A Picture of God’s Character: Psalm 111

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Merry Christmas Sowers! I will be taking a few days off from the Daily Text. Welcome Dr. Timothy Tennent (my boss) for the next few days with reflections from several celebratory Psalms fitting for the season. I’ll be back January 1 with a reprise of our most popular series ever: First Word. Last Word. God’s Word.—to take us through January. Speaking of which, I have a New Year’s Sowing Challenge with a REWARD for you to consider. 

Psalm 111 (NIV)

Praise the Lord.

I will extol the Lord with all my heart
    in the council of the upright and in the assembly.

Great are the works of the Lord;
    they are pondered by all who delight in them.
Glorious and majestic are his deeds,
    and his righteousness endures forever.
He has caused his wonders to be remembered;
    the Lord is gracious and compassionate.
He provides food for those who fear him;
    he remembers his covenant forever.

He has shown his people the power of his works,
    giving them the lands of other nations.
The works of his hands are faithful and just;
    all his precepts are trustworthy.
They are established for ever and ever,
    enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.
He provided redemption for his people;
    he ordained his covenant forever—
    holy and awesome is his name.

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    all who follow his precepts have good understanding.
    To him belongs eternal praise.

Sing this psalm with the Seedbed Psalter today! Visit the resource here.

CONSIDER THIS

This psalm extols the nature and character of God. He is a compassionate God (v. 4) who provides all our needs (v. 5) and, most importantly, he is our Redeemer (v. 9). As one of the nine acrostic psalms, this training, or catechesis, psalm, beautifully intersects with the book of Proverbs. The very first proverb declares, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (v. 7). Psalm 111 ends with this same affirmation, but uses the word “wisdom,” and also Psalm 34, another one of the acrostics.

Today it is common to hear Christian teachers or pastors point out that we should not fear the Lord, and it is unhealthy to emphasize this, especially with young children. However, this is mostly misguided advice for several reasons. First, the inspired prayer book of the church (the Psalms) teaches us that that the fear of God is the “beginning of wisdom” and this doctrine is, in particular, emphasized in the acrostic psalms used in the training of children. Second, when the Scriptures speak of “fearing God,” it is not to be confused with being afraid of God because he is viewed as capricious, cruel, or unpredictable. The saints of God in the Scriptures who trembled in God’s presence are merely acknowledging the huge gulf between humanity and the almighty Creator of the universe. This fear of God is most faithfully expressed when we hold him in holy reverence; that is, regard him as holy and righteous, always yielding to, and respecting, his rightful place as King and Lord of the whole universe. Third, it is a misunderstanding of the character of God to separate his attributes out into separate pieces, which inevitably pits his love against his justice or pits the fear of God against the love of God. All such false dichotomies obscure the deeper fact that each of God’s attributes is fully present in, and informs, all the other attributes. In other words, his justice is informed by and demonstrated through his love; his mercy undergirds his judgment, and so forth.

Therefore, we can never truly understand what it means to love God unless we also understand what it means to fear God. This is why this psalm rehearsing the attributes of God ends this way. It is a call to always remember our proper place in the world. He is God and we are his people. It is the basic framework that should guide us throughout our lives. Without this basic insight, we live foolish lives.

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Timothy C. Tennent is the President of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Professor of Global Christianity. His works include Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century and Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. He blogs at timothytennent.com and can be followed on twitter @TimTennent.

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