Psalm 111 – The Greatness of God’s Works
This is another of the acrostic psalms, arranged according to the Hebrew alphabet. Except for the opening line of “Praise the Lord” (Hallelujah), each of the 22 lines of Psalm 111 begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
“The great art used in the composure of this and some other psalms (after the order of the Hebrew alphabet) serveth both to set forth their excellence and for the help of memory.” (John Trapp)
Many commentators note the connection between Psalms 111 and 112. James Montgomery Boice observed, “The two psalms are an obviously matched pair. The first is an acrostic poem about God; the second is an acrostic poem about the godly man.”
A. Thinking about the great works of God.
1. (1) The declaration and the decision to give God praise.
Praise the LORD!
I will praise the LORD with my whole heart,
In the assembly of the upright and in the congregation.
a. Praise the LORD: Psalm 111 begins with the simple declaration, Hallelujah! It was as if the psalmist thought, Before I describe how I will praise Him, let me simply declare His praise. The declaration also has the idea of encouraging others to do the same – I will praise the LORD, and you should also.
b. I will praise the LORD with my whole heart: The proclamation came after the declaration. There would be nothing held back in his praise; it would be given to God with his whole heart.
i. “If we want other people to praise God, we must praise God first. If we want them to love God, we must love him too. If we want others to serve God, we must serve him. We must set an example.” (Boice)
ii. My whole heart: “God cannot be acceptably praised with a divided heart, neither should we attempt so to dishonour him; for our whole heart is little enough for his glory, and there can be no reason why it should not all be lifted up in his praise.” (Spurgeon)
c. In the assembly of the upright: The praise would be wholehearted, but it would also be public. Praising God with others showed that the psalmist gloried in the praises of God; praising God with others was also a help and encouragement to praise Him.
i. The word for assembly and the word for congregation indicate different size groups. Assembly refers to a smaller, private group – something like our modern small group. Congregation refers to the larger gatherings of God’s people.
ii. “Company [assembly] is that intimate word sôd, which has the connotation of a circle of friends or advisers.” (Kidner)
2. (2-3) The study of God’s great works.
The works of the LORD are great,
Studied by all who have pleasure in them.
His work is honorable and glorious,
And His righteousness endures forever.
a. The works of the LORD are great: God should be praised for who He is, but what He has done is also worthy of praise. Here the emphasis is on His work in creation, and these works are great in their number and in their significance.
i. Kidner comments on the specific Hebrew word translated works in verse 2: “In the Psalms, the Lord’s works (maasim) are sometimes his deeds, as in verse 6, but more often the things he has made (e.g., the heavens, 8:3; 19:1; 102:25; and the populous earth, 104:24).”
ii. “No small things are done by so great a hand.” (Trapp)
iii. “In design, in size, in number, in excellence, all the works of the Lord are great. Even the little things of God are great.” (Spurgeon)
b. Studied by all who have pleasure in them: The greatness of God’s work invites close study by the scientist, the historian, and the theologian. Their findings will lead them to do their work with all their strength and take pleasure in how God’s wisdom and power are revealed through His honorable and glorious works.
i. Studied: “The more one gazes, the more one sees.” (Maclaren)
ii. “There is a science laboratory in Cambridge, England, called the Cavendish Laboratory, named after the eighteenth-century English chemist and physicist Sir Henry Cavendish (1731-1810). It is distinguished by having the words of Psalm 111:2 inscribed over the entrance to its building as a charter for every believing scientist: Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them.” (Boice)
iii. “Kepler, when he first turned his telescope to clustered worlds, exclaimed, ‘I am thinking over again the first thoughts of God.’ Would that the ecstasy of the ardent student of nature might fill our hearts as we direct our thought to the great works of our Saviour-God.” (Meyer)
iv. “Happy are they who, with humility and diligence, with faith and devotion, give themselves to the contemplation of these works, and take ‘pleasure’ and delight therein. To them shall the gate of true science open; they shall understand the mysteries of creation, providence, and redemption; and they who thus ‘seek,’ shall find the treasures of eternal wisdom.” (Horne)
v. “But while this verse is well taken as God’s charter for the scientist and artist, verse 10 must be its partner, lest ‘professing to be wise’ we become fools, like the men of Romans 1:18-23.” (Kidner)
vi. This pleasure can be ours forever. “Probably this will be our employment in eternity; ever passing into deeper and fuller appreciation of the works of God, and breaking into more rapturous songs.” (Meyer)
c. His work is honorable and glorious: Not only are God’s works in creation great, but so is His work of guiding and arranging all things, His work of providence.
i. Kidner notes that a different Hebrew word is translated work in verse 3: “Here God’s work (poal) is more likely to mean his providential acts, as in, e.g., Deuteronomy 32:4 [His work is perfect].”
B. Describing the great works of God.
1. (4-6) Remembering God’s great works.
He has made His wonderful works to be remembered;
The LORD is gracious and full of compassion.
He has given food to those who fear Him;
He will ever be mindful of His covenant.
