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This psalm has no title prefixed to it, and it is not possible to determine with certainty who was the author, or on what occasion it was written. There is nothing in the psalm that has any special allusion to David, nor is there reference to any circumstances which would enable us to determine when it was composed. It has, indeed, no particular allusion to the Jewish religion, or to the prevailing mode of worship in that land, and is, in fact, so “general” in its sentiments and in its descriptions, that it might have been written at any period of the Jewish history, or even in any land. As it is found “among” the Psalms of David, and is between psalms which are both ascribed to David, we may presume that it was believed to have been composed by him; and there is nothing in it that is at variance with that belief. It is really but a carrying out of the sentiment with which the preceding psalm closes; and it has been conjectured that the intimate relation of the two psalms may have been the reason why the title to the latter of them was omitted.
The psalm properly consists of three parts:
I. an exhortation to praise God;
II. reasons why he should be praised; and
III. the expression of a purpose thus to praise Him.
I. An exhortation to praise God, Psalms 33:1-3. In this there is a call on the righteous to praise Him with songs and with musical instruments - the harp, the psaltery, the instrument of ten strings; a call to make use of the best powers of music in all its varied forms in His service.
II. Reasons for thus praising Him, Psalms 33:4-19.
(1) His general character for goodness and truth, Psalms 33:4-5.
(2) The fact that He made the universe; or, the wisdom and power displayed by Him in creation, Psalms 33:6-9.
(3) The stability of His counsel or purposes, Psalms 33:10-11.
(4) The blessings which He bestows upon those who acknowledge Him to be their God - blessings of care, protection, and deliverance in danger, Psalms 33:12-19.
III. The purpose of the writer, and of those who were associated with him, thus to praise God, Psalms 33:20-22.
The psalm is thus one that is appropriate to the people of all lands and times, and will be better appreciated in proportion as people become more and more acquainted with God in the wisdom, the power, and the skill which He has shown in the works of creation, and in His providential government of the world.
Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous - This is the sentiment with which the preceding psalm closes. See the notes at Psalms 32:11.
For praise is comely for the upright - Is befitting, suitable, proper. That is, the upright - the righteous - have abundant cause for praise, and it is for them a suitable employment, or one which becomes them. A man who is upright, or who is a righteous man, has in this very fact much which lays a foundation for praise, for the fact that he has such a character is to be traced to the grace of God, and this in itself is a more valuable possession than gold or kingly crowns would he. That he is not an open violator of the law of God; that he is not intemperate; that he is not the victim of raging lusts and passions; that he is not a dishonest man; that he is not profane; that he is not an infidel or a scoffer; that he is a pious man - a redeemed man - a man of good character - an heir of heaven - is the highest blessing that could be conferred on him; and he who has been saved from outbreaking transgression and crime in a world like this, and has been enabled to live an upright life, has eminently occasion to praise and bless God. Assuredly for such a man praise is an appropriate employment, for such a man it is “comely.”
Praise the Lord with harp - For a description of the “harp,” see the notes at Isaiah 5:12.
Sing unto him with the psaltery - For the meaning of this word, also, see the notes at Isaiah 5:12, where the word is rendered “viol.”
And an instrument of ten strings - The word “and” is supplied here by the translators as if, in this place, a third instrument was referred to, distinct from the harp and the psaltery. The more correct rendering, however, would be, “a psaltery (or lyre) of ten strings.” The same construction occurs in Psalms 144:9. In Psalms 92:3, however, the two words are separately used as denoting different instruments. The “lyre” or psaltery was probably not always made with the same number of strings, and it would seem that the one that was made of “ten” strings had something special about it as an instrument of uncommon sweetness or power. Hence, it is particularly designated here; and the idea is that the instruments of especial power and sweetness should be on this occasion employed in the service of God.
