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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 111

Psalms 111

The Psalm praises the Lord because of his great works, particularly the redemption out of Egypt, Psalms 111:9; the supply of food in the wilderness, Psalms 110:5; the placing of Israel in the inheritance of the heathen, Psalms 110:6; then the great resplendent deeds of kindness which he showed to his people, and which for them had a similar import to what the deeds of the redemption through Christ have for the church of the New Testament.

The design of the Psalm, as the conclusion shows, is to counteract that pusillanimity which is so injurious to all zeal in walking in the commandments of God, that despair as to the power and willingness of God to help his people, to which their mournful condition was so apt to give rise. The mighty deeds of the past come into notice in the case of the Psalmist as the ground of hope for the future as matter-of-fact prophecies, as affording a pledge that the misery of the present will be only transitory.

The Psalm proceeds on the supposition that the condition of the people of God at the time was a mournful one. For it is only when we are in such a condition that we take refuge in the past from the present. That the Psalm was not composed before the end of the Babylonish captivity is clear from the hallelujah, which occurs for the first time in a Psalm of this date, Psalms 104:35. We are brought into times after the captivity by the position of the Psalm, after Psalms 107, which celebrates that good deed of the Lord. We shall be able to determine particulars more fully only from materials furnished by the following Psalms of the cycle.

The circumstances of the new colony were poor and mournful, and fell very much below the expectations which had been raised by the declarations of the prophets; comp. the description of these circumstances in the Intro. to Zechariah, Christol. In room of the shout of joy arising from the deliverance, which had been heard at the beginning, there soon succeeded a state of dejection. People at that period did no longer compare the present, as they had done in the beginning, with what immediately preceded it, but with the more remote period preceding the captivity, and with the prospects which had been opened up by the prophets. The sacred Psalmists, no less than the prophets, had sufficient reason to cry out to the people: lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees. The whole object was to get the trembling people again to set their heart upon their God. The Psalmist sought to gain this end, by enlisting the people along with himself in the work of praising God.

The formal arrangement is exactly the same as in Psalms 111 and in Psalms 112, a sure proof of the connection subsisting among these Psalms. The whole is complete, both times in the number ten. The individual clauses of the verses begin with the letters of the alphabet. The first eight verses contain each two clauses; the two last three,—a circumstance to be explained from the desire of the Psalmist not to go beyond the number ten, which is also in other passages not unfrequently connected with the alphabetical arrangement, because both of these, the number ten and the alphabet, are the signature of perfection, of what is complete in itself. In consequence of the constraint demanded by the alphabetical arrangement, the mighty deeds of God are not recounted in chronological order.

If we look at the Introductory Davidic trilogy, it becomes manifest that Psalms 110:6, “the strength of his works he showed to his people, giving to them the inheritance of the heathen,” must be considered as the middle point of the Psalm. The inversion of the relations of Israel to the heathen world—the people of the Lord to whom dominion over the world had been promised, serving them in their own land—was what especially filled men’s minds with pain. Hence it is exactly at this verse that we must fix the turning point of the Psalm. The ten is divided by five. The first half has ten, the second twelve members.

Verses 1-10

Ver. 1. Hallelujah. I will praise the Lord with the whole heart, in the confidential assembly of the upright and the congregation. Ver. 2. Great are the works of the Lord, enquired after according to all their wishes. Ver. 3. Majesty and glory is his work, and his righteousness endureth for ever. Ver. 4. A memorial he has erected for his works, gracious and compassionate is the Lord. Ver. 5. Nourishment he gives to those who fear him, he remembers always his covenant. Ver. 6. The strength of his works he shaved to his people, giving to them the inheritance of the heathen. Ver. 7. The works of his hands are truth and justice, to be depended upon are all his commandments. Ver. 8. Firm always and for ever, wrought in truth and righteousness. Ver. 9. Redemption he sent to his people, he arranged for eternity his covenant, holy and dreadful is his name. Ver. 10. The beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord, good understanding have all they who practice them; his praise endureth for ever.

