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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Psalms 112

 

 

Verses 1-10

Psalms 112:1-10

"BE ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect," might be inscribed on this picture of a godly man, which, in structure and substance, reflects the contemplation of God’s character and works contained in the preceding psalm. The idea that the godly man is, in some real sense, an image of God runs through the whole, and comes out strongly, at several points, in the repetition of the same expressions in reference to both. The portrait of the ideal good man, outlined in this psalm, may be compared with those in Psalms 15:1-5; Psalms 24:1-10. Its most characteristic feature is the prominence given to beneficence, which is regarded as eminently a reflection of God’s. The foundation of righteousness is laid in Psalms 112:1 in devout awe and inward delight in the commandments. But the bulk of the psalm describes the blessed consequences, rather than the essential characteristics, of godliness.

The basis of righteousness and beneficence to men must be laid in reverence and conformity of will towards God. Therefore the psalm begins with proclaiming that, apart from all external consequences, these dispositions carry blessedness in themselves. The close of the preceding psalm had somewhat overpassed its limits, when it declared that "the fear of Jehovah" was the beginning of wisdom and that to do His commandments was sound discretion.

This psalm echoes these sayings, and so links itself to the former one. It deepens them by pointing out that the fear of Jehovah is a fountain of joy as well as of wisdom, and that inward delight in the Law must precede outward doing of it. The familiar blessing attached in the Old Testament to godliness, namely, prosperous posterity, is the first of the consequences of righteousness which the psalm holds out. That promise belongs to another order of things from that of the New Testament; but the essence of it is true still, namely, that the only secure foundation for permanent prosperity is in the fear of Jehovah. "The generation of the upright" (Psalms 112:2) does not merely mean the natural descendants of a good man-"It is a moral rather than a genealogical term" (Hupfeld)-as is usually the case with the word "generation." Another result of righteousness is declared to be "wealth and riches" (Psalms 112:3), which again, must be taken as applying more fully to the Old Testament system of Providence than to that of the New.

A parallelism of the most striking character between God and the godly emerges in Psalms 112:3 b, where the same words are applied to the latter as were used of the former, in the corresponding verse of Psalms 111:1-10. It would be giving too great evangelical definiteness to the psalmist’s words, to read into them the Christian teaching that man’s righteousness is God’s gift through Christ, but it unwarrantably eviscerates them of their meaning, if we go to the other extreme, and, with Hupfeld, suppose that the psalmist put in the clause under stress of the exigencies of the acrostic structure, and regard it as a "makeshift" and "stop gap." The psalmist has a very definite and noble thought. Man’s righteousness is the reflection of God’s; and has in it some kindred with its original, which guarantees stability not all unlike the eternity of that source. Since Psalms 112:3 b thus brings into prominence the ruling thought of the two psalms, possibly we may venture to see a fainter utterance of that thought, in the first clause of the verse, in which the "wealth and riches" in the righteous man’s house may correspond to the "honour and majesty" attendant on God’s works (Psalms 111:3 a).

Psalms 112:4 blends consequences of righteousness and characterisation of it, in a remarkable way. The construction is doubtful. In a, "upright" is in the plural, and the adjectives in b are in the singular number. They are appended abruptly to the preceding clause; and the loose structure has occasioned difficulty to expositors, which has been increased by the scruples of some, who have not given due weight to the leading thought of correspondence between the human and Divine, and have hesitated to regard Psalms 112:4 b, as referring to the righteous man, seeing that in Psalms 111:4 b refers to God. Hence efforts have been made to find other renderings. Delitzsch would refer the clause to God, whom he takes to be meant by "light" in the previous clause, while Hitzig, followed by Baethgen, would translate, "As a light, he (the righteous) rises in darkness for the upright," and would then consider "gracious," etc., as in apposition with "light," and descriptive of the righteous man’s character as such. But the very fact that the words are applied to God in the corresponding verse of the previous psalm suggests their application here to the godly man, and the sudden change of number is not so harsh as to require the ordinary translation to be abandoned. However dark may be a good man’s road, the very midnight blackness is a prophecy of sunrise; or, to use another figure,

"If winter comes, can spring be far behind?"

