Commentary on Psalm 111
If I were tasked with introducing God as our visiting lecturer, I would use this psalm.1
Psalm 111 summarizes God’s “position,” accomplishments, and attributes. It even identifies a personal connection between the one offering the introduction and the one being introduced, which motivates a connection between God and those to whom God is being introduced.
Plain and simple, as the Psalmist attests, this God is the true Lord of all.
God’s curriculum vitae (CV) according to Psalm 111, includes a wide variety of accomplishments ranging from establishing and keeping covenants (verse 9) to providing food (verse 5). God has even sent redemption to his people (verse 9).
God shows people the power of his works (verse 6), which have been described as great (verse 2), full of honor and majesty (verse 3), faithful and just (verse 7). These works have been studied (verse 2) and have gained God renown (verse 4).
The precepts of this accomplished one are trustworthy and established (verse 7).
Not only are God’s accomplishments impressive, but anyone who knows God has met one who is gracious and merciful (verse 4), and ever mindful of his covenant (verse 5). Indeed, his name is holy and awesome (verse 9). This combination of accomplishments and attributes are rare in the divine. In fact, the combination can be found nowhere else but in our God, the Lord.
Usually those with such a combination of attributes and accomplishments remain at arm’s length from the masses. But not God; God connects with God’s people and encourages a profound intimacy with those who perform his precepts with faithfulness and uprightness (verse 8). Those who practice fear of the Lord will have a good understanding; they will be wise (verse 10).
The Psalmist has felt and attested to this intimacy by giving thanks to the Lord with his “whole heart” (verse 1). He puts his whole self on the line in the midst of the congregation for this one.
Finally, thankfully, it looks like this one will be sticking around. He’s not just stopping by for a temporary visit on his worldwide tour in order to broaden his fame. He’s on a worldwide tour, yes, but his righteousness endures forever (verse 3), his precepts are established forever (verse 7), he has commanded his covenant forever (verse 9), and his praise endures forever (verse 10).
Please join me in fearing and praising this one, who is, after all, not simply a “visiting” lecturer, but our ever-present teacher.
One can see how no one else could receive such an introduction. The Psalmist introduces us to God and we preachers have an opportunity to introduce (or re-introduce) God to others. Such an introduction prompts hearers to lead lives that mirror God. The latter is confirmed by the complementarity of Psalm 111 and Psalm 112. The two Psalms belong together. They are similar in organization; both are acrostic poems, which contain twenty-two lines with each line beginning with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Even more, they utilize similar words and phrases: both refer to the upright (Psalms 111:1 and 112:2, 4), agents who are gracious and merciful (111:4 and 112:4), providers (111:5 and 112:9), and doers of justice (111:7 and 112:5). Both focus heavily on the future (in 111:8 the works are established forever and ever, and in 112:8 hearts are steady and in the end will triumph).
The amazing thing about this similar use of language is that one Psalm (111) is focused on the deeds of the Lord, as noted above, and the other (112) is focused on the deeds of those who fear the Lord. Could it be that those who fear the Lord are expected to act like the Lord? Even more, could it be that those who find great delight in his commands are capable of mirroring the deeds of the Lord? The complementarity of these two Psalms suggests so. Before our works righteousness detectors sound, note that Psalm 111 comes first; it is only because our Lord is already gracious and merciful and just that we are at all capable of being gracious and merciful and just.
For those preachers who will be focusing on this Sunday’s gospel reading (Mark 1), Psalm 111 offers a possible way to highlight Jesus’ accomplishments and attributes. Add to God’s CV Jesus’ accomplishments and attributes expressed in Mark 1 — he teaches as one with authority, and rebukes, even tames, unclean spirits. Feel free to go the next step of introducing God to the hearers by identifying God’s words and work spoken and performed in the midst of your setting. Doing so is testifying to this accomplished one just as the psalmist does, thereby prompting the praise of all.
Wouldn’t it be something then if God were able to introduce us as those who have given our whole selves to giving thanks to God (verse 1); those who have performed God’s precepts with faithfulness and uprightness (verse 8); and those who have a good understanding/wisdom because we have practiced fear of the Lord (10)!
1 Commentary first published on this site on Feb. 1, 2015.