Thumbnail Sketches

I am fascinated by thumbnail sketches. On a recent trip to a museum of “oddities,” I saw intricate drawings of landscapes on paper the size of postage stamps. One man had actually painted a detailed picture of ship on the head of a pin! I marveled as I thought about how much information could be contained on such a small medium.

Psalm 117 is a thumbnail sketch of the Bible. It is the shortest chapter (two verses) in Scripture, and in part because of that distinction, it is often overlooked as nothing more than a Biblical curiosity. The Psalmist is inspired to burst forth in praise:“Praise the Lord, all you nations! Praise Him, all you peoples! For His merciful kindness is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 117). Let’s look closely at this thumbnail sketch and see that God intended us to have more than just a curiosity in Psalm 117:

A thumbnail sketch of the Gospel — The words, “nations” and “peoples” in verse 1 are very significant. At a time when most Jews believed that salvation was their exclusive privilege, God inspired one of their own to pen this Psalm. The fact that “all” nations and peoples are exhorted to praise God rebukes an attitude of exclusivism on the part of the Jews. Indeed, Jesus preached and brought salvation not just to Jews, but Gentiles as well (Matt. 4:25, Eph. 2:14-16). Psalm 117 reminded the Jews that salvation was intended for all: “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues were standing before the throne and before the Lamb… saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Rev. 7:9-10). Psalm 117 is the gospel in miniature. It pointed Jews to the Christian era, when God’s grace and love would be made available to all men in His kingdom (cf. Titus 2:11-14). Because of this, Paul quotes Psalm 117:1 in Romans 15:11 as he explains the gospel system of justification. There’s more to Psalm 117 than often meets the eye!

A thumbnail sketch of God’s love — God’s grace is shown in both His mercy and His kindness (Psalm 117:2). The Psalmist tells us that God’s love in this regard is GREAT toward us. Ancient Jews loved to recite Exodus 34:6, “The Lord God is merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abounding in truth…” In this world, people may or may not love us. Friends may betray us, and loved ones may be unkind. God will never waver in the greatness of His love for us, however! We serve a God who would go to the cross before He would sell us out (cf. Matt. 4:8-10). His merciful kindness is indeed great toward us!

A thumbnail sketch of our responsibility — The overarching theme of Psalm 117 is our obligation to praise God. We were created and redeemed, “to the praise of His glory” (Eph. 1:3-14). Therefore Scripture says, “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col. 3:17). And again, “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). When Psalm 117 tells us to, “Praise the Lord,” it is declaring His sovereign will in our lives, for, “His truth endures forever.” God created man, and because we are His creation, we are obligated to worship Him. More than that, however, Psalm 117 declares that our motive in praising God is more than just obligation; we are also motivated by His love. No wonder Paul would say, “the love of Christ constrains us!” (2 Cor. 5:14). How could someone who understands the lengths to which God has gone in His love for us say anything other than, “Praise ye the Lord!” Thank God for the shortest chapter in the Bible! — JB