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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 33

Psalms 33

The design of this Psalm is to fill the little flock of Israel with comfort and courage and joy, in view of the infinitely superior might of the world: its key-note is, “Fear not thou worm Jacob, thou little nation Israel.” The weapon which the Psalmist proposes that the Church should use against all the assaults and attacks that are made against her on the part of the whole world, is the Praise of God: if you know Him as He is, you may despise all trouble and all danger, and say, in the language of the ( Psalms 33:20) 20th verse (which may be considered as the heart of the Psalm, containing a very clear exposition of its design by the author himself), “Our soul waiteth for the Lord He is our help and shield.”

The Psalm begins ( Psalms 33:1 and Psalms 33:2) with an exhortation, addressed to the Church of God, to praise Him. In laying down a basis for this exhortation, the Psalmist first directs attention to the glorious attributes of God. This he does in two main divisions. First ( Psalms 33:4-11), the Lord is true and faithful, righteous and gracious ( Psalms 33:4-5), and almighty ( Psalms 33:6-11). Second, ( Psalms 33:12-19), all things on earth are subject to His government and infinite influence. Hence the people whom He chooses for an inheritance are happy; for, as sure as He is Lord over all, all things must work together for their good. Nothing depends upon earthly power; hence the want of it is no reason why the Lord’s people should despair: His omnipotent love and His loving omnipotence afford them the full assurance of deliverance. In the conclusion ( Psalms 33:20-22), the Church gives utterance to that full confidence which had been called forth by this contemplation of the glory of God, and prays that she may receive according to her faith.

The Introduction and the Conclusion, each of three verses, correspond to one another; and, in like manner, the two main divisions are of equal length, namely, eight verses. The number of the verses of the whole Psalm corresponds to that of the letters of the alphabet. The main division occurs exactly in the middle.

The Psalm, along with the one before it, forms one pair. The chief reason for adopting this view is, that the Psalm begins in the same strain as that with which the preceding one concludes, namely, an exhortation to rejoice in the Lord: there, Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye righteous; and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart: here, Rejoice in the Lord, ye righteous; for praise is comely for the upright. It is impossible to explain this circumstance by the supposition, that the collector of the Psalms placed the two together on account of the accidental resemblance between the concluding verse of the one, and the opening verse of the other. For the transition from the particular to the general in Psalms 32 takes place in such a striking and sudden manner, as to suggest the idea, that it was intended to prepare the way for passing on to a Psalm of a general character. Another reason is, the want of a title in our Psalm, though standing in the middle of an assemblage of Psalms which are all designated Psalms of David. This appearance met us in Psalms 10, where we found strong reasons for regarding it and Psalms 9 as forming one pair. A third reason is to be found in the relation which the numbers of the verses of both Psalms bear to each other. In the (Psalms 33) 33d Psalm, the number of the verses corresponds to the number of the letters of the alphabet,—a circumstance which we have the less reason for considering as accidental, as the following Psalm is truly an alphabetical one. And in the (Psalms 32) 32d Psalm the number is equal to one half of the letters of the alphabet. It is at the same time to be observed, that even in the (Psalms 33) 33d Psalm, the main body is divided into two equal parts; and that the one signature of completion, namely, the twenty-two, is as frequently divided into two elevens, as the other, viz. the ten, is divided into two fives. This relation of the verses would therefore lead us to regard the (Psalms 32) 32d Psalm as introductory to the (Psalms 33) 33d.

From these remarks, our view of the relation of the two Psalms to each other, will be as follows. David, inwardly and deeply moved by the proof of the glory of God, which he had obtained in the forgiveness of his dreadful offence, begins with praising it, in its present special manifestation. But his heart is so full, that he cannot be confined to this, but must take a wider range. He must unfold to Israel all that he has generally in God, especially God’s protection and help against a hostile world.

Amyraldus has very correctly characterized the style of the Psalm. “The style is pleasing, flowing, measured, without any poetical digressions, or figures, at least of such a kind as to occasion any difficulty.” These characteristics are to be explained from the fact, that the Psalm has no individual reference whatever, and that, both in its introduction and contents, it is in the most proper sense a Psalm for the public worship of God.