Sing unto him a new song - A song specially composed for this occasion; expressive of the special feelings suggested by this occasion, or appropriate to this new manifestation of the divine goodness and mercy. Such occasions, exhibiting some new phase of the divine goodness, demanded new language appropriate to them. So now, new hymns of praise, and new tunes in music, are demanded to meet the ever-varying manifestations of the mercy of God; and as the church is extended in the world, its modes of praise must be adapted to the new state of things which will arise. Nothing could be more absurd than to attempt to restrict the church in its praises to the exact words which were used in the time of David, or to the music which was employed then. Compare the notes at Revelation 5:9. The expression “new song” occurs several times in the Psalms, showing that new hymns of praise were composed as adapted to some new manifestation of the goodness of God: Psalms 40:3; Psalms 96:1; Psalms 98:1; Psalms 144:9; Psalms 149:1. Compare also Isaiah 42:10.
Play skillfully with a loud noise - literally, “Do well to play;” or, “do well in playing.” That is, do the work well, or with all the skill of music. The word rendered “loud noise,” means properly “a shout of joy” or “rejoicing:” Job 8:21; 1 Samuel 4:5. It is especially applied to the sound or clangor of trumpets: Leviticus 25:9; Leviticus 23:24; Numbers 29:1. There is rather the idea of “rejoicing” than of “noise” in the word. The meaning is that the music should be such as would be expressive of the highest joy.
For the word of the Lord is right - The command; the law; the promise of God. Whatever he “says” is right; or, is true. It is worthy of universal belief; and should, therefore, be a reason for praise. The fact that God says a thing is the highest proof that it is true.
And all his works are done in truth - Or rather, “in faithfulness.” That is, All that he does is executed faithfully. He does all that he promises, and all that he does is such as to claim universal confidence. Whatever he does is, from the very fact that He does it, worthy of the confidence of all his creatures. None, however they may be affected by what he does, have any reason to doubt that it is perfectly right. God is the only Being of whom we have any knowledge, concerning whom we can feel this certain assurance.
He loveth righteousness - See Psalms 11:7.
And judgment - justice.
The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord - Margin, “mercy.” So the Hebrew. That is, his mercy or goodness is manifest everywhere. Every part of the earth bears witness that he is good.
By the word of the Lord - By the command of God: Genesis 1:3, Genesis 1:6 etc. See the notes at Psalms 33:9.
Were the heavens made - That is, the starry heavens; the worlds above us: Genesis 1:1.
And all the host of them - All their “armies.” The stars are represented as armies or marshalled hosts, led forth at his command, and under his direction - as armies are led forth in war. See Genesis 2:1; compare the notes at Isaiah 1:9.
By the breath of his mouth - By his word or command - as our words issue from our mouths with our breath. The idea here is, that God is the Creator of all things; and, as such, has a claim to praise; or, that as Creator he is entitled to adoration. To this he is entitled from the fact that he has made all things, and from the “manner” in which it has been done - the wisdom, power, goodness, skill, with which it has been accomplished.
He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap - The Hebrew word here rendered “gathereth” is a participle; “gathering.” The design is to represent this as a continuous act; an act not merely of the original creation, but constantly occurring. The reference is to the power by which the waters are gathered and kept together; the continual power which prevents their overspreading the earth. The word rendered “heap” - נד nêd - means properly a heap or “mound,” and is applied to the waves of the sea heaped up together like mounds. Compare Joshua 3:13, Joshua 3:16; Exodus 15:8 : Psalms 78:13. He collected those waters, and kept them in their places, as if they were solid matter. This denotes the absolute control which God has over the waters, and is thus a most striking illustration of his power.
He layeth up the depth in storehouses - The abysses; the deep waters; the masses of water. He places them where he pleases; he disposes of them as the farmer his grain, or the rich man his treasures. The caverns of the ocean - the ocean-beds - are thus vast reservoirs or treasure-houses for the reception of the waters which God has chosen to deposit there. All this is proof of his amazing power, and all this lays a proper foundation for praise. Occasions for gratitude to him may be found in every world that he has made; in every object that has come from his hand; and nothing more “obviously” suggests this than his wondrous power over the waters of the ocean - collecting them, restraining them, controlling them, as he pleases.
Let all the earth - All the inhabitants of the earth.
