|<< Psalm 111 >>|
Barnes' Notes on the Bible
The author of this psalm is unknown, as is the occasion on which it was composed. It is one of the psalms, of which there are in all ten in number, that commence with the phrase "Hallelu-jah" in the Hebrew; in our version rendered, "Praise ye the Lord." Those psalms are Ps. 106; Psalm 111:1-10; Psalm 112:1-10; Psalm 113:1-9; Psalm 135; Psalm 146:1-10; Psalm 147; Psalm 148:1-14; Psalm 149:1-9; and Psalm 150:1-6 : The use of this phrase shows that the psalms where it is found were designed for public worship. It is probable that this was one of the later psalms - a fact that might be indicated by the very use of this phrase "Hallelujah." Venema supposes that it was composed in the time of the Maccabees, but of this there is no evidence.
This is one of the alphabetical psalms. In that class of psalms there is considerable variety. In some a letter of the Hebrew alphabet commences each verse in the psalm; in others, the successive letters of the alphabet begin each two or three verses in succession, or, as in Psalm 119; eight verses in succession; in others, the successive letters of the alphabet are used in the beginning of separate clauses of the "verses" of a psalm.
The peculiarity of this psalm is that the first eight verses of the psalm contain "two" clauses, beginning with the letters of the alphabet taken in their order; the last two verses, "three". Why this arrangement was adopted, it is impossible now to determine - as it is in regard to "many" things which are thought to be beauties in poetry. There is very much in the measure, the rhythm, the rhyme, of modern poetry, that is quite as artificial, and quite as inexplicable, as this.
The psalm is call to the praise of God on account of his "works," and is designed to suggest grounds of confidence in him as drawn "from" those works. It is, therefore, of universal applicability; and may be used in any nation, at any time, and among any people. It is a psalm which may be translated into all the languages of the world, and whatever language people may speak, it would exppress in their own tongue what they have occasion to give thanks for in the various lands where they dwell.
1Praise ye the LORD. I will praise the LORD with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, and in the congregation.
Praise ye the Lord - Margin, "Hallelujah." See Psalm 106:1.
I will praise the Lord with my whole heart - With undivided affections; holding back nothing. I will allow nothing to be in my heart that would interfere with the fullness of praise; no coldness or dividedness of affection; no love for other things that would deaden my love for God; no suspicion respecting him that would chill my ardor; no unbelief that would drag me down to earth, while the language of my lips ascended to God. See the notes at Psalm 86:12.
In the assembly of the upright - With the righteous when they are gathered together for public worship.
And in the congregation - See Psalm 22:22, Psalm 22:25; Psalm 66:13; Psalm 89:5.
2The works of the LORD are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein.
The works of the Lord are great - They are great in number; great in magnitude; great in wisdom; great in goodness. This language was appropriate in the time of the psalmist, when people looked upon the heavens with the naked eye alone, and when they had very imperfect views of the real magnitude of the universe as it is now disclosed by the telescope. It is entirely appropriate now, and conveys a more solemn and sublime impression than it would in the time of the psalmist. It will still be appropriate under the larger views which may yet be obtained of the universe by more perfect instruments, by more accurate observation, and by more profound study. And it will be appropriate when people shall survey the greatness of the universe from the heights of heaven.
Sought out of all them - Studied by all such.
That have pleasure therein - More literally, "Sought to all their wishes." Perhaps the meaning is, that they would find all their desires gratified in those works; they would find in them all that they would wish to find respecting the power, wisdom, goodness, and majesty of God. Still it implies that they have a desire thus to study his works, or that they do find a pleasure in examining the proofs of the being and attributes of God in his works. A man who loves God will have real pleasure in studying his works as well as his word; and it is as proper to find pleasure in the one as in the other - as proper to wish to find the knowledge which the one imparts as that which the other bestows. One great error among the friends of God is the neglect to study his works. In doing this, people need not neglect or undervalue the Bible and the knowledge which it gives, for such studies would be among the best means of illustrating the Bible.
3His work is honourable and glorious: and his righteousness endureth for ever.
His work is honorable and glorious - literally, "Honour and glory is his work;" that is, All that he does is honorable and glorious. The language would cover all that God does in the works of creation, providence, and redemption. There is honor - there is majesty - in "everything" that he does.
And his righteousness endureth for ever - That is, It will be found in all the investigations of his works, that he is unchangeably righteous or just. All that he has done, or that he now does, goes to demonstrate this. There are doings of people - even of good people - which will not bear investigation; but there are no such acts of God. There are things that people do which excite admiration only when there is no investigation in regard to them; but the works of God are admired the more, the more they are studied. There are things which appear beautiful, or appear sweet only when they are not shaken; a collection of perfumes will give out sweets the more it is stirred.
4He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered: the LORD is gracious and full of compassion.
He hath made his wonderful works - In heaven and in earth.
To be remembered - literally, "Memory hath he made for his wonderful works." "They" are so made, that man may remember them; the memory of man, also, is so made, that it may retain them. The highest and most appropriate exercise of memory is to retain the lessons which the works of God inculcate; to treasure up for gratitude and for use what he teaches his intelligent creation through those works. Memory can never be better employed than in treasuring up the truths which the Creator teaches in his providential dealings with us, and in his word. How much better would it be for man if he labored more to "remember" these things; if he sought to forget many of those things which he is so careful now to retain in his recollection.
The Lord is gracious ... - See the notes at Psalm 86:5. This is stated here as the result of the careful study of the doings of God; as the conclusion to which all will come who carefully study his works. "Illustrations" of what God has done that deserves to be remembered occupy the remainder of the psalm, except the last verse.
5He hath given meat unto them that fear him: he will ever be mindful of his covenant.