{Compare Psalms 97:11} The fountain of pity in human hearts must be fed from the great source of compassion in God’s, if it is to gush out unremittingly and bless the deserts of sorrow and misery. He who has received "grace" will surely exercise grace. "Be ye merciful, even as your Father is merciful". [Luke 6:36]

Psalms 112:5 blends characteristics and consequences of goodness in reverse order from that in Psalms 112:4. The compassionate man of Psalms 112:4 b does not let pity evaporate, but is moved by it to act and to lend (primarily money, but secondarily) any needful help or solace. Benevolence which is not translated into beneficence is a poor affair. There is no blessing in it or for it; but it is well with the man who turns emotions into deeds. Lazy compassion hurts him who indulges in it, but that which "lends" gets joy in the act of bestowing aid. The result of such active compassion is stated in Psalms 112:5 b as being that such a one will "maintain his causes in judgment," by which seems to be meant the judgment of earthly tribunals. If compassion and charity guide a life, it will have few disputes, and will contain nothing for which a judge can condemn. He who obeys the higher law will not break the lower.

Psalms 112:6-8 dwell mainly on one consequence of righteousness, namely, the stability which it imparts. While such a man lives, he shall be unmoved by shocks, and after he dies, his memory will live, like a summer evening’s glow which lingers in the west till a new morning dawns. In Psalms 112:7 the resemblance of the godly to God comes very beautifully to the surface. Psalms 111:7 deals with God’s commandments as "trustworthy." The human parallel is an established heart. He who has learned to lean upon Jehovah! (for such is the literal force of "trusting" here), and has proved the commandments utterly reliable as basis for his life, will have his heart steadfast. The same idea is repeated in Psalms 112:8 with direct quotation of the corresponding verse of Psalms 111:1-10. In both the word for "established" is the same. The heart that delights in God’s established commandments is established by them, and, sooner or later, will look in calm security on the fading away of all evil things and men, while it rests indeed, because it rests in God. He who builds his transient life on and into the Rock of Ages wins rocklike steadfastness, and some share in the perpetuity of his Refuge. Lives rooted in God are never uprooted.

The two final verses are elongated, like the corresponding ones in Psalms 111:1-10. Again, beneficence is put in the forefront, as a kind of shorthand summing up of all virtues. And, again, in Psalms 112:9 the analogy is drawn out between God and the godly. "He has sent redemption to His people"; and they, in their degree, are to be communicative of the gifts of which they have been made recipient. Little can they give, compared with what they have received; but what they have they hold in trust for those who need it, and the sure test of having obtained "redemption" is a "heart open as day to melting charity." In the former psalm, Psalms 112:9 b declared that God has "ordained His covenant forever" and here the corresponding clause reaffirms that the good man’s righteousness endures forever. The final clauses of both verses also correspond, in so far as, in the former psalm, God’s Name is represented as "holy and dread"-i.e., the total impression made by His deeds exalts Him-and in the latter, the righteous man’s "horn" is represented as "exalted in glory" or honour-i.e., the total impression made by his deeds exalts him. Paul quotes the two former clauses of Psalms 112:9 in 2 Corinthians 9:9 as involving the truth that Christian giving does not impoverish. The exercise of a disposition strengthens it; and God takes care that the means of beneficence shall not be wanting to him who has the spirit of it. The later Jewish use of "righteousness" as a synonym for alms giving has probably been influenced by this psalm, in which beneficence is the principal trait in the righteous man’s character, but there is no reason for supposing that the psalmist uses the word in that restricted sense.

Psalms 112:10 is not parallel with the last verse of Psalms 111:1-10, which stands, as we have seen, somewhat beyond the scope of the rest of that psalm. It gives one brief glimpse of the fate of the evildoer, in opposition to the loving picture of the blessedness of the righteous. Thus it too is rather beyond the immediate object of the psalm of which it forms part. The wicked sees, in contrast with the righteous man’s seeing in Psalms 112:8. The one looks with peace on the short duration of antagonistic power, and rejoices that there is a God of recompenses; the other grinds his teeth in envious rage, as he beholds the perpetuity of the righteous. He "shall melt away," i.e., in jealousy or despair. Opposition to goodness, since it is enmity towards God, is self-condemned to impotence and final failure. Desires turned for satisfaction elsewhere than to God are sure to perish. The sharp contrast between the righteousness of the good man, which endures forever, in his steadfast because trustful heart, and the crumbling schemes and disappointed hopes which gnaw the life of a man whose aims go athwart God’s will, solemnly proclaims an eternal truth. This Psalm, like Psalms 1:1-6, touches the two poles of possible human experience, in its first and last words, beginning with "happy the man" and ending with "shall perish."

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Psalms 112:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/psalms-112.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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