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Psalm 112

Psalm 112 is a wisdom psalm. We know this because of its themes (righteousness and wickedness, the importance of moral conduct, the certainty of blessings for the righteous and pain for the wicked) and because of its form (it’s an acrostic–the first letter of each line forms a pattern; in this case, it’s the letters of the Hebrew alphabet). So, even without looking at the details of this psalm, we know roughly what it will tell us: We must be like the person of Psalm 1, who delights in God’s law; we must not be like the wicked. If we are righteous, we will find blessing; if not, our destiny will be death and misery. Of course, we know that this simple message is not the Bible’s entire word on the subject of blessing and misery; the book of Job is a warning against naively righteousness to be rewarded with immediate blessing. Even Ps. 112 knows this: 112:7 notes the reality of bad news in the life of the righteous; v. 8 counsels against fear and notes that it is only in the end that the righteous will triumph over their foes, reminding us that justice is an eschatological, more than a historical reality.

To whom is this psalm directed? Well, in a sense to everyone–it wants everyone to be righteous. But a closer look tells us that it is affluent people in particular whom this psalm addresses. It is those who have the means to be generous and to lend (v. 5), those who give freely to the poor (v. 9). That is why the important word justice occurs approximately half way through this psalm (v. 5). Generosity is a function of justice; it is not simply a nice thing to do, but is in fact a command of God. As Deuteronomy states, we must pursue justice and only justice (Dt. 16:20). Those of us who have wealth stand under a divine obligation to act justly, especially with our wealth. At the same time, we are to experience this obligation, not as a burden, but as a delight (v. 1).

How can this be? How can we delight in being generosity, in lending to the poor? The answer lies in seeing the close connection between Psalm 112 and Psalm 111. Ps. 111 celebrates God’s faithful acts toward Israel. It would thus seem to have little to do with Ps. 112, which is about the wise and just person. But there are in fact striking similarities between the two psalms.

The placing of these two psalms next to each other in the collection of psalms is deliberate; those who collected and arranged the psalms wanted us, the readers and hearers, to see the way in which human virtue is grounded in God’s character. God is just, gracious, and merciful; we are to be just, gracious, and merciful. That is why Ps. 111 ends with verse 10, which states that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and commends those who practice this fear. V. 10 of Ps. 111 leads directly into Ps. 112, which begins with a blessing on those who fear God.

The divine command to be just, then, is not an obligation that is imposed on us arbitrarily. Some obligations are arbitrary. Take the speed limit for freeways, for example. The posted limit of 65 miles per hour seems arbitrary. Why not 60? or 63? or 68? There doesn’t seem to be a moral or scientific reason why it should be 65. But in the case of God’s command of justice is not arbitrary. It is instead an invitation to share in God’s nature, to act as God acts, to be as God is. Justice, then, should not be for us a burden or an imposition, or a box to be checked once we have met some minimum standard. On the contrary, justice gives us an opportunity to imitate God (Ephesians 5:1) and to become partakers of God’s nature (2 Peter 1:4). That is Ps. 112 says that the righteousness of the wise endures forever (v. 3)–not because it is the righteousness of the wise, but because it is God’s righteousness, which the wise imitate and share.

Psalm 112 being a wisdom psalm, it is good to remember as well that Jesus Christ is the embodiment of God’s wisdom: In Christ are hidden the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:2-3) and he is himself the power and wisdom of God (1 Corinthians 1:24).  In Jesus Christ God gives us a concrete image of God’s wisdom in action.  The fact that Jesus Christ is God’s wisdom shows us the connection that Psalm 112 draws between wisdom and justice and righteousness.  God’s wisdom manifests itself as God’s righteousness, as Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:30: Jesus became for us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption from God.  That is why, as we acquire wisdom, our character shows itself in acts of righteousness and sanctification–in the words of Psalm 112, generosity, grace, and mercy.