Psalm 111 is a song of praise in honour of the creative divine spirit whose very nature and deeds are awash in high standards of justice and goodness, “wrought in truth and equity”.(8)
These important attributes — standing out like sustaining pillars throughout the Psalter and thus much remarked upon in this blog, much desired in a selfish materialistic world — flow on to the ‘works’ or evidence on earth of divine influence. Bring it on; the pressing need for love and justice is patently obvious.
A final verse notes that reverence to this divine nature is ‘the beginning of wisdom’. Most translations say ‘the fear of God’, which seems to this author to be a rather inadequate rendition of the honour and loving respect due to revealed divine principles and their source, as the psalmist would have intended. Either way, this final verse seems to set up the transition to the next Psalm 112, which starts: “Happy are those who fear God, who delight in the commandments.”
For further comment:
Early composers such as Claudio Monteverdi, Wolfgang Mozart, Heinrich Schütz and Tomas Victoria all wrote several settings to this psalm, probably because this is one of the vespers psalms. (The introit shown above is from Victoria’s setting for odd verses. The previous psalm, 110, was included in Monteverdi’s famous Vespers of 1610; illustration at right>)
In modern sources:
- A useful refrain by Jane Marshall, with a double tone for the verses, appears in Together in Song 68.
- That in The Emergent Psalter is probably a little tricky for congregations to pick up on the fly.
- Marty Haugen’s relatively simple refrain in The New Century Hymnal draws on verse 2: ‘Great are the works of God’.
- A local adaptation of Haugen’s composition has been retrofitted with new words for the wisdom theme: ‘To honour God is the beginning of wisdom.’ Was it a little wimpy to avoid ‘the fear’?