We are reminded in Psalms 111–114 that both God’s power and His character are demonstrated through His mighty works. His work in us includes aligning our character with His as we learn to be consistently obedient to His Word.
Studying God’s Works and Submitting to God’s Will
Before we discovered electricity, the electric eel was generating 700 volts of electricity on its own. Before we learned to navigate the seven seas, birds were flying from the Arctic to the Antarctic, landing at the same nesting sites year after year. Before we designed suspension bridges, spiders were demonstrating engineering brilliance. And before we developed systems of paper production, wasps were manufacturing a type of paper.
You can’t help but marvel—and agree with the psalmist here in Psalm 111: “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them” (verse 2).
The Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, England, established in 1874, is renowned for the discoveries made there in various scientific fields. Nobel Prize-winning scientists have worked in this laboratory, where the electron and neutron were discovered. The laboratory was instrumental in the discovery of quantum mechanics, the cloud chamber, and the double-helix structure of DNA. Amazing discoveries. But I found it interesting to learn that over the doorway to that original Cavendish laboratory was carved this verse from Psalm 111: “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.”
I can imagine the psalmist lying out under the stars, taking a walk in the woods, and watching animals in the field and birds flying overhead and then writing in verse 3: “Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.”
God’s handiwork goes way beyond the physical creation, however, to include His acts of grace and mercy and deliverance and blessing. And the psalmist seems to include that here in verse 4, where he writes, “He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful.” Verse 9 highlights the fact that God “sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever.”
This psalm teaches us that in many ways our hearts are laboratories where we need to meditate on—catalog if you will—our observations of the world around us that point us to marvel at our creator God. In fact, the more we learn, the more reason we have to sing with this psalmist, “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.”
Now Psalm 112 is the perfect companion to Psalm 111. While Psalm 111 highlights the work of God, Psalm 112 highlights the worshiper of God.
What kind of person is that? Well, Psalm 112:1 begins to answer that question: “Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments!”
I’ve heard it said that the person who fears the Lord isn’t afraid of anything else. In a sense that’s true—it’s impossible to be worshiping and worrying at the same time.
Down in verse 7, the psalmist says of the righteous—that is, someone who is right with God—“He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.” Now that doesn’t mean bad news is never going to be heard. And it doesn’t mean that we make bad news sound like good news.
No, the psalmist is effectively telling us that in spite of bad news, we have confidence that God is in control of the news. He is unfolding His will for our lives through good news and bad news alike.
I have heard it said that we are at our spiritual best when we are shipwrecked on the island of God’s sovereignty. Shipwrecked? Yes, that is the bad news—there is trouble all around us, broken pieces everywhere. Maybe right now you have a broken heart. But beloved, although you might be shipwrecked, so to speak, you are shipwrecked on the island of God’s faithful, sovereign will. You are not alone on that island. And that is good news.
Now we come to these next two psalms, 113 and 114. They are in a grouping of psalms that are sung at the Jewish festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles even to this day. When we are told that Jesus and His disciples sang a hymn together before leaving the upper room just hours before His arrest, one of these psalms was probably the very song they sang (see Matthew 26:30; Mark 14:26).
According to Old Testament scholars, Psalm 113 was more than likely written after some of the Jewish people returned from exile. Verse 1 tells the people, “Praise, O servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord!” This phrase, “servants of the Lord,” refers to the entire nation of Israel. It’s possible a copy of this hymn, composed in exile, was carried back to Jerusalem for the people to sing to the Lord.
So, sing it, the psalmist writes here in verse 3, “from the rising of the sun to its setting.” That is, make this your priority for the day—worshiping, trusting, following the Lord—from the time you get out of bed at the rising of the sun, until you are drinking a cup of hot chamomile tea with a teaspoon of honey, like I do, before going to bed at night. From the rising of the sun to the setting of the sun, praise the name of the Lord.
Now in the next couple verses the psalmist places God’s throne above the nations, even above the heavens. Then he says in verse 6 that our high and exalted God “looks far down on the heavens and the earth.”
That doesn’t mean God is curious and wants to find out what is going on down here; it means God cares about what is going on down here. It’s an expression of compassionate love. We know that because in verses 7-8 the psalmist immediately brings up the lyrics sung years earlier by Hannah, the mother of Samuel, in 1 Samuel 2. Then verse 9 says, “He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the Lord!”
That’s a good reminder that God was looking down on Hannah during those years of barrenness and longing, just as much as He was looking down on her when she had children. God was not any less interested in Hannah without children than He was when Hannah gave birth to Samuel.
You might be suffering right now with wanting a child but not being able to conceive. God knows all about you. His plan for you might be children, and it might not be children, but He still loves you. He has not abandoned you. He is not ignoring you. You can be confident that He cares about you and He considers your life, right now, complete in Him, no matter what. You can trust Him and the wisdom of His plan for your life.
Now with that, we arrive at Psalm 114. The great hymn writer Sir Isaac Watts used this psalm as the basis for his own hymn that highlighted the freedom of Israel from Pharaoh’s hand.
Psalm 114 begins with the exodus of Israel from Egypt (verses 1-2), followed by the crossing of the Red Sea and later the Jordan River (verse 3), and finally the giving of the law at Mount Sinai (verse 4). No wonder this short psalm is still sung at the most important Jewish feasts.
Then in verses 5 and 6, the psalmist reflects on the obedience of the sea, the mountains, and the river to the word of the Lord. “All creation recognizes and obeys the Creator’s will.”
And here’s the point: we should do the same thing. Listen, if the wind and the water obey His word and His will, shouldn’t we do the same?
This should be our response to the greatness of God. His works should be studied, and His word should be obeyed. So, let’s do that today. Let’s study His creative work, and let’s obey His sovereign will.