George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 1

Psalm 33

1. Structure

Seven paragraphs all celebrate the wise control of Almighty God, ending in a short but matchless prayer of commitment to Him. The Covenant Name comes 12 times, with one further eloquent use in the final prayer.

1- 3.
Make music to the Lord
4- 6.
The Word of the Lord is power
7- 9.
What His Word accomplishes
The counsel of the Lord
His overall inspection
His power and control
Confidence in His deliverance
A short simple prayer of faith in Him

2. Authorship

Apart from the introductory Psalms 1 and 2, all the psalms in Book One except this are declared to be David’s (and Psalm 2 is certainly his: Acts 4:25). This would suggest that Psalm 33 is also his. But if so, why should his name be omitted? Also, the psalm is lacking in specific hints that it belongs to him.

A number of details in the phrasing make it easier to see here a Hezekiah (or Isaiah) authorship, especially since several verses are specially relevant to the great Day of Atonement with which Hezekiah’s Year of Jubilee was introduced (Lev. 25:9). Even so, such features are not decisive, for there are indications of a Year of Jubilee and its special Day of Atonement in David’s reign when he united the twelve tribes and led them in worship at his new sanctuary (Psa. 133).

If indeed this is a psalm of Hezekiah, then to embed it in this mass of Davidic psalms is that devout and musical king’s delightfully indirect way of saying: ‘How I appreciate the writings of my great ancestor! In so many ways his experiences have been echoed by my own!’ True! In many a respect both of these fine men declared, and demonstrated, to their contemporaries what Messiah would be like.

If this hypothesis is correct, then why did Hezekiah select this particular place? Perhaps because 33:1 is a clear response to 32:11.

3. Day of Atonement?

Sing unto him a new song. This joyful emphasis in vv. 1-3 is particularly appropriate to a people who know that their sins are forgiven and that the face of their God shines upon them. Note also Isa. 38:20.
He loveth righteousness is a phrase relevant to the great Day of Holiness.

The earth (eretz = Land) is full of the goodness of the Lord. An allusion to the overflow of fruitfulness and blessing by which God guaranteed that if His nation had the faith to observe Jubilee, He would not let them down: see Lev. 25:20-22.
The Lord looketh from heaven....from the place of his habitation. Idiomatically the Holy of Holies in the sanctuary, where the Glory shone forth, was referred to as heaven because to the people it was the localized dwelling place of God (see 11:4 and references; perhaps also Heb. 7:26). Both words place (maqom) and habitation (yashab) normally refer to the temple.
Them that fear him....that hope in his mercy. The first phrase describes the pious penitents gathered in the sanctuary court; and the second, the purpose of their presence there — that they might receive the forgiveness of sins.
Our soul waiteth for the Lord. The silent multitude hopefully awaiting the appearance of the high priest to bless them all on God’s behalf.
We have trusted in his holy name, the Covenant Name. Faith in this is the key to an untroubled life of confidence in His purpose.

4. Historical allusion

Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. This sounds like a description of the widespread astonishment and fear, and even reverence, in surrounding nations after the miraculous devastation of Sennacherib’s army: cp. 2 Chron. 32:23.
The Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought. An apt description of the wreck of Assyrian plans and ambitions.
There is no king saved by a multitude of an host. Hezekiah had no host to depend on, but was instead saved by his faith. Sennacherib had the world’s most powerful host, yet he and they were alike helpless against the Lord of hosts (Isa. 37:36).
A horse is a vain thing for safety. And, for that matter, so are 185,000 horses — give or take a few thousand! This is surely a direct allusion to Isa. 36:8 and 2 Kings 18:23.
To deliver their soul from death, as Hezekiah certainly was delivered (2 Kings 18:30,32).

And to keep them alive in famine. The astounding plenty of the Year of Jubilee saved a redeemed people who repossessed a stricken and war-devastated land (cp. Lev. 25:21; Isa. 55:13; 2 Chron. 32:27-29; Hezekiah the Great, pp. 84,85).

5. The might of Jehovah

The paragraphs in this psalm about the power and wisdom of God are most impressive.

The word of the Lord is right. Only a fool questions the wisdom of God’s purposes. ‘If there is a God, why?....why?....’ Such questions are idiocy. Instead, ‘Of course there is a God, and therefore, of course, His decisions are right, even though I do not necessarily understand them.’

All his works are done in truth, i.e. (by the very common Old Testament idiom) according to His promises. God keeps His word. In all the history of the universe, nothing is more certain than the fulfillment (in His time) of His promises (see v. 1). His word and works are also goodness (v. 5) — in every respect.
By the word of God (2 Pet. 3:5)....the heavens....and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. Undeniable allusion to Genesis 1: Day 4. The figure is quite superb. As on a cold morning a man exhales a cloud of visible vapor, so also just as effortlessly did God make the Milky Way, a countless stretch of vast worlds. Man’s breath is gone almost immediately, dissipated into the air; but the “breath” of God abides through endless ages.

