YEAR B: EPIPHANY 4
January 29, 2012
Psalm 111 is what is called an acrostic psalm. Each line begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet in succession. There are twenty two letters in the Hebrew alphabet, hence twenty two lines in the psalm. You may be able to delineate them depending on how your English Bible is set out. The initial ‘Praise the Lord’ is a general heading and not part of the scheme. Such psalms were part of what is called the wisdom tradition in ancient Israel. They may well have been used to train young priests and public servants in writing or in remembering the proverbial statements which often constitute such works. Other acrostic psalms include Psalms 112 and 119.
In Ps 111:10 we are reminded of that classic proverb: ‘The fear of Yahweh is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding’ (see Prov. 9:10; cf. 1:7; 15:33; Job 28:28). This comes as the conclusion to the psalm following a series of reasons why Yahweh ought to be praised and given thanks (Ps 111:2-9). While the list of reasons might sound fairly general at first there are echoes of the story of the exodus in this list with reference to Yahweh’s wonderful deeds (vv. 2-4) and his grace and mercy (cf. Exod 3:20; 33:19; 34:6, 10; cf. Pss. 105:2, 5; 106:7, 22), the provision of food (v. 5a; cf. Exodus 16), the covenant (v. 5b; cf. Exod 19ff) and the gift of and the heritage of the nations, i.e. their land (v. 6; cf. Joshua and Judges).
The reasons for the praise of God, which is everlasting (v. 10c), are part of the life of the people of Israel. They may sound general and abstract at first but they have been part and parcel of shaping the life of the people. This is what we celebrate and praise God for in his incarnation in Jesus Christ.
Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship:
The psalm quite naturally lends itself without any change in wording at all to the prayer of adoration. It could be said antiphonally, i.e. one group saying a line with another group responding with the next line. The groups then alternate lines through the psalm. Alternatively it could be said responsively with the person leading worship saying one line and having the congregation respond with the next etc.
The final verse, v. 10, could also work as a call to worship. It might also be used to introduce the final blessing thus tying the service together.
Old Testament Reading: Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Return to OT Lectionary Readings