Ver. 1. The circumstance that the Hallelujah stands out of the alphabetical arrangement is sufficient to show that it ought to be considered merely as the key note of the Psalm. Berleb.: “It shows that this is a Psalm which incites to the praise of God.” Luther: “It is just as much as when we wish to begin to praise God, we exhort and stir up each other. It is thus that we Germans do, when we are in the church; or when one among us begins and says, let us praise God; or when the preacher gives out the first line of the hymn to be sung. Thus David (?) here says to his people, let us praise the Lord, and in particular thus, I thank the Lord with my whole heart.” The first clause is a repetition from Psalms 109:30. In the second clause it is impossible to find a distinction between privately and publicly, for the whole cycle of Psalms was manifestly designed for use in the public worship of God, comp. especially Psalms 115:8. The public assembly of the righteous (comp. at Psalms 107:42) is at the same time a confidence, a confidential meeting (comp. at Psalms 64:2, Psalms 83:4), because the world is shut out from it, the congregation of the Lord is a community by itself. Thus Luther: “I thank the Lord here in this public assembly, where we are in a peculiar manner by ourselves, as it were in secret council, and no heathen or stranger must be beside us.”

The praise of the Lord, announced in Psalms 110:1, begins with Psalms 110:2. The works of the Lord are pointed out in the first clause as the objects of this praise (comp. Deuteronomy 4:34, Deuteronomy 29:2, Revelation 15:3), those, according to the connection with Psalms 110:1, which he has especially done for the righteous, for his church. In the second clause the חפצהם cannot be the plural of חָ פֵ ץ the adjective, for this retains its Zere in the stat. constr.; comp. Psalms 40:14. It can only be the plural of חֵ פֶ ץ . The word signifies always pleasure, satisfaction, desire, even in Proverbs 8:11, “wisdom is better than pearls, and all wishes come not near it,” never beauty, preciousness, loveliness, (hence we must reject all such translations, “to be search into in regard to all their beauties,” a translation, moreover, which takes דרושים in an arbitrary sense), and the suffix does not denote the object of the desire, but it refers to those who desire. The suffix thus can refer only to the righteous, (comp. לכל־חפצר according to his every wish, 1 Kings 9:11); and the translation is, must be enquired after according to their every wish, so that they, when the deeds of the Lord are enquired after or searched into, (comp. the דרש in Psalms 119:45, Psalms 119:94, Psalms 119:155), find a complete answer and satisfaction, there is everywhere a response, there are no questions to be evaded.

On “majesty and glory” in Psalms 110:3, comp. at Psalms 104:1. The righteousness of God is the property by which he gives to every one his own, to the righteous salvation, comp. Psalms 89:14, Psalms 89:16; Psalms 103:6, Psalms 103:17.

In Psalms 110:4, “he hath erected a memorial,” points to the wonderful magnitude of the deeds of the Lord. Thus Calvin: “to perform things worthy of being remembered, and whose fame may never perish.” The second clause depends upon Exodus 34:6.

The טרף in Psalms 110:5 denotes properly the booty of wild beasts, and is used only as a poetical term for human nourishment. The food of Israel in the wilderness, is what is meant, the manna, and the quails. At the second clause we are to suppose added: as this wonderful provision for his people shows, or as faith draws from its this firm conclusion. This ascent from the individual to the general, stands in accordance with the object of the Psalm, which universally considers the past only as a looking glass for the future, the temporal doings of God as the type of his eternal providence.

The הגיד , to show, in Psalms 110:6, contested by Hitzig, is justified by this, that the doings of God appear to the Psalmist as a matter-of-fact intelligence or proclamation. We are not to translate, “in order to give,” but “giving to them;” comp. Ewald, § 280. For the matter-of-fact proclamation is here more exactly described, by which God makes known to his people the strength of his works. The Psalmist refers to the putting of the Israelites into the possessions of the numerous and warlike nations who occupied. Canaan, in which he sees a type of the future possession by Israel of the dominion over the whole, world; comp. Isaiah 60:14.