He has declared to His people the power of His works,
In giving them the heritage of the nations.
a. He has made His wonderful works to be remembered: God designed His saving acts to be remembered among His people. It is a dishonor to him and a failure of man that the miracles of His redemption are forgotten, or worse yet denied.
i. Kidner points out that still a third Hebrew word is translated wonderful works: “The expression wonderful works opens up another line of thought. It is a single word, ‘wonders’, and refers most often to the great saving acts of God.”
ii. To be remembered: “The word zeker…is a noun in Hebrew. It connotes the act of ‘proclamation.’ Israel not only remembered but proclaimed what God had done.” (VanGemeren)
b. The LORD is gracious and full of compassion: First in the mind of the psalmist was God’s great work of grace and love. He is full of these qualities in His being, and expresses them in his great works.
i. “Is gracious and full of compassion towards his people, as appears from his works and carriage towards us, in sparing, and pardoning, and restoring, and preserving us when we have deserved to be utterly destroyed.” (Poole)
c. He has given food to those who fear Him: Perhaps the psalmist had in mind God’s provision for Israel through the wilderness, or the more general principle David wrote of in Psalm 37:25, that he had never seen the descendants of the righteous begging bread.
i. Food: “The word signifies what is taken in hunting – wild beasts, venison, or fowls of any kind; particularly such as were proper for food. It also signifies spoil taken from enemies.” (Clarke)
d. He will ever be mindful of His covenant: God will never forget the covenant He made with Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 12) or the covenant He made with Israel at Mount Sinai (Exodus 24).
e. He has declared to His people the power of His works: God did not hide His greatness, but declared it to His people – if they would pay attention! This declaration of His great works brought Israel into the land of Canaan (giving them the heritage of the nations).
i. “…two standing proofs of Divine kindness are the miraculous provision of food in the desert and the possession of the promised land.” (Maclaren)
2. (7-9) The nature of God’s great works.
The works of His hands are verity and justice;
All His precepts are sure.
They stand fast forever and ever,
And are done in truth and uprightness.
He has sent redemption to His people;
He has commanded His covenant forever:
Holy and awesome is His name.
a. The works of His hands are verity and justice: What God does is true and fair, and what He commands is settled (His precepts are sure). This is seen in God’s great works in creation and in history.
i. “Thus the inspired author brings out the coherence between the Lord’s acts and words. They all reflect his divine nature as a Father-King in relationship to his children-subjects. The precepts with their encouragements, promises, threats, blessings, and curses are true!” (VanGemeren)
ii. His precepts are sure: “He is no fickle despot, commanding one thing one day and another [on a different day], but his commands remain absolutely unaltered, their necessity equally unquestionable, their excellence permanently proven, and their reward eternally secure.” (Spurgeon)
b. He has sent redemption to His people: One of God’s greatest works is rescuing His people from their oppression and sin, and doing it in the context of His covenant. The psalmist likely had the exodus in mind.
i. The King James Version translates the phrase, holy and awesome is His name as holy and reverend is his name. Adam Clarke comments on the word reverend from the King James Version: “The word reverend comes to us from the Latins, reverendus, and is compounded of re, intensive, and vereor, to be feared; and most or right reverend, reverendissimus, signifies to be greatly feared. These terms are now only titles of ecclesiastical respect, especially in the Protestant ministry; but there was a time in which these were no empty titles. Such was the power of the clergy, that, when they walked not in the fear of the Lord, they caused the people to fear, and they themselves were to be feared; but, when the secular power was added to the spiritual, they were then truly reverendi and reverendissimi, to be feared and greatly to be feared.”
3. (10) What should be learned from God’s great works.
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
A good understanding have all those who do His commandments.
His praise endures forever.
a. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: Recognizing the greatness of God’s works, one should appropriately fear Him. God should be regarded with respect, reverence, and awe. This proper attitude of the creature toward the Creator is the beginning of wisdom. Wisdom cannot advance further until this starting point is established.
i. The idea that the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom is also found in Job 28:28; Proverbs 1:7; 9:10; and Ecclesiastes 12:13.
ii. “It is probably a safe bet to say that most people today are not much interested in wisdom. They are interested in making money and in having a good time. Some are interested in knowing something, in getting an education. Almost everyone wants to be well liked. But wisdom? The pursuit of wisdom is not a popular ideal.” (Boice)
iii. “It is not only the beginning of wisdom, but the middle and the end. It is indeed the Alpha and Omega, the essence, the body and the soul, the sum and substance. He that hath the fear of God is truly wise.” (de Superville, cited in Spurgeon)
b. A good understanding have all those who do His commandments: Taking into account the greatness of God’s works, one should obey God – that is, do His commandments. A life of obedience reveals that one has a good understanding of the greatness of God’s works.
i. “Obedience to God proves that our judgment is sound.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “The Psalm closes with words which prepare for the next, as they declare that the fear of Jehovah is the beginning of wisdom, and that such as act according to that fear have good understanding.” (Morgan)
c. His praise endures forever: Taking into account the greatness of God’s works, one should praise Him and never stop praising Him. The angels surrounding God’s throne see His greatness and the greatness of His works, and they never stop praising Him (Revelation 4:8).
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org