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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Bible Commentary

Psalms 111

Verses 1-10

Psalms 111:1-10

ANOTHER series of psalms headed with Hallelujah begins here and includes the two following psalms. The prefix apparently indicates liturgical use. The present psalm is closely allied to the next. Both are acrostic and correspond verse to verse, as will appear in the exposition. Together they represent God and the godly, this psalm magnifying the Divine character and acts, the other painting the ideal godly man as, in some real fashion, an "imitator of God as a beloved child." Both are gnomic, and built up by accumulation of slightly connected particulars, rather than flowing continuously in a sequence which springs from one pregnant thought. Both have allusions to other psalms and to the Book of Proverbs, and share with many of the psalms of Book 5 the character of being mainly working over of old materials.

The psalmist begins by a vow to thank Jehovah with his whole heart, and immediately proceeds to carry it out. "The upright" is by some understood as a national designation, and "council" taken as equivalent to "congregation." But it is more in accordance with usage to regard the psalmist as referring first to a narrower circle of like-minded lovers of good, to whose congenial ears be rejoices to sing. There was an Israel within Israel, who would sympathise with his song. The "congregation" is then either the wider audience of the gathered people, or, as Delitzsch takes it, equivalent to "their congregation"-i.e., of the upright.

The theme of thanksgiving is as ever, God’s works for Israel; and the first characteristic of these which the psalmist sings is their greatness. He will come closer presently, and discern more delicate features, but now, the magnitude of these colossal manifestations chiefly animates his song. Far stretching in their mass and in their consequences, deep rooted in God’s own character, His great deeds draw the eager search of "those who delight in them." These are the same sympathetic auditors to whom the song is primarily addressed. There were indolent beholders in Israel, before whom the works of God were passed without exciting the faintest desire to know more of their depth. Such careless onlookers, who see and see not, are rife in all ages. God shines out in His deeds, and they will not give one glance of sharpened interest. But the test of caring for His doings is the effort to comprehend their greatness, and plunge oneself into their depths. The more one gazes, the more one sees. What was at first but dimly apprehended as great resolves itself, as we look; and, first, "Honour and majesty," the splendour of His reflected character, shine out from His deeds, and then, when still more deeply they are pondered, the central fact of their righteousness, their conformity to the highest standard of rectitude, becomes patent. Greatness and majesty, divorced from righteousness, would be no theme for praise. Such greatness is littleness, such splendour is phosphorescent corruption.

These general contemplations are followed in Psalms 111:4-6 by references to Israel’s history as the greatest example of God’s working. "He has made a memorial for His wonders." Some find here a reference to the Passover and other feasts commemorative of the deliverance from Egypt. But it is better to think of Israel itself as the "memorial," or of the deeds themselves, in their remembrance by men, as being, as it were, a monument of His power. The men whom God has blessed are standing evidences of His wonders. "Ye are My witnesses, saith the Lord." And the great attribute, which is commemorated by that "memorial," is Jehovah’s gracious compassion. The psalmist presses steadily towards the centre of the Divine nature. God’s works become eloquent of more and more precious truth as he listens to their voice. They spoke of greatness, honour, majesty, righteousness, but tenderer qualities are revealed to the loving and patient gazer. The two standing proofs of Divine kindness are the miraculous provision of food in the desert and the possession of the promised land. But to the psalmist these are not past deeds to be remembered only, but continually repeated operations. "He remembers His covenant forever," and so the experiences of the fathers are lived over again by the children, and today is as full of God as yesterday was. Still He feeds us, still He gives us our heritage.

From Psalms 111:7 onwards a new thought comes in. God has spoken as well as wrought. His very works carry messages of "truth and judgment," and they are interpreted further by articulate precepts, which are at once a revelation of what He is and a law for what we should be. His law stands as fast as His righteousness (Psalms 111:3, Psalms 111:8). A man may utterly trust His commandments. They abide eternally, for Duty is ever Duty, and His Law, "while it has a surface of temporary ceremonial, has a core of immutable requirement. His commandments are done-i.e., appointed by Him-"in truth and uprightness." They are tokens of His grace and revelations of His character.

The two closing verses have three clauses each, partly from the exigencies of the acrostic structure, and partly to secure a more impressive ending. Psalms 111:9 sums up all God’s works in the two chief manifestations of His goodness which should ever live in Israel’s thanks, His sending redemption and His establishing His everlasting covenant-the two facts which are as fresh today, under new and better forms, as when long ago this unknown psalmist sang. And he gathers up the total impression which God’s dealings should leave, in the great saying, "Holy and dread is His name." In Psalms 111:10 he somewhat passes the limits of his theme, and trenches on the territory of the next psalm, which is already beginning to shape itself in his mind. The designation of the fear of the Jehovah as "the beginning of wisdom" is from Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10. "Beginning" may rather mean "principal part" Proverbs 4:7, principal thing). The them of Psalms 111:10 b is best referred, though the expression is awkward, to "commandments" in Psalms 111:7. Less probably it is taken to allude to the "fear" and "wisdom" of the previous clause. The two clauses of this verse descriptive of the godly correspond in structure to a-and b of Psalms 111:9, and the last clause corresponds to the last of that verse, expressing the continual praise which should rise to that holy and dread Name. Note that the perpetual duration, which has been predicated of God’s attributes, precepts, and covenant (Psalms 111:3, Psalms 111:5, Psalms 111:8, Psalms 111:9), is here ascribed to His praise. Man’s songs cannot fall dumb, so long as God pours out Himself in such deeds. As long as that Sun streams across the desert, stony lips will part in music to hail its beams.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 111". "The Expositor's Bible Commentary".