Expositions on the Psalms: Psalm 117
“Praise the Lord, all you nations!
Extol him all, you peoples!
For great is his steadfast love toward us,
and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.
Praise the Lord!” (Ps. 117)
Psalm 117 is the shortest of the 150 psalms and is the shortest chapter in the entire Bible. It is one of the Hallel Psalms. Hallel simply means praise of the Lord. It is believed to be one of the Psalms sung by Jesus and His disciples on the way from the Last Supper to the Garden of Gethsemane. St. Matthew says “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” (Matt. 26:30) Traditionally, the Hallel Psalms were sung during the Feast of Passover.
It is important to note that the Hebrew word, hesed, often translated as “steadfast love” refers to God’s mercy and compassion. Therefore, this psalm is a beautiful and short prayer praising God for His infinite mercy and compassion towards us.
Many commentators have said that the historical context of the Psalm is probably after the Babylonian Exile. It was believed by the Jews that after this exile the Davidic kingdom would be restored. It is true that the Davidic kingdom was restored, but not in the way they anticipated. The Jewish people were expecting a restoration of the physical Davidic kingdom. Jesus restored the kingdom, but as a spiritual kingdom: “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)
Liturgically, Psalm 117 is used in the Lectionary mainly during the Easter Season since it denotes praise and joy. In the Liturgy of the Hours, it is used for multiple feasts as well.
Psalm 117 has a universal dimension. It exhorts not only Jerusalem but all nations of the world to praise God. It is also beneficial to meditate on this psalm because it would have been one of the last things Jesus was thinking of as He entered into His Passion. He was thinking of the redemption He was about to win for us through the Cross.