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Psalms Are Interactive

Human hands wrote the Psalms. Even so, God stands behind them all. He has complete charge. He makes the rules for his own Psalms. He states this principle elsewhere in the Bible. “All writings are inspired by God.”[1]

Psalms are amazingly interactive. When the reader brings her heart to bear upon her reading, God often responds by personally placing a word, a line, or a thought from one of the psalms directly into the intelligent or feeling portion of her comprehension. By this I mean that God brings the poem home into the reader’s heart and mind, applying what she is reading to her personally. It’s amazing and fun when this happens. Reading Psalms is like reading no other book.

This means that a psalm can change its emphasis with each reading. Just because you’ve read one once doesn’t mean you’ve finished reading it. Just as audience response affects performers on a stage, or a teacher interacts with her students, or a choir interacts with the music they are singing, or an orchestra interacts with the score or a conductor, so God himself can interact with those who read his Psalms. God is alive and present as you read.

This doesn’t mean I’m saying that Psalms can mean any old thing whatsoever that readers desire. The meaning must always stand within the nature, or character, of God. But critics often suggest that each line of the Bible has one exact meaning. They define that meaning as whatever they think the original human author meant when he physically wrote the words. Additionally, they enjoy limiting the meaning of portions of the Bible, including Psalms, to what they might imagine it meant to its original readers. I say “imagine,” because these critics weren’t there either when the Bible was written, or when a supposed “original” group of readers or listeners saw or heard it read.

For you who are reading this blog, that’s neither here nor there. For now, I just want to encourage you to pick up Psalms and read them for yourselves. You might be amazed to discover that God may choose to speak directly into your heart, which he often does for readers of Psalms. It’s totally delightful when this happens, even when he addresses the hurting and painful spots in your heart, like a doctor or a surgeon might your body. Always remember, God is love, and he loves you. He wants you to grow to love him, as well. Reading Psalms can help you do this.

[1] 2 Timothy 3:16. See also John 10:35.

Intellectual Assent Versus Desire




I know a little girl who loves the story of the baby born under a star in a stable. The young mother had ridden a donkey a long way with her husband so the infant could be laid on straw shared by cattle and sheep. The visitors came–wise men, kings, and shepherds. “I love this story so much!” the little girl responds.

Then along comes thought, the thinking brain. “I know God lives in our hearts. But does he live out there?” gesturing with a wide arm to the outside world. “How do we know?” She asks these questions in her barely five year old head, because her dear gramma says God created and her even dearer papa says there is no God.

Little girl, I just want to say to you, “It’s not about your gramma or your papa. It’s about you. Follow your heart.”

Your heart is the head and your head is the tail. Don’t let the tail wag the dog. If you want to believe in God, then believe. God in his kindness will accept your desire, even if you lack reason for it. As years pass, over time, he may or may not answer the questions of your head. If God had wanted the blessing of belief to come through the head, he would have made it so. As it is, he chose faith. Turn your heart toward God, and your head will follow.



Waiting Out the Storm: Psalm 130

Photo by Jian Xhin on Unsplash


The prayers have been prayed. The battle has been fought. In Psalm 130, the psalmist finds himself alone in a deep, deep place. If we see Christ praying this psalm, we would say that his human body and soul have died, and he lies buried in death. That’s about as deep as a human being can ever go. 

What does the divine Son do, united as he is with our humanity? He does what he always does. He turns to the Lord, gives voice to his people-ness, and cries out to him, just as he always did in life.

Psalm 130:1 A Song of Ascents. Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD!
2 O Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my pleas for mercy! (ESV)

The Bible teaches that Christ died for our sins. In the next verses the psalmist/Christ reminds God of the reason for his whole being on earth, that God would forgive.

3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
4 But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. (ESV)

Now everything that can possibly be done has been done. The entire resurrection is predicated upon God’s action, upon God’s forgiveness. So what does the psalmist do? He waits. From the deepest deep of the depths, having been removed from all possibility of doing more, the psalmist waits.

