PSALM 111 – 2

Verses 2-4 culminate in verse 4b’s refrain “the LORD is gracious and merciful.” “Gracious,” from the Hebrew verbal root hanan, and “merciful,” from the verbal root raham, are two of the self-declarative attributes of God given to Moses in Exodus 34:6. God declares, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” In Psalm 111, the word order is reversed (“merciful and gracious” in Exodus 34; “gracious and merciful” in Psalm 111) because of the constraints of the acrostic structure of the psalm.

In verses 5-9, the psalmist outlines, in brief descriptive phrases, the works and wonderful deeds of God. In verse 5, God gives “food,” a reference perhaps to the giving of the manna and quail in the Wilderness (Exodus 16 and Numbers 11). Verse 6’s “the inheritance of the nations” suggests God’s giving of the Promised Land to the Israelites (Deuteronomy 6-7). The “precepts” of verse 7-8 are part of the Torah, the instruction of God given at Sinai (see Psalm 119:27, 104, 173). And verse 9’s reference to “deliverance” summarizes the actions of God in the Exodus and Wilderness wanderings.

Verse 9 concludes with the words “he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name.” God’s covenant and God’s name are foundational traditions of ancient Israel. Upon these the community may depend for its future as the people of God.

With God described as “awesome” in verse 9, the proper response of the worshiper in verse 10 is to “fear the Lord.” In the twenty-first century we tend to associate “fear” with something scary, something we want to get away from, or something we think will harm us. Yet we read in the Old Testament that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Thus, we know that “the fear of the Lord” is a good thing; it is a positive aspect of our faith.

The word “fear” (yara’) appears in the Hebrew Bible as a synonym for “love” (Deuteronomy 10:12); “cling to” (Deuteronomy 10:20); and “serve” (Deuteronomy 6:13; Joshua 24:14). At its root, the word denotes obedience to the divine will. The Hebrew word for “fear” is powerful in meaning, but it has more to do with feelings of awesomeness. It is more about being in the presence of the holy other with cautious reverence than it is about the sweaty-palmed, shaking, gasping for breath kind of fear we often experience. When we enter into a relationship with the God of the Bible, it is a high calling. It is a dangerous, a reverent, a fearful relationship.

The Psalm scholar Leslie Allen likens the words of Psalm 111 to Romans 5:1-11. He writes:

“Psalm 111 glories in the present and permanent relevance of the ancient events of salvation. … Those events have a once-and-for-all value which the New Testament in turn attaches to the Christological counterpart. They are a window through which God’s purposes for each generation of his people can be clearly discerned. They are a signpost pointing to his enduring care and claim.”



Published by johnranjit

Lifestyle Blogger

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