Praise the Lord
Sep 26, 2021
I’d invite you to open your Bibles to the book of Psalms. Our text for this morning is a unique psalm—Psalm 117.
Now, I say unique because Psalm 117 happens to be the shortest psalm in the Psalter. There are three psalms that comprise a total of three verses. Those are Psalms 131, 133, and 134. But our psalm has only two verses, making it the shortest of all the psalms.
Not only that, but as the shortest psalm, it also happens to be the shortest chapter in the entire Bible.
Now, you might gather from this that there won’t be much to look at in these verses. After all, what can really be said in two verses of Hebrew poetry? And that’s an understandable question. When you go into a library or a bookstore and you peruse the books on the shelves, you might be tempted to assume that a large, thousand-page volume on a particular subject is a more serious and important work than the thin, fifteen-page pamphlet next to it.
But length can be deceiving. Think of John 11:35, the shortest verse in the Bible, comprised of only three words in the Greek—and yet it’s probably also the most memorable verse in the Bible because it puts on display the full humanity of Christ in all his emotion over the death of his friend, yet through the most briefest and simplest of statements: “Jesus wept.”
So sometimes it’s the brevity of a work that makes it so effective and so memorable. Derek Kidner wrote, “The shortest psalm proves, in fact, to be the most potent and the most seminal” (447). And it was none other than Charles Haddon Spurgeon who said of this text, “This psalm, which is very little in its letter, is exceedingly large in its spirit.”
And indeed it is. You could say that this psalm has the widest of scopes, because it deals with the whole earth and all the people who dwell on it. And it deals with the most important of themes—the resounding praise that is to be given to God by all the nations of the earth.
So, appropriately, and in the providence of God, this psalm, which summarizes the heartbeat and goal of the entire Bible, just happens to fall in the exact center of our Bibles. Of the 1,189 chapters that comprise our Protestant Bibles as they are arranged today, the central chapter is none other than Psalm 117.
Now, a couple more things to note on this psalm before we start to look at it in detail. Psalm 117 is actually part of a collection of psalms that’s known as the “Egyptian Hallel.”
There’s quite a few collections that can be identified in the book of Psalms, and that was because before these psalms were all collected and curated into the final form we know of as “the Book of Psalms,” they existed as independent psalms. And sometimes, these psalms were gathered into small collections that were used for worship in various applications. There are the collections of the psalms of David, the psalms of Asaph, the psalms of the Sons of Korah, the Songs of Ascent, the Hallel Songs that close the book of Psalms.
And one of these collections is known as the Egyptian Hallel, and it’s made up of psalms 113 through 118. It get its name from the reference in Psalm 114:1, “When Israel went out from Egypt.” So naturally, this collection of psalms has been traditionally sung by the Jewish people during the various feasts of Israel, but in one particular night out of the year, this collection is sung in its entirety, and that is the night of the celebration of Passover. During the Passover, Psalms 113 and 114 are sung by every individual in the house before the start of the feast. Then, after the drinking of the last cup, the final four psalms, 115-118, are sung.
Now, if you recall the gospel accounts of when the Lord was with his disciples in the upper room on the night he was arrested, they were celebrating what?—the Passover. And it just so happens that in both Matthew 26:30 and Mark 14:26, the authors say, “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”
The “hymn” they sung was most likely the final four psalms of the Egyptian Hallel, including our psalm, Psalm 117.
This is a psalm about the ultimate goal of God’s program for the world. It’s about what God desires most and deserves most—PRAISE. Praise for who he is, and praise for what he’s done. And what we’re going to see in Psalm 117 is a call to praise as grand as any text in Scripture, but packaged in a smallest and most unassuming of psalms.
And with that said, let’s read this psalm:
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! (Psalm 117)
If you’re taking notes, the first point in our outline is this: “Praise’s privileged expectation.”
PRAISE’S PRIVILEGED EXPECTATION
This is a psalm that is all about praise. That’s made clear by the fact that the very first thing you read and the very last thing you read in this psalm is the clear command to praise the Lord. So there’s no question as to the primary thrust of this psalm.
Now, as you may have noted, there’s two aspects to this point—Praise’s Privileged Expectation. There’s an intrinsic duality to praise. On the one hand, it is a privilege. On the other hand, it is an expectation. And these two ideas really work together. So let’s talk about each one of them.
First off, praise is a privilege. It’s not a burden. It’s not a chore. It’s not an activity to be done in reluctance. It’s a privilege. And the reason it’s as a privilege is based on understanding what praise really is.