Fear the Lord - Worship and adore a Being of so great power. See the notes at Psalms 5:7.
Let all the inhabitants of the world - The power displayed in the works of creation appeals to all alike.
Stand in awe of him - Reverence or adore him. The expression is equivalent to “worship,” fear or reverence entering essentially into the idea of worship.
For he spake, and it was done - The word “done,” introduced here by our translators, enfeebles the sentence. It would be made more expressive and sublime as it is in the original: “He spake, and it was.” That is, Its existence depended on his word; the universe sprang into being at his command; he had only to speak, and it arose in all its grandeur where before there was nothing. There is here an undoubted allusion to the account in Genesis of the work of creation - where the statement is that all depended on the command or the word of God: Genesis 1:3, Genesis 1:6,Genesis 1:9, Genesis 1:11, Genesis 1:14, Genesis 1:20, Genesis 1:24, Genesis 1:26. Nothing more sublime can be conceived than the language thus employed in the Scriptures in describing that work. No more elevated conception can enter the human mind than that which is implied when it is said, God “spoke” and all this vast and wonderful universe rose into being.
He commanded - He gave order; he required the universe to appear.
And it stood fast - Or rather, “stood.” That is, it stood forth; it appeared; it rose into being. The idea of its “standing fast” is not in the original, and greatly enfeebles the expression.
The Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought - Margin: “maketh frustrate.” The Hebrew word means to “break,” or to “annul.” The word here rendered “heathen” means “nations;” and the idea is that God, by his own overruling purpose and providence, frustrates the designs of the nations of the earth; that he carries forward his own designs and purposes in spite of theirs; that their plans avail nothing when they come in competition with his. their purposes must yield to His purpose. Compare Isaiah 8:9-10, note; Isaiah 19:3, note. All the plans and purposes of the nations of the earth that conflict with the purposes of God will be vain; all those plans, whatever they may be, will be made subservient under His providence to the promotion of His great designs.
He maketh the devices of the people of none effect - That is, He renders them vain, unsuccessful, ineffectual. The word “people” here is synonymous with “nations,” and the idea is, that whatever may be the thoughts and purposes of human beings, if they are opposed to the plans of God, or if they do not tend to promote His glory, they will be rendered futile or vain. God is a great and glorious Sovereign over all, and He will make everything subordinate to the promotion of His own great designs.
The counsel of the Lord - The purpose of the Lord.
Standeth for ever - It will be carried out. It will never be changed. There can be no “superior” counsel or will to change it, as is the case with the plans of men; and no purposes of any beings “inferior” to himself - angels, men, or devils - can affect, defeat, or modify his eternal plans. No changes in human affairs can impede his plans; no opposition can defeat them; no progress can supersede them.
The thoughts of his heart - The things which he has “designed,” or which he intends shall be accomplished.
To all generations - Margin, as in Hebrew, “to generation and generation.” That is, from one generation of men to another; or, to all time. The plans of God are not changed by the passing off of one generation and the coming on of another; by new dynasties of kings, or by the revolutions that may occur in states and empires. Men can seldom cause their plans to be carried forward beyond the generation in which they live; and they can have no security that coming generations, with their own plans, will not abolish or change all that has been devised or purposed before. No man can make it certain that his own will, even in regard to “property,” will be carried out in the generation that succeeds him. No monarch can make it certain that his plans will be perfected by his successors. Schemes devised with the profoundest care and the highest wisdom may be set aside by those who are next in power; and no individual can hope that coming ages will feel sufficient interest in him or his memory to carry on his plans. Who feels now any obligation to carry out the projects of Caesar or Alexander? How long since have all their plans passed away! So it will be with all who are now playing their parts on the earth! But none of these things affect the purposes of Him who will continue to live and to carry out His own designs when all the generations of human beings shall have passed away.
Blessed is the nation - For the meaning of the word “blessed,” see the notes at Psalms 1:1. The idea here is, that the nation referred to is happy, or that its condition is desirable. What is true of a nation is also as true of an individual.
