Psalm 33 Commentary

Let’s open our Bibles to Psalm 33 for the following message: God Protects His People.

Psalm 33 Commentary Genre

Psalm 33 is a praise psalm. Verses 1-3 feature the call to praise. Verses 4-19 give reasons as to why we should praise the Lord. And then verses 20-22 form the concluding praise.

So, this is a praise psalm.

Psalm 33 Commentary Call to Praise

And so, we’d expect Psalm 33 to start with a call to praise – which, as I’ve said, is exactly what we have in verses 1-3.

But before we get into that, I’ll just note that there is no author mentioned for this psalm. There’s no superscription. And that’s a pretty rare thing in the first 40 psalms. That actually leads some to think that maybe Psalm 33 is supposed to be part of Psalm 32. But I think that’s not the case. Psalm 32 was a meditation on forgiven sins. While Psalm 33 is a praise psalm about God’s protecting his people.

But I just want to say that we aren’t told who the psalmist is behind this psalm. We could assume David – but we might be wrong. Whoever it is, it’s ultimately the Lord inspiring whatever author wrote the psalm and it’s to be for our benefit.

Alright, the call to praise. First in verse 1 we see who exactly is being commanded to praise the Lord.

KJV Psalm 33:1 Rejoice in the LORD, O ye righteous:
for praise is comely for the upright.

So, the righteous and the upright are commanded to rejoice in and praise the Lord.

The word rejoice often takes on the nuance of singing joyfully or even shouting joyfully. Verbally rejoicing, in other words.

And this verbal rejoicing is not something that the righteous should be ashamed of. Rather, it’s only fittingcomely – for the upright to direct our verbal rejoicing to the Lord.

But not only is verbal rejoicing appropriate and fitting for the righteous… Musical instruments play their part as well – according to verse 2.

 2 Praise the LORD with harp:
sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings.

So, here the mode of rejoicing that the psalmist suggests is the harp, the psaltery, and an instrument of ten strings.

In other words – musical instruments have their place in the righteous verbally rejoicing in the Lord.

The church orchestra is not something to despise. It’s not to be viewed as a distraction to worshipping the Lord. Having instruments accompanying our verbal rejoicing in the Lord is appropriate – actually, it’s commanded in this psalm.

And with hearts and voices and instruments tuned to sing God’s praise, we have the culmination of all of that in verse 3.

 3 Sing unto him a new song;
play skilfully with a loud noise.

So, we see the verbal aspect and the instrumental aspect of our rejoicing in the Lord here.

And these two aspects are to be used in executing this new song.

The phrase new song appears 7 times in the Old Testament. 6 of those 7 times occur in the Psalms and this is the first psalm that features those words.

The emphasis seems to be on making a song that corresponds with something new that God had done in the psalmist’ life. Some new action he took – some new mercy he showed – some new deliverance he wrought.

So, I think the idea can be – don’t rest on your laurels. God saved you 15 years ago? Wonderful! You sang praises to him then? Excellent.

But has he not done anything for you recently? Why are you not singing like you used to?

If God has done any new work of grace in your heart – given you any new comfort – delivered you from any new danger – you better get yourself a new song!

This kind of praise is fitting for you upright people. And it’s the praise that the psalmist calls us to.

Psalm 33 Commentary Why Praise the Lord?

Now, why should the righteous joyfully praise the Lord with instruments and voices? … Well, the psalmist gives us numerous reasons in verses 4-19. And I think we’ll see evidence of God’s doing a new work in his people in those days – which causes them to turn around and sign a new song – a song corresponding to some new thing God had done to them.

Psalm 33 Commentary God’s Word and Works

So, here’s one reason to praise the Lord – it’s God’s word and works in verse 4.

 4 For the word of the LORD is right;
and all his works are done in truth.

And of course, there’s nothing new about God’s word for us – in a sense. We have it in its fullness now in our Bibles. And yet, there are times when the word is clarified in our minds – or applied in a way we’ve never known to our hearts. If that happens, that’s cause for great rejoicing – and a new song.