So, what is praise? Well, in one sense we could say that praise is just another word for worship, and that’s partly true. Praise is an expression of worship. But the two ideas are not synonymous.
We could define worshio as “engaging with God,” and we do that in a variety of ways. OT worship included praise, of course, but it couldn’t happen without the offering of sacrifice.
In the NT, Paul in Romans 12 describes our worship as offering ourselves as living sacrifices, meaning that our entire life is an offering of worship to God. And as Paul goes on to write in verses 3-8 of that text, worship as a corporate church is expressed not primarily through singing as we might assume, but instead through the exercising of spiritual gifts for the blessing and building up of other believers in the church.
Praise, on the other hand, is something different. Praise is to ascribe honor and worth to something or someone. And from a biblical perspective, praise is something that begins in the heart.
At the center of biblical praise is inward joy. In other words, if praise was a tree, then inner joy is the seed that germinates and grows and becomes that tree. Praise starts on the inside.
Now, joy is a gift given by God to his people. It’s wrought in the heart by the work of the Holy Spirit, which is why it appears second in the list of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22).
Rom 5:11 But we rejoice in God through the Lord Jesus Christ
Phil 3:3 For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh
Rom 14:17 For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit
Just from these three texts alone, it’s clear that the joy we experience as believers is a joy centered in the Triune God. We rejoice in God—Father, Son, and Spirit.
Why do we have joy? What causes this joy in us? Listen to the words of Isaiah the prophet:
Isa 61:10 I will greatly rejoice in Yahweh; My soul shall be joyful in my God; For he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.
It is our salvation that has brought us our joy. It is our life made new and made right in Christ to God. We are given a joy of supernatural proportion that we are to, as 1 Thessalonians 5:16 commands, “rejoice always” (cf. Phil. 4:4).
Now, that inward joy that flows out of our gratitude for our salvation, when it bubbles to the surface, results in praise.
Joy and praise are dear companions. They are close friends. In fact, we could say that praise is what rises spontaneously from the ‘basic mood’ of joy. Our joy in God—which is another way of saying our enjoyment of God—reaches a climax as we express that joy through praise. To have joy that does not finally express itself in praise is to possess something that is unfinished and unrealized. C.S. Lewis put it this way:
“Therefore praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation…. In commanding us to glorify him, God is inviting us to enjoy him.” (Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, 95)
So it’s no surprise that we find praise as a constant theme throughout the Bible. In Ephesians 1, that magnificent paeon of blessing to the Triune God, Paul three times repeats that the ultimate end of our redemption is that it is “to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:6, 12, 14).
So why is praise a privilege? It’s because praise is something we GET to do because God has redeemed us, reconciled us to himself, and clothed us in the garments of salvation. That’s why it’s a privilege and not a burden. Because it flows out of a heart overflowing with joy wrought by the overwhelming love of God shown to us in Christ Jesus.
So praise is a privilege. BUT, it is also an expectation.
We noted earlier that this psalm begins and ends the same way: “Praise the Lord.” And it’s very much a command. In the Hebrew, is comprises a single word—hallelu-ya—an imperative. It’s not just a desire that the psalmist has. He’s not shouting out, “Hallelujah” the way we’re used to hearing that phrase. So often, the phrase “praise the Lord” is something we say as an exclamation—a kind of celebratory response. “My mom was sick, but she recovered. Praise the Lord.”
But that’s not what’s going on here. This isn’t an exclamation. There’s a call going out that has the force of a command. And the call is to offer praise to the Lord.
Then, in the next line, we find a similar command: “Extol him.” This is a word that is linked to praise but is perhaps even more specific. It means to praise in an expressly verbal way. It means to make your praise known publicly. So this is a call not only to praise the Lord, but to make your praise public. We see that in how the term is used in other passages:
Psalm 63:3 Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.
Psalm 145:4 One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.
Warren Wiersbe says that this word means essentially, “to brag.” There’s an expectation that those who are recipients of God’s love and God’s kindness will overflow with joy and gratitude and do so in a public way.
It’s a command like this that really exposes us on the inside. You might be saying, “I don’t have a desire to praise today.” Or maybe this morning, you were thinking yourself, “I don’t really want to sing. Singing, after all, is one of the most common ways that we express our praise as Christians. We sing our joy. We brag about God through the songs we sing as a church.
