2009 Photo by Lambert Wolterbeek Muller, flickr

As my second son Noah has now passed me in height like his older brother did 2 years ago, I have come to conclude that short is good. Short is the new tall.

Most people in the pew pray for an increase in homiletical shortness (sermons, that is).

We all know about Zacchaeus, the vertically-challenged tree-climbing tax-collector (Luke 19:1-10), but he wasn’t even close to being the shortest man in the Bible, that distinction belongs to Bildad the Shuhite (Job 2:11).

The fourth gospel writer knew how to craft a short three word sentence in Greek, that shrinks down to two words in English, giving us the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept” (John 11:35; the NRSV expands this four words, “Jesus began to weep”-what were they thinking?).

The book of Psalms, however, has the unique claim of including the longest chapter in the Bible, 119, as well as the shortest, 117 (I wonder how 118 feels about it’s two famous neighbors?). Let’s look at this shortest of all psalms.

Psalm 117:1

Praise the LORD, all nations!
Extol him, all peoples!
For great is his steadfast love (hesed) toward us,
and the faithfulness (’emet) of the LORD endures forever.
Praise the LORD!

Psalm 117 contains only twenty-eight words in the ESV, and this number drops down to only seventeen words in the Hebrew. However, those seventeen words still pack a wallop.

The psalm begins and ends with “Praise YHWH,” the Hallelujah-inclusio (technically, only 117:2 has “Hallelujah” since 117:1 has a similar but slightly different Hebrew form). The audience is boldly commanded to praise him and extol him (extol means to praise lavishly, like über-praise). Only seventeen words and three command praise.

Who’s the audience for this liturgical tidbit?

All nations, all peoples—that sounds pretty much like everyone, which shouldn’t surprise us because God is God of the universe and his mission is extensive, including the entire planet. The creator of the cosmos is to be praised by the cosmos. The concept of universal praise for YHWH is emphasized well in 117:1 with a classic example of synonymous parallelism, where the 2nd line repeats the first with slightly different wording. Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol him, all peoples!

Why are we supposed to offer him our über-praise?

The psalm itself provides the answer at the beginning of 117:2, “For great is his hesed toward us.” Hesed love is the best kind of love, that of a parent for a child over a lifetime, that of a spouse for a spouse over fifty years. While one might expect God’s love to be for the nations that are supposed to praise him, this verse informs us it is now for “us.” God loves us greatly. That sounds praise worthy.

And his faithfulness never stops, it just keeps going and going (like the Energizer bunny and more). His love and loyalty to his people endures…forever. More reasons to praise.

While one might not always feel like praising (I’ve already posted on the Biblical blog about lamenting, cursing and repenting psalms), Psalm 117 now commands us to “Praise.”

I praise God for many things, including short psalms. What do you praise God for?

(While short is good, it’s hard for an OT guy to go short with a blog.)


David Lamb is Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biblical. He’s the husband of Shannon, father of Nathan and Noah, and the author of God Behaving Badly: Is the God of the Old Testament Angry, Sexist and Racist? He blogs regularly at http://davidtlamb.com/. See also < a href="http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/david-lamb">http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/david-lamb.

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