Theme: Reasons to Praise God
In this week’s lessons, we see that God’s goodness is shown by his works, and that true wisdom comes from knowing and fearing him.
Scripture: Psalm 111:1-10
There is wonder in the heavens, in the multitude and majesty of stars, in the mysteries of the quasars and black holes, in the distribution and composition of the planets. There is wonder in the microcosm, in quarks and neutrinos, in the cells of the body, in the mind and in matter. There is a mystery to all living things.
The unbeliever can look at these things and ponder them; many do. But the Christian not only looks at them and ponders them. He delights in them, for he sees them as the works of an almighty and ever glorious God. This leads him to a delight in God himself. We can hardly miss this, for the adjectives that sprinkle these three verses are not just descriptive of the universe and its wonders, however much the psalmist may delight in what he sees and ponders, but of God himself. He tells us that the works of God are “great,” “glorious” and “majestic” (vv. 2, 3). But these adjectives also refer to God himself, since he alone is truly great, glorious and majestic; and after this the section ends with adjectives that refer explicitly and exclusively to God, namely, “gracious and compassionate” (v. 4). If nothing else, God is gracious to place us in an environment of such beauty.
“Strange it is that with such evidences of a supernatural intelligence revealed in all creation that so many scientists are atheists,” writes Arno C. Gaebelein. “It proves the truth of the Bible that man by nature has a darkened mind and does not know God.”’1
The psalmist’s remembrance of God’s works continues in verses 5-8, but there is a change, as the Lutheran commentator H.C. Leupold points out.2 He notes that the verbs in this section are plain past tenses, not present tenses as the New International Version renders them, which means that they refer to specific historical incidents from the past, that is, from Israel’s history. What is happening here is that praise of God for his general works in creation has now passed over into praise to God for his specific saving acts on behalf of the Jewish people.
In this context, “food” in verse 5 is the manna God provided during the years of Israel’s desert wandering. “Covenant” is the covenant established at Mount Sinai. The “works” of verse 6 are those of the exodus from Egypt. “Giving them the lands of other nations” refers to the conquest of Canaan. Verses 7 and 8 highlight the giving of God’s law.
These are past events. But they are present too, aren’t they? Which explains why the New International Version and others use the present tense. It is not entirely wrong to do so. The law is a permanent possession with present promises, demands and implications. The psalm even says, “His precepts…are steadfast for ever and ever” (vv. 7, 8). It is also true that God provides our food on a daily basis. Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us today our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). As far as the covenant goes, well, as Christians we enjoy a better and more enduring covenant than the one to which the psalmist is pointing and for which he is praising God. The author of Hebrews says, “Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant” (Heb. 7:22), adding, “Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (Heb. 9:15).
When we consider how good God has been to us and continues to be, can we not say with the psalmist, “I will extol the LORD with all my heart in the council of the upright and in the assembly”?
1Arno C. Gaebelein, The Book of Psalms: A Devotional and Prophetic Commentary (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1939), p. 416.
2H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 781.
How does delight in God’s creation lead to delight in God himself?
Do all people see God through seeing his creation? Why or why not?
Why do some versions of Scripture use the past tense for verses 5-8? Why does the NIV use the present tense?
What does Psalm 111 praise God for in relation to his people? In what sense are these also present events?
Reflection: How do you look at creation? How can you use creation to enhance your witness to others?
Prayer: Give God thanks for the things he has given you.