Psalm 33 – The Great and Awesome God
“If the purest form of a hymn is praise to God for what He is and does, this is a fine example.” (Derek Kidner)
A. Praising the great God.
1. (1-3) A call to praise with songs and joy.
Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous!
For praise from the upright is beautiful.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings.
Sing to Him a new song;
Play skillfully with a shout of joy.
a. Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous: This unattributed psalm begins with a call for God’s righteous to rejoice and praise. The psalmist primarily referred to those among God’s people who walked rightly.
i. “Psalm 32 ended by calling on the righteous to sing praises to God. This note is picked up on in Psalm 33, almost as if its first three verses were written as an elaboration of Psalm 32:11.” (Boice)
ii. Rejoice in the Lord: “Calling upon the saints to be cheerful; and indeed there is hardly any duty more pressed in the Old and New Testament, or less practised.” (Trapp)
iii. God’s people are called to rejoice in the Lord, and in nothing else. “To rejoice in temporal comforts is dangerous, to rejoice in self is foolish, to rejoice in sin is fatal, but to rejoice in God is heavenly.” (Spurgeon)
iv. Under the New Covenant we may extend this to those declared righteous through faith in Jesus (Romans 3:21-26). Those who are righteous by God’s decree have an even greater responsibility to rejoice and praise.
b. For praise from the upright is beautiful: God regards worship from His people (both upright in a relative sense and declared to be upright) as beautiful. It pleases Him and creates the sense of appreciation for beauty. God appreciates our praise.
i. “It is apparently meant for liturgical use…. The opening summons to praise takes us far away from the solitary wrestlings and communings in former psalms.” (Maclaren)
ii. “Take away the Christian’s power of praising God, and you make him a poor earth-worm, bound here with doubts, and fears, and cares; but let him but kindle in his soul the flame that burns in heaven of seraphic love to God, and away he mounts.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “An upright person is one without deception (Psalm 32:2), full of integrity of heart, and the opposite of the perverse (Proverbs 8:8).” (VanGemeren)
iv. “Praise in the mouth of a sinner is like an oracle in the mouth of a fool; how uncomely is it for him to praise God, whose whole life is a dishonouring of God? It is as indecent for a wicked man to praise God, who goes on in sinful practices, as it is for a usurer to talk of living by faith, or for the devil to quote Scripture.” (Watson, cited in Spurgeon)
c. Praise the Lord with the harp; make melody with an instrument of ten strings: God also declared His satisfaction with worship through music and musical instruments. This can please God, the Creator of music and the Great Musician.
i. “Experts tell us that the kinnor [harp]…and nebel [instrument of ten strings]…were both stringed instruments, differing in the position of the sounding board, which was below in the former and above in the latter, and also in the covering of the strings.” (Maclaren)
ii. The psalmist clearly exhorted God’s people to praise Him with the accompaniment of musical instruments. Strangely, some have thought that such musical accompaniment belonged only to the Old Covenant and not to the New.
iii. Spurgeon was one who preferred worship sung without musical instruments, but he would not command it. “We who do not believe these things to be expedient in worship, lest they should mar its simplicity, do not affirm them to be unlawful, and if any George Herbert or Martin Luther can worship God better by the aid of well-tuned instruments, who shall gainsay their right? We do not need them, they would hinder than help our praise but if others are otherwise minded, are they not living in gospel liberty?” (Spurgeon)
iv. Nevertheless, the most important instrument is the heart. “Music, both vocal and instrumental, is of eminent use in setting forth the praises of God; but there is no instrument like the rational soul, and no melody like that of well-tuned affections.” (Horne)
d. Sing to Him a new song: God loves to receive the rejoicing and praise of His people expressed in song, especially the new song.
i. “‘New song’ simply means that every praise song should emerge from a fresh awareness of God’s grace.” (Boice)
ii. “As God gives you fresh occasions, so do not content yourselves with the old songs or psalms, made by the holy men of God, but make new ones suited to the occasions.” (Poole)
iii. “Put off oldness ye know the new song. A new man, a New Testament, a new song. A new song belongeth not to men that are old; none learn that but new men, renewed through grace from oldness, and belonging now to the New Testament, which is the kingdom of heaven.” (Augustine, cited in Spurgeon)
e. Play skillfully with a shout of joy: Skillful musicianship and enthusiasm fitting for the joy of God’s people are other ways God is honored with praise.
i. A shout of joy: “Heartiness should be conspicuous in divine worship. Well-bred whispers are disreputable here. It is not that the Lord cannot hear us, but that it is natural for great exultation to express itself in the loudest manner. Men shout at the sight of their kings: shall we offer no loud hosannahs to the Son of David?” (Spurgeon)
ii. “Note the call in that verse for freshness and skill as well as fervour; three qualities rarely found together in religious music.” (Kidner)
2. (4-5) The greatness of God expressed in His character, who He is.