So what if I don’t like singing these songs? What if I don’t feel like praising today? And the diagnosis for that is this: a lack of desire to praise points to a lack of joy in the heart. What’s taken your joy from you? That’s the bigger question.
Chronic joylessness in the Christian life points to something even deeper: a loss of a gratitude. And that ends up being the diagnosis of a joyless, praise-less Christian life, where it’s a life of duty, of obedience, of reading, of studying, of serving, but the heart isn’t there. It’s Jesus’ diagnosis of the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2: you’ve lost your first love. You’re doing all the right things, but the joy is gone. The passion is gone. You’ve forgotten what it’s like to go from darkness to light, to have the burden of sin slide off your back at the cross.
Rekindle that gratitude. Rekindle that joy in your heart. Go back to when you were first saved. To when the lights came on and it clicked inside your brain just how much Christ had done for you. Then you will have a desire to praise. You will find it an irresistible temptation to brag about God to others.
Trans: Now, as we go on in this psalm, we’re going to discover something very interesting here about praise. We move from (1) Praise’s Privileged Expectation to our second point: (2) Praise’s Unlikely Participants.
2. PRAISE’S UNLIKELY PARTICIPANTS
I say “unlikely participants” because look specifically at who is addressed by this particular command in verse 1: “Praise the Lord all you nations.” And then, in the second line, we come across something similar: “Extol him all you peoples.”
This is the only place in the OT where the command to “praise the Lord” is addressed directly to “the nations.” I find that very fascinating. And there’s no discriminating here. This is a universal call. All nations, all peoples (or better “tribes,” since the term there probably refers to ethnically-divided people groups). But the point is that every nation and every ethnic group is being summoned.
And to understand just why these participants in God’s praise are so unlikely, we have to step back and understand the role that the nations play in the Bible.
So to do that, let’s first go back and look at Psalm 113, which is the first psalm in this collection that’s called the Egyptian Hallel, to which our text belongs. And in that psalm, a very definitive statement is made about God:
Ps 113:4-5 The LORD is high above all nations, and his glory above the heavens! Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth?
Now, this is a statement of God’s majesty, of his sovereignty, and his authority. And it’s clearly written from an Israelite perspective. It reflects the right worldview, where God is understood to be in complete control, and the nations answer to him. That’s the perspective of the Bible, and obviously, it’s the right perspective.
But that’s not the perspective of the nations. And we see that very clearly in another psalm from the Egyptian Hallel, Psalm 115—
Ps 115:2 Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”
Now, this is a mocking statement. This is dripping with contempt. This is what the nations think of Yahweh. They mock Israel because they worship an invisible God. It is a God who can’t seem to protect his people from calamity. He didn’t protect them from the hand Babylon. And now at the likely time of this psalm’s composition, Israel remains under the dominance of the Persian empire, completely reliant on the good graces of the Persian king for the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple.
And so the nations mock. It’s actually very similar to the way Elijah mocked the prophets of Baal on the top of Mt. Carmel. You remember his words: “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened” (1 Kgs 18:27). He was mocking these prophets because they were crying out to a god who wasn’t there.
Well, in Psalm 115, the psalmist is saying the nations are making the same charge against Israel. “Where is their God?” But the psalmist has an answer:
Ps 115:3 Our God is the in heavens; he does all that he pleases.
That’s an amazing statement. That’s a statement of complete faith and complete confidence that, though our God doesn’t have a physical form; though he doesn’t make his home on this earth; he is nevertheless completely in control. What you call absence, we call divine sovereignty.
Then the psalmist goes on and turns the charge back on the nations, and here we see the underlying issue. We see where the faith and trust of the nations really lies:
Ps 115:4-8 4 Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands. 5 They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. 6 They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. 7 They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. 8 Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.
This passage summarizes the spiritual problem plaguing the nations. Their gods are lifeless and powerless. It should be obvious. They have all the appendages of man—mouths, eyes, ears, nose, hands, feet, throat—but it’s all an allusion, because they do nothing for the idol. It’s a lifeless statue, and the nations are so blinded that they cannot see the reality right in front of them. So in a sense, they are just like the idols they worship—deaf, dumb, and blind.
Psalm 2 is another place we could look to get an overall sense of the nations spiritually:
Ps 2:1-3 1 Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against Yahweh and against his Messiah, saying, 3 “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”
The nations are in open rebellion against God. They despise God, and they despise his authority over them. They don’t want it. They want to be free, and they so badly desire this that they vainly plot to overthrow God’s very rule, and especially his rule as mediated through his Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now are you beginning to understand why I say these are unlikely participants in God’s praise? They don’t want to praise God. They want to be free of God. And this began very, very early on in the biblical narrative.
