Psalm 112: How to be Rich

Praise the Lord.

Blessed are those who fear the Lord,
    who find great delight in his commands.

Their children will be mighty in the land;
    the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in their houses,
    and their righteousness endures for ever.
Even in darkness light dawns for the upright,
    for those who are gracious and compassionate and righteous.
Good will come to those who are generous and lend freely,
    who conduct their affairs with justice.

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Psalm 112

This Psalm, like the previous and subsequent ones begins with a ‘Hallelujah!’ translated in English Bibles as ‘Praise the LORD’. The preceding Psalm gave as reasons to praise God: his works in creation and salvation brought together in the idea of God making covenant. Here the Psalmist praises God who brings blessing to those who don’t merely know but ‘delight’ in his commands (v. 1). The blessings, typically in the Old Testament, are material, children who prosper (v. 2), wealth and riches (v. 3). The God who created the material world and declared it good is not disinterested in our material prosperity. God wants to bless us with good things.

Cynics might see this as a calculating guide to how to earn God’s favour and get rich quick, an ancient ‘Prosperity Gospel’, selfishness sanctified by religion, but the reality is that the actions of the ‘righteous’ mirror those of God in the previous Psalm. God created women and men to be his image bearers, looking after creation and looking after one another. God created people to reflect his character and that is what the righteous do. In Psalm 111:4 it is YHWH who is gracious and compassionate, in Psalm 112:4 it is the righteous. In Psalm 111:5 it is YHWH who provides for the hungry, in Psalm 112:9 it is the righteous who give generously. In Psalm 111:7 it is YHWH who is faithful and just, in Psalm 112:5 it is the righteous who conduct their affairs with justice.

The delighting in God’s commands (v. 1) is never just cerebral, never just mere information, but is about moral transformation expressed in very concrete actions towards others, particularly towards those who do not experience life as the blessing that God intends for them.

But the Psalm raises questions. The world frequently does not seem to work like it suggests. Other Psalms know that it isn’t as straightforward as those who are blessed by God are rich. Among the poor and the vulnerable are also the faithful, and among the rich and the comfortable are also the wicked, both then and now. A closer reading of the Psalm suggests at least three things if we are blessed with riches, and in global terms that’s probably everyone reading this.

Firstly, that we are to have gained our wealth honestly. In verse 4 the righteous are those who lend without charging interest. The problem of usury is one that has bedevilled the poor throughout history. The practice of lending money with interest for profit might be integral to modern capitalism but was banned in the Old Testament (Exodus 22:24, Deuteronomy 23:20). Of course, charging interest on loans is not the only way in which people can be exploited (James 5:4).

Secondly, we are not to trust in riches. There is no doubt that wealth provides some security but it cannot guarantee against losing it all in some stock market crash, against relationships going wrong, against ill health or the inevitability of death. The wealthy are not immune from times of darkness (v. 4) or to bad news (v. 7) but those whose hearts are steadfast in their trust of YHWH will not be shaken by adversity (vv. 6, 7).

Thirdly, we are to share what we have received. God does want to bless us with good things but ‘us’ is more than ‘me’. It is a large community, a big family. Jesus calls us to pray not just for the things we personally might need but to pray for ‘our’ daily bread (Luke 11:3). So, the Psalm is as a challenge to those who have material belongings to share them with those in need (1 John 3:17). 

Finally, it is also a reminder that a day will come when God will renew the face of the earth, when righteousness will reign and when every knee will bow in the presence of the returning Christ. That bowing may be painful for some, but a joy to all who have followed the path of justice and generosity (Isaiah 45:23, Philippians 2:11).