“The grand assumption of Scripture is that behind all that man can know there is an Eternal Mind whose Spirit fills the universe; and when the Mind of the Eternal is expressed the power is without limit, and the result instant and infallible....Between the word and the work of God, therefore, the connection is so close that [the author of Psalm 33] can treat them as parallel” (L.G. Sargent, Teaching of the Master, p. 7).
He gathered the waters of the sea together as an heap: he layeth up the depth in storehouses. This verse seems to echo Gen. 1:9; yet as a heap is a mysterious phrase. Is the emphasis on accumulation, and not on piling up? Or — as in Exod. 15:8; Psa. 78:13; Josh. 3:13,16 (s.w.) — is there the suggestion of God’s creation of a new nation (see Par. 6)?
Stand in awe sums up the only possible human reaction to these majestic trivialities of Divine power.
For he spake, and it was done. That conjunction underlines again why a man must — must! — stand aghast, and adoring, at the marvel of it all. But to whom was the creative word of God spoken? To the angels, surely. This is the meaning of Gen. 1:26 and Deut. 8:3.
The Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen (Gentiles) to nought. Another example of the power and authority of the word of the Lord, and one which, when it happens (as in Isa. 37:36), impresses men more than God’s (already mentioned) mighty works in Nature. It was the breathtaking deliverance from the Assyrian which inspired this awe-struck contemplation of the power of the word of God (vv. 16, 17). Verses 4-7 emphasize both the power and the righteousness with which God controls the nations.
He fashioneth their hearts alike. In the Bible, let it be remembered, heart does not mean emotions or sentiments; it means mind. Here the word alike is very significant: it means that the thinking of all men, of whatever kind, is under the molding of God, the Master Potter. This is a great mystery, but not to be disbelieved because not fully under-stood. “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord” (Prov. 21:1), even though the king is not aware of the fact.

He considereth all their works. And this is true not just of some men but of all. The theory that God takes notice of only a few and of only some of the myriad circumstances of life must be thrown out. It makes God nearly as small-minded as those who think thus (see Whittaker, Bible Studies, pp. 353-356).

6. The Word of God

The greatest “Word of God” is Jesus himself (Heb. 4:12,13; Rev. 19:13; John 1:1; 1 John 1:1). Therefore it behoves us to ponder Psalm 33 anew, this time with reference to him and the New Creation which he brings into being: “By him were all things created” (Col. 1:16; cp. 2:12; 3:1,10) — all things, that is, in the New Creation. The one who was raised from the dead (Psa. 31:5) has provided forgiveness for all penitent sinners (Psa. 32), so that they may become part of God’s New Creation (Psa. 33)! (Other Old Testament passages might profitably be considered along similar lines, i.e. Psa. 107:20; 147:15,18; Isa. 55:11; Prov. 8:12-31.)

Note also the emphasis on a new song (v. 3), which seems to be closely connected with the New Creation (40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1; Isa. 42:10; and especially Rev. 5:9). This psalm also is a psalm of the New Creation, just as the sons of God shouted for joy when their creative work was blessed (Job 38:4-7). Why is the song called “new”? Certainly because it concerns the New Creation. But also because, although the words of the song are revealed in Scripture, they will be sung with greater force and meaning only when the truths they proclaim have been realized in the earth, in the person of glorified spirit-beings!

Also, by the breath of his mouth (v. 6) finds further fulfillment in John 20:22, about the New Creation again. And in this New Creation Gentiles (“heathen”, goy, v. 10, and “nation”, am, v. 12) are mentioned before Israel (people) as God’s inheritance (1 Pet. 1:4).

The “breath of his mouth”, when applied to Christ, has a destructive aspect as well, in connection with the New Creation (Isa. 11:4, 40:7; 2 Thes. 2:8; Rev. 19:15). Sometimes it is true that the clearing away of the “old” is necessary before the “new” can take its place!

7. Other details

Rejoice in the Lord. Phil. 4:4.
See the introductory chapter on musical instruments.
Play skilfully. The same phrase was used by Saul in reference to David: “Provide me now a man that can play well” (1 Sam. 16:17).
He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap. The tides? Or, as LXX, “as in a bottle” (RSV) or wineskin (the difference is only a vowel point). Compare generally Psa. 104:25-28 and Job 38:11.

He layeth up the depth in storehouses. The polar ice-cap?
The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations. God has commanded His “everlasting covenant” to “a thousand generations” (Psa. 105:8-10; Deut. 7:9; 1 Chron. 16:15).
Inheritance. A term used of Israel (Exod. 34:9), but also of believers out of all nations (Eph. 1:18).
God is not dependent upon numbers or military might to achieve His desired results. Compare the exhortation to Gideon (Judg. 7:2,12), Elisha at Dothan (2 Kings 6:11-17), and Jehoshaphat (2 Chron. 20:13-18). Thus war horses and chariots were forbidden to the kings of Israel (Deut. 17:16).
God’s eye is upon His servants (cp. 32:8). And His servants’ eyes are upon Him (25:15; 69:3; 123:2).
The eye: a sign of favor (34:15; 80:1; Num. 6:23-27). Contrast God’s closing of His eyes to Israel (Isa. 1:15; 8:17).

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