He hath given meat unto them that fear him - Margin, "prey." The idea is, that he has supplied their needs. The Hebrew word is, "prey," and the allusion is to the mode in which the needs of the beasts of the field are supplied. The meaning may be that they had obtained this from their enemies, as beasts of prey take their food by making war; or the word may be used in a general sense, as meaning that God had supplied their needs.
He will ever be mindful of his covenant - He will never leave or forsake his people; he will be faithful to all the promises that he has made to them.
6He hath shewed his people the power of his works, that he may give them the heritage of the heathen.
He hath showed his people - The Jewish people. He has made this known to them. The reference here is not to his "announcing" it, or stating it, but to his acts of interposition in their behalf in which he had manifested the greatness of his power.
The power of his works - The power of his acts; the power involved in what he does. The power referred to here was that which was evinced in destroying the Egyptians, and in subduing the nations of Canaan.
That he may give them the heritage of the heathen - The nations; to wit, the nations of Palestine. The word "heritage" is often used in the large sense of possessions; and the meaning here is, that God had shown the greatness of his power by giving all that they possessed into the hands of his people.
7The works of his hands are verity and judgment; all his commandments are sure.
The works of his hands - All that he does in the works of creation and providence; all in his acts toward the children of men.
Are verity - Truth. That is, They tend to establish and confirm the truth; they are done in the cause or the defense of truth. Truth in any case may be ascertained by what God "does," for all that he defends and protects is "truth," and his acts, therefore, may be regarded as an expression of what is true and right.
And judgment - In the cause of justice; or, in maintaining the principles of right. God never does anything to vindicate wrong. None of his acts can be fairly interpreted as having been done to sustain injustice, fraud, deceit, ambition, oppression, murder, or licentiousness. That he suffers free agents to do these things without interference is no evidence that he approves of them. That he "disapproves" of them is shown
(a) by his declarations;
(b) by his threatenings;
(c) by all that he does to punish the wicked here.
All his commandments are sure - His statutes; his ordinances. They are sure; that is, they are to be relied on; or, are worthy of confidence.
8They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness.
They stand fast forever and ever - Margin, "established." The Hebrew word means "sustained, supported." They will not fail or fall. Whatever else may be shaken, his law, his word, and the principles of his administration, will not fail. See the notes at Matthew 5:18. Compare Luke 16:17; Matthew 24:35. The great principles of truth and righteousness will stand, and whatever is founded on those principles will endure forever.
And are done in truth and uprightness - Are based on truth, or on a just view of things; they are done in such a way that truth will be maintained and promoted. The word "uprightness" here means that all this is done on the principles of equity - of what "ought" to be done, or what is "best" to be done. Compare Psalm 19:9.
9He sent redemption unto his people: he hath commanded his covenant for ever: holy and reverend is his name.
He sent redemption unto his people - In their deliverance from Egypt. He has now sent it in a higher sense under the great Deliverer, the Saviour.
He hath commanded his covenant for ever - He has ordained or appointed it. The covenant is here represented as if it were obedient to the will of God, or under his control. The covenant refers to his arrangements with his people; his assurances of favor, with the terms on which that favor will be shown.
Holy and reverend is his name - Holy and to be venerated; literally, "to be feared." That is, he has shown in all this that he is holy, and that he is a Being who is to be had in reverence.
10The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever.
The fear of the Lord - Reverence for God; respect for his law, his will, his government, himself; the fear of offending him, which will lead us to do right. This fear is not that of a slave; it is not mere dread; it is not terror. It is consistent with love, and springs from it. It is consistent with calmness of mind, and promotes it. It does not produce terror, but rather delivers from it, and preserves the mind from alarms. The word here rendered "fear" is a noun of the same origin as the word rendered "reverend" in the previous verse. The suggestion to the mind of the psalmist that the "name of the Lord" was "reverend," or was to be venerated, introduced this thought that such reverence is the very foundation of wisdom.
Is the beginning of wisdom - The foundation, the origin, the commencement of being truly wise. It is so. There is no true wisdom which does not recognize the being, the perfections, and the claims of God. The highest wisdom - the most lofty endowment of man - is that he "may" know and honor God. This, in capability, makes him wise above the brute creation; this, in exercise, makes one man more wise than another; this, when it springs up in the soul, makes a man more wise than he was before - or, is the "beginning" of true wisdom in the soul. Compare Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 9:10; Deuteronomy 4:6; Job 28:28; Ecclesiastes 12:13.
A good understanding ... - Margin, "good success." The original word - שׂכל śêkel - is rendered "understanding" (as here) in 1 Samuel 25:3; Ezra 8:18; Job 17:4; Proverbs 3:4; Proverbs 13:15; Proverbs 16:22; "wisdom" in 1 Chronicles 22:12; Proverbs 12:8; Proverbs 23:9; "prudence," 2 Chronicles 2:12; Proverbs 19:11 (margin); "sense," in Nehemiah 8:8; "knowledge," 2 Chronicles 30:22; and "policy" in Daniel 8:25. It "may" denote, therefore, understanding, wisdom, knowledge, success, prudence; and it is true in regard to "all" of these - for the fear of the Lord, or true religion, produces them "all." It is not necessary, therefore, to endeavor to ascertain precisely which of these is the meaning here.
That do his commandments - Margin, as in the Hebrew, "do them." That do the things connected with the fear of the Lord; that is, who obey God.
His praise endureth for ever - That is, the foundation for his praise endures to all eternity; or, is unchangeable. As God is always the same, so there is, as derived from his being and perfections, always the same foundation for praise. As there will always be created beings who can and will appreciate this, so it will be literally true, as it should be, that his praise "will" be celebrated forever.