Studying the Great Works of the Lord
Each Thanksgiving week, with a little downtime, I try to focus for several days on a single Psalm, and this year it was Psalm 111. This is truly a psalm of Thanksgiving, applicable to any time of the year!
Praise the Lord!
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart,
in the company of the upright, in the congregation.
2 Great are the works of the Lord,
studied by all who delight in them.
3 Full of splendor and majesty is his work,
and his righteousness endures forever.
4 He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered;
the Lord is gracious and merciful.
5 He provides food for those who fear him;
he remembers his covenant forever.
6 He has shown his people the power of his works,
in giving them the inheritance of the nations.
7 The works of his hands are faithful and just;
all his precepts are trustworthy;
8 they are established forever and ever,
to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.
9 He sent redemption to his people;
he has commanded his covenant forever.
Holy and awesome is his name!
10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
His praise endures forever!
Psalm 111 is one of those psalms that reminds us why our God is worthy of praise. It is an acrostic psalm. You can’t see this in the English translation, of course, but after the opening Hebrew word, Hallelu-Jah (literally, “Let us praise Yah!”), each of the 22 phrases that make up the psalm begin with the different, successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet.
What you can see even in the English translation, however, is that there is a special focus in this psalm on the “works” of the Lord (see vv. 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7). And there is a curious claim about the works of the Lord toward the beginning of the psalm that should capture our attention. The psalmist writes that the great works of the Lord are “studied by all who delight in them” (v. 2). They are studied!
Some of you might raise an eyebrow at that word. “Study!? I’m finished with school, thanks!” Or, “That’s all professors talk about is study!” But verse 2 says that those who delight in the works of the Lord “study” them. So, what does it mean to “study” the works of the Lord?
Well, the Hebrew verb translated “study” is used many ways in the Old Testament. But mainly it means to pay careful attention to something in order to know it better or to discern its properties. The verb is used several times to speak of a believer “seeking” the Lord with one’s heart (e.g., Deut 4:29), or it is used in a special sense of a prophet seeking hidden knowledge from the Lord (e.g., Jer 21:2). It is also the word used to signify the careful investigation of an infraction of God’s law before punishing the accused (Deut 13:14).
Why Study the Works of the Lord?
So, what do we learn when we study the “works” of the Lord, giving special attention to them? We learn that a careful “study” of God’s works reveals God’s character. For example, the fact that God provides food for those who fear him (v. 5) reveals that he is “gracious and merciful” (v. 4). That God kept his covenant promises to Israel (vv. 5–6) shows that he is faithful, just, and trustworthy (v. 7). That God has redeemed his people (especially when they are not worthy of redemption!) causes the author to declare that God’s name is “holy and awesome” (v. 9).
As believers in Christ, we recognize the spiritual value and devotion of taking time to remember the works of God, the great things he has done for us. But this psalm encourages us to go beyond remembrance, to study his works, to think about them, to evaluate them in such a way that they cause us to realize and reaffirm various aspects of God’s character.
Maybe God has provided for you this year in a way that demonstrates his goodness. Maybe God has had to remind you to trust and obey him, causing you to recall his patience and love. Or maybe God has given you endurance through a trial, and this has revealed once again his faithfulness. For God’s works reveal God’s character.
Spend some time remembering with a grateful heart those times when God did something for you or to you, even times when God challenged you with something especially heart-breaking or difficult and you can look back at that now as a time of growth. Think deeply about those events and see what aspects of God’s character they remind you of. When we “delight” in what God has done (v. 2), then we remember who God is, and this “practice” leads us to greater “wisdom” and “understanding” in our walk with him.