And of course then God’s works are as new as his morning mercies, as Jeremiah speaks of in Lamentations. God does new works every day. And it behooves us to take better note of what he’s doing in our lives so that we can give him greater praise.

Now, the word right is actually the same word as we saw in verse 1 as upright. God’s word is morally upright – and that’s how he expects his people to live.

The word truth is also translated often as faithfulness. God’s acts according to his faithfulness to his people – to those who are righteous and upright.

And then the psalmist transitions from God’s word and works to his character in verse 5. His heart toward righteousness and justice leads him to fill the earth with his goodness.

 5 He loveth righteousness and judgment:
the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD.

What a good God we have. He loves lovely things – righteousness and justice. Can you imagine if the universe were run by a being who loved wickedness and fraud? That’s not our God.

And remember how God’s work was done in faithfulness in verse 4? The psalmist returns to that thought here at the end of verse 5. It’s as if he pictures the whole world and see God’s goodness – his loyal covenant love – overflowing it all.

That word goodness is – as you can probably guess – the Hebrew word chesed. That’s God’s loyal covenant love to his people. And that word appears two more times in this psalm alone. We’ll note the other two uses of it as we go along.

Psalm 33 Commentary God’s Creation and Redemption

But for now, we’re brought back to the thought of praising God for his faithful works. And so, in verses 6-9 we’re directed to praise the Lord for one of his works in particular – the fact that he created the world in which we live.

God can’t show his faithful loyal love to a people that he never created. He can’t enter into covenant with beings he never created. And so, this is where God’s praiseworthy faithfulness starts – creation.

And so, in verse 6 we’re lead to consider the fact that God created the heavens and all that’s in them by simply speaking.

 6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made;
and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.

So, God can’t enter into a covenant with people who aren’t created. People can’t live on an earth (which I assume is included in the host of the heavens) that has no place to exist in. That’s why God created the heavens.

And he did these works by his word – remember that those two concepts were mentioned in verse 4.

And so, God’s faithful work of creation was initiated and executed by God’s right or upright word.

So, God demonstrates his faithful loyal covenant love through creation.

But then moving on into verse 7 the psalmist remembers that God showed his loyal love to Israel in a deeper way. He parted the Red Sea when he took that nation out of Egypt.

7 He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap:
he layeth up the depth in storehouses.

The word translated sea and heap are found together in Exodus 15:8 where the song of Moses is rehearsing God’s dividing the Red Sea so that Israel could go through on dry ground.

And so, with God’s creation and then redemption of Israel in view and the faithfulness and loyal covenant love that these things demonstrate – now the call to praise is expanded.

Instead of just the righteous and upright being commanded to praise the Lord, now in verse 8 the earth and all the inhabitants of the world are to fear and stand in awe of this all-powerful sovereign Lord in verse 8.

 8 Let all the earth fear the LORD:
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.

Why should the whole world stand in awe of and fear and reverence the Lord? It’s just what we’ve considered so far – he created the world in which we live with a word – and then he brought Israel through the Red Sea! Verse 9.

 9 For he spake, and it was done;
he commanded, and it stood fast.

Psalm 33 Commentary God’s Infallible Counsel

Now, we’ve been talking about God’s word in this psalm.

Verse 9 – God spoke. And he commanded. Both involving his word – his verbal communication.

Verse 6 – By his word the heavens were made. With his breath he created the heavenly bodies.

And verse 4 – God’s word is right.

And can you think of a Bible word that describes God applying his word to your situation in life? With his word, God would advise or… counsel you.

And that’s what’s under discussion in verses 10-12. The psalmist now turns to speak of God’s word applied.

And he contrasts God’s counsel to the counsel of the Gentile nations in verses 10-11 – so many of which nations were enemies of Israel.

Here’s what the counsel of those nations is like and what God does with their counsel – verse 10.

 10 The LORD bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought:
he maketh the devices of the people of none effect.

