Psalms 111-118

Good morning! We have a wide array of passages in today’s psalms (111-118), though all of them express confidence and trust in God’s sovereign power. Some of the most familiar psalm verses are found in these chapters.

Psalm 111 gives us one of the most misunderstood Scripture texts: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.” As frequently interpreted, this verse suggests that followers are to be afraid of God. However, this misunderstands the nature and role of this ancient word, here translated “fear”. Other translations help us understand better: “to obey the Lord” and “the awesomeness of Lord Jehovah” are just several alternatives. “Fear” in this context means to so highly regard God that one couldn’t imagine disobeying God’s ways. It may be helpful here to remember that one of the several-dozen names for God in Genesis is “the Fear of Isaac”. This brings to mind the soul-searing experience of Isaac when he was about to be sacrificed by Abraham, but Isaac demonstrates his “fear” by giving highest regard for the ways of God. Therefore, “all those who practice” fearing God in this manner are so compelled by the “awesomeness” of God that there seems no other option but to live according to God’s commands. After all, “practicing” fear doesn’t make sense in the same way as “practicing” righteousness.

Continuing on further, I love the personalization of the natural world in Psalm 114. We read about the sea fleeing in order to make for the Hebrews a dry land bridge from Egypt. Likewise, the Jordan River turns back when Joshua leads the people into the promised land. Mountains and hills also act like skipping lambs—emphasizing the playful nature of God’s creation. While we don’t often have such poetic anthropomorphism in the Bible, this classic psalm phrasing brings to mind the narrative of joyful creation we read a few days ago in Psalm 104.

Psalm 118 reads like a liturgy from ancient worship with the opening and middle call/response parts. Verse 22 (“The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”) has a life of interpretation that stretches into the New Testament. The 21st chapter of Matthew puts this verse on the lips of Jesus as an explanation for why non-Jews will be included in the kingdom of God. The psalms are the part of Hebrew Scriptures most often quoted in Christian texts, probably because they lend themselves so well to various situations and interpretations. Happy reading!

Read Psalms 111-118.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Psalm 119. Thanks for reading!

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