Psalm 111 this week is quite short but dense. It’s full of big statements such as:
Great are the deeds of God, studied by all who delight in them.
Full of honour and majesty is the work of God, whose goodness endures forever (verses 2 and 3)
A previous post on Psalm 111 focused on themes of wisdom and — another key word appearing in verse 8 — equity.
All this strong evidence is used as the basis for something of a challenge in the last verse:
The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom; those who act accordingly have a good understanding (v.10)
This familiar verse can slide past unremarked by the experienced reader. It did not escape Trish’s attention. Aware that this week our children lead the service, she immediately commented on the Crystal Ball mention. How do the children read the word ‘fear’.
Few bible translations, and I looked at more than a dozen, capture the positive dimension of this claim. One even uses the word ‘dread’. The Good News Bible tries this:
The way to become wise is to honour the Lord
I bow to the weight of learned opinion here but cannot feel that that’s the end, let alone the heart, of the matter. It has the ring of the ten, rather than the two, commandments.
Does not a wiser and richer life flow from valuing and directing our lives towards sources of love — divine and human, however we discern them — in our lives, our community, our universe? This may be a little loose but, like wisdom, it shares consistency with the fruit of the spirit. It certainly counterbalances the fear and trembling impression.
Perhaps the clue is in the immediately preceding verses:
God … worked with truth and equity; and sent redemption to the people, and commanded the covenant forever; holy and awesome is the name. (vv. 8, 9)
In fact, read the whole psalm again with this point in mind; more joy than fear there.
None of the response tunes I have seen try to paraphrase the ‘fear of God’ along the lines suggested. This is not to suggest that the older children can’t appreciate the nuances of fear, reverence and honour. They are smart. However, more positive terminology would help. Rather than sing about fear with the children it may perhaps be useful to use one of the refrains that draw on other themes. The emergent psalter, for example, is on safe ground using verse 1:
With my whole heart I thank you Lord.
This little composition is nice but may be too syncopated to use as a children’s song unrehearsed. It’s a fine opportunity for someone to make up a nice little tune with the children on the spot, using a short text that fits the leaders’ chosen theme. [This author-cantor, regrettably, is unable to attend what will be a rich occasion with the young people.]