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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Psalms 111

Verse 1



This and the next two psalms are called Hallelujah Psalms because of the use of that word at the beginning and usually at the end of the psalms in this classification. It is particularly paired with Psalms 112 because of a number of similarities which have led some scholars to designate them as "Twins."

These resemblances are: (a) "Both begin with `Hallelujah'; (b) both are alphabetical (acrostic); (c) both consist of twenty lines, arranged into ten verses; (d) and they complement each other, Psalms 111 setting forth the greatness, mercy, and righteousness of God; and Psalms 112 is concerned with reflections upon the happiness, beneficence, and righteousness of God's servants."[1]

The date of the psalm is generally labeled post-exilic, as the knee-jerk response of some critics; but a far better estimate of this is by McCaw, who wrote that, "The references to the assembled congregation (Psalms 111:1), the works of the Lord (Psalms 111:2,3,4,6,7) and the covenant (Psalms 111:5,9) suggest that the psalm was designed for use at Passover or Tabernacles in the pre-exilic community."[2] Supporting a pre-exilic date is the admission by McCullough that, "The acrostic form and echoes of wisdom interest in Psalms 111:10 are the chief evidences of a post-exilic date."[3] Neither of these so-called "evidences" is significant. As Maclaren was quoted earlier in this commentary, far too little is known about the origin of the acrostic pattern to allow its use as a dependable indication of date. And as for "the echo" of wisdom literature in Psalms 111:10, there is hardly a verse in the Psalter of which the same thing may not be said.

Regarding the theme of the psalm, Dummelow wrote that, "The theme of Psalms 111 is the refrain of Psalms 107, `Oh that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men.'"[4]

Kidner observed one of the curiosities of the psalm in that, "In five of the ten verses the word `works' appears in the RSV. The Hebrews makes this emphasis less obvious by using a number of synonyms, but it is still there."[5] The acrostic pattern of writing is a highly artificial method and carries a great deal of inflexibility with it. In order for the writer to come up with the proper letter of the alphabet, he must sometimes resort to a change of the subject matter. In consequence of this, as Maclaren noted, "This psalm has allusions to other Psalms and to the Book of Proverbs (like many other of the psalms in Book V), and has the character of mainly working over of old materials."[6]

There is hardly any organization whatever in this psalm. "Both this Psalm (Psalms 111) and Psalms 112 are only chains of acrostic lines without any strophe grouping, and therefore cannot be divided out."[7]

Psalms 111:1-3

"Praise ye Jehovah. I will give thanks unto

Jehovah with my whole heart.

In the council of the upright, and in the congregation.

The works of Jehovah are great,

Sought out of all them that have pleasure therein.

His work is honor and majesty;

And his righteousness endureth forever."

"Praise ye Jehovah" in the Hebrew is "Hallelujah." The expression here serves as a title, standing apart from the acrostic arrangement.

"In the council in the congregation" (Psalms 111:1). These expressions indicate the Temple as still standing and with "the congregation of Israel" worshipping in it.

"The works of Jehovah are great" (Psalms 111:2). "They are great in number, great in magnitude, great in wisdom, and great in goodness."[8] If that was true (and it was) when men had only their natural vision to behold the night sky, how much more is it true today with all that men can "see,' by telescope, radar, etc.!

"His work is honor and majesty" (Psalms 111:3). God's "works" partake of his own character; and in this Psalm, the following qualities are evident: "Majesty, honor, righteousness, mercy, justice, faithfulness, truth, holiness, and eternity."[9]

Verse 4

"He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered:

Jehovah is gracious and merciful.

He hath given food to them that fear him:

He will ever be mindful of his covenant.

He hath showed his people the power of his works,

In giving them the heritage of the nations."

"Wonderful works" (Psalms 111:4). We agree with Miller that both here and in Psalms 111:9, below, "There is a reference to the exodus."[10] Delitzsch noted that, "Here there are glances back at the deliverance from Egypt."[11]

"He hath given food for them that fear him ... mindful of his covenant" (Psalms 111:5). Just as Psalms 111:4 speaks of the "remembrance" of God's mighty works in Egypt (etc.), this verse stresses the "bread of that remembrance," the feast of unleavened bread and the Passover. "Even from the times of Theodoret and Augustine, the thought of the Eucharist has been connected with this Psalms 111:5; consequently, this psalm has become the psalm of the church at the celebration of the Lord's Supper."[12] The "church" referred to here by Delitzsch is the historical church.

"In giving them the heritage of the nations" (Psalms 111:6). "Probably the writer refers to the conquest by Joshua."[13] We consider the reference as certain instead of `probable.' The conquest of Canaan is the only time known when God gave to Israel the "heritage of the nations."

Verse 7

"The works of his hands are truth and justice;

And his precepts are sure.

They are established forever and ever;

They are done in truth and uprightness."

"The reference in these two verses is the giving of the law at Sinai."[14]

"Forever and ever" (Psalms 111:8). This is a reference to all time until the Christ should come. And, in the truth that Christ's righteousness consisted, among other things, in the absolute and perfect fulfilment of that Law given at Sinai; and, since the righteousness of Christ is the grounds of salvation for all men for all ages to come, there is a sense in which the words are strictly true as a reference to all time until the end of time.

Verse 9

"He hath sent redemption unto his people;

He hath commanded his covenant forever:

Holy and reverend is his name.

The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom;

A good understanding have all they that do his commandments:

His praise endureth forever."

"He hath sent redemption unto his people" (Psalms 111:9). "This redemption was the deliverance from Egypt."[15]

"He commanded his covenant forever" (Psalms 111:9). See under Psalms 111:8, above, for comment on this.

"Holy and reverend is his name" (Psalms 111:9). "This is the only place in the Bible where the word `reverend' occurs, and it is applied to God, NOT to ministers."[16]

"The fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom" (Psalms 111:10). "The meaning is that religion is the foundation of all wisdom."[17] Jamieson observed that, "The love and fear of God is the chief element of true wisdom."[18] Whatever intellectual achievements in a man may be hailed as `wisdom,' if there is no knowledge and fear of God, such a person is a "fool," regardless of what earthly information he may possess.

Copyright Statement
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 111". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.