Psalm 112

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever!  (ESV)

Psalm 111 ends with this wise admonition.  The very next song in the Psalter, Psalm 112, begins with similar words:

Praise the LORD!
Blessed is the man who fears the LORD,
who greatly delights in his commandments!

Psalms 111 and 112 are similar in more ways than one.  Both are acrostic poems, in which the lines begin with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in succession.  Both open with exhortations to “Praise the LORD!”  And both emphasize the omnipotence and faithfulness of our God.  While Psalm 111 summarizes the mighty works of the Lord, Psalm 112 lists the blessings that God provides to the righteous.  Using a single idiomatic “man” as its subject, this song guides all believers in the paths they should follow.  Psalm 112 teaches us that it is our obedience to God, not our worldly status, that ultimately matters.

223, “How Blest the Man Who Fears the Lord”

Just like Psalms 111 and 112, Psalter Hymnal numbers 222 and 223 share some significant characteristics.  Both are single, complete versions of their respective psalms; both are set in long meter (8.8.8.8.); and both are constructed from understandable (though often poetic) English verse.  The tune, MELCOMBE, may not be familiar, but it is certainly not difficult.  In fact, its structure calls to mind several similar tunes such as ST. PETER (number 384).

Unlike “O Give the Lord Whole-Hearted Praise,” however, this Psalm 112 setting is hampered by a few unfortunate textual blunders.  Here are some spots that, in my evaluation, are especially weak:

  • The opening command to “Praise the LORD!” is not included in this versification.  This drawback may be hardest of all to correct.
  • While Scripture speaks of God’s care for the righteous, it does not teach that “blessings all their days shall fill,” as is indicated in the last line of the first stanza.  A minor textual change could probably be implemented to correct this misleading statement.
  • The content of the second half of Psalm 112:5, “It is well with the man…who conducts his affairs with justice,” is not expressed particularly well in the third stanza: “The man…in judgment shall his cause maintain.”’
  • The concept of “righteousness” from v. 6 is replaced by “peace” in the Psalter Hymnal version.
  • The last line of stanza 3, which reads “And long his memory shall remain,” brings to mind the concept of avoiding dementia—not fulfilling an honorable legacy for future generations, as is clearly expressed in the Scripture passage (v. 6).

The last three items could potentially be corrected by a simple reworking of the third stanza, such as the following:

The man whose hand the weak befriends
In justice his affairs maintains;
His righteousness, unmoved, attends,
And his remembrance long remains.

As you consider the above list of objections, it’s worthwhile to remember that these drawbacks don’t make this setting unfit for use.  Certainly the instances of incompleteness and vague language that I’ve listed shouldn’t prevent us from singing number 223 in worship!  Nevertheless, these factors should inspire us to keep an eye out for an even better version of this psalm (maybe even to create one ourselves).  One of the mottoes of the Reformation was “semper reformanda”—“always reforming.”  As pointed out in our recent discussions about the name “Jehovah,” one of the marks of sincere worship is a constant effort to preserve and increase our faithfulness to God’s Word.  Indeed, such an effort may necessitate that we look long and hard for a more accurate versification of Psalm 112.  For now, though, there’s no reason not to sing a psalm that teaches us this priceless lesson about the value of righteousness in a grateful Christian’s life.

“How blest the man who fears the Lord
And greatly loves God’s holy will;
His children share his great reward,
And blessings all their days shall fill.”

–MRK

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