Psalm 117 – Rock the Laud, Laud the Rock

Psalm 117 Bible With Tony's Chocolonely Milk Chocolate with Caramel and Sea Salt
That’s half the psalm right there.

Today’s Chocolate: Tony’s Chocolonely Milk Chocolate with Caramel and Sea Salt

Today’s PassagePsalm 117

What’s the shortest song you can think of? Two of my favorite bands, Five Iron Frenzy and They Might Be Giants, have no shortage of short songs. Here’s one. Here’s another. And these short songs tend to be goofy ditties with nonsensical lyrics poking fun at their own brevity, but what happens when a short song takes itself and its subject matter entirely seriously? Psalm 117 happens, that’s what.

It’s a straightforward praise song sung from a place of orientation; the voice has no doubt that God is good and worthy of praise. The congregation is encouraged to worship: “Praise the Lord, all nations; laud Him, all peoples!” (117:1). Curious about these two parallel activities of lauding and praising, I checked a few dictionaries, and “laud” simply means “to praise.” So you can guess where I went next.

Strong’s Concordance identifies the word “praise” here as the Hebrew halalfrom which we get “hallelujah” (“praise the Lord”). “Laud” is shabach, which might be translated “praise,” “commend,” “glory,” or “triumph,” depending on context. It appears to have the root meaning of “to address in a loud tone,” and consequently there are a few spots where the KJV translates it with the verb “to still,” like yelling “Quiet!” at a room full of noisy five-year-olds. But when the psalmist pairs shabach with halal here, it’s evident that he’s talking about making a loud noise to praise God. I take it that this psalm is meant to be sung at high volume.

The first verse sets praise and laud in parallel, and the second verse gives us parallel reasons for praising God. It states, “For His lovingkindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord is everlasting” (117:2). The author of this psalm–whether the same psalmist as in Psalm 116, or someone different–knows that people need a reason to worship, so he gives us two. The phrase “the truth of the Lord” stuck out to me: is all truth the Lord’s? Or are there other sorts of truth, and the Lord’s truth differs from them? Of course, I hit up the Strong’s again.

The word here is emeth, “reliability.” It’s a noun form of the verb aman“to be faithful.” It can be used to describe both people trusting in God and God himself being trustworthy to people. Aman and its derivatives always make me think of a massive rock. The rock is steady, and if you stand on the rock, you’ll have steady footing. The core concept is fidelity: we have grounds for fidelity to God because of his fidelity to us. If there are many different sorts of truth, then any truths worth standing on are firm only because they’re ultimately supported by God’s own steadfastness. He is the rock, and we are the people standing on it.

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