The works of the Lord, in Psalms 110:7, are just as in Psalms 110:2, his deeds; it is with these that the whole Psalm has professedly to do. The commandments of God (properly his commissions) are made mention of in the second clause (which depends upon Psalms 19:7-8), only in a subordinate sense, only in so far as light falls upon them from the quality of the works; his commandments are thus to be depended upon, for he who acts in this way cannot lead his people on the ice in regard to his commandments: The commandments comprehend here, at the same time, the promises which are connected with obedience to them; yea, it is these promises that are here brought chiefly before the mind. The oppressed people thought that they felt themselves here on apparently insecure ground, and in this way their zeal was paralysed. The prophet strengthens the feeble hands, inasmuch as be intimates that the Lawgiver has gloriously vindicated his claim to obedience by his deeds of omnipotence and love.

In Psalms 111:8, the first clause refers to the commandments, and the second to the works. For it is clear as day that we cannot translate “to fulfil with faithfulness and honour,” against the sense of the part. pa., the reference of עשוים to מעשיו and the sense of אמת , which only means truth. The praise of the works of God is thus shut in on both sides by the praise of the commandments, which is merely associated with it and derived from it. The סמוך is properly propped up, next firm, and occurs again in Psalms 112:8. The רשר is neut. righteous nature, comp. at Psalms 11:7.

The redemption, in Psalms 111:9, is the deliverance out of Egypt. The expression, “he arranged for eternity his covenant,” is the general truth as confirmed by the special deed; comp. at Psalms 110:5.

Psalms 111:10 contains the conclusion drawn from what had gone before; therefore, because the Lord is so glorious in his works on behalf of his own people, and because his commandments which he has given them are thus so firm, and so, surely to be depended upon, and the reward of faithful obedience shall thus so certainly be bestowed, this faithful obedience, the fear of the Lord, is the beginning of wisdom. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, is said in opposition to natural reason, which, linked to what is immediately before the eyes, regards the fear of the Lord, which appears for the present to bring forth no fruit, as stupidity, saying, either in pusillanimous despair, or in open defiance: “it is in vain to serve God, and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinances, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of hosts and now we call the proud happy, yea, they that work wickedness are set up, yea, they that tempt God are even delivered,” Malachi 3:14-15; comp. Christol. 3. p. 422 ss. We need only to cast our eye upon the historical personality of God, to dissipate those mists which beset the mind, and to find arising in our mind the firm conviction, that in the end it shall be well with the righteous. Thus the fear of God which, on superficial consideration, appears as stupidity, because it is disappointed of its reward, shall be seen to constitute the highest wisdom. The first clause depends upon the two passages, Proverbs 1:7, “the fear of the Lord is the beginning, ראשית , of knowledge,” and Proverbs 9:10, “the beginning, תחלת , of wisdom is the fear of the Lord,” on which also Job 28:28 depends: “and he said to men, behold the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and departing from evil is understanding.” That the ראשית is the beginning as to time, is evident from the corresponding term תחלה . The beginning of wisdom, however, its A, B, C is also its sum. The fear of the Lord is childlike, reverential fear, which does not thrust out perfect love, but goes hand in hand with it. For this alone is able to call forth “ delight in the commandments of God,” Psalms 112:1, which appears here as the attendant of the fear of God. The שכל טוב is from Proverbs 3:4; comp. chap. Proverbs 13:15. The plural suffix in עשיהם refers to the commandments of the Lord, Psalms 110:7-7, a reference which is all the more natural, as the fear of the Lord is equivalent to the fulfilling of his commandments, as is manifest by the reference of Psalms 111:10 to Psalms 110:7-7: great are the works of the Lord, to be depended upon therefore are his commandments, wise therefore is he who seeks reverently to fulfil his commandments; comp. Deuteronomy 28:58, where “to do all the works of this law,” and “to fear this holy and dreadful name,” are placed together as of equal import, Psalms 112:1. That fear of the Lord which is inoperative, and makes itself known only in superficial emotion, is not considered by Scripture as worthy of the name. That the suffix in תהלתו refers to the Lord, is manifest from the reference to the Hallelujah at the beginning of this and the following Psalms. The words bring together, in a short compass, what had formerly been said as forming the basis of the two first members; for, such confidence grows up in us out of his glorious deeds in times past, his praise, his renown, lasteth for ever, and thus the apparent stupidity of those who fear him and do his commandments, is seen to be in the end wisdom; Israel shall in due season attain to salvation, to dominion over the world, as has gloriously been fulfilled in Christ.

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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 111". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms.