Praise the Lord who is active, present, concerned about His people, and doing justice. This psalm focuses on the many works that the Lord has done, and the overarching sense of His care. The core of praise is wrapped up within an address of the first audience. Those who are upright and embody all the psalmist has to proclaim. I believe that the audience of this psalm continues to grow to this day, and our voices join into the praise which endures forever.
Great Works of the Lord
1Praise the Lord, I will praise the LORD with my whole heart, * in the council of the upright and the assembly. 2Great are the works of the Lord, * sought out by all who delight in them. 3Glorious and majestic is His work, * and His justice endures forever. 4He has caused His wonders to be remembered, * the LORD is gracious and compassionate. 5He gives food to those who fear Him; * He remembers his covenant forever. 6He has shown His people the power of His works † by giving them the inheritance of nations. * 7 The works of His hands are truth and justice. All His precepts are trustworthy, † 8 standing firm forever and ever, * made with uprightness and truth. 9He has sent redemption to His people, * establishing His covenant forever. Holy and awe-inspiring is His name. * 10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. All those who embody this have good understanding, * their praise endures forever.
Setting the Scene
This psalmist starts by setting the scene of their praise. It is easy to imagine them walking to a room, finding themselves standing before and in the presence of a group of upstanding individuals in a place of gathering (the Greek word used for assembly is συναγωγῇ or synagogue. The author could not have actually meant synagogues since they didn’t exist until the /Babylonian exile/second temple period where this was likely written during the first temple period). It is within this space that the psalmist will unfurl their praise. Speaking in the midst of those who will join in their praise. It is from the jumping off points of the very first verse that the psalmist is building their argument that all who believe as they do are wise, of good understanding, and their praise will endure forever.
Praiseworthy is the LORD
Throughout the praises of the middle of this psalm, there is a continual dance that happens. It is between the Lord and those who see what the Lord is doing. There is a back and forth that starts right away in verse 2.
2Great are the works of the Lord, * sought out by all who delight in them.
We see the relationship very clearly here. The LORD does something, and there is an expected response in the audience the psalmist is addressing (in verse 1). This dance continues where the psalmist brings our attention to something the Lord has done. In the immediate textual context, we see how people are impacted by this work, or how the people respond to it.
This can serve as a wonderful reminder to us that our praise of God need not be manufactured. Rather, like the psalmist, we can look for the work of God in our midst and respond with praise and thanksgiving.
Justice or Righteousness
The thrust of this psalm is on the work of the Lord in the world. Below are two sections of this psalm I want us to dwell on for a moment. In both verses, we have used the word Justice. In the first is the word צִדְקָת/δικαιοσύνη (often righteousness), and the second מִשְׁפָּט/κρίσις (sense of delivering a judgement). So when we surveyed many modern translations we see the word Righteousness instead of Justice
3Glorious and majestic is His work, * and His justice endures forever.
6He has shown His people the power of His works † by giving them the inheritance of nations. * 7 The works of His hands are truth and justice.
That many translations choose to use phrases like righteousness here is troubling. The idea of justice requires active involvement with people in a situation. We would all find it disingenuous for someone to say their hands do works of justice for a situation they have never engaged in. On the other hand, a righteous person can be distant and uninvolved in situations. The whole thrust of this psalm is to highlight the work of God, and therefore we ought to select the term that keeps us there.
A righteous person need not interact, but when they act justly they bring hope and a real future. Our God works in the world both truth and justice.
All those who Embody this
The ending of this psalm is a grammatical challenge. There has been a tradition within translations to assume the psalmist is saying ‘those that uphold his commandments’. Yet the language or idea of law/commandments/precepts is not present in this verse. It is understandable that just earlier in verses 7-8 there is an elevation of the precept/commandments of the Lord. So to reflect on that in the closing of the psalm does make sense.
Yet that is not actually what the psalm says. “שֵׂכֶל טוֹב לְכָל־עֹשֵׂיהֶם” or very roughly “Understanding good/well all that do.” The Greek is not any more helpful and translates similarly – “σύνεσις ἀγαθὴ πᾶσι τοῗς ποιοῦσιν αὐτήν”. So here the big question is – understanding of what? If it is simply the law, then using the word understanding is fine. Yet it seems unlikely that is the psalmists intention.
The cleanest connection would be with the immediate preceding phrase about fear of the Lord. A more holistic understanding might be to connect this to all the psalmist has written since the first verse.
In the end, there is no brief way to clarify this point. We have chosen to translate עֹשֵׂי/τοῗς ποιοῦσιν as ’embody’. This helps reinforce the summary the psalmist is making. To fear the Lord, treasure his precepts, and seeking out the works of God is to embody understanding. It is more than knowing, and demands that we outwardly live a life that reflects who the Lord is. That we embody how well we understand all this.
Holy and awe-inspiring is His name. * 10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom. All those who embody this have good understanding, * their praise endures forever.
All these people will be praising God forever. The God whose praiseworthiness has been the focus of this psalm. Those who see it, understand it, and embody it will praise the Lord forever.
Selecting a Title
There is a Latin title given to this psalm of “Magna Opera Domnini”. This translates to “Great Works of the Lord” and is a wonderful title. It captures well the opening thrust of the author, and is easily remembered (just like the works of the Lord). I do not see any need to adjust or alter this title, except for the translation into English.
Translations for Urban Monastic are open to refinement and improvement. This has been translated. Yet, this is a reminder that no translation is ever complete. Cultures change, languages change, we better understand the source texts and languages, and adapt them as they get used in context. We will continue to refine and enhance our translations. If you are interested in helping, please let us know!
Jordan Prins on 8 June 2021 along the Isère in Grenoble, France.