Whose God is the Lord - Whose God is Yahweh - for so this is in the original Hebrew. That is, the nation which worships Yahweh, and is under his protection. This is evidently said to distinguish such a nation from those which worshipped false gods or idols. Such a nation is blessed or happy, because:
(a) He is a real God, the true God, and not an imagination or fiction;
(b) because His laws are just and good, and their observance will always tend to promote the public welfare and prosperity;
(c) because His protection will be vouchsafed to such a nation; and
(d) because His worship, and the influence of His religion, will tend to diffuse virtue, intelligence, purity, and truth, over a land, and thus will promote its welfare.
And the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance - Chosen to be “His;” or, His portion. The primary reference here is undoubtedly to the Hebrew people, called his “inheritance:” Deuteronomy 4:20; Deuteronomy 9:26; Deuteronomy 32:9; Psalms 74:2; Psalms 78:62, Psalms 78:71; or “heritage,” Psalms 94:5; Jeremiah 12:7, Jeremiah 12:9; but what is here affirmed of that people is true also of all other people who worship the true God.
The Lord looketh from heaven - heaven is represented as his abode or dwelling; and from that place he is represented as looking down upon all the nations of the earth. The meaning here is, that he sees all that dwell upon the earth, and that, therefore, all that worship him are under his eye. He knows their wants, and he will watch over them to protect them. It is not merely to the abstract truth that God sees all who dwell upon the earth that the psalmist means to refer; but that those who are his friends, or who worship him, are all under his eye, so as to enjoy his watchful care and attention.
He beholdeth all the sons of men - All the descendants of “Adam,” for this is the original. There is no improbability in supposing that the word “Adam” here (usually meaning “man”) is employed as a proper name to denote the great ancestor of the human race, and that the psalmist means to refer to the race as one great family descended from a common ancestor, though scattered abroad over the face of the world.
From the place of his habitation - From his dwelling - heaven.
He looketh down - He continually sees. The sentiment is repeated here to show that no one can escape his eye; that the condition, the characters, the wants of all are intimately known to him, and that thus he can watch over his people - all that love and serve him - and can guard them from danger. See Psalms 33:18-19.
He fashioneth their hearts alike - That is, one as well as another; or, one as really as another. No one is exempt from his control, or from all that is implied in the word “fashioneth.” The meaning is not that their hearts are made to “resemble” each other, or to be “like” each other, whether in goodness or in wickedness - but that all alike “are” made by him. The idea in the word “fashioneth” here is not that of “creating,” in the sense that He “makes” the heart by his own power what it is, whether good or bad; but that, as he has “formed” the hearts of all people, he must see what is in the heart, or must behold all the purposes and thoughts of people. The Maker of the human heart must understand what is in it; and, therefore, He must have a clear understanding of the purposes and designs of human beings. This idea is carried out in the latter member of the sentence, “he considereth all their works,” and is substantially the same as in the expression Psalms 94:9, “He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see?”
He considereth all their works - He understands all that they do; he marks, or attends to, all that is done by them. The purpose here is to state the universal sovereignty of God. He made all things; He presides over all things; He sees all things; He is the source of safety and protection to all.
There is no king saved by the multitude of an host - By the number of his armies. His safety, however numerous and mighty may be his forces, is in God alone. He is the great Protector, whatever means men may use to defend themselves. The most numerous and the best organized armies cannot secure a victory. It is, after all, wholly in the hands of God. A wasting sickness in a camp may defeat all the plans of war; or success in battle may depend on contingencies which no commander could anticipate or provide against. A mutiny in a camp, or a panic on the battlefield, may disconcert the best-laid schemes; or forces may come against an army that were unexpected; or storm and tempest may disarrange and frustrate the entire plan of the campaign. See Ecclesiastes 9:11.
A mighty man - A strong man; a giant - as Goliath of Gath. “Strength” is not the only thing necessary to secure a victory.
Is not delivered by much strength - By the mere fact that he is strong. Other things are needed to ensure success; and God has power so to arrange events that mere strength shall be of no avail.