The first mention of the nations occurs in Genesis 10. The flood had concluded, and the eight inhabitants of the ark came out and began to multiply. And chapter 10 of Genesis is a record of the spread of Noah’s descendants through his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And in verse 5, we find the very first reference to the nations:
Gen 10:4-5 4 The sons of Javan: Elishah, Tarshish, Kittim, and Dodanim. 5 From these the coastland peoples spread in their lands, each with his own language, by their clans, in their nations.
Now, this is a neutral statement. It’s just explaining the origins of the linguistic, ethnic, and political diversity that we see today, and its tracing it all the way back to one man—Noah. But it’s not too long in this record before we begin to see hints at the rebellious posture that will characterize the nations.
In verse 8 we come across a man named Nimrod, who is described as the first “mighty man” on the earth, which is another way of saying, this guy was a warrior. And his name gives you a hint at his character—his name means “rebel.” And if you look at verse 10, you’ll see his significance in the development of the nations:
Gen 10:10 The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.
Now if you remember, Shinar is the location where the Tower of Babel was constructed. It was an expression of defiance against God and his authority. Ancient Babylon—the prototype of evil, of pride, and of rebellion. It’s the kingdom that would eventually rise and destroy Jerusalem and take Judah into captivity. And it’s the kingdom that will one day rise again as part of the final rebellion under Antichrist. And it finds its roots all the way back in Genesis 11.
Really, the story of the nations is simply a story of man’s rebellion played out at a global and political level. The Tower of Babel was just the first attempt at a national level to do what David describes all the world’s nations trying to do in Psalm 2—be free of God.
But the Bible doesn’t just leave it there. It doesn’t just portray history as one long war between God and the nations. Just the opposite. God has a heart for the nations. So much so that he has purposed bless all the nations of the earth, and he chose a man named Abraham to accomplish that purpose (Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18).
By the time Christ arrives, he’s described by the prophet Isaiah as “a light to the nations” (Isa 49:6), which is a beautiful picture of the Christ coming into the world and bringing hope and salvation not only to his own people, but to the nations as well. This was God’s plan from the very beginning—that through Christ the nations would be converted.
And that’s exactly what Paul says in Romans:
Rom 15:8 8 For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy.
So, why did Christ enter into our world and take on human form, according to Paul. It was, first of all, the confirm what God had promised to the patriarchs—meaning Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and second, it was so that the Gentiles—the nations—might give God glory because of the mercy he showed them in the gospel.
And then, to back this statement up with Scripture, Paul quotes a series of OT texts:
Rom 15:9-11 As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name,” [cf. 2 Sam. 22:50] and again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people” [cf. Deut. 32:43]. And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him” [cf. Ps. 117:1]
That is a direct quotation of our very psalm, Psalm 117. In other words, what Paul saw in our psalm, in the command for the nations to praise the Lord, was the echoes of God’s purpose for what Christ would do in the overarching plan of the ages. Paul saw this psalm foreshadowing the the gospel going out to all the nations in the Great Commission.
So looking back at our text—Psalm 117—it’s easy to see this as the well-intentioned but ultimately naïve aspirations of a lone psalm-writer who’s hope for the nations is as realistic as a land of rainbows and unicorns. After all, he’s directing this call—this command—to the most unlikely crowd: the nations. In rebellion against God, following after lifeless idols.
But that’s not what’s happening here. What’s happening here is the OT version of the great commission.
And the major question that we have to answer is this: “What will make the nations praise the Lord?” Or in the words of 1 Thessalonians 1:9—“What will make them turn to God from idols to serve the living and true God?” The answer brings us to our final point.
3. PRAISE’S COMPELLING MOTIVATION
I think the most surprising thing in this psalm isn’t the fact that the nations are called to praise God, as unlikely as that seems. The most surprising thing to me is the reason given for why the nations should praise God.
Ps 117:2 For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.
The psalmist here banks the praise of all the nations on the steadfast love and faithfulness of God. These are two of the most important terms in the OT.
Faithfulness is the Hebrew word emeth. It speaks of reliability, trustworthiness, and dependability. And as the text says, it’s a quality of God that “endures forever.” It never ends. God doesn’t ever get tired of fulfilling his promises or coming through on what he says he’ll do. He is always reliable.
