Psalm 111 – Where Wisdom Begins

Psalm 111 Bible With Green and Blacks Organic 85 Percent Dark Cacao Chocolate

Today’s Chocolate: Green & Black’s Organic 85% Dark Cacao

Today’s PassagePsalm 111

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.

There’s a lot I don’t know about Psalm 111. I don’t know who wrote it, and I don’t know whether it predates Proverbs 9 or the other way around. At a certain level, it’s immaterial whether the psalmist has decided to set a line from a common Hebrew proverb to music, or whether he’s penned an original line. The point is that he’s chosen to conclude an ode to God’s compassion–as displayed in his divine works–with an exhortation to revere God, obey his commandments, and praise him: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments; His praise endures forever” (111:10). Evidently he thinks reverence, obedience, and praise are the proper responses to God’s greatness.

In fact, praise bookends the psalm; the first line is “Praise the Lord” (111:1), while it ends “His praise endures forever.” The word “forever” shows up two other times here: in verse 3, “His righteousness endures forever,” and verse 9, “He has ordained His covenant forever.” Of the many covenants to which this might refer, it seems most likely to me that it’s the Abrahamic and/or Mosaic Covenant(s). An interesting characteristic of the Abrahamic Covenant is that Abraham and his descendants don’t actually have to do anything to fulfill it; God takes it upon himself to make Abraham a great nation with a great name, with no expectation of return. But whichever covenant or covenants Psalm 111 intends, the point is that God is eternally just, and as such he eternally keeps his promises.

As a consequence, apparently God has ensured that he will be eternally praised as well. Being omnipotent and omniscient, he can create a timespace continuum with no end where there will never be a shortage of beings to praise him. And this may seem selfish of him, but think about how badly you–or more to the point, I–want to be applauded when I do something good. Our gut instinct shows us that it’s better for a good deed to be recognized as good than to go unnoticed in silence. And as creator of a universe where good deeds can happen, both by him and the entities he’s brought into being, God is the reason that good deeds are even possible at all. The psalm is a simple call to recognize how good God is, as shown in the good things we do. And acknowledging his goodness, realizing that he actually deserves our praise, is where wisdom begins.

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