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THIS psalm has no title in the Hebrew, and in some manuscripts it is joined on to the preceding psalm, and forms one with it. But the difference of subject-matter and of tone render it highly improbable that that arrangement is the correct one. The two psalms are best regarded as wholly separate compositions, though the writer of the present one took for his key-note the last verse of Psalms 32:1-11. The Septuagint makes David the author, but with no support from the Hebrew. An author in the reign of Asa or Jehoshaphat, and again one in the reign of Josiah, has been suggested, but the psalm itself scarcely gives a hint towards fixing the date.
As a simple psalm of praise and thanksgiving, intended for the service of the temple, it is well worthy of admiration, being "singularly bright, and replete with beautiful imagery" ('Speaker's Commentary'). Metrically, it consists of six strophes, the first and last containing three verses each, and the intermediate ones each four verses.
Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous (see the first clause of Psalms 32:11, of which this is almost a repetition; and comp. also Psalms 68:3; Psalms 97:12). For praise is comely for the upright. The Prayer-book Version gives the meaning, less literally, but in more idiomatic English, "For it becometh well the just to be thankful."
Praise the Lord with harp. The harp obtains mention here for the first time in the Psalms. Reference, however, had been made to it previously in Genesis, Job, and the First Book of Samuel. There is reason to believe that the instrument, as known to the Hebrews, was a simple one, consisting of a nearly triangular framework of wood, crossed by seven strings. The Egyptians were acquainted from early times with a very much more elaborate instrument—harps which stood six feet high upon a broad base of their own, and had as many as twenty-two strings. The harp was regarded by the Hebrews as peculiarly fitted for sacred music (see 1Sa 10:5; 2 Samuel 6:5; 1 Chronicles 15:16; 1Ch 25:1, 1 Chronicles 25:3, 1 Chronicles 25:6; 2Ch 5:12; 2 Chronicles 29:25; Nehemiah 12:27, etc.). Sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings; rather, sing unto him with the lute of ten strings. One instrument only is here mentioned—a lute or psaltery (nebel), having ten strings (comp. Psalms 92:3; Psalms 144:9). The nebel was an instrument differing from the harp chiefly in the arrangement of the strings. It was used in the temple service, as appears from 1 Chronicles 15:6, 1Ch 15:28; 1 Chronicles 25:1, 1 Chronicles 25:6; 2Ch 5:12; 2 Chronicles 29:25, etc.
Sing unto him a new song (comp. Psalms 40:3; Psalms 96:1; Psalms 98:1; Isaiah 42:10; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 14:3). Not necessarily a song unheard before, but one fresh from the singer's heart. Play skilfully with a loud noise. The loudness of a thanksgiving song was regarded as an indication of its heartiness (comp. Psalms 98:4; Psalms 100:1; Psalms 150:5; and see also 2 Chronicles 20:19; 2 Chronicles 30:21; Ezra 3:11-13; Nehemiah 12:42).
The psalmist proceeds to give reasons why God is to be praised, and puts in the forefront this reason: For the word of the lord is right; i.e. the revealed will of God is exactly in accord with the eternal rule of right. We cannot imagine it otherwise, for God would contradict his own nature, if he ordained by a positive law anything contrary to that rule. But still we maybe thankful that there is no such contradiction—that "the Law is holy, just, and good" (Romans 7:12). And all his works are done in truth (comp. Psalms 111:7, Psalms 111:8, "The works of his hands are verity and judgment; all his commandments are sure. They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and equity"). All God's working (מעשׂה), all his dealings with his creatures have truth and equity and faithfulness for their basis. He can be thoroughly trusted. This is a second and very strong ground for thanksgiving.
He loveth righteousness and judgment. "Righteousness" is the essential principle of justice; "judgment," the carrying out of the principle in act. God loves both—a further ground for praising him. The earth is full of the goodness (or, loving-kindness) of the Lord (comp. Psalms 119:64). The earth is full, not only of God's glory (Isaiah 6:3) and of his riches (Psalms 104:24), but also of his mercy, or loving-kindness (חסד)—a ground of thankfulness that all will acknowledge.