So, it’s not as though those nations at the time this psalm was written were devoid of any smart people. No – it’s that the Lord took the counsel of those smart people … and he thwarted it.

But no one can thwart God’s counsel – his verbal advice – his applying of his word to your situation in life. According to verse 11 – in contrast to the counsel of the nations which God brings to nothing…

 11 The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever,
the thoughts of his heart to all generations.

And those thoughts that reside only in the Lord’s heart – he sees fit to communicate to humans. Certain humans. He didn’t – at this time in history – communicate those thoughts to the nations whose counsel he was thwarting.

He communicated his thoughts and his counsel to a certain nation only. And that nation was Israel – the nation to which he showed his covenant love and faithfulness, as we’ve seen already.

And therefore, verse 12 speaks of the blessing that that nation experienced as a result of God applying his faithful, covenantal word and thoughts to their situation.

 12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD;
and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.

God chose Israel for his own inheritance especially when he made his covenant with them on Mount Sinai after taking them out of Egypt and through the Red Sea. So, again, we see this praise and remembrance of God’s covenant with his people Israel.

Psalm 33 Commentary God’s Omniscience

Well, then, moving from God’s mouth – as it were – his speech … now in verses 13-15 we’re directed to consider his sight and his mind – his seeing and his thinking.

And even though the nation of Israel was exceedingly blessed because God gave them his word – yet the Lord sees all. Not just them.

The Lord might favor his nation of Israel above the rest, but that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t take notice of every person in his creation. No one is excluded from his gaze, according to verses 13-14.

 13 The LORD looketh from heaven;
he beholdeth all the sons of men.

14 From the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth.

And the Lord can see every individual in such a personal manner because – according to verse 15 – he created them all and knows in detail what each of us does.

 15 He fashioneth their hearts alike;
he considereth all their works.

The word fashioneth is translated elsewhere as form or even make. The word alike is also translated as together.

So, what that first phrase is saying is that God forms everyone’s inner men. There aren’t some whose hearts God has not created.

And this points to God’s omniscience – that he knows everything about each individual. Because, who would know the inner person of each individual better than the one who created that inner person in each individual?

And, not only is the Lord able to look within a person – into their hearts – and to see and understand our innermost thoughts and motivations – but he’s also the one who alone knows all of our external deeds.

The word considereth is translated most of the time as understand. God understands the doings of the sons of men. And he understands all of our deeds. Not like mankind which can see and then understand only the deeds that are done while we’re watching. No – God understands all the deeds of everyone.

So, God looks on the people of this world. He has perfect knowledge of us because he alone created our inner beings and knows everything we’ve ever done.

Psalm 33 Commentary Men’s Inability to Deliver

And, the psalmist is going to return to the concept of the Lord seeing certain people in verse 18.

But for now in verses 16 and 17 he takes a brief pause to consider the futility of relying on earthly means to achieve safety and security in your life.

The psalmist takes three very mighty entities and declares that none of them is able to deliver anyone apart from the Lord’s help.

 16 There is no king saved by the multitude of an host:
a mighty man is not delivered by much strength.

17 An horse is a vain thing for safety:
neither shall he deliver any by his great strength.

The greatest asset of each of these three entities is not at all able to deliver or save them.

The word save, deliver, and delivered are all different Hebrew synonyms. They’re three different words communicating the same concept – protection from enemies.

And who would be able – humanly-speaking – to protect a king but his army? What is able to protect a strong person if not his own physical strength? And if the army and his own physical strength fail him, then what else can protect a person beside a horse to carry him away from danger?

There are three different English words in these two verses that are the same Hebrew word. That word is found in each of the following phrases – “The multitude of an host,” “Much strength,” and “Great strength.”

And the Hebrew word behind those three English words is usually translated as much or many. So, pile on the human and physical strength … and you’re still not going to be delivered.

Now, it’s these two verses that make me start wondering if this psalm was written to praise the Lord for deliverance in a certain battle. Or maybe it would have been used generically after any battle in which the Lord saw fit to give the Israelites victory over their enemies – whom they alone were not able to defeat – apart from the Lord – who created them, and made a covenant with them, and is alone able to thwart the counsel of the warring nations and give them protection and victory.

