Like yesterday’s, today’s psalm also has a verse that you may recognize from elsewhere. The line “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (111:10) is better known as Proverbs 9:10, and I could rehash discussions of to what extent “fear” means simple respect and awe, or contrast human wisdom with “the wisdom that comes from heaven” (James 3:17). But I know you guys, and you’ve probably heard those points to absolute death. So let’s try to discover something new here.
I’m having trouble finding it, but I swear we’ve seen a psalm like this before: written by the king, extolling the king. Psalm 110 is another psalm of David, and the NASB has provided a perfectly serviceable summary: “The Lord Gives Dominion to the King.” It’s also a Messianic Psalm. If you’ve read one of the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) or checked out the book of Hebrews, you may recognize a few verses from this psalm that were also quoted by those New Testament writers. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews takes this psalm as referring to the Messiah–and so does Jesus.
Psalm 109 is about David’s enemies. Specifically, it concerns how they are bad people and bad things should happen to them. Normally, that would be the end of it, but David happens to know someone–an Invisible Sky King, in fact–who determines which things happen to which people. So David asks him to make his enemies die in a fire so that it’s just like they never existed.
For the first time since Psalm 103, we have a psalm whose author identifies himself: it’s David. It’s a Psalm of Orientation, but the weird thing is it finds David asking for deliverance. Even confronted with adversaries, he speaks from a place of confidence, not disorientation. You can probably sense the trajectory at this point.
Here’s another psalm about God’s work in Israel’s history throughout their journey to the Promised Land. And also about God’s work in the lives of repentant fools and merchant sailors, and how he controls the water cycle.
We’re in Big Psalm Territory now, and today’s forty-eight-verse song concerns God’s goodness to his rebellious children. I’m reminded of one day from my Modernist Literature class in college when we had been discussing religious themes in James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. At the end of the class, the professor tangentially noted that the Old Testament often is uncomplimentary toward its “heroes,” reporting their faults and shortcomings rather than building them up as larger-than-life figures of greatness. You’ll find this phenomenon in the narratives of the Torah, but you’ll also find it in this psalm.
I’ve noticed that when a psalm enjoins its hearers to worship, it generally gives a reason why. As anyone with a two-year-old can attest, it’s human nature to ask “Why?” and the psalmists know their audience. After all, the psalmists are human beings, too. They’ve asked why God is worth worshipping, and they’ve not only found reasons, but they’ve also found that God doesn’t want people to worship him for no reason. In Psalm 105, the reason of the day is God’s great deeds, as the psalmist states: “Remember His wonders which He has done, His marvels and the judgments uttered by His mouth” (105:5). Specifically, it’s God’s work in Israel’s history: his covenant with Abraham to give his people the land of Canaan, how he protected them from pagan nations, and how Joseph and Moses were instrumental in God’s fulfillment of his promise.