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Thursday, September 22, 2011

Psalm 112 - Happy is the Fearful

  1 Praise the LORD! Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments!
 2 His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed.
 3 Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever.
 4 Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous.
 5 It is well with the man who deals generously and lends; who conducts his affairs with justice.
 6 For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever.
 7 He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD.
 8 His heart is steady; he will not be afraid, until he looks in triumph on his adversaries.
 9 He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honor.
 10 The wicked man sees it and is angry; he gnashes his teeth and melts away; the desire of the wicked will perish!

Happy is the man who fears the LORD… That’s what v1 is telling us.  “Blessed” here is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek word we find repeatedly in the first verses of Matthew 5, the Beatitudes (which we will begin studying in our Matthew sermon series in a couple of weeks.)  Happy is the man who fears the LORD.  That is why the psalm starts with the exclamation “Praise the LORD!”  The psalmist is celebrating the life that is his by virtue of the fact that he fears the Lord.
But that sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it?  How can a person be happy and fearful at the same time?  Occasionally, one of my kids will come into our bedroom in the middle of the night to tell us that he or she is afraid.  The reason for the fear may not always be the same, but there is one detail that never varies: the fear is never accompanied by happiness.  
So what do we make of this verse? The key is the meaning of the word “fear.”  Numerous passages in Scripture exhort us to fear the Lord.  Numerous passage describe the fear of the Lord.  A detailed study of what is meant by “the fear of the Lord” would take more time and work than this blog was designed for.  However, the verse does give us what we need in order to make sense of this usage of that phrase. 
Blessed is the man who fear the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments.  If you have been around PBF for long, you’ve heard me talk about Hebrew parallelism, a literary device in Hebrew poetry where subsequent lines contrast, build upon, explain, or restate a previous line.  In this case the second half of the verse is explaining or restating the phrase “who fear the LORD.”  Whatever else "the fear of the Lord" may entail, we know by this verse that it includes greatly delighting in the Lord’s commandments.  So, happy is the man who fears the Lord, that is, the man who greatly delights in his commandments.  The rest of the psalm details how that plays out in the man’s life.
I’m not going to go through the whole psalm now, but I would like to delve into v7: He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD.
Everybody is afraid of bad news, aren’t they?  Many of us spend significant portions of our waking hours being afraid of bad news.  It’s called anxiety.  We worry about things that may happen to us or those we love.  But this psalm would tell us that not everybody is afraid of bad news…not the person who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments. 
Someone who delights in the Lord’s commandments is someone who obeys those commandments, who walks in fellowship with God, and who therefore knows what kind of God the Lord is.  The one who fears the Lord is a person who has experienced the blessings that God promises to those who love Him.  He knows the mighty deeds that God has done to save His people.  In fact, the previous psalm, Psalm 111, which declares the greatness of His works, is believed by many scholars to be intentionally connected to Psalm 112.  Psalm 111:7 declares, The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.  That is why the man who fears the Lord does not fear bad news.  He knows that God is always faithful. 
And notice that Psalm 112 does not say that the man who fears the Lord never receives bad news.  Everyone receives bad news, including those who fear God.  The difference is that when bad news comes, “his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD.” 
It could rightly be said that the antidote to the fear of the unknown is the fear of the Lord, if we understand fearing the Lord to mean delighting in His Word.  It is there we find what God requires of us, what He has done to save us, and what He supplies to enable us to endure difficult times. 
You may be experiencing anxiety right now.  You may be dealing with a severe trial and you don’t know how it is going to end, or if it will end.  The key to walking through that trial with joy rather than despair is to cling to the Lord in His Word, to delight in His commandments.  Trace the works of God through the Old and New Testaments, the deeds that He has accomplished in order to save His people from foreign oppressors, from hunger and thirst, from slavery, from sin, and from His own righteous wrath.  Be reminded of the greatest demonstration of His love, the giving of His Son for us while we were still sinners.  He is always faithful.  Discipline your mind to dwell on these things rather than the possibility of bad news. 
In the end, for the redeemed there is no such thing as truly devastating news.  God has saved us from eternity in hell and made us fellows heirs with His Son.  Truly, happy is the man who fears the Lord.

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