The other word here is steadfast love, and that word is hesed in Hebrew. It’s probably one of the richest theological terms in the OT. It speaks of God’s love for his people, but it’s a love that is grounded in promise. It’s a love that he shows to those to whom he has entered into covenant, and so it’s a loyal love—a love that is based on commitment. And it’s a love—get this—that is expressed most clearly and historically through the demonstration of mercy upon a people who don’t deserve any mercy.
And to emphasize just how generous and merciful God is in demonstrating this kind of love, the psalmist says that God’s steadfast love is great over us, which is an unfortunate translation because it doesn’t begin to capture what this word means. The word “great” here is a word that normally is used to describe when a warrior prevails over his enemy. It’s used four times in Genesis 7 to describe how the flood waters “prevailed” over the earth. So it speaks of being strong and mighty and victorious.
Incidentally, the same phrase appears in Psalm 103:11 where it’s compared with the unreachable heights of the heavens:
Ps 103:11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him.
So maybe the best way to put it would be to say, “His steadfast love towers over us.”
But notice the object of this great, towering steadfast love: it towers “over us.” And that’s probably the most amazing part of this whole thing. Because the “us” is not “us” in general. It’s not just referring to people in general. The “us” here is referring to Israel.
So, in other words, what the psalmist is saying is that the nations should praise God—why?—because God has shown incredible love and mercy and faithfulness to his people Israel. How does that work?
Well, to understand how this works, we have to go back and look at the passage of Scripture from which this psalmist is basing all of this on. Psalm 117 is based on one of the psalmist’s favorite passages of Scripture, and I love that. It reminds us that the psalmists are human. They’re just like us. There are certain passages of the Bible that speak to us and hold some personal significance, and that true for this psalmist as well.
In his case, the passage that so influenced him and led him to write this psalm was Exodus 34:6, so I invite you to turn back there with me.
This passage turns out to be one of the most powerful theological statements in the OT. If you recall your Sunday School lessons as a kid, you remember that when Moses went up onto Mt. Sinai and first received the stone tablets, Israel meanwhile was growing impatient from his absence. And so in a rash move, led by Aaron, the brother of Moses, the entire nation broke the covenant they had just made with God. They collected gold from the people and formed a calf out of it that was supposed to represent Yahweh.
This, of course, was flagrant sin. It was outright treason against the God who had just delivered them out of slavery and made them his own. So naturally, this sparked God to anger, and he threatened to Moses that he was going to annihilate the whole lot of them and restart with him.
Moses, if you remember, intercedes for the people and appeals to God on the basis of his promises—promises that he made through covenant to Abraham—and the Lord responded. He relented from destroying them. He even determines to renew the covenant with them that they themselves had just broken! But he was going to remove his presence. He wouldn’t dwell in their midst any longer. And this, Moses recognized, couldn’t happen. They couldn’t be a people set apart from the nations if God wasn’t dwelling among them.
So Moses intercedes again by making a personal request. He wants to know God’s ways. He wants to see the Lord’s glory. And amazingly, God gives him a glimpse. No more than that. And so, beginning in verse 1 of chapter 34, we see how this unfolds:
Ex 34:1-4 1 Yahweh said to Moses, “Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. 2 Be ready by the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to me on the top of the mountain. 3 No one shall come up with you, and let no one be seen throughout all the mountain. Let no flocks or herds graze opposite that mountain. 4 So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as Yahweh had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. 5 Yahweh descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of Yahweh.
Now we get to our psalmist’s favorite verse. It’s here that God reveals his ways and the real meaning of his name:
Ex 34:6-7 6 Yahweh passed before him and proclaimed, ‘Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty…
You want to know what God is really like? This is God’s self-description. This is who HE says that he is: merciful; gracious; not quick-tempered but slow to get angry, just like a good parent with a child. He’s patient. He doesn’t just snap at every little thing. And he’s fiercely loyal. His covenant love overflows toward his people. His faithfulness—his dependability to do what he’s promised to do—overflows. Or as our psalmist put it—it “towers over” his people like a monument to grace and mercy. And how does he show this loyal, covenant love? He forgives iniquity and transgression and sin. He covers rebellion. He has mercy on the sinner. He does that when he sees repentance. When there’s brokenness. But he holds willful, obstinate sinners accountable.