5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;
6 my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. (ESV)

A narrator, possibly the Holy Spirit, breaks in here and encourages the Lord’s people to do the same: to wait in steadfast hope on the Lord. Because his faith in God tells him that redemption is on its way.

O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.
8 And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities. (ESV)

Do you think we can apply this psalm to our own life situations?

Waiting can be a most difficult time. Our faith is tested while we wait. Do we wait in hope of deliverance, as the psalmist did? (See his deliverance in Psalm 18.) Do we wait in peace and even joy, as Paul and Silas did while chained in the depths of a foreign dungeon? (Acts 16:16-40) Do we wait in isolation, as the Apostle John on the Island of Patmos? (Revelation 1:9)

Christ was rewarded with resurrection. Paul and Silas were rewarded with freedom and vindication. When we hide ourselves in Christ, we also receive multitudes of “small” resurrections and releases. These small resurrections from the heart wrenching trials of life point to one great, enormous resurrection from death and the grave itself. What a day that will be, a day worth waiting for.


A Criticism of NET Word Choice in Psalm 33:6

I take issue with NET’s translation of Psalm 33:6.

I. In the first line, I would use the majority translation “word” rather than the minority translation “LORD’S decree,” because the context does not support NET’s paraphrase over the literal text of the original Hebrew and Greek.

ESV Psalm 33:6 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. 

NET Psalm 33:6 By the LORD’s decree the heavens were made; by a mere word from his mouth all the stars in the sky were created. (Psa 33:6 NET)

LXE Psalm 32:6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were established; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.

The following translations use “word” in verse 6: ESV, NIV 1984, NIB (British NIV, 1984), NAS, BBE (Bible in Basic English), LXE (Brenton’s Septuagint English Translation), NETS (New English Translation of the Septuagint, Pietersma, 2009), KJV, NKJV, NRS (New Revised Standard Version, 1989), and the NIV, 2011. “Word” literally translates both the Greek of the Septuagint and the Hebrew, as the NET points out in its notes. However, the NET model, 2006,  and the NIRV (New International Reader’s Version, 1998) have taken the liberty to interpret the literal “word” of the two original languages and to place the interpretation into the text. NET then puts the literal translation into the notes. Can these two be right and everyone else wrong?

The NET writes for Psalm 33:6, “By the LORD’s decree the heavens were made; by a mere word [breath, or spirit] from his mouth all the stars in the sky were created.” The NIRV writes, “The heavens were made when the LORD commanded it to happen. All of the stars were created by the breath of his mouth.”

The interpretation NET and NIRV have given (although the 2011 NIV returns to “word”) is a narrow slice of the semantic range of possible meanings of the literal “word” of the original. In the case of the NET, I strongly suspect that this is an editorial decision based upon the philosophy (hermeneutics) of Old Testament interpretation the editors have chosen. NET is fond of placing the literal in the margin and their particular interpretation in the text itself.

Why does this matter?

1) These two versions are changing the literal translation of God’s word.

2) They are interpreting for God the meaning of the text, rather than allowing the reader to do so under the guidance of God.

One of the readers of Psalms was John the Apostle. In John 1:1-5, he writes,

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was with God in the beginning.
3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.
5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (NIV, 2011)

The author of Hebrews writes,

2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

Why rob the reader the pleasure of seeing the Word, the Son, in Psalm 33:6 by changing the literal translation “word” to “LORD’s decree“? The semantic domain of “word” includes the concept of “decree,” while “decree” erases the possibility of the Personhood of God’s Word.

In support of keeping the original rather than NET’s interpretation, the text of Psalm 148:5-6 is interesting in its contextual similarity to Psalm 33:6.

5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.
6 He set them in place for ever and ever; he gave a decree that will never pass away. (NIB, NIV 1984)

5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he gave the command and they came into existence.
6 He established them so they would endure; he issued a decree that will not be revoked. (NET)

In these verses, “them” means everything named in verses 2-4: angels, heavenly hosts, sun, moon, shining stars, highest heavens, and waters above the skies, i.e., creation, apart from the earth. These verses contain the translations “commanded…created,” “set them in place,” and “gave a decree.” Interestingly, NET notes does not mention any of the three verbal phrases.

