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This psalm divides easily into two main sections, and a very appropriate closing (a repetition of the theme of Section 1).
SECTION 1: The Command.
What is to be done: praise/extol the LORD
Who is to do it: all you nations/peoples
SECTION 2: The Reason.
Because of... his great love toward us
Because of... his "forever faithfulness"
CLOSING: The Command Repeated
What is to be done: praise the LORD
The one who is to be praised is the LORD. In the English Bible, the word "LORD," when capitalized, indicates the name of God (which in the original Hebrew language was represented by the consonants YHWH). It is translated "Jehovah" or "Yahweh" in some translations. This is the name that God used for himself, when he entered into a covenant relationship with the nation of Israel.
The word "praise" occurs very frequently in the Old Testament. We are commanded to speak highly of the LORD, to glorify him with our speech, to boast about him. The parallel word, "extol" (sometimes translated as "laud") occurs less frequently, usually in reference to addressing someone or something, often loudly.
"Nations" has primary reference to non-Israelites. It is sometimes translated "Gentiles," or (when there is a negative connotation) "heathens" or "pagans." The parallel concept ("peoples") refers to a "community of individuals."
The word "love" includes the connotations of favor and kindness, and can carry the idea of being undeserved (that is, the result of the giver's <God's> mercy and pity). It can be translated as "great love" (implying its vastness) or "unfailing love" (implying its permanence). In this passage, the word "great" is translated from a different word that includes the idea of "prevailing" or "triumphing," and has connotations of strength.
The "faithfulness" of the Lord refers to his "trustworthiness." It is related to the idea of being "truthful" (and is often translated as "truth" in the KJV). The word "endures" is supplied in the English translation to convey the connection of the two words "faithfulness" and "forever." (The word "is" could be used.) The Hebrew simply implies the connection ("the faithfulness of the LORD... forever"). The word "forever" might be literally translated: "to the vanishing point of time." But it quite simply means "always." It does not imply that time is going to "vanish," and that the "forever" will come to an end!
The closing statement ("Praise the LORD") is identical to the phrase in verse 1, but with a shortened form of God's name ("Yah," instead of "Yahweh"). It is from this phrase that we get the word "Hallelujah" ("Hallelu" = "praise" and "Yah" = "LORD"). [The New Testament also uses this phrase ("Alleluia," in some Bible translations) in Rev. 19.]
You are encouraged to examine this theme as it occurs elsewhere in the Bible. A concordance or a reference Bible would be helpful. If you have neither of these, just start reading through the Psalms. You won't read too far before you find other Psalms of praise!
VERSE 1 (& END OF VERSE 2):
[NOTE: Some of these questions may be difficult and thought-provoking. They are the type of question that is best thought about for a while, rather than giving a hasty answer. Think about (meditate on) the Scriptures and how they relate to such questions. Read other passages. As necessary, be ready to modify your view, as you come across other, perhaps complementary, perspectives in other Scripture passages. Don't worry if you don't have the "final answer" today... or even this week or next month. Understanding God's Word is a growing process (compare to 2 Peter 3:18), not a matter of "instant comprehension."]
First, a few observations:
It seems to me that there is a difference in emphasis between the word "great" (which is applied to God's love) and the word "everlasting" (which is applied to his faithfulness). "Everlasting" implies "never ceasing or ending" but "great" does not seem to have the same connotations.
Using a concordance, I can find at least some verses, in which words that seem to be the opposite of "love" are used of God. (An example is Psalm 5:5, in which the words "hate" and "abhor" are applied to God.) But I have not been able to find any passage in which the opposite of "faithful" is applied to God. (Can you find any?)
I can also find passages (especially in the Psalms) in which the opposite of "love" is used of people who love and serve God. (Look at Psalm 139:19-24.) But I cannot find the opposite of "faithful" used in connection with them (except in the sense of condemning it as sin).
This leaves me with these conclusions:
God's love is great... but does the opposite characteristic ever exist in God? Yes, under certain conditions. It can also rightfully exist in those who belong to him, under certain conditions.
God's faithfulness is unending... but can the opposite characteristic ever exist in God? NEVER! And do we ever have a right to be unfaithful? It is not an option.
What is the significance of this?
First, if it is our tendency to view "love" and "hate" as being so mutually incompatible, that we cannot fathom how both words could apply to the same individual, what are the implications? Could it be that our definitions of these words (or the ways we use them) do not match up with the way the Bible uses them? Give it some thought! The question is: If these words do have a valid application to God and to his followers, then under what circumstances? When, how, why, (etc.)? How should we view such seemingly opposite concepts?
If these concepts complement each other in the Scriptures (even though people often view them as "contradictory"), might other seemingly "contradictory" concepts also co-exist as complements to each other? [Suggested examples: God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. Or, Jesus as man and Jesus as God.] The world around us may have taught us that such concepts "contradict," but in reality they "complement" each other. The Bible has the final say on the issue!
Dennis Hinks © 1993
Scripture quoted from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.