By the word of the Lord were the heavens made. God is to be praised, not only for his goodness, but also for his greatness, and especially for his greatness in creation (see Psalms 19:1-6). The heavens were made "by his word" in a double sense—by the Word, who is the Second Person of the Trinity (John 1:3; Hebrews 1:2, Hebrews 1:10), and by a mere utterance, without the employment of any mechanical means, as we learn from Genesis 16-18. And all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. The "host of heaven" is here, undoubtedly, the host of heavenly bodies—the sun, moon, and stars—as in Genesis 2:1. These were made "by the breath of God's mouth;" i.e. by his simple utterance of the command—"Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven, to divide the day from the night" (Genesis 1:14; comp. Job 26:13).
He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap. An allusion to Genesis 1:8, but with a glance also at Exodus 15:8 and Joshua 3:13-16; as if the original gathering, and continued retention, of the sea in one convex mass were as great a proof of omnipotence as the miracles related in those passages. Nes (נֵס), "a heap" occurs only in the places cited, here, and in Psalms 78:13. He layeth up the depth in storehouses; literally, the deeps. The waters of the great deep are regarded as stored up by the Almighty in the hugo cavities of the ocean bed for his own use, to be employed at some time or other in carrying out his purposes (comp. Genesis 7:11 and Job 38:22, Job 38:23).
From the exhortation in Psalms 33:1, addressed to the righteous, to praise the Lord, the psalmist passes now to a second exhortation, addressed to all mankind, to fear the Lord. And as before in Psalms 33:4-7, so now in veto. 9-11, he assigns reasons. God is to be feared
(1) on account of the power which he showed in creation (Psalms 33:9);
(2) on account of his ability to baffle all human counsels that are opposed to him (Psalms 33:10); and
(3) on account of the unehangeableness and perpetuity of his own counsels, which nothing can alter (Psalms 33:11).
Let all the earth fear the Lord. The righteous alone have a right to "praise" God (see Psalms 33:1), but "all the earth"—i.e. all mankind—may be called upon to "fear" him. He is an object of awe and true "godly fear" to godly men; to the ungodly he is an object of terror and servile fear. Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him. Here again, as so often, the second hemistich merely echoes the first.
For he spake, and it was done; rather, and it was; the thing of which he spake at once existed. See the passage of Genesis which Longinus thought so striking an instance of the sublime, "And God said, Let there be light; and there was light" (Genesis 1:8). He commanded, and it stood fast; literally, and it stood. God's lightest word, once uttered, is a standing law, to which nature absolutely conforms, and man ought to conform (comp. Psalms 119:90, Psalms 119:91).
The Lord bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought; literally, frustrates the counsel of the heathen, causes it to fail (see 2 Kings 6:8-12; Daniel 6:5-28). He maketh the devices of the people—rather, the peoples—of none effect. Another instance of the mere repetition of a thought in other words.
The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations; or, the thoughts of his heart—the same word as in the latter clause of the preceding verse. The contrast is made as complete as possible. Human counsels and devices fail and come to nought, the Divine counsels and devices abide, stand fast, and remain firm for ever (comp. Proverbs 19:21; Isaiah 25:1; James 1:17).
Further reasons for praising God are now assigned, the recitation of them being itself a sort of praise.
1. God has Blessed especially one nation—the nation now called upon to praise him (Psalms 33:12).
2. His providence and care are extended over all mankind (Psalms 33:13, Psalms 33:14).
3. His gracious influences are poured out on the hearts of all (Psalms 33:15).
4. He is the sole Protector and Deliverer of men from danger and death (Psalms 33:16-19).
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord (comp. Psalms 144:15). In other words, "Blessed is the people of Israel." Other nations did not know God as Jehovah—the Self-existent One—or, indeed, as a general rule, recognize any one and only God. And the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance. The intrusion of the word "and" is unfortunate. One "nation" or "people" only is spoken of, viz. the Hebrews. They are "blessed" in two respects: first, because they know God as Jehovah; and secondly, because he has chosen them out of all the nations of the earth to be his "peculiar people" (see Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 4:20; Deuteronomy 7:6; Deuteronomy 14:2; 1 Kings 8:53; Psalms 135:4, etc.).
The Lord looketh from heaven; he beholdeth all the sons of men (comp. Psalms 11:4 : Psalms 14:2; Psalms 102:19). God's having any care at all for man is a wondrous condescension, and so worthy of all praise; his having regard to all men—all the frail sons of weak and sinful Adam—is still more wonderful, still more deserving of eulogy.
