Home » Academic/Biblical » For Lovers of God: Psalm 33

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.

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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.

Application:

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.

_______________

I. Technical Note: 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 these two more modern versions have given (although the later NIV went back to using “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 readers 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.

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” has 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.

 

 


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