An horse - The reference here is undoubtedly to the war-horse. See the notes at Psalms 20:7.
Is a vain thing - literally, is a “lie.” That is, he cannot be confided in.
For safety - For securing safety in battle. He is liable to be stricken down, or to become wild and furious so as to be beyond the control of his rider; and however strong or fleet he may be, or however well he may be “broken,” yet none of these things make it certain that the rider will be safe. God is the only being in whom perfect confidence can be reposed.
Neither shall he deliver any by his great strength - Safety cannot be found in his mere “strength,” however great that may be. These illustrations are all designed to lead the mind to the great idea that safety is to be found in God alone, Psalms 33:18-19.
Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him - He watches over them, and “he” guards them from danger. His eye is, in fact, upon all men; but it is directed with special attention to those who fear him and trust in him. Their security is in the fact that the eye of God is upon them; that he knows their wants; that he sees their dangers; that he has ample ability to deliver and save them.
Upon them that hope in his mercy - Upon the pious; upon his friends. The expression is a very beautiful one. It describes the true state of a pious heart; it in fact characterizes the whole of religion, for we imply all that there is in religion on earth when we say of a man, that - conscious of his weakness and sinfulness - “he hopes in the mercy of God.”
To deliver their soul from death - To preserve their “lives,” - for so the word “soul” is to be understood here. The meaning is, to keep them alive. That is, God is their Protector; He guards and defends them when in danger.
And to keep them alive in famine - In times of want. Compare Job 5:20. He can provide for them when the harvests fail. Famine was one of the evils to which the inhabitants of Palestine, and of Oriental countries generally, were particularly exposed, and it is often referred to in the Scriptures.
Our soul waiteth for the Lord - This and the subsequent verses to the end of the psalm refer to the people of God, expressing their faith in him in view of the considerations suggested in the former part of the psalm. The language is expressive of the general character of piety. True piety leads people to wait on the Lord; to depend on Him; to look to His interposition in danger, sickness, poverty, want; to rely upon Him for all that is hoped for in this life, and for salvation in the life to come. Compare Psalms 62:1; Psalms 25:3.
He is our help - Our aid; our helper. Compare Psalms 10:14; Psalms 22:11; Psalms 30:10.
And our shield - See the notes at Psalms 5:12. That is, He will defend us from our enemies, as if He threw His shield between us and them.
For our heart shall rejoice in him - See the notes at Psalms 13:5.
Because we have trusted in his holy name - In “him,” the “name” often being put for the person himself. See the notes at Psalms 20:1. The idea is:
(a) that the fact of our having put our trust in God is in itself an occasion of joy or rejoicing;
(b) that the result will be joy, for we shall never be disappointed.
It will always, and in all circumstances, be a source of joy to anyone that he HAS put his trust in the name of God.
Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us - Let us find or obtain thy mercy or thy favor.
According as we hope in thee - It may be remarked in regard to this:
(a) it is but “reasonable” that we should look for the favor of God only as we trust in him, for we could not with propriety expect his favor beyond the measure of our confidence in him.
(b) This may be regarded as the most that we are entitled to hope from God. We have no reason to suppose that he will go beyond our wishes and prayers, or that he will confer favors on us which we neither expect nor desire.
(c) One of the reasons why the people of God are no more blessed, or why they receive no more favors from him, may be found in what is here suggested. As they expect little, they obtain little; as they have no intense, burning, lofty desire for the favor of God, either for themselves personally, or for their families, or for the world, so they obtain but slight tokens of that favor.
(d) The true principle, therefore, upon which God is willing to bestow His favors, and which will be the rule that He will observe, is, that if people desire much, they will obtain much; that if they have big expectations, they will not be disappointed; and that God is willing to bestow His mercies upon His people and upon the world to the utmost of their desires and hopes. Compare Psalms 81:10, “Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it.” Psalms 37:4, “delight thyself in the Lord, and he shall give thee the desires of thy heart.” How intense and fervent, then, should be the prayers and the petitions of the people of God! How earnest the supplications of sinners that God would have mercy on them!
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Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Psalms 33". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent