by Rabbi Jeffrey A. Adler
Psalm 117, besides being the shortest chapter in the Bible, is another of that special collection of the Psalms known as the “Hallel Psalms”, praise psalms read/recited at special seasons of the Biblical/ Jewish calendar, most notably, Passover. “Hallel” means “praise”, which is the main theme of these great psalms, 114-118.
Verse 1 begins, “Hall’lu et-Adonai kol-goyyim”, “Praise the Lord, all nations!”. This verb root, “Halal”, never occurs in the Hebrew Bible text. It means to shine or boast. It occurs in the text in the piel stem, a verbal stem that takes the core meaning of the verb and ratchets up the intensity, so that the piel form has the sense of enthusiastic boasting, exultantly lauding the Lord. The best known occurrence of the imperative mood used in Scripture is “hallelu-Yah”. In Psalm 117:1, we are commanded to energetically boast about the nature and character of Adonai. We see and hear vast quantities of bragging and boasting in our world, much of it undeserved, but, the Lord is worthy of all of it and more. Here, the call is for the bragging to be done by “goyyim”, usually referring to non-Israeli, non-Jewish, people. This line of the text reminds us that, while God’s covenant is with Israel, He always had in mind the intention to bring all nations to Himself. As Peter states, God is “not wanting anyone to perish, but, for all to come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9b). Examples of this in the Jewish Bible would be the healing of Naaman, the mission of Jonah, the books of Esther and Daniel, the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah 42 and 49, et al. Gentile experiences of the grace and goodness of God and subsequent praise and celebration are welcomed by Adonai.
Verse 1 goes on, “Shabb’chuhu kol-haamim”, “Glorify Him, all the peoples”. “Shabb’chu” is the hithpael stem of the verb root “shavach” to calm, quiet, soothe. In the hithpael stem, which has a reflexive nuance, the sense is to wrap oneself in the consciousness of Adonai, to exult Him.
“Am”, as used in the Hebrew text, tends to refer to the people of Israel. Here, the plural is used. While God bestows His goodness toward the Gentiles, Israel with her special covenantal status is not forgotten. The good news of Messiah is still the power of God to salvation “to the Jew first” (Romans 1:16).
The reason for all this excitement, as stated here in today’s text, is, “Ki gavar aleynu chasdo”, “for great is His lovingkindness toward us…”. “Gavar” is the root from which “gibbor” derives. Isaiah 9 prophesies that Messiah will be titled, among other things, “El-gibbor”, the “Mighty”, or, “Heroic” “God”…Not only is Adonai’s lovingkindness great and vast, but, it is heroic. Think of all the offences perpetrated against Him, yet, He battles against and overcomes anger and responds in love, mercy and grace. As Psalm 103:10 states, “He has not treated us according to our sins, or repaid us according to our iniquities.” And, He acted in such heroic fashion, suffering the suffering of Messiah at the hands of his own creations.
“V’emet Adonai l’olam”, “and Adonai’s Truth endures forever”. Truth is reality. God’s goodness is not too good to be true, and, this reality is unchanging. Such wonderful news! As Psalm 100 says, “Know that Adonai is God”- not Chemosh, or Baal, or Allah- but, the wonderful, passionate God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As the next Psalm, 118, repeatedly tells us, “Ki l’olam chasdo!”- “For His lovingkindness endures forever.” It will never change or end.
Thus, the writer closes on a similar note, “Hall’lu-Yah!”, “Praise the Lord!”
Rabbi Jeffrey Adler is president of the Board of HaShomer and also Rabbi of Sha’arey Yeshua in Indianapolis, IN.