From the place of his habitation (i.e. heaven) he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth. A repetition of the thought expressed in Psalms 33:13 for the sake of emphasis.
He fashioneth their hearts alike; rather, he mouldeth the hearts of them all. The hearts of all men are in God's keeping, and his gracious influences are exerted to "mould" them aright. Some hearts are too stubborn to yield themselves up to his fashioning, and refuse to take the impress which he desires to impart; but all, or almost all, owe it to him that they are not worse than they are. He considereth all their works; rather, he understandeth all their works—estimates, i.e; all they do at its just value, knowing the true nature of each act, its motive, aim, essence.
There is no king saved by the multitude of an host; literally, the king is not saved by the greatness of his host. The article, however, is used generically, as it is with "horse" in the next verse, so that the translation of the Authorized Version gives the true sense. (For illustration of the sentiment, see 2 Chronicles 14:11; 2 Chronicles 1:0 Macc. 3:19.) A mighty man is not delivered by much strength.
A horse is a vain thing for safety; literally, the horse; i.e. the species, horse, is not to be depended on for safety—it is "a vain thing," quite unable to secure victory, or even escape, to those who trust in it. The use of the horse in war seems certainly to be implied here as familiar to the writer, whence it is rightly concluded that he must have lived later than the time of David. Solomon was the first Israelite king who enrolled a chariot and a cavalry force (1 Kings 10:26). Neither shall he deliver any by his great strength. (On the "great strength" of the horse, see Job 39:19; Psalms 147:10.)
Behold, the eye of the Lord is upon them that fear him; upon them that hope in his mercy. The eye of the Lord is in a certain sense upon all (Psalms 33:13, Psalms 33:14), but it rests especially upon the righteous. He notes how all men act, but carefully watches over the safety and prosperity of his faithful ones
To deliver their soul from death. The protection and deliverance, which a man's own strength cannot give, which no host, however numerous, can afford (Psalms 33:16), which are not to be obtained from the largest chariot or cavalry force (Psalms 33:17), can he and will be furnished freely by God, who alone keeps souls from death, and "delivers" those who are in peril. And to keep them alive in famine. Famine was a calamity from which Palestine often suffered (see Genesis 12:10; Genesis 26:1; Genesis 42:5; Ruth 1:1; 2Sa 21:1; 1 Kings 18:5; 2 Kings 8:1, etc.). The righteous were sometimes "kept alive" through a time of famine by miraculous means (1 Kings 17:6, 1 Kings 17:16).
A brief address of the people to God, arising out of what has been declared concerning his goodness (Psalms 33:4, Psalms 33:5, Psalms 33:12-19) and his power (Psalms 33:6-11), which constitute a call upon them for praise and adoration.
Our soul waiteth for the Lord (comp. Psalms 25:21; Psalms 62:1, Psalms 62:5; Psalms 130:5, Psalms 130:6, etc.). Confident in God's good will, and in his power to help us, we wait patiently and cheerfully for him to manifest himself in his own good time. He is our Help and our Shield. We trust in no one and nothing but him—not in armies (Psalms 33:16), not in horses (Psalms 33:17), not in our own strength (Psalms 33:16). He alone is our dependence. (For the use of the metaphor "shield" for defence, see Psalms 5:12; Psalms 18:2; Psalms 28:7; Psalms 91:4; Psalms 119:114, etc.)
For our heart shall rejoice in him, because we have trusted in his holy Name (comp. Psalms 13:5, where the sentiment is the same). Trust in God secures his help, and this brings the deliverance at which the heart rejoices.
Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us, according as we hope in thee. The measure of men's hope and trust in God is the measure of his mercy and goodness to them. Those who are assured that they have a full trust in him may confidently expect a fall and complete deliverance. Thus, "according as"—כַאֲשֶׁר—is emphatic.