In comparison with Psalm 33:6, the immediate creation context is identical. “6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.” Yet even though the context is identical, the original Greek and Hebrew words referring to the act of creation are different. Psalm 33, as noted above, uses the Hebrew and Greek original for “word,” “logos” (see Strong’s H1697 and G3056), whereas Psalm 148:5-6 uses different words more directly related to “command” (see Strong’s H6680, H8765, G1781, G2476, and G4367).

“Logos,” which is “word” in the New Testament, carries great weight, and one cannot help but wonder why the NET chose to minimize its potential importance in Psalm 33:6, given that NET’s claimed translation “the LORD’s decree” uses other, specific Hebrew and Greek words that God could have chosen, as for example, those he did choose in Psalm 148:5-6 in an identical context. Are we to think that God pays less attention to details than NET? In Psalm 33:6, if God intentionally chose Hebrew “dabar” and Greek “logos,” both meaning “word,” then “word” it is.

3) There is yet another reason why an accurate translation should stick with the Greek and Hebrew, rather than an interpretation. This has to do with God’s creation. We are in a period of time in church history in which some churches and pastors are abandoning the traditional understanding of Genesis 1 and 2 as actual history and substituting an interpretation that compromises with naturalistic, materialistic science. These compromising methods of interpretation sometimes fall into the categories of “literary framework” and “poetic.”

While this particular article is not the venue for exploring the above allegation in detail, the readers may consider this a signpost pointing them to an area they might want to study. To my ear, the non-literal, interpretive translation of NET Psalm 33:6, “By the LORD’s decree the heavens were made,” allows for a “decree” whose manner is unspecified. How was this decree made? The reader doesn’t know. Perhaps it could have been a decree whose form permitted natural processes only to unfold for millions and millions of years before the events in the later chapters of Genesis. When the ESV writes, By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, the connection between God personally speaking as a Being and something immediately happening is made clear.

4) Hebrew poetry often consists of couplets or triplets. Psalm 33:6 contains a couplet (two lines), which basically state the same thought in two slightly differing ways. Why did the NET feel it preferable to disrupt the Hebrew symmetry by substituting the original words of the first line with a narrower, paraphrased interpretation?

ESV  Psalm 33:6 [Line 1] By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, [Line 2] and by the breath of his mouth all their host.

NET  Psalm 33:6 [Line 1] By the LORD’s decree the heavens were made; [Line 2] by a mere word from his mouth all the stars in the sky were created. 

5) NET also reinterprets the second line of Psalm 33:6 in its paraphrase. A reader without access to the original languages might think that the NET compensated for their paraphrase of Line 1 by stating what should have been stated there in Line 2. Isn’t everything clear now? However, as the ESV makes clear, both the Hebrew and Greek do not  say, “word,” or “mere word,” as NET writes in Line 2. The original word used in Hebrew is, “ruwach,” meaning “wind, breath, mind, spirit,” according to Strong’s number 07307.   The original word in Greek specifies “spirit,” Spirit,” or “breath;” the word is πνεύματι, or “pneuma.” Genesis 1:2 (ESV) teaches that,”the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” NET’s choice of “mere word” does  means neither, “breath,” nor “spirit, or Spirit,” nor “word.” The NET has completely obscured the act of the triune God in creation. Consider the following:

ESV  Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

The ESV above gives an accurate translation, based upon both Hebrew and Greek. There in verse 1, the reader perceives God, as in God Almighty. The word in Hebrew is plural. In verse 2, the reader finds the Spirit active in creation. Finally in verse 3, the reader finds the Word in the phrase, “And God said…” The Apostle John verifies this meaning in John 1:1-3, “John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  2 He was in the beginning with God.  3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:1-3 ESV)

SUMMARY: Psalm 33:6 summarizes the presence of the Word and the Spirit in creation in its two lines, [Line 1] By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, [Line 2] and by the breath of his mouth all their host (ESV). The NET obscures these truths, [Line 1] By the LORD’s decree the heavens were made; [Line 2] by a mere word from his mouth all the stars in the sky were created.





