A Reflection on Psalm 111 by Canon Rob
28th January 2024, The fourth Sunday of Epiphany
Christmas Day may seem a long time ago, but we are still in the Season of Epiphany: in the Book of Common Prayer called, ‘The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.’ On Friday, 2nd February, the Church remembers the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, or Candlemas, and traditionally this is the day when we put away the Crib Figures for another year. Before we get ahead of ourselves though, today’s psalm encourages us to praise God for all that He has done for us. At this time of the year we and all Christians do so especially for the gift of Jesus, born in Bethlehem and visited, among others, by the Three Kings or Magi who, as you may have read in the last Reflection, represent all humanity. Jesus is the Saviour who has redeemed us all. Even though we may struggle to accept it sometimes, God has no favourites!
Today’s psalm begins with the word “Alleluia,” or, in its other form, “Hallelujah,” meaning “Praise Yahweh” or “Praise the Lord.” What follows is a celebration of all that God has done for His people. The author gives thanks to the Lord “in the company of the faithful and in the congregation” and in many of the following verses, he lists those “works” which God has performed. They are “great” [see verse 2] and “full of majesty and honour.” Not only that, “his righteousness endures for ever.” [verse 3.] So, as the author of Psalm 111 reflects on his own life, and prays alone or with others he knows that the Lord has been with him and will always be so. Therefore, he not only praises the Lord, he also dedicates his life in God’s service.
The whole theme is a celebration of all that the Lord has done for those who fear Him but in one of my commentaries, the author, Allan Harman, suggests that the “main basis” for the psalm is found in Exodus Chapter 34, verse 6: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,” This forms part of a “creed,” or a statement, about what God is like and as you reflect upon today’s psalm you may find it helpful and interesting to read Exodus 34.1-9 where Moses makes two new stone tablets for the Ten Commandments before the Covenant between the Lord and His people is renewed. Verse 7 of the psalm says, “The works of his hands are truth and justice; all his commandments are sure.” In the second picture here, the word for ‘sure’ is trustworthy which I think gives a clearer picture of who God is: the one in whom we can trust our lives because He loves us and will always be with us.
The One True God though is not only trustworthy and ever present. The author of Psalm 111 believes that He is also all powerful and if you are under constant threat from your enemies you need someone like that on your side. “He showed his people the power of his works in giving them the heritage of the nations.” [See verse 6.] This “heritage of the nations” almost certainly refers to the Promised Land which the people journeyed to in the wilderness after the Exodus and it is looking back to that experience, and recalling all the wonderful “works” that God has performed before and since, that should lead the faithful to fear Him: to love Him; to worship Him like no other. We find the same sentiment in Proverbs 1.7 and 9.10 and also in the Book of Job where the author tells us where true wisdom is to be found: “Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.” [Job 28.28.] We are living at a time when there is a great deal of bad news and it is easy to feel overwhelmed by it. I sense a general malaise in the country too: a discomfort about where we, as a nation are and, related to that, a sense of helplessness. Psalm 111 though can reset the balance. Life would not have been easy for the writer of this psalm, but his faith was strong because he knew for himself the great things that God was doing. He is the same God today and will be for ever.
Lord, with my whole heart I thank you for your love and mighty power.
Help me to respond with generosity and care towards those around me.