Monday: An Acrostic Poem about God

Monday: An Acrostic Poem about God

Written on 10/07/2019
James Boice

By James Boice

Theme: Praising God for His Goodness

In this week’s lessons, we see that God’s goodness is shown by his works, and that true wisdom comes from knowing and fearing him.

Scripture: Psalm 111:1-10

At the end of the last book of the Psalter (book four), we came across several psalms that were chiefly praise songs, each beginning and ending with the word hallelujah, which means “Praise the LORD.”1 Psalm 111 is another psalm that begins with hallelujah. In fact, it is the first of three, since Psalm 112 and 113 also begin in this way. Then, although Psalm 114 does not begin or end with hallelujah, Psalms 115, 116 and 117 each end with it. Then there is the well-known set of five psalms that close the Psalter, each of which both begin and end with hallelujah.

Psalm 111 is an acrostic poem in which the first words of each of its twenty-two lines (minus the hallelujah of verse 1) begin with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The following psalm, Psalm 112, is also an acrostic poem.2 It follows an identical pattern, and in fact, the two poems are an obviously matched pair. The first is an acrostic poem about God; the second is an acrostic poem about the godly man. Even more, the specific verbal contents of the two psalms match, for what is said about God in the first of these psalms is affirmed of the godly man in the second, which is a way of saying that you will become like the god you worship. If you worship a false god or idol, you will become like your false god. But if you worship the true God of the Bible, you will become strong, gracious, compassionate, righteous, generous, just, and steadfast, as he is.

The theme of Psalm 111 is the goodness of God displayed in his works. The word “works” occurs in verses 2, 6, and 7. The equivalent word “deeds” is in verse 3, and “wonders” in verse 4.

After the initial hallelujah in verse 1, Psalms 111 and 112 each begin with a two-line sentence that introduces the psalm’s theme. In the second case, this is a beatitude that picks up on the last verse of Psalm 111. It tells us that the poem is about “the man who fears the LORD.” In Psalm 111 the theme is praising God: “I will extol the LORD with all my heart in the council of the upright and in the assembly.”

There are three important things about this introduction, which we will look at in tomorrow’s study.

1There were two sets of these: Psalms 103 and 104, each of which began and ended with the words “Praise the LORD, O my soul,” and Psalms 105 and 106, each of which seemed to begin and end with “Praise the LORD.” In our present Hebrew text, the “Praise the LORD” that should begin Psalm 105 is actually at the end of Psalm 104, but that is probably a wrong division of the material.

2The acrostic psalms are Psalms 9-10 (together), 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119 and 145, nine in all. Not all of these are perfect alphabetical poems, however. In some letters are missing; in others the order of the letters is not exact. Psalms 111 and 112 follow the Hebrew alphabet perfectly.

Study Questions:

  1. What characterizes a praise psalm? What makes this psalm different?
  2. Define an acrostic poem. In what way is Psalm 111 one of a pair?

Key Point: You will become like the god you worship. If you worship a false god or idol, you will become like your false god. But if you worship the true God of the Bible, you will become strong, gracious, compassionate, righteous, generous, just, and steadfast, as he is.

Reflection:

  1. Does your life show whom you worship? If not, how can you change?
  2. Reflect upon the events that have taken place in your life in the past year. Do you understand enough about the nature of God to praise him in spite of any difficulties?

For Further Study: James Boice’s classic expositions on all 150 psalms are available in a three-volume paperback set. The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is still offering it for 25% off. Order yours today, whether for yourself or for a friend.


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