Explore the Bible Series
November 15, 2009
Background Passage: Psalm 112:1-10
Lesson Passage: Psalm 112:1-10
Psalms One Hundred and Eleven and One Hundred and Twelve may have come from the same author. The themes and language appear similar, and both hymns follow an acrostic pattern (each line begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet). Thematically, this Psalm resembles Psalm One in the contrast between the blessed of the righteous and the destruction of the ungodly, a contrast developed more fully in Psalm One. This hymn centers attention more on the blessings of the righteous, and it only mentions the plight of the wicked in the final verse.
This is another of the so-called Wisdom Psalms, and it lists the characteristics and blessings of the Lord’s people, as this Psalmist understood. It lacks a logical structure, like other wisdom books (See Proverbs), but it does share an interesting connection with the previous Psalm. Psalm One Hundred and Eleven describes some of the attributes of Jehovah, and Psalm One Hundred and Twelve attributes several of the same characteristics to the righteous. Perhaps the author sought to imply that God’s people, as they grow in grace, increasingly (but imperfectly) take on the characteristics of the Lord: gracious, merciful, compassionate to the poor, faithful, just, trustworthy.
I. The Character of the Righteous Man (v. 1): This Psalm, like the previous chapter, begins with “praise the Lord.” This seems a fitting introduction to the hymn because the Lord deserves the glory for the development of the godly man’s character. In this case, the psalmist highlighted two characteristics.
A. “blessed is the man who fears the Lord” (v. 1a): The Hebrew word yara (fear) appears frequently in the Old Testament. At times, it denotes genuine fear, like the terror God threatened to strike in the hearts of the Assyrians, in Isaiah 30:31. Other passages use yara to describe the respect a person might have for a parent, master, or king. Very often, however, the Old Testament uses this word to reflect the believer’s attitude toward God. It entails reverence, submission, and awe.
B. “who greatly delights in his commandments” (v. 1b): The ungodly man may “obey” the letter of the law of God, but he has no delight in the service of the Lord. For the godly person, obedience brings great joy. This joy does not focus on self-righteous delight in one’s moral superiority to others; rather, it finds delight in the character and works of Jehovah.
II. The Blessedness of the Righteous Man (vv. 2-9)
A. “his offspring will be mighty in the land” (v. 2): This verse promised ancient Israel that holiness would bring great prominence and influence to the children of the godliness man. Perhaps this promise also implied the military security of Israel.
B. “wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever” (v. 3): The passage promises prosperity to those who continue in righteousness. For this godly man, obedience does not come in fits and spells; rather, his righteousness endures forever.
C. “light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous” (v. 4): The righteous man will encounter times of darkness, but the light of the Lord will overcome the gloom. The godly man reflects the attributes of the Lord (See Psalm 111:4).
D. It is well with the man deals generously and lends; who conducts his affairs with justice” (v. 5): This promise deals with the godly man’s business affairs. Things will go well for him because he manages his business life with equity, justice, and compassion. The Mosaic Law provided strict rules governing lending, laws the demanded the Lord’s people to exercise generosity, kindness, and fairness (See Leviticus 25:35-38).
E. “for the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever” (v. 6): This verse is reminiscent of Psalm 1:3 comparing the godly man to a tree planted by a river; strong, secure, and fruitful. Moreover, he will leave a posterity for generations to remember.
F. “he will not be afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord” (v. 7): Ill times will come, but the righteous one trusts the Lord to bring his people through the difficulties.
G. “his heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his enemies” (v. 8): The text does not deny that he will have enemies, but it promises that the righteous one will triumph over his adversaries.
H. “he has distributed freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted forever.” (v. 9): Like Verse Five, this passage extols the virtue of generosity, especially to the poor. He not only gives faithfully; he gives freely, willingly, joyously. The “horn” is a symbol for strength.
III. The Plight of the Wicked (v. 10)
A. “the wicked man sees it and is angry” (v. 10a): The ungodly man envies the prosperity and blessedness of the righteous.
B. “he gnashes his teeth and melts away” (v. 10b): Envy leads invariably to intense, consuming anguish, expressed through the gnashing of teeth.
C. “the desire of the wicked will perish” (v. 10c): He has no hope for the future. All of his dreams will turn to dust, and his life will prove vain and empty.
A Personal Word:
Interpreting this Psalm, for me, proves very difficult. The language and sentence structure don’t trouble me; rather, the theology of the hymn seems problematic, in some ways. The Psalm makes several stark, unconditional statements that, on the surface, seem to contradict other parts of Scripture and move counter to personal experience. What does the author mean when he makes absolute statements about the prosperity and success of the righteous man? Consider these assertions:
“His descendants will be mighty in the land…”
“Wealth and riches are in his house…”
“It is well with the man who deals generously and lends…”
“For the righteous will never be moved…”
“He is not afraid of evil tidings…”
“… his horn is exalted in honor…”
Do good, godly people always and unfailingly enjoy prosperity, riches, family concord, and steadfastness? Frankly, the godly man does not always meet with material blessings or seamless family experiences. Some godly people have rebellious children or suffer from severe persecution and deprivation. How does this Psalm relate to the pastoral needs of the suffering saints? The apparent incongruity between the goodness of God and the pain of life has caused many to question the validity of the claims of the Judeo- Christian tradition.
I do not have cheap, easy answers to these questions, and, honestly, I distrust those who claim they possess such wisdom. Here’s my concern about teaching this passage. No doubt, many of you teachers will, this Sunday, speak to some suffering people, people who suffer for no apparent reason. Wrongly handled, the stark claims of this passage may add deep injury to those who need your comfort and support.
For instance, in these dire economic circumstances, some of you may work with families whose houses are not full of wealth and riches, as they face the holiday season. Other may teach parents with rebellious children, and these poor folks do not enjoy the encouragement of children who are mighty in the land. Perhaps some of you will address folks who have been profoundly shaken by death of a loved one or catastrophic medical news. Shouldn’t the Lord’s people exercise great care toward those who suffer, when applying the teachings of the Scripture?
Dear readers, remain faithful to the lesson text, but apply its meaning with tenderness and compassion. Do not harm.