Verses 1-3

Ver. 1. Rejoice, ye righteous, in the Lord; praise is comely for the upright. Ver. 2. Praise the Lord with harp; sing unto Him with the psaltery of ten strings. Ver. 3. Sing unto Him a new song; play skilfully, with shouts of joy. The “righteous” and the “upright” are the Israelites: compare “righteous,” used of the people as such, in Numbers 23:10, and Psalms 33:12 of this Psalm; as also Psalms 33:10 and Psalms 33:11, Psalms 33:16 and Psalms 33:17, from which it is evident that the Psalm has a national character. Inasmuch as Israel is here designated the righteous and the upright, it is clear that the address is directed towards the true Israelites only, to the exclusion of those who are Israelites in appearance—the souls who are rooted out from their people. Compare at Psalms 15, Psalms 34. The reason why the righteous and the upright should praise the Lord, is contained in the conclusion of the preceding Psalm,—“He encompasseth them with mercy,”—and in the ( Psalms 33:18) 18th verse, where “the eye of the Lord,” it is said, “is upon them that fear Him.” To the unrighteous, the glory of God is not the object of joy and praise, but of terror and aversion: the highest wish of their hearts is, that He may not be true, righteous, full of mercy towards His own people, or almighty. To rejoice in the Lord, is not exactly to rejoice at the Lord, but to rejoice in finding the inclination of the heart towards God, who gives so many causes for such joy. Compare on ישר , upright, at Psalms 25:8. The word denotes a condition which is conformable to the rule and the idea, as these are represented in reference to the members of the Church in the law of God. נָ אוָ ה is the feminine of הָ אוֶ ה , beautiful, becoming. As it is comely for God to help, so it is comely for the righteous to praise.—עסור belongs here, not as in Psalms 92:3, to נבל . The two words stand either in the slat. construct., the lute of ten, or they stand unconnected, the lute ten, the ten-lute. The ten-stringed lute would assuredly not have been mentioned specially by the Psalmist, had the number of the strings not been full of significance to him. In all probability he does not himself invent this significance, but the instrument had with reference to it been strung with ten strings. The exhortation to join musical instruments with the voice in the praise of God, is indicative of the infinite glory of God, which cannot be sufficiently praised by the voice alone.

A new song (compare Psalms 11:3, Psalms 96:1, Psalms 98:1; Revelation 5:9), is a song which springs up new from the heart. The glory of God is new every morning: we know it not only by hearsay and from the history of ancient times; and therefore we ought not merely to repeat the old song. It is a melancholy proof of the decline of the Church, when the exhortation to sing a new song is no longer attended to; in such a case, the greater care ought to be taken to preserve the old ones. 1 Samuel 16:17 agrees remarkably with the expression, “make good to play,” i.e. “play beautifully.” Possibly these words of Saul made a deep impression on David’s mind. On בתרועה , from which some, without any foundation, would conclude that the Psalm was intended to be sung at the offering of sacrifices, compare at Psalms 27:5.

In vers. 4-11, the exhortation to praise God, is grounded upon His glory. First, in Psalms 33:4, the Psalmist speaks of His truth and faithfulness. This is placed in the foreground, because the books of Moses abound with most glorious promises given by God to His Church, for the fulfilment of which, the truth and the faithfulness of God are the security.

Verse 4

Ver. 4. For upright is the word of the Lord, and all His work is faithfulness. Luther’s translation is rather free, but perfectly correct as to the sense, which is more than can be said of most of the recent translators. “For the word of the Lord is true; and what He promises, He certainly performs.” Stier has very unwarrantably objected to it, that it is “a precipitate effort at specializing.” According to the parallelism, “the word of the Lord” is not in general His revelation, or even “His will as made known in the creation and government of the world,” but the word which He has spoken in reference to His own people. What the Psalmist here predicates in general of the word of God (comp. Psalms 19:9), is, according to the parallelism, to be considered as having special reference to the word of promise. This word is said to “be upright,” inasmuch as it is in exact accordance with the idea: the speaker has promised what He is both able and willing to perform. Compare Numbers 23:19: “God is not a man, that He should lie; nor the son of man, that He should repent: hath He said, and shall He not do it? or hath He spoken, and shall He not make it good?” Psalms 105:42.

In the second clause, the work of God stands opposed to His word: He promises nothing which He does not perform, and He does all which He has promised. באמונה can only be translated, in faithfulness. אמונה , never signifies truth.

After considering the Divine truth and faithfulness, the Psalmist leads the Church to contemplate the Divine righteousness, which must set limits to unrighteous oppression, and the Divine love, which must above all be manifested in the deliverance of the Lord’s people.

Verse 5

Ver. 5. He loveth righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the mercy of the Lord. The consideration of the Divine righteousness can be a source of comfort only to the righteous. For, as such, they must have right upon their side in their contests with their enemies. From the injustice which they suffer on earth, they lift their eyes towards heaven, and in this way attain to the confidence that justice will get justice at last. Compare Habakkuk 1:13, where the Church addresses God: “Wherefore lookest Thou upon them that deal treacherously, and holdest Thy tongue when the wicked devoureth the man that is more righteous than he?”

On the second clause the Berleb. Bib. remarks: “The earth is a good mother, which nourishes us daily, and gives us all things richly to enjoy.” If natural blessings thus manifest the love of God, how gloriously will that love be developed towards His own people

The faithfulness, the righteousness, and the love of God, on which the Psalmist has hitherto dwelt, and which are exhibited as linked together in the same way in Hosea 2:21-22, afford security to His people, when in danger, that He is willing to help them. But that the consolation may be complete, it is necessary to contemplate also the omnipotence of God, which secures His ability. In reference to the love of God, the Psalmist had pointed to the earth as the main seat of its manifestation; and in reference to His omnipotence, he points, as in Psalms 8, Psalms 19, Psalms 24, to the heavens with their stars, and to the sea with its waves. Has not He, who called the heavens into being by His word, and who restrains the fury of the waves, so that they do not overflow the earth, enough of power to protect you, O ye of little faith? If He is for you, who can be against you?

Verse 6

Ver. 6. Through the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all their hosts by the breath of His mouth. The host of the heavens is the sun, moon, and stars. That the idea of the angels being referred to is out of the question, is evident from the verbal references to Genesis 2:1: “Thus the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their host”—(in the preceding context nothing had been said of the creation of angels, but merely of the creation of the heavenly bodies),—and when we reflect that it is some tangible proof of the omnipotence of God that must be here adverted to. Moreover, the heavenly bodies are throughout predominantly designated the host of God: compare at Psalms 24:10. That רוח is not spirit, but breath, is evident from the words, “of His mouth” (compare Isaiah 11:4), and from the parallelism with “word:” a mere word corresponds to mere breath; both together form a contrast to the exercise of strength, to labour, to the use of means and instruments, without which feeble man can accomplish nothing. Then there are the parallel passages, Job 27:3, “All the while my breath is in me, and the Spirit of God is in my nostrils;” Job 33:4, “The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life;” Psalms 104:29-30, “Thou takest away their breath, and they die and return to their dust: Thou sendest forth Thy breath, They are created.” But, on the other hand, the exposition which would interpret רוח פיו without reference to the Spirit of God, cannot be correct. In the history of the creation, to which the verse before us, as well as Psalms 33:7 and Psalms 33:9, contain verbal allusions, the creation is described as the work of the SPIRIT of God, and His WORD. First, the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters, then God said. We may thus suppose that the Spirit and the power of God are here represented by the figure of breath, because that in man is the first sign of life.

Verse 7

Ver. 7. He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap; He lays up the floods in store-houses. The Psalmist brings it forward as a proof of the omnipotence of God, that the great fluid mass is brought together by the Lord like a heap of firm materials, so that it does not spread over the earth, as it did at first. The כנס is not “He gathered,” but “He gathers.” The wonder of Divine omnipotence here depicted is still of daily occurrence: if God did not keep back the waters, they would overflow the earth. The expression, “as a heap,” stands concisely for, “in the way that a heap is gathered.” There is assuredly no reference here to the elevated appearance which the sea presents at a distance. To collect the waves, as if they were firm materials, must be a work of Omnipotence. Allusion is made here, as also in Psalms 68:13, and in Joshua 3:13, Joshua 3:16, to Exodus 15:8, where, in reference to the waters of the Red Sea, it is said in the song of Moses, “The waters stood as an heap, כמו נד .” The expression which is there employed to describe the miraculous effect produced by the power of God, is here applied to the ordinary course of nature, for the purpose of teaching that this, when deeply considered, bears as clear a testimony to the omnipotence of God. The old expositors, whom Luther follows (“He holds the waters in the sea together as in a bag”), have confounded נֵ ד with נֹ אד .

The second clause is perfectly parallel to the first. תהזמות are, as usually, “the floods of the sea.” These are deposited by God within the bounds set to the sea, like treasures in a place of security. The point of resemblance is the sure keeping. Several expositors refer here, as at Psalms 24:2, to the subterraneous waters. But the reasons which were there adduced against this view, hold good, partly, in the present instance; viz., the obvious reference to Genesis 1, where nothing whatever is said of subterraneous waters, the necessity of some palpable proof of Divine omnipotence, etc.

Jo. Arnd quite correctly apprehended the practical tendency of this verse: “The prophet comes down from heaven, and leads us to the sea, where we may observe the omnipotence of God, and the power of His word. The great sea is shut up by the commandment of God: how then can He not tame men upon the earth, and put a bridle in their mouth?”

Verses 8-9

Ver. 8. Let all the world fear the Lord; let everything that dwells on the earth stand in awe of Him. Ver. 9. For He spake and it was done; He commanded, and it stood fast. That the Lord deserves holy fear and reverence, that therefore the terror of those men who have Him on their side is foolish, is here proved from His omnipotence as seen in the creation of the world. Jo. Arnd: “Lo! the God who has made by His word the great incomprehensible heavens, and upholds and manages them by His word, shall also be able to uphold and manage thee, a poor little worm.” There is no reason for translating: “He speaks, and it is done; He commands, and it stands.” The use of the Pret. and the Fut. conv., the reference to Genesis, in which ויאמר and ויהי alternate, and the comparison of the 6th verse, show that the creation of the world is here spoken of as a fait accompli. Psalms 119:90 shows that אמד has here its usual sense, “to stand:” compare with Psalms 119:91. In reality, “to stand” is “to exist:” what does not exist, “lies.”

Verses 10-11

Ver. 10. The Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought; He maketh the devices of the people of none effect. Ver. 11. The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations. To the Lord, who has manifested His omnipotence so gloriously in creation, it is an easy matter to bring to nothing the proud plans of the nations; while His own plans are eternal, and cannot be frustrated, or their execution hindered by any one. How could it be possible, then, that Israel should quail in the presence of the heathen? If their thoughts towards them are for evil, they are only thoughts of powerlessness; while, on the other hand, the thoughts of Omnipotence towards them are thoughts of peace.

There follows the second main division, Psalms 33:12-19. The proposition with which it is headed, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,” the Psalmist proves from the fact, that everything on earth stands under the unlimited control of God, Psalms 33:13-15, who abundantly compensates, by His, the Almighty’s loving providence, for what His people want in worldly power, Psalms 33:16-19.

Verse 12

Ver. 12. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom He chooses for an inheritance. The whole is grouped around this position. On the one side, it is a deduction from what goes before, and, on the other, it is a thesis which is proved in what follows. The Psalmist alludes, it is true, to Israel; still he expresses himself in general terms: Mich.: beatam igitur gentem, quaecunque sit.

Verses 13-17

Ver. 13. The Lord looketh from heaven, He sees all the children of men. Ver. 14. From the place of His habitation He looketh upon all who dwell on the earth. Ver. 15. He who fashioneth for them all, their heart, who marketh all their works. The looking of the Lord from heaven is not an idle act; it is the act of a king and judge. The ( Psalms 33:15) 15th verse manifestly shows this. In it, the heart and the works stand in contrast to each other. The heart comes into notice as the workshop of the thoughts: compare Psalms 33:11. The thoughts are wholly under God’s control, “for He fashioneth the heart:” so are the works, “for He observes them.” Who then need be afraid on account of the plans and works of men, if he only have God for his friend? God is mentioned here, as the use of the participle shows, as the Creator of the human spirit, in reference not only to His original act of creation, but also to His constant creating influence: compare Zechariah 12:1, and the Christology on the passage, P. II. p. 274. God, as the God of the spirits of all flesh, Numbers 16:22, Numbers 27:16, has all emotions and thoughts in His hands: compare Proverbs 21:1, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord as the rivers of water, He turneth it whithersoever He will.” Ver. 16. To the king his great power affords no help; a warrior is not saved by his great strength. Ver. 17. The horse is a vain thing for safety, neither does he deliver any by his great strength. The inference from the position, “that everything on the earth is done by God,” is, that nothing is done with our own strength. This inference was in the highest degree consolatory to Israel. If the issue of events depended on human strength, they must go down. The article in המלך is generic—the horse is the species: compare Proverbs 21:31, “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but safety is of the Lord.”

Verses 18-19

Ver. 18. Behold, the eye of the Lord looks upon those who fear Him, who hope in His mercy. Ver. 19. To deliver their soul, and to keep them alive in famine. What cannot be effected by what Israel has not, worldly power, is accomplished by the loving care of his almighty God, in which he rejoices.

There follows in Psalms 33:20-22, the conclusion, in which the Church gives expression to the faith which has been produced in her by contemplating the glory of God, and prays that she may receive according to this her faith.

Verses 20-22

Ver. 20. Our soul waiteth for the Lord; He is our help and shield. The first clause contains an allusion to the words of dying Jacob, in Genesis 49:18: “I wait for Thy salvation, O Lord;” and the second to Deuteronomy 33:26. Ver. 21. For our heart rejoices in Him, because we trust in His holy name. The holiness of God is, in this place also, His glory: compare at Psalms 22:3. The holy name of God is the product of the long series of the manifestations of His holiness. Whoever trusts in this, and not in his own strength, may rejoice in the Lord, sure of safety. Ver. 22. Let Thy mercy come upon us, O Lord, as we trust in Thee. When faith, the condition of deliverance, is present, deliverance also must therefore soon appear.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 33". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-33.html.