Hebrew Bible Ethics and Psalms 111 and 112

Having drawn attention to a sophisticated ethical principle in the book of Ruth, the imitation of God (see here), I thought I would draw attention to one additional instance in which this principle is subtly but profoundly present in the Hebrew Bible. To my knowledge, the observation was first made by Eyrl Davies in his article, “Walking in God’s Ways: The Concept of Imitatio Dei in the Old Testament.”

The extent to which the Psalmist viewed human virtues as a reflection of the divine is nowhere better illustrated than in the twin acrostic Psalms 111 and 112. The attributes of God set forth in Psalm 111 are regarded in Psalm 112 as being reflected in the life of the true believer. Thus, just as the righteousness of God ‘endures forever’ (111:3b), so the righteousness of the upright ‘endures forever’ (112:3, 9); just as God is ‘gracious and merciful’ (111.4b), so the pious is ‘gracious, merciful and righteous’ (112:4b); just as God ‘gives’ foot for those who worship him (111:5), so the godly exhibit a similar generosity by ‘giving’ freely of their possessions to those in need (112:9); just as God acts with ‘justice’ towards his people (111:7a), so the pious will act ‘with justice’ towards each other (112:5b) and just as the works of God will always be remembered (111:4a), so the righteous will never be forgotten (112:6b). In fact, Psalm 112 may be understood as an elaborate way of saying that the characteristics of the pious mirror those of God himself, and that an element of conformity exists between the acts of the faithful and those of the God whom they worship. (107)

There are, of course, less subtle instances of the imitation of God principle in the Hebrew Bible, the least of which not being the holiness imperative—You shall be holy for I, Yhwh your God, am holy—that recurs throughout the book of Leviticus (19:2; cf. 11:44-45; 20:7, 26; 21:8). That having been said, the fact that the recently published Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics (Baker, 2011) did not include an entry on the principle demonstrates that it has yet to receive the scholarly attention it deserves. For a bibliography on this principle, see yesterday’s post (updated with two additional resources).


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