Those are the ways of Yahweh. That’s what’s behind the name. And this passage left an indelible mark on God’s people. In Psalm 103, David writes what’s basically a poetic commentary on this passage and he gets to the very heart of what this passage means theologically:
Ps 103:7-13 7 He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel. 8 Yahweh is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. 9 He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever. 10 He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. 11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; 12 as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. 13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so Yahweh shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
Why should nations praise God? Why should they join in the anthem, declaring God’s goodness and greatness? This is why. The great compelling motivation for the nations is that they see what kind of God Yahweh is. They see how he is merciful. They see how compassionate and patient he is, even when his people act so treacherously towards him. They witness how he corrects them like a loving parent, how he forgives their sin, how he shows them love that’s rooted in his deep commitment to them—his fierce loyalty to keep his promises no matter how sinful and rebellious they are.
That’s enough to make any nation say, “I want Yahweh to be MY God.”
Do you see how powerful that testimony is? Jesus Christ is the culmination of that loyal love and faithfulness. He’s the ultimate demonstration of God’s mercy and kindness. He’s shown unmatched kindness and mercy to sinners who deserve nothing but wrath.
John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Moses asked to see God’s glory, but he only got to see his back. We’ve seen God’s glory—Jesus Christ has come. And with him, he has brought the abundant steadfast love and faithfulness of God. And he’s show it to us poor, miserable, helpless sinners.
There’s power in that. When someone knows that you’re not better than they are. That you’re just like them—a rotten sinner. But God showed you mercy and forgave your sin through Christ. That can make the worst sinner say, if there’s hope for him, maybe there’s hope for me.
That’s the point of the psalmist. If there’s hope for Israel, maybe there’s hope for the nations. If God can show mercy to a nation as obstinate and rebellious as Israel, then maybe he might just show mercy to a nation who repents.
And that’s a good reminder to us not to underestimate the testimony of God’s mercy. And it’s also a warning not to squander it.
We’re experiencing such turbulent times right now as a nation and a society. Morality is changing faster than the news media can even keep up with. The foundational ethics that have undergirded this nation have been completely flipped on their heads.
We look around and it’s absolutely clear how sin is running rampant. Romans 1 is being fulfilled right before us as we watch society degrade. And I just want to warn you: watch yourselves. That can have a very hardening effect on you. If you let your heart calcify towards lost people and widen the divide between you and the world, it will ultimately turn you into a bitter, cold Christian who would rather see the world burn for sin than see sinners repent.
There’s a prophet in the OT who struggled with that. He was called by God to go and preach a message of judgment to a city that had shown absolutely no mercy toward his own people. This was a violent, wicked nation. They were notoriously vicious and bloodthirsty. They had conquest on the brain. They ruthlessly terrorized their enemies. They would flay the bodies of their enemies and hang their skins on the walls of their cities as a demonstration of what would happen to anyone defied them.
And this prophet was called to go. Go and warn them that if they don’t repent, then God was going to destroy the city. But this prophet didn’t want to go. He wanted to see them burn. He wanted them to pay for all the horrible things they’d done to his people throughout the years.
So he ran away—ran the opposite way, in fact. He got on a ship and headed out to a place as far from his country as he could get. But God went after him. He dragged him back. He brought him to the brink of death and then graciously delivered him. And then he gave him the same command as before. Go warn the city that if they don’t repent, then God was going to destroy them.
And this time he went. He went into the city and told them exactly what God had said. And amazingly, they listened and repented. And God saw that they had repented and withdrew his threat.
Now, listen to how this prophet responded:
Jon 4:1-3 1 But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to Yahweh and said, “O Yahweh, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. 3 Therefore now, O Yahweh, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
Jonah knew the character of God. He knew Exodus 34:6—he quotes it. He knew God stands at the ready to forgive, to show mercy to any sinner who shows genuine repentance. But he didn’t want that for them. And he was too blind and bitter to realize how gracious the Lord had been toward him and toward his own people.
You don’t want to be like Jonah—bitter toward the world, just wanting it to burn. You want to have the heart of the psalmist who calls out to the nations, “Praise the Lord, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples!” Repent! Repent! The Lord is gracious and merciful. He’s slow to anger. He’s overflowing with loyal love and faithfulness. You’ve seen him show this to us! He’s shown us grace and forgiveness more times than we can count. And if he can forgive us, he can forgive you. So come. Repent. And join in the chorus of the redeemed who praise God for his mercy and grace.”
And if you don’t know the Lord today, you need to know that the mercy of God can cover any and all your sins. And so I say you to also, “Repent.” Trust in Christ, who died for sin that you might be made right with God. If he can have mercy on a sinner like me, he can have mercy on you.