The Shortest Psalm

Psalm 117 says, “Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol him, all peoples! For great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!”

That wasn’t just a verse from Psalm 117—that was Psalm 117. Not only is it the shortest Psalm in the Bible, but it’s also the shortest chapter in the Bible. The Psalmist here wrote four lines and then stopped. Apparently he had no need to go on because he thought the song was done.

Being a songwriter myself, I am familiar with this kind of succinctness. When you write a song this short you have to acknowledge one of two possibilities: (1) you have writer’s block and you need to throw the song in a drawer somewhere and come back to it later or (2) the song is finished and it’s time to release it.

Apparently this Psalmist felt the latter possibility was in effect. I can just imagine him sitting at a table and jotting down the lyrics. “Let’s see, what should I write today? Well, God has steadfast love, that’s a good start. And he’s always faithful, that’s good. And because of this we praise him. Actually, let’s call it right there. The end! Alright, let’s take it to print!”

This Psalm may look like laziness, but I don’t think it is. To me it’s almost as though the Psalmist couldn’t find the words—as though he’s overwhelmed with a revelation of God’s love and faithfulness and rather than keep it inside of him, he wrote it down. Rather than pitch it out, he included it in his songbook.

Some of our favorite worship songs today are just like this. Think of some of the worship songs you like in which the chorus sings the same few words over and over again. These kinds of songs often get some flack from traditionalists. Where’s the deep theology? Where’s the lyrics? Why is it so repetitive? What’s the point in singing the same thing over and over again? What’s even the point of returning to a chorus after every verse?

If you keep asking these questions, you’ll never turn your brain off enough to find the answer. Many modern writers often get caught up in a short point—a succinct desire—a place where more words do not equal better lyrics. They are joining with the overwhelmed Psalmist who is done with his song in record time. There is no need to add or take away—there is only need to dwell.

“Great is his steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.” Good. That’s enough said. Now stay there in that moment. 

And perhaps we might as well get used to short repetitious songs now. After all, the creatures around God’s throne “day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” (Rev 4:8). It’s as though they themselves are caught up in the same moment as the Psalmist. They’re overcome in God’s presence and it causes their short song to pour forth on repeat. They just can’t seem to find the words, despite all of the eyes they have to see him with, both in front and back of their bodies (Rev 4:6).

For the Heavenly creatures, it was the themes of holiness and ultimate authority that they couldn’t move past. For the Psalmist of Psalm 117, it was God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. “He is just so incredibly loving and faithful, what more really can I say?”

“Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?” asks Proverbs 20:6—the implication being never or rarely. But this Psalmist rejoices that he’s found someone who has both faith and steadfast love.

Have you been overwhelmed by that kind of love and faithfulness before? Receive that revelation like the Psalmist. Don’t just sing lyrics of faithfulness, but dwell in the lyrics of faithfulness. Dive into in the Psalmist’s revelation.

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