Thursday: The Shortest Psalm of All

Theme: Prevailing Love

In this week’s lessons, we are reminded of the need to praise the Lord for his enduring love and faithfulness toward us.

Scripture: Psalm 117:1, 2

There is more to this psalm than what I have explained so far this week. I have taken the “great” in verse 2 in our normal English sense, as something that is large, remarkable, distinguished or superior. But while this is true, many of the commentators also note that in Hebrew the word has the sense of someone or something having “prevailed” over something else because of its superior qualities. For example, it is used of the stronger side in battle, as in Exodus 17:11, where it is said that “as long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning (╩╗prevailing’)" over their enemies the Amalekites. Or again, in Genesis 7:18 it is said that the waters of the flood “rose greatly on the earth” (that is, "prevailed” over it). The same word is used in Psalm 65:3 to describe our sins: "When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions."1 The point is that when this word is used of the love of God for his people, it also has the thought of God's love prevailing over any obstacles or enemies. 

Martin Luther's handling of this word is particularly fine. Luther had enemies as we know, chiefly among the churchmen of his day. They were trying to get him killed. But when he writes on this verse he thinks not of these earthly or physical enemies, which we might have expected him to do, but of sin and temptation: 

Although sin makes itself felt, death bares its teeth, and the devil frightens us, still there is far more grace to prevail over all sin, far more life to prevail over death, and far more God to prevail over all devils. In this kingdom sin, death and the devil are nothing more than the black clouds of the material heaven. For a time they may well conceal heaven, but they cannot prevail. They must stay beneath the heavens and suffer it to remain, prevail, and rule over them; and at last they must pass away. Therefore although sin bites us, death frightens us, and the devil throws his weight around with temptation, these are still only clouds. The heaven of grace prevails and rules; in the end they must remain below and surrender.2

Isn't this exactly what Paul says in Romans 8, which we looked at in connection with Psalm 114? He ends that great chapter, saying, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38, 39). 

1See Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms, (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press, 1975), p. 411. 

2Martin Luther, Luther's Works, vol. 14, Selected Psalms III, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Daniel E. Poellot (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1958), p. 27.

Study Questions: 

  1. Compare the English meaning of the word "great” to what it means in Hebrew.
  2. How did Martin Luther explain this word? What does this add to your understanding of Psalm 117? 
  3. Read Romans 8:38, 39. How does this passage enhance your understanding of God’s love?

Prayer: Pray for a deeper understanding of how much God loves you.

Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.