Thursday, September 22, 2011

Quality if not Quantity (Psalm 117)

How long is the shortest Psalm? Two verses (Psalm 117)

Psalm 117 is a psalm of praise. It is the 595th of the Bible’s 1089 chapters, making it the center chapter in all of Scripture. At just two verses in length, it is both the shortest Psalm and shortest chapter in the Bible. The Hebrew text contains only fifteen words.

Praise the LORD, all nations;
Laud Him, all peoples!
For His lovingkindness is great toward us,
And the truth of the LORD is everlasting.
Praise the LORD! (Psalm 117 NASB)
Some have posed that it is a fragment of what was once a longer song. Artur Weiser (1893-1978) concludes, “It is hardly possible that this shortest of all the psalms was originally an independent composition (Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary (The Old Testament Library), 721).”

Psalm 117 is the fifth of six psalms categorized as an Egyptian Hallel (113-118). These six consecutive Psalms are said as a unit on joyous occasions. It has been assumed that these were the songs Jesus sung on the Mount of Olives before he was crucified (Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26).

Despite its brevity, the song fulfills all of the requirements of a classic hymn. James D.G. Dunn (b. 1939) and John W. Rogerson (b. 1935) praise:

Although Psalm 117 is the shortest psalm in the psalter, it is nevertheless a classic example of a hymn in that it contains the basic elements, namely, invocations to praise and reasons why the LORD should be praised. (Dunn and Rogerson, Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible, 421)
Why do you think such a short hymn was canonized? What is the simplest song that holds meaning to you? Has anyone ever made a brief comment to you that was very meaningful?

Psalm 117 contains the unusual aspect of charging all nations to praise the Jewish God. Given the fact that its themes correspond to “Deutero-Isaiah” (Isaiah 40-55), it has been suggested that the Psalm was penned while in exile, as its singers were in the midst of a catastrophic defeat. This is significant as Patrick D. Miller (b. 1935) explains, “The psalm testifies that what prevails over ‘us’ is not the enemy but the steadfast love of God (Miller, Interpreting the Psalms, 72).”

Do you feel God’s love even in the midst of your trials?

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