"Rejoice," etc. Worship is worthless if it be not spiritual. "God is a Spirit," etc. (John 4:24). But worship simply spiritual, with no outward expression, no material symbol, would not suffice man's nature. Man is not spirit only; he is also flesh. His eye, ear, voice, nerves, brain, are as much God's work as his spirit. The worship he owes to God is that of his whole nature—body, soul, and spirit. Spiritual life cannot live on public worship only. There are chambers in the temple of the soul which are secret from every eye but God's. "Thou, when thou prayest," etc. (Matthew 6:6). But if public worship alone will not satisfy our religious need, neither will secret worship. Man's nature is social. Even in sorrow, though we may shrink from company, we like sympathy to follow us into our solitude. But joy naturally seeks partners, longs to express itself, is sociable, outspoken, and sympathetic. Hence public worship is not an artificial contrivance, such as warm, vigorous piety can afford to dispense with or despise; it is the natural and fitting outcome of spiritual life, and one of the most powerful means for its nourishment. It is indispensable, and the full, complete exercise of Christian fellowship. Let us speak of the reasons and motives which make praise alike a duty and a privilege.
I. THE GOODNESS AND FAITHFULNESS OF GOD. (Psalms 33:4, Psalms 33:5.) Characteristic of Bible to place moral attributes in the foreground, as chief reason for "rejoicing in the Lord." A poet would have put first (what here comes second) the splendour and variety of God's works. A philosopher, the infinity, eternity, absolute existence of God. Scripture puts that first which at once concerns us most, and is God's highest glory—his character.
II. GLORY OF GOD IN CREATION. His all-wise design and all-powerful will—both included in "the word of the Lord" (Psalms 33:6-9).
III. GOD'S ALL-EMBRACING PROVIDENCE. Controlling all human affairs; baffling and making void, when he sees fit, all human counsels; creating, reading, ruling the minds of men (Psalms 33:10-15).
IV. GOD'S SPECIAL CARE AND MERCY TOWARDS HIS PEOPLE. Those who love and trust him (Psalms 33:16-22). This is contrasted with the vanity of earthly power (Psalms 33:16, Psalms 33:17). Yet, in this boundless prospect, the highest, deepest, strongest reason for praise is not included. To the Old Testament saints the veil still hung before the holy of holies. The Holy Spirit gave them the hope and promise of things as yet hid in mystery (Matthew 13:16, Matthew 13:17; Ephesians 3:5; 1 John 4:10). This is the main theme of the worship of heaven (Revelation 5:9, Revelation 5:12).
Only as we have received Christ into our hearts can we "rejoice in the Lord" as our God and Father. Only thus is our worship a preparation for heaven.
Methods of worship.
The forms of temple-worship to which this psalm refers were unsuited to the Christian Church, because the gospel leaves no room for a central holy place on earth. The heavenly sanctuary is open to faith, and the whole world has become like the court of God's temple (Hebrews 9:8, Hebrews 9:24; John 4:21, John 4:23). But as our reasons for praising God are not less, but infinitely more, than the Old Testament saints knew, so Christian worship should not fall below, but rise above theirs. Here are three characters which it should possess:
(1) outward as well as spiritual;
(2) hearty and joyful;
(3) collective and public.
I. OUTWARD AS WELL AS SPIRITUAL. All strong emotion seeks and prompts utterance. For grief, because it is often solitary and speechless, God has provided the silent language of tears (sometimes, too, for joy, when too big for words). But the impulse of joy is to shout and sing. Examples: A troop of children when school is over; victors in a race or game; multitude welcoming a sovereign. From the beginning of the gospel, vocal praise, the worship of song, has had a place of honour in the Christian Church (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16; Acts 16:25). What would heaven be without it (Revelation 14:2; Revelation 15:3)? God might have given language without song; voice and hearing without music. Man alone of living creatures can produce music (for the song of birds is not music. That some birds can be taught tunes proves that they can perceive music, but they have no power to produce it). It is one of God's choicest gifts, and its highest use is in his praise.
II. HEARTY AND JOYFUL, "With a loud noise." The word here used is elsewhere translated "shout" (Numbers 23:21). Also used for the sound of the trumpet (comp. Psalms 98:4-6). Does the value of our praise, then, depend on its noisings? Is God pleased, or man made devout, by noise and shouting? Certainly not. What these passages teach is heartiness in praise. We should throw our soul as well as our voice into it. Drawling languor, indolent affectation, mumbling negligence, should be utterly banished. To be silent, except from infirmity (as lack of ear or voice), in God's praise, should be held a disