Like Psalm 111, Psalm 112 is in acrostic form. It has the same number of verses as Psalm 111 and there are several obvious parallels, both in structure and subject matter. It is clear that these two psalms were written to be sung together.
Psalm 111 exhorts and exemplifies praise to God for who He is; Psalm 112 exhorts and exemplifies praise to God for what He produces: a godly man. The principle seems clear: like people, like God. We become (Psalm 112) like that which we worship (Psalm 111). As a later psalmist notes, writing of idols: “Those who make them are like them; so is everyone who trusts in them” (Psalm 115:8). We ultimately conform to the image of the God we worship.
Because this psalm, which describes the character of a godly person, follows one describing the character of God, some have suggested as a title, “Be Perfect as Your Father in Heaven is Perfect” (see Matthew 5:48). The big idea is that we should praise God for producing those who praise God; that is, those who are godly. By implication, we should be the kind of people who bring such praise to God.
So, for what should we look in a person who will redound to praise to God? What does such a person look like?
Before noting four characteristics, we must begin with the fundamental assertion that such a person is what the Bible describes as happy or “blessed” (v. 1). The word means “to be advantaged,” “to be in a good place” or “to be happy.” To be happy is to experience something of why we were created; therefore, the promise of blessedness should act as a motivation toward godliness. Of course, as we will see, happiness does not make one immune to trouble, but it does provide the opportunity to glorify God in the midst of trouble.
With that said, let us note four characteristics of the godly person in this psalm.
The Godly Person’s Holiness
First, we must address the godly person’s happiness: “Praise the LORD! Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who delights greatly in His commandments” (v. 1).
Psalm 111 ended with something of an introduction to Psalm 112. The closing verse of the former psalm reads, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments” (Psalm 111:10). Our present psalm opens with reference to the fear of the Lord. The principle is simply this: The godly person has properly arranged his fear objects; he fears God, not man. As John Murray said, “the fear of God is the soul of godliness.”
The fear of God can be a difficult thing to describe. At root, it must include a profound sense of awe (see 111:9). “Reverential respect” is not a bad phrase, though it is often bashed among conservatives. The trouble is trying to describe the indescribable. A biblical fear of God is so all-encompassing that it can be difficult to describe succinctly. However, we might include the following elements: respect, veneration, a proper sense of dread; admiration; adoration; and amazement. The fear of God grows from unregenerate servile fear (slavish fear of a harsh and unyielding master) to filial fear, the fear of a son.
In his highly recommended book, The Joy of Fearing God, Jerry Bridges tells the story of Marine Sergeant Butch McGregor and General Collins. Their relationship began when McGregor was in boot camp and Collins was the commandant at Parris Island. Their first encounter was a one-way exchange during an inspection of the barracks by Collins, an encounter that consisted of one question to young McGregor and left the younger man terrified by the sheer force and greatness of the general.
Several years later, McGregor became General Collins’ driver and over the course of the next few months, McGregor stopped being terrified of the general and grew to admire him for his wisdom and leadership. Their relationship took another direction when their Humvee was hit by an enemy grenade, throwing the general from the vehicle and trapping Sergeant McGregor. With great risk to his own life, the general was able to pull his driver out of the wreckage just moments before the fuel tank exploded.
It obvious over the next few days that the general had not simply acted out of duty, but out of genuine care and affection for his driver. The general would go out of his way each day to come by the hospital where McGregor was recuperating to encourage him. No one could have guessed from that first terrifying meeting in boot camp that this sergeant and this general would become friends.
Bridges notes that the two didn’t become fishing buddies. They never used nicknames with each other. As a matter of fact, they never saw each other outside of their official capacities. Sergeant McGregor always referred to the general as “sir” and had no problem keeping distance in their relationship. After all, he was a sergeant and the general was a general. There was always a distance between them, but terror had been replaced by awe, which had been deepened by a realisation of the general’s care and concern for McGregor.
This is a simple illustration of what it means to fear God. It seems that far too many Christians believe that God is their buddy, and they fail to treat Him with the reverence He deserves. We must remember that we should stand in fear of our God, even though He is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.
On the other hand, we must not fear God to the extent that we would rather avoid Him. When they were at the foot of Sinai, the Israelites said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” Moses responded by exhorting the people not to fear God (Exodus 20:20–21), though there was a right sense in which they were right to fear Him. Instead of avoiding God out of fear, we should come to him like sons, fearing to sin against Him. Respect, admiration and adoration will help you towards holiness. Why would we want to sin against such a God?
Fundamentally, the fear of God means to take account of God in everything. So, for example, an unbelieving scientist may well promote the idea of intelligent design, but only a Christian who fears God will ascribe the design to the God of the Bible.
Because the godly person holds God in such awe, because he takes account of God in all he does, he will be committed to God’s rules. After all, God’s “commandments” are the standards by which we will ultimately give account.
Further, and most importantly, the godly person wants to please God and so will delight in His directions. “His delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
In short, the godly person will live different than the godless culture, and happiness will be the dividend.
When my father died a little while ago, I received an email of condolence from a woman whom I had not seen or spoken to for many years. We were in school together, and hadn’t had any contact since then. I remembered her, however. As a schoolgirl, she was always the brunt of teasing and mocking—because she was a believer with clear allegiance to Christ. She did not fit in, and people deliberately tried to make her feel that. But I remember very clearly that she was also always a happy person. Despite the jeering that she faced on a daily basis, she always had a content—a happy—countenance. She exemplified the truth of this psalm.
The Godly Person’s Heritage
The second major characteristic of the godly person in this psalm is his heritage. We see this in vv. 2–3: “His descendants will be mighty on earth; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches will be in his house, and his righteousness endures forever.”
The surface encouragement is that, all things being equal, the man who fears the Lord will bring blessings into his home. “His descendants will be mighty” in that they will be influential and happy. Verse 3 suggests a well-ordered home and financial soundness. This is an important theme in the psalm. The godly person will be richly blessed. This doesn’t necessarily mean that he will be financially rich—at least as we in the affluent West have come to define richness—but there is a material element here. God cares for His people who make godly choices. He meets their needs.
The psalmist adds, “His righteousness endures forever.” This last phrase may well define the first part of the stanza. That is, the wealth of just and righteous living is the return or reward for those who fear the Lord. A righteous home is a rich home. And such righteousness will outlive the godly, for his upright character will be the inheritance of his family.
The encouragement here is that parenting is not a coin toss. If you live for the Lord you will leave a legacy for the Lord. Clearly there is a promise here. The question is, how do we—how will we—interpret it?
First, we must not deny it! The implication is that those who live in the fear of the Lord will raise a family that will fear the Lord. And this gives even more reason to praise the Lord. It gives a supreme reason to give thanks to the Lord.
But the question will naturally arise, is this a exceptional promise without exception? My answer is yes—and no. It is a promise for those who intentionally take God into account. But intentionality is the key. Those who intentionally, deliberately delight in God’s commandments, and who therefore do them, will raise their family to do the same. They will raise children who fear the Lord.
So, take God at His Word—literally. Live like you believe God’s Word. The fear of the Lord is a lot more than merely knowing His Word. Stop minimising God’s promises. Find out what it means to delight greatly in His commandments and then do it. And be encouraged that such a life is liveable. Peter assured us of this in the opening words of his second epistle:
Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ,
To those who have obtained like precious faith with us by the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.
(2 Peter 1:1–4)
The Godly Person’s Hope
The third characteristic of the godly person highlighted in this psalm is his hope:
Unto the upright there arises light in the darkness; he is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous. A good man deals graciously and lends; he will guide his affairs with discretion. Surely he will never be shaken; the righteous will be in everlasting remembrance. He will not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD. His heart is established; he will not be afraid, until he sees his desire upon his enemies.
Being godly does not exempt you from troubles; it is no panacea against even the deepest “darkness” of troubles. But godliness enables you to keep your perspective and your cool. After all, those who know their God know that He is in control. And they know His character—that He is “gracious and full of compassion” (111:4). Therefore, the godly person is also gracious and full of compassion. He may be grieved, yet he maintains his graciousness.
We need to note at least two elements of godly hope that are highlighted in these verses.
The Hopeful Are Helpful
First, we see in vv. 4–5 that the hopeful are helpful.
The psalmist speaks of the godly person’s “darkness,” but then adds that, in that darkness, “he is gracious, and full of compassion, and righteous. A good man deals graciously and lends; he will guide his affairs with discretion.”
The godly are able to be this way because “unto the upright there arises light in the darkness.” This theme of light in darkness for the godly is repeated several times in Scripture (see, for example, Psalm 97:11; Proverbs 4:18–19). The godly person is able to see the sunshine in the darkest of night because he sees the Son.
The result is that the godly person is steady, not volatile. Circumstances do not determine his response or conduct. He remains approachable even though he is facing situations that are tough. He remains righteous in his treatment of others even though he may be experiencing trials through the unrighteousness of this world. Like Paul, he has learned to be content in spite of difficulties (Philippians 4:11).
The godly have the ability to see what others are unable to see—all because they take God into account. As a friend recently wrote to me, “Much of life does not require a panic response because God is good and gracious and always at the ‘wheel.’”
The most effective way to discourage someone is to tell them the facts while leaving God out of the picture. In other words, “facts” apart from the Fact are hopeless.
Jesus, of course, exemplified all of this. He never lost His cool—even under the severest of pressures. He was always well-composed because He was always self-controlled. Knowing God enabled Him to show God, even in the darkness—perhaps especially in the darkness.
Because the godly man is good and gracious, he is therefore giving (v. 5). Wealth and money are a big theme in this psalm (vv. 3, 5, 9). A strong case can doubtless be made that from v. 4 through the rest of the passage that gracious generosity of the godly is the emphasis. If so, it should encourage us in these times to remain gracious and generous. The stability promised applies in 2016 as it did in the postexilic world of 500 BC.
Perhaps there is nothing that can test a person’s character more than how they handle the things that God has given to them. The person who fears the Lord, who is continually taking God into account, is careful about his accounts. He “will guide his affairs with discretion,” which in the context are financial “affairs.” The result is the God is praised, both for the gift and for the giver (see 2 Corinthians 9:6-15).
Giving help to others indicates certainty about one’s own situation. Some, no doubt, will distribute to the needy out of their vast abundance not feeling it in their bank accounts. They are secure in their financial security. The Christian should be like this. After all, though we may not record deep pockets, we know the One who owns the bank!
Those who live in the fear of God are careful to be ethical and righteous with their money, and this will include how they give (or spend) it (see Proverbs 11:25; 14:21, 31; 19:17; 22:9; 28:27; 31:20). The godly person is not only concerned with his own needs, but also with the needs of others, and is therefore giving to others. I am grateful for many godly members at our own church, who display such generosity even in difficult times. This past year (2015) was a difficult financial year for many in our church, but our giving remained extremely healthy. I can only put that down to the fact that the godly proved to be generous.
The Hopeful Are Healthy
Second, vv. 6–8 remind us that the hopeful are healthy: “Surely he will never be shaken; the righteous will be in everlasting remembrance. He will not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD. His heart is established; he will not be afraid, until he sees his desire upon his enemies.”
This apparently is carrying out the same thought as vv. 4–5. Because he fears the Lord, because he takes God into account in all that transpires, the godly person remains stable in the midst of instability. He is not worried. He has a healthy, because hopeful, heart.
The godly person has taken care of his spiritual heart by exercising in the Word. Psalm 119 is a psalm dedicated to the theme of God’s Word, and the psalm speaks of the heart no fewer than fifteen times. The psalmist there pronounces blessing on “the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD … who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with the whole heart” (vv. 1–2). He later speaks of the godless whose “heart is fat as grease” and then adds, “but I delight in your law” (v. 70). Clearly, exercise in the Word is vital for a healthy spiritual heart.
Our present psalm reveals at least three things about a healthy heart.
First, the hopeful and healthy heart is a contented heart: “Surely he will never be shaken; the righteous will be in everlasting remembrance” (v. 6). The godly person is not shaken because he knows that God will not forget him. He knows that he will be remembered because God is mindful of his covenant. Therefore, with Paul, he has learned to be content in whatever circumstances he finds himself (Philippians 4:11).
Second, the person who fears the Lord does not fear a fallen and falling world: “He will not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the LORD” (v. 7). When the stock market crashes, when crime statistics rise, when the future appears bleak, the godly person trusts in the Lord. He knows that the Lord holds all of these things in His hands, and so he does not fear present circumstances.
Third, the person who fears the Lord, and who therefore has a healthy heart, knows that the Lord is just and will ultimately right all wrongs: “His heart is established; he will not be afraid, until he sees his desire upon his enemies” (v. 8). While his present circumstances may be shrouded in darkness, and while enemies may seem to triumph, he knows that the Judge of all the earth will ultimately do what is right. Though he may not always understand why “the ungodly … are always at ease” and “increase in riches” he ultimately affirms with another psalmist: “My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For indeed, those who are far from You shall perish; You have destroyed all those who desert You for harlotry. But it is good for me to draw near to God; I have put my trust in the Lord GOD, that I may declare all Your works” (Psalm 73:12, 26–28).
The Godly Person’s Honour
Finally, the psalmist draws attention to the godly person’s honour: “He has dispersed abroad, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn will be exalted with honour. The wicked will see it and be grieved; he will gnash his teeth and melt away; the desire of the wicked shall perish” (vv. 9–10).
These verses are somewhat difficult to deal with, but the point he seems to be making is that the godly person is confident that he will be vindicated. Their fear of the Lord, though often maligned, will be vindicated, and the godly person will be honoured—by God and by the godly.
This is why the psalmist speaks of the godly seeing his desire upon his enemies (v. 8) and the wicked being grieved (v. 10). Righteous, gracious and generous living—as depicted here—are marks of the godly person and will be vindicated. So, rather than living as a reclusive and self-preserving individual, the godly person will live life to the fullest. And a part of that full living is helping others to be full.
“Risk-taking” will characterise the life of the godly. Generosity will mark their life. They will be characterised by putting others first. Confidence will be a hallmark—fearless faithfulness. Vindication will be their experience and a laudable legacy will be left behind. Angered and shamed enemies will ultimately acknowledge that the godly man has become the victor.
Practically, what can we glean from this? Let me briefly say a few things.
First, since we become like that which we worship, who or what are you worshipping? One way to answer this is to ask, what attracts your most heartfelt praise?
Second, we are controlled by, and our contentment is the by-product of, who or what we worship. So, what in your life is that? In other words, what produces the greatest fear in you?
Third, Christians are to be godly persons, and this brings praise to God. How are you doing? Is your life demonstrably different than those around you: in how you face the crisis of our culture? in the way that you handle your finances? in the way that you respond to needs? in your disposition? Is your disposition one of hopefulness? Is it characterised by godly confidence? Are you adhering to the exhortation of Peter: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defence to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear” (1 Peter 3:15)?
Fourth, this passage highlights that the heart (vv. 7–8) and the hands are connected. The heart that is gracious will be attached to hands that are generous. And the result will be the good of others to the glory of God. So, examine your hands. Are they tight-fisted and grudging, or are they open and giving?
Fifth, let us work on our fear of the Lord. The “fear of the LORD” and the “fear of God” are found some 37 times in Scripture. Study the context and pray for such a character and conduct. Learn to live taking God into account in every situation.
Sixth, the fear of the Lord is the soul of godliness. John Murray was right. This is to be our greatest motivation. It will produce godliness of character. As Jerry Bridges says, “Properly fearing God is more than just a feeling or attitude—it’s a feeling or attitude that changes our lives.”1 Begin with fearing God as Judge and then plead with Him for pardon. He will pardon you. Then, continue to delight in His commandments, which is both motivated by and furthers a profound sense of awe. If this is our pursuit then we will find ourselves praising God. But further, though perhaps imperceptible to ourselves, others will give praise God for what they see of Him in us. And we will praise God, again.