For Lovers of God: Psalm 33

Psalm 33 1) beautifully describes God’s nature as reflected in his many activities and 2) encourages people everywhere to worship him loudly and clearly with joyful praise and celebration.


Psalm 33 opens with a clarion call to praise that pictures a scene of genuine celebration:

1 Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
2 Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
3 Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. (Psalm 33:1-3 NIV, 1984)

Verses 4 and 5 give four reasons to celebrate God:

  1. For the word of the LORD is right and true; (vs 4)
  2. He is faithful in all he does (vs 4)
  3. The LORD loves righteousness and justice; (vs 5)
  4. the earth is full of his unfailing love. (vs 5)

The body of the psalm develops these four points:

1. For the word of the LORD is right and true (vs 4)

God created by his Word (see footnote 1, technical).

6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
7 He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; {Or sea as into a heap} he puts the deep into storehouses.
8 Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere him.
9 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.

2. He is faithful in all he does (vs 4)

10 The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
11 But the plans of the LORD stand firm for ever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. 

As we consider today’s shifting political market and humankind’s long world history, we see that various nations and people groups rise and fall. “But the plans of the LORD stand firm for ever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” God is faithful, unchanging, ever true, and powerful.

3. The LORD loves righteousness and justice; (vs 5)

12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance.
13 From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind;
14 from his dwelling-place he watches all who live on earth–
15 he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.
16 No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength.
17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save.

The LORD blesses those who follow his ways (vs 12). His ways are righteousness and justice. God did not simply create and then disappear into the vastness of an infinite space (deus ex machina). Verses 13-15 state that God looks and sees everyone everywhere. He judges by his own standards of uprightness, of righteousness and justice. Verses 16-17 state that history is full of examples in which leaders with great armies, great strength, and the best of equipment find all those insufficient to save. It is God who saves.

4. the earth is full of his unfailing love. (vs 5)

18 But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
19 to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.

The LORD knows his own. He watches over them carefully, minutely, and always. The text describes God’s people as those who love him, respect, trust in, and obey him (text: fear him) as well as place their hope in God’s loyal and faithful actions and attitude of love towards them. We might call these actions faith. God delivers from death those who place their faith in him, who give their loyalty to him. He also keeps them alive in famine.

What should our response be?

Verses 20 and 21 recap the introductory verses 1-3.

20 We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.

Verse 22 concludes with a prayer that 1) asks the faithful God to continue blessing his people just as he has done in the past, and 2) expresses the continued loyalty of the people.

22 May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you.


Explanations of a psalm are never as good as the psalm itself, just as reading a synopsis of a book or movie is never as good as experiencing. When someone tells about a great time they had, the description comes nowhere near the great time itself. Explanations like the above serve at best as a roadmap to lead the way or guideposts to point out interesting sights. Whereas experiencing a psalm and being swept up into its mood or passion can happen in just a few short minutes, digesting an explanation can dampen the joy of movement. So read the psalm when you are fresh and celebrate God’s ever present goodness.


Translation Note: Verse 6 NET translations differs significantly from the original Hebrew, the Greek  Septuagint, and most modern English translations. A detailed analysis of this verse can be found here: A Criticism of NET Word Choice in Psalm 33:6.


My New Book

I’ve published my first book, Beauty: Find One Beautiful Thing Every Day and Take a Photo of It. I apologize that it’s not about Psalms! The book contains 31 photos of beauty which I found in the commonplace things around me and 31 simple poems to accompany the photos. The book is available on Amazon at Beauty: Find One Beautiful Thing Every Day and Take a Photo of It.

I invite you to check it out!


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