Psalm 111 opens with the words “praise Yah,” transliterated Alleloúia (Hallelujah) in the Septuagint. “Yah” is the abbreviated form of the divine name (YHWH), which incorporates the verb meaning “to be.” It identifies the Almighty as the ultimate source of everything that exists and that will come to be in fulfillment of his word and purpose. The name stands as a sure guarantee that he would never deviate from what he has declared or revealed he would prove himself to be.
The psalmist determined to give thanks to YHWH with his whole heart, doing so in association with other upright ones (in the “council of the upright” or in their intimate circle) and on occasions when worshipers of YHWH assembled in large numbers. As coming from his heart or his inner self, the psalmist’s expressions would reflect deep appreciation.
YHWH’s works would include his acts of deliverance and creation as well as all his dealings with humankind. These works are “great,” which could mean great in number or outstanding in revealing his marvelous qualities, particularly his might, wisdom, and goodness. All who find delight in his deeds would carefully consider them. They would give these works their focused attention. The Septuagint reading may be understood to mean that God’s deeds are “searched out” for all his wishes or his will.
YHWH’s activity is noble and glorious, reflecting his majesty and grandeur. His righteousness continues for all time to come, as all his work is right and harmonizes with the ultimate standard of justice. Never is there even the slightest taint of partiality or unfairness.
Through his wonderful deeds he has made a memorial to himself. These works testify to the grand God he is, giving rise to admiration and awe among all who consider his activity. YHWH is gracious or kind and compassionate.
Ever mindful of his covenant, he provides food for those who fear him or have reverential regard for him. This suggests that he would always fulfill his covenant promises and respond to the needs of his people.
In the case of his people Israel, he showed them “the power of his deeds,” liberating them from Egyptian enslavement and enabling them to defeat the Canaanites. He gave them the “inheritance of nations” or the land the Canaanite nations had occupied.
In being linked to “truth” and “justice,” YHWH’s works are identified as rooted in dependability or trustworthiness and equity. His precepts or commands are deserving of trust, providing dependable guidance.
As abiding foundation principles, these commands are firmly established for eternity. They are “done in truth and uprightness.” This could mean that the precepts are dependable and right or that they should be carried out in faithfulness and rectitude. Both meanings are found in modern translations. “They are steadfast for ever and ever, done in faithfulness and uprightness.” (NIV) “All his precepts are enduring, well-founded for all eternity, wrought of truth and equity.” (Tanakh) “They will continue forever. They were made true and right.” (NCV) “They are established forever and ever, enacted in truth and uprightness.” (HCSB) “They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.” (NRSV) “Reliable all your decrees, established forever and ever, to be observed with loyalty and care.” (NAB) They are forever true, to be obeyed faithfully and with integrity. (NLT)
The “redemption” of his people probably refers to their deliverance from Egypt. If this psalm was composed after the exile, redemption could include liberation from Babylon. The words about commanding his covenant for all time to come may be understood to mean that YHWH would always see to it that his covenant promises are fulfilled. His name or he himself is holy or absolutely pure and inspires wholesome fear or reverence.
The fear of YHWH is the start of wisdom. This is a reverential regard for a personal God who has revealed himself as the fulfiller of his word and which motivates the individual to live an upright life reflective of wisdom. By contrast, those lacking a proper fear of YHWH reveal this by foolishly pursuing a corrupt way of life. As to those possessing good insight, the psalmist described them as practicing “them,” possibly meaning obeying his commands or acting in harmony with reverential fear and wisdom.
YHWH’s praise remains for all time to come. This may signify that the reasons for praising him will exist for eternity. As the changeless God, YHWH would continue to be deserving of praise in all future ages.
If God’s giving of food (verse 5) refers to a specific past event, the reference could be to his providing manna in the wilderness.
In the concluding verse, numerous translations have chosen to replace “them” with “it,” making “wisdom” the antecedent. Unlike the Hebrew text, the Septuagint does have the singular pronoun.
For additional comments regarding the divine name (YHWH), see Psalm 1.