Psalm 111:10

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 10. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. It is its first principle, but it is also its head and chief attainment. The word "beginning" in Scripture sometimes means the chief; and true religion is at once the first element of wisdom, and its chief fruit. To know God so as to walk aright before him is the greatest of all the applied sciences. Holy reverence of God leads us to praise him, and this is the point which the psalm drives at, for it is a wise act on the part of a creature towards his Creator.

A good understanding have all they that do his commandments. Obedience to God proves that our judgment is sound. Why should he not be obeyed? Does not reason itself claim obedience for the Lord of all? Only a man void of understanding will ever justify rebellion against the holy God. Practical godliness is the test of wisdom. Men may know and be very orthodox, they may talk and be very eloquent, they may speculate and be very profound; but the best proof of their intelligence must be found in their actually doing the will of the Lord. The former part of the psalm taught us the doctrine of God's nature and character, by describing his works: the second part supplies the practical lesson by drawing the inference that to worship and obey him is the dictate of true wisdom. We joyfully own that it is so.

His praise endureth for ever. The praises of God will never cease, because his works will always excite adoration, and it will always be the wisdom of men to extol their glorious Lord. Some regard this sentence as referring to those who fear the Lord -- their praise shall endure for ever: and, indeed, it is true that those who lead obedient lives shall obtain honour of the Lord, and commendations which will abide for ever. A word of approbation from the mouth of God will be a mede of honour which will outshine all the decorations which kings and emperors can bestow. Lord, help us to study thy works, and henceforth to breathe out hallelujahs as long as we live.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 10 (first clause). In this passage fear is not to be understood as referring to the first or elementary principles of piety, as in 1 John 4:18 , but is comprehensive of all true godliness, or the worship of God. --John Calvin.

Verse 10. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, etc. The text shows us the first step to true wisdom, and the test of common sense. It is so frequently repeated, that it may pass for a Scripture maxim, and we may be sure it is of singular importance. Job starts the question, "Where shall wisdom be found? and where is the place of understanding?" He searches nature through, in quest of it, but cannot find it: he cannot purchase it with the gold of Ophir, and its price is above rubies. At length he recollects the primitive instruction of God to man, and there he finds it: To man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding. Job 28:28 . Solomon, the wisest of men, begins his Proverbs with this maxim, The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, Proverbs 1:7 . And he repeats it again: The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; and the knowledge of the holy, (the knowledge of those that may be called saints with a sneer), is understanding, Proverbs 9:10 . "The fear of the LORD" in Scripture signifies not only that pious passion or filial reverence of our adorable Father who is in heaven, but it is frequently put for the whole of practical religion; hence it is explained in the last part of the verse by doing his commandments. The fear of the Lord, in this latitude, implies all the graces and all the virtues of Christianity; in short, all that holiness of heart and life which is necessary to the enjoyment of everlasting happiness. So that the sense of the text is this: To practise religion and virtue, to take that way which leads to everlasting happiness, is wisdom, true wisdom, the beginning of wisdom, the first step towards it: unless you begin here you can never attain it; all your wisdom without this does not deserve the name; it is madness and nonsense. To do his commandments is the best test of a good understanding: a good sound understanding have all they that do this, all of them without exception: however weak some of them may be in other things, they are wise in the most important respect; but without this, however cunning they are in other things, they have lost their understandings; they contradict common sense; they are beside themselves. In short, to pursue everlasting happiness as the end, in the way of holiness as the mean, this is "wisdom," this is common sense, and there can be none without this. --Samuel Davies, A.M. (1724-1761), President of Princeton College, New Jersey.

Verse 10. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. Now, then, I demand of the worldling what is the most high and deep point of wisdom? Is it to get an opulent fortune, to be so wise as fifty thousand pounds? Behold, godliness is great gain, saith Paul, and the Christian only rich, quoth the renowned catechist Clement of Alexandria. Is it to live joyfully, (or to use the gallant's phrase) jovially? Behold, there is joyful gladness for such as are true hearted, Ps 97:11. A wicked man in his mad merry humour for a while may be Pomponius Laetus, but a good man only is Hilarius; only he which is faithful in heart is joyful in heart. Is it to get honour? the praise of God's fear (saith our text) endures for ever. Many worthies of the world are most unhappy, because they be commended where they be not, and tormented where they be; hell rings of their pains, earth of their praise; but blessed is the man that feareth the Lord ( Psalms 112:1 ), for his commendation is both here lasting, and hereafter everlasting; in this world he is renowned among men, in the next he shall be rewarded amongst saints and angels in the kingdom of glory. --John Boys.

Verse 10. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. It is not only the beginning of wisdom, but the middle and the end. It is indeed the Alpha and Omega, the essence, the body and the soul, the sum and substance. He that hath the fear of God is truly wise ... It is surely wisdom to love that which is most lovable, and to occupy our hearts with that which is most worthy of our attachment, and the most capable of satisfying us. -- From the French of Daniel de Superville, 1700.

Verse 10 (first clause). Fear is not all then; no, for it is but the beginning. God will have us begin, but not end there. We have begun with qui timet Eum, who fears him; we must end with et operatar justitiam, and does justice, and then comes acceptus est Illi, and not before. For neither fear, if it be fear alone; nor faith, if it be faith alone, is accepted of Him. If it be true fear, if such as God will accept, it is not timor piger, "a dull lazy fear"; his fear that feared his lord and went and digged his talent into the ground, and did nothing with it. Away with his fear and him into outer darkness. --Lancelot Andrewes.

Verse 10. Can it then be said that the nonreligious world is without wisdom? Has it no Aristotle, no Socrates, no Tacitus, no Goethe, no Gibbon? Let us understand what wisdom is. It is not any mere amount of knowledge that constitutes wisdom. Appropriate knowledge is essential to wisdom. A man who has not the knowledge appropriate to his position, who does not know himself in his relation to God and to his fellowmen, who is misinformed as to his duties, his dangers, his necessities, though he may have written innumerable works of a most exalted character, yet is he to be set down as a man without wisdom. What is it to you that your servant is acquainted with mathematics, if he is ignorant of your will, and of the way to do it? The genius of a Voltaire, a Spinoza, a Byron, only makes their folly the more striking. As though a man floating rapidly onwards to the falls of Niagara, should occupy himself in drawing a very admirable picture of the scenery. Men who are exceedingly great in the world's estimation have made the most signal blunders with regard to the most important things; and it is only because these things are not considered important by the world, that the reputation of these men remains.

If you have learned to estimate things in some measure as God estimates them, to desire what he offers, to relinquish what he forbids, and to recognize the duties that he has appointed you, you are in the path of wisdom, and the great men we have been speaking about are far behind you -- far from the narrow gate which you have entered. He only is wise, who can call Christ the wisdom of God. --George Bowen.

Verse 10. The beginning of wisdom. That is, the principle whence it springs, and the fountain from which it flows. --William Walford.

Verse 10. As there are degrees of wisdom, so of the fear of the Lord; but there is no degree of this fear so inferior or low, but it is a beginning, at least, of wisdom; and there is no degree of wisdom so high or perfect, but it hath its root in, or beginning, from this fear. --Joseph Caryl.

Verse 10. Beginning of wisdom. The word translated beginning is of uncertain sense. It may signify the first in time only, and so the rudiments, first foundation, or groundwork, and so though the most necessary, yet the most imperfect part of the work. And if it should thus be understood here and in other places, the sense would be no more but this, that there were no true wisdom, which had not its foundation in piety and fear of God. But the word signifies the first in dignity as well as in order or time, and is frequently used for the chief or principal of any kind ... And thus it is to be understood here, that the fear of the Lord (which signifies all piety) is the principal or chief of wisdom, as sapientia prima in Horace is the principal or most excellent wisdom; according to that of Job 28:28 : Unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding, that, by way of eminence, the most excellent wisdom and understanding. --Henry Hammond.

Verse 10. A good understanding have all they that do his commandments. They which do the commandments have a good understanding; not they which speak of the commandments, nor they which write of the commandments, nor they which preach of the commandments, but they which do the commandments, have a good understanding. The rest have a false understanding, a vain understanding, an understanding like that of the scribes and pharisees, which was enough to condemn them, but not to save them. -- Henry Smith.

Verse 10. A good understanding have all they that do, etc. So much a man knoweth in true account, as he doth; hence understanding is here ascribed to the will; so Job 28:28 . Some render it good success. --John Trapp.

Verse 10 (last clause). The praise of it endures for ever; or as other translations, his praise; referring it either to God, or else to the man who fears God. Some divines ascribe this praise to God alone, because tehilla properly signifieth only that kind of praise which is due to God; and so they make this clause to contain both a precept and a promise. Precept, exhorting us to praise God with all our heart, both in the secret assemblies of the faithful and in the public congregation. And lest any man in executing this office should be discouraged, the prophet addeth a promise, "God's praise doth endure for ever"; as if he should have said, "The Lord is King, be the people never so impatient; the Lord is God, albeit the Gentiles furiously rage together, and the Jews imagine a vain thing; the kings of the earth stand up, and the rulers combine themselves against him," Psalms 99:1 18:31 2:1. He that dwelleth in heaven hath all his enemies in derision, and makes them all his footstool; his power is for ever, and so consequently his praise shall endure for ever; in the militant church, unto the world's end; in the triumphant, world without end.

Most interpreters have referred this unto the good man who fears the Lord, yet diversely. S. Augustine expounds it thus, "his praise," that is, his praising of the Lord, "shall endure for ever," because he shall be one of them of whom it is said ( Psalms 84:4 ) Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will be still praising thee. Others understand by "his praise" the commendation of the good man, both in the life present and in that which is to come, for his righteousness shall be had in an everlasting remembrance. Psalms 112:6 --John Boys.

Verse 10 (second clause). Where the fear of the Lord rules in the heart, there will be a constant conscientious care to keep his commandments: not to talk them, but to do them; and such have a good understanding, i.e., First, They are well understood, their obedience is graciously accepted as a plain indication of their mind, that they do indeed fear God. Secondly, They understand well.

  1. It is a sign they do understand well: the most obedient are accepted as the most intelligent. They are wise that make God's law their rule, and are in everything ruled by it.
  2. It is the way to understand better. "A good understanding are they to all that do them"; i.e., the fear of the Lord, and the laws of God give men a good understanding, and are able to make them wise unto salvation. --Condensed from Matthew Henry.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Verse 10.

  1. The beginner in Christ's school.
  2. The man who has taken a degree: "a good understanding," etc.
  3. The Master who receives the praise.

Verse 10.

  1. The beginning of wisdom: "The fear of the Lord" -- God is feared.
  2. Its continuance: "a good understanding have all they that do his commandments" -- when the fear of the Lord in the heart is developed in the life.
  3. Its end, praising God for ever: "his praise," etc. --G. R..

 

WORKS WRITTEN ABOUT THE HUNDRED AND ELEVENTH PSALM. IN SPURGEON'S DAY

In the Works of John Boys, 1626, folio, pp. 841-845, there is a short exposition of this psalm.

Jesus God and Man; an Exposition of Psalms 111 and 112. By the Rev. James H. Vidal, M.A., Vicar of Chiddingley, Sussex. London: 1863 12mo.