Psalm 33 Commentary God’s Ability to Deliver

So, with the confession of the fact that physical strength – and much of it – cannot protect a man or a nation – now, God’s vision and ability to see come into play once more.

Yes, the Lord does see every single individual he’s created. Yes, he knows what each of us does.

But just like we were told of how God favored his nation of Israel in verse 12 – now we’re told of God’s delivering gaze toward a certain group – those who fear him and confidently wait for his mercy to them. Verse 18.

 18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon them that fear him,
upon them that hope in his mercy;

God’s eye sees all. But it’s especially fixed on those who fear him.

What are those people like? They expectantly wait for his mercy – his chesed or his loyal covenant love.

And here’s what the Lord’s gaze can do for a person – which human strength cannot at all do ever. Verse 19.

 19 To deliver their soul from death,
and to keep them alive in famine.

The thing that the mighty man’s might could do in verse 16 – deliver him – the Lord alone is able to do – if he has his eye on you. That is, if you fear and confidently wait for his loyal covenant love.

The Lord is also able to keep people alive in famine. And I imagine that this is a reality that’s closely associated with war in those days. The land is under siege – and often the food supply would be negatively affected.

But this psalm is declaring that the Lord can take care of people under those circumstances – protecting them from death by enemy attack and the lack of food that can accompany those times of turmoil.

Psalm 33 Commentary Concluding Praise

And now – based on God’s words and works – his creation and redemption of his people – his infallible counsel – his omniscience – and his ability to protect when physical strength fails – based on all of these reasons to praise the Lord, the psalmist expresses confidence in God and a final praise to the Lord in verses 20-22 to end the psalm.

 20 Our soul waiteth for the LORD:
he is our help and our shield.

So, the psalmist includes all the believing community with the phrase our. Not only the psalmist – but now all of the people of Israel who hope in the Lord express the fact that they are waiting patiently for their God.

They’re not anxious as they wait for protection in battle. They’re not seeking other remedies – false gods, for example. No – they’re waiting for the Lord to act.

And what do they expect from him when he does act? They expect him to be a help and a shield. They expect to find him to be their source of help.

And how is that help going to be conveyed to them? He’s going to be their shield – their protective covering in the time of battle.

And when they find him to be their source help and their protective shield, verse 21 will be their response.

 21 For our heart shall rejoice in him,
because we have trusted in his holy name.

The inner man of all the believing Israelites – that God himself formed, as the psalmist has mentioned – would rejoice in the Lord when they experienced his protection and assistance.

Why?

Because when they experience battle with foreign enemies and find that the Lord protects them, they will be thankful that they trusted his revealed character – his name.

They’ve trusted what the psalmist has been rehearsing through this psalm – that God is the supreme and all-powerful creator. That he is the redeemer of his people. And that he provides infallible counsel and delivers them from their fearful enemies.

And with their confidence in the Lord expressed, the psalmist leads the believers in making one last request of the Lord in verse 22.

 22 Let thy mercy, O LORD, be upon us,
according as we hope in thee.

So, to the extent that the believers confidently expect the Lord to come through for them – that’s the extent to which the psalmist asks that the Lord’s chesed / loyal covenant love would be upon them.

Psalm 33 Commentary Application

Now, we’re not Israel. We’re not a theocratic nation under the Mosaic law and promised blessings or curses based on our performance of it.

But we have been created by God. We have also been redeemed by the Lord – not through an exodus from Egypt and crossing the Red Sea – but through a sort of exodus from this world and it’s values and sin and condemnation. We’ve experienced God’s redemption.

We also have the Lord’s counsel in his word. He’s no less omniscient when it comes to us as it did for Israel. And who is able to deliver us from enemies – both seen and unseen – but the Lord our God?

So, let’s join the psalmist in praising the Lord today for all these reasons and more.

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