For the word of the Lord is right,
And all His work is done in truth.
He loves righteousness and justice;
The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
a. For the word of the Lord is right, and all His work is done in truth: The truth of God’s word is a further reason for praise. In addition, God does His work in truth – not with deceit or manipulation.
i. “His word and His work are inseparable, for His words are never empty.” (Kidner)
ii. “In all this we find the true secret of our confidence, and so of our joy. The word and the work of God are ever one. His word never returns to Him empty – it accomplishes that which He pleases.” (Morgan)
b. He loves righteousness and justice: The psalmist kept thinking of the greatness of God’s character – His love for righteousness and justice and His goodness spread all over the earth. The psalmist rightly rejoiced that Yahweh, the God who is really there, is not amoral or without goodness. He is what we who are made in His image would understand as “good.”
i. “The Psalmist means that there is no spot in [the earth] where the traces and footprints of God’s love may not be discerned, if only the eyes and the heart are opened.” (Meyer)
ii. “The Lord’s love (hesed) is evident in his works on earth. With respect to the rest of creation, he shows the same loyalty, constancy, and love that has found particular expression in the covenant relationship with his people.” (VanGemeren)
iii. “He might, if he had pleased, have made everything we tasted bitter, everything we saw loathsome, everything we touched a sting, every smell a stench, every sound a discord.” (Paley, cited in Spurgeon)
iv. “Earth might have been as full of terror as of grace, but instead thereof it teems and overflows with kindness…. If earth be full of mercy, what must heaven be where goodness concentrates its beams?” (Spurgeon)
3. (6-7) The greatness of God expressed in His creation.
By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap;
He lays up the deep in storehouses.
a. By the word of the Lord the heavens were made: The greatness of God goes beyond His moral goodness; He is also the God of all power and authority. By His mere word the universe was created.
i. “It is noteworthy that the occasions of the new song are very old acts, stretching back to the first creation and continued down through the ages.” (Maclaren)
ii. “The world was created by the ‘word’ or fiat of God, which may be here described, after the manner of men, as formed by ‘the breath of his mouth.’” (Horne)
b. He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap: The psalmist looked at the mighty oceans and understood that they reflected God’s power and wisdom in creation.
i. “In storehouses; either in the clouds, or in the bowels of the earth, whence he can draw them forth when he sees fit.” (Poole)
ii. “What is meant, however, here, is the separation of land and water at first, and possibly the continuance of the same power keeping them still apart, since the verbs in verse 7 are participles, which imply continued action.” (Maclaren)
iii. “To speak of nature’s obedient glory is to be reminded of man’s blatant defiance.” (Kidner)
4. (8-9) A call for all the earth to fear the Lord.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.
For He spoke, and it was done;
He commanded, and it stood fast.
a. Let all the earth fear the Lord: This is the logical response to recognizing a God who is perfect in both character and power. People should set themselves in a state of humble awe before Him.
i. “He who made all things, preserves all things, and can in a moment destroy all things, is the proper object of our ‘fear’; and that we fear him so little, is a most convincing proof of the corruption and blindness of our hearts.” (Horne)
b. For He spoke, and it was done: The psalmist again considered the word of God and its effective power. God never speaks empty words, they are full of active power to insure their fulfillment.
i. Luke 7:1-9 tells the story of a Roman centurion who so trusted Jesus that he believed, “For He spoke, and it was done.” Jesus praised the faith of that centurion.
B. The greatness of God among the nations.
1. (10-12) The greatness of God among the nations and His nation.
The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;
He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect.
The counsel of the Lord stands forever,
The plans of His heart to all generations.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
The people He has chosen as His own inheritance.
a. The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing: The psalmist has already praised God for His moral character and His creative power. Now he praised God for His active, guiding hand through human history. God moves among the Gentile nations as He pleases to accomplish His counsel and the plans of His heart.
i. “Their persecutions, slanders, falsehoods, are like puff-balls flung against a granite wall – they produce no result at all; for the Lord overrules the evil, and brings good out of it. The cause of God is never in danger: infernal craft is outwitted by infinite wisdom, and Satanic malice held in check by boundless power.” (Spurgeon)
b. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord: In considering the perfections of God, it shows the blessedness of the nation that will consciously align itself with God and His purposes.
i. “The nations feared many gods, each of whom ruled over the various heavenly bodies and over the sky, land, and sea…. Since the Lord made everything and rules sovereign over the whole universe, the nations should recognize that he alone is the Creator-Ruler.” (VanGemeren)
ii. “O how happy is that nation which has Jehovah for its Elohim; the self-existent and eternal Lord for its covenant God; one who should unite himself to it by connections and ties the most powerful and endearing!” (Clarke)
c. The people He has chosen as His own inheritance: In a national sense this is Israel, the people and nation chosen for a unique place in the plan of God. In a broader sense it speaks of the blessing that belongs to all those chosen by the Lord, regarded as His own inheritance.
i. “So thrice happy is that people of Israel, who, though they be despised by the Gentiles, are chosen by this Almighty God, to be his peculiar portion, and friends, and servants.” (Poole)
2. (13-15) The greatness of God over each individual.
The Lord looks from heaven;
He sees all the sons of men.
From the place of His dwelling He looks
On all the inhabitants of the earth;
He fashions their hearts individually;
He considers all their works.
a. He sees all the sons of men: God in all His perfections and plans for the nations and ages also has His eye on humanity as individuals. His greatness does not exclude His individual interest in all the inhabitants of the earth.
b. He fashions their hearts individually: God made us one by one, each with our own particular physical, mental, emotional makeup, including the allowance of our weaknesses and sinful inclinations. As our Maker He has the right of inspection, so He considers all our works.
3. (16-17) The weakness of even the mighty among men.
No king is saved by the multitude of an army;
A mighty man is not delivered by great strength.
A horse is a vain hope for safety;
Neither shall it deliver any by its great strength.
a. No king is saved by the multitude of an army: In considering the greatness of God and the extent of His reach, the psalmist understood that human effort alone does not determine events. God’s work and plan in, and beyond, and sometimes instead of human effort, accomplish His purpose.
i. “All along the line of history this verse has been verified. The strongest battalions melt like snowflakes when God is against them.” (Spurgeon)
b. A horse is a vain hope for safety: Horses were some of the most advanced military tools in that day. Because there is a God in heaven who governs the affairs and destiny of men, even the use of the most effective resources and technologies cannot in themselves determine the outcome.
i. “If the strength of horses be of God, or be his gift (Job 39:19), then trust not in the strength of horses: use the strength of horses, but do not trust the strength of horses.” (Caryl, cited in Spurgeon)
4. (18-19) The care of God for the individual.
Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him,
On those who hope in His mercy,
To deliver their soul from death,
And to keep them alive in famine.
a. The eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him: The psalmist continues to think both of God’s hand in world-shaking events (such as the battles of kings), and His most minute care for the individual.
i. Jesus told us that God cares for the smallest of birds (Matthew 10:29); surely He will care for those who honor Him, who are made in His image.
ii. “They who fear God need not fear anything else; let them fix their eye of faith on him, and his eye of love will always rest upon them.” (Spurgeon)
b. On those who hope in His mercy: Those who truly fear the Lord find their hope in His mercy, not in their own goodness or righteousness.
i. To deliver their soul: “Freedom from troubles he promiseth not; but deliverance in due time he assureth them.” (Trapp)
5. (20-22) Resolution in light of God’s greatness.
Our soul waits for the Lord;
He is our help and our shield.
For our heart shall rejoice in Him,
Because we have trusted in His holy name.
Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us,
Just as we hope in You.
a. Our soul waits for the Lord: Having praised Him and considered God’s greatness from many angles, it was appropriate to simply wait for the Lord – for His guidance, His word, His deliverance – looking to Him as our help and shield.
b. For our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name: Earlier the psalmist called God’s people to rejoice because of God’s character and might. Now he calls us to praise God because of our blessed experience of trusting in His holy name.
i. Our heart shall rejoice in him: “Here is the fruit of our confidence: our souls are always happy, because we have taken God for our portion.” (Clarke)
ii. Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us: “The hymn concludes with a prayer, requesting that God will refresh his people with his love (hesed).” (VanGemeren)
(c) 2019 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org