we need have no doubt that the Holy Spirit intends for us to understand Psalm 117 as the words of Christ. We may entitle this Psalm: “Messiah’s Call to Praise in the Great Congregation.”

When we sing this psalm, we do three things:

·   First, we Exhort one another to Praise the LORD.

·   Secondly, we Remind one another of the LORD’s merciful kindness towards us.

·   Thirdly, we Encourage one another with the LORD’s faithfulness.


1. We Exhort One Another to Praise the LORD

Our psalm begins and closes with a call to praise the LORD:

O praise the LORD, all ye nations: praise him, all ye people.… 2 Praise ye the LORD.

Now, we say this is a call to praise in the Great Congregation for two reasons. First, this is the picture given us in the last verse of Psalm 116. Secondly, this is obviously a call issued to the redeemed, for who has known the “merciful kindness” of the LORD (v. 2), but the redeemed.

As the redeemed of the Lord, we are already come to Mount Sion and are part of the general assembly which comprises just men made perfect as well as those who are being perfected (cf. Heb 12:22-23).

Therefore, when we sing this psalm in union with Christ in the congregation, we are exhorting one another as members of the great congregation of Christ to praise the LORD.

And notice how verse 1 is rendered in Romans 15:11—

“Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people.”

Where in Psalm 117:1, we have “all ye nations”, in Romans 15:11, we have “all ye Gentiles.” Thus, Psalm 117 is not merely a call to the world to praise the LORD, rather it anticipates the extension of the LORD’s mercy and truth towards the gentiles in the Last Days.

So the call to praise the LORD is especially relevant to us who are gentiles by birth who have now been joined unto Christ together with all the redeemed throughout the ages.

What a great privilege we enjoy! What a great privilege we have to praise the LORD and to join in with Christ our Saviour to exhort one another to praise the LORD. May the Lord grant us that our hearts may indeed overflow with grateful thanks and high praises each time we gather to praise the LORD.

But what reasons do we have to encourage one another to praise the LORD? Well, the second thing we do when we sing this psalm is to remind one another of the LORD’s merciful kindness.


2. We Remind One Another of the LORD’s Merciful Kindness

1 Praise the LORD…2 For his merciful kindness is great toward us:

Here is the first reason we must use to encourage one another to praise the LORD. Take note that the word rendered ‘merciful kindness’ is actually only one word in the Hebrew. It is the word, “ds,j,” (chesed). This word occurs 248 times in the Old Testament. It is variously translated as ‘mercy’, ‘kindness’, ‘goodness’, ‘lovingkindness’ and in our text and Psalm 119:76, ‘merciful kindness.’

What exactly does this word mean? Well, as I must have mentioned before, this word does not have a single word equivalent in English. But Hebrew scholars who studied how this word is used in the Bible have noticed that it is almost always used to describe God’s covenant relationship with His people. So it is used not just to describe God’s kindness and mercy in general, but rather His loving kindness and mercy towards his covenant people.

In other words, when we sing this psalm we are calling upon one another to praise the LORD for His covenantal love towards us. How is this covenantal love manifested? It is manifested in Christ coming, living, suffering, dying, and rising up again for us. His blood is the blood of the everlasting covenant of Grace (Heb 13:20).

We deserve God’s wrath and curse, but as great as God’s wrath against us is, so much the greater is his mercy towards us in Christ!

We deserve no pity at all, but God’s merciful kindness is so great towards us that the eternal Son of God took on our flesh and was tempted at all points like as we are yet without sin so that we may know we have a compassionate great high priest as our intercessor.

So great is God’s loving kindness towards us that we may have the assurance that nothing shall separate us from the love of God that is in Christ who sealed God’s love for us with his death. Says the apostle Paul:

“He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom 8:32).

Such, beloved brethren and children, is the greatness of God’s covenant loving kindness towards us. Therefore, never doubt the extent of God’s mercy towards you. You may have sinned. You may have failed again. You do truly deserve no mercy and kindness from the Lord. But the greatness of God merciful kindness is not dependant on you.

It is dependant rather on the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. If you are united to Him by faith, you will experience God’s covenant loving kindness, and He will preserve you always in His love and care. He will forgive you your sins when you come to Him in contrition. He will strengthen you in the inner man. He will preserve you from apostasy. He will hold you in his hand and no one shall be able to pluck you out of His hand.

But not only is His merciful kindness great toward us, His faithfulness endureth forever, for consider how, thirdly, when we sing this psalm, …


3. We Encourage One Another with the LORD’s Faithfulness

1 Praise the LORD …2 For …the truth of the LORD endureth for ever.

Now, the word rendered ‘truth’ (tm,aÔ) is related to the word ‘amen’. It speaks of firmness, stability and therefore faithfulness and truth or truthfulness.

In this light, we understand that God’s Word is true because God is faithful and reliable. So also, the truth of the LORD is not merely a reference to the Bible, although it is included. It is really about the faithfulness of God… that what God says is true and will come to pass; that God keeps his promises; that what God says will never become irrelevant, etc. 

We must praise the LORD because of His merciful kindness. We must also praise the LORD because of His truth and faithfulness.

Has God made a covenant, he will never break it. But did not God break His covenant with Israel since he allowed both Judah and Israel to go into exile, and he brought only a portion of Judah back? Did He not break His covenant when He allowed foreign powers to rule the Promised Land in great stretches of her history after they inherited the land? Did not God break His covenant with Israel when He cut off most of Israel from the Olive Tree and grafted in the gentiles?

No, no; God did not break His covenant. You must remember that the Promised Land was only a type or a shadow of the heavenly inheritance that was reserved for His people. And God’s covenant with Israel was not really made with Israel as a nation, but with the Israel of God.

Remember how when God would cut the covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15, Abraham was in a deep sleep when the two theophanies passed through the pieces. I believe the covenant which was enacted then was really the covenant between the Father and the Son: the Father represented by the furnace and the Son represented by the burning lamp.

So God’s covenant is really made with the Israel of God or with the seed of Christ. This is an everlasting covenant. The blood of this everlasting covenant is the blood of Christ shed on Calvary’s Tree.

The truth or faithfulness of the LORD endures forever because He cannot lie nor fail to keep His promise, seeing He has cut a covenant. When the ancient fathers cut a covenant by passing through the pieces of animals, they were calling upon God to cut them asunder like the animals if they failed to keep their promise. When God passed through the pieces, He is telling us that He will definitely keep His Word, for He cannot be cut asunder or destroyed.

We must praise the LORD for His truth endures forever. Whatever he says is true and will be true forever. Whatever promises He made will be kept.

God is not a man that He should change His mind or find himself powerless to keep His promises. As the prophet Baalam puts it:

“God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it?  or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?” (Num 23:19).

God has kept His promises concerning the incarnation of the Messiah and the gathering of the gentiles. He is still fulfilling his promises as he builds the Israel of God. He will continue to keep his promises. The day is coming when He would have gathered all his elect, and then He will come again. He will glorify and vindicate His Church. He will put away sin and suffering away from us permanently and completely. He has promised.

We must believe the Lord. We must praise him for his truth and faithfulness endure from generation to generation. We must trust him to keep His word that He is a God not only to us, but also to our children and our children’s children.


Conclusion

Beloved brethren and children, many things in this life distract us and make us discouraged. We look at our own sin and failures. We look at the situation in the world and our family and the church and we are disheartened.

The name of Christ is trampled everywhere, and worldliness and wickedness seem to prevail so much so that we are even fearful that we will lose our children to the world.

But take heart brothers and sisters, youths and children in Christ: The LORD is a covenant keeping God. He has demonstrated His merciful loving kindness toward us in an irrevocable way for Christ has come.

He has kept his promise, He is keeping his promises and He will keep His promise.

Let us therefore praise Him and bless His holy name. Let us exhort one another to praise Him for his covenant loving kindness towards us, and for his truth and faithfulness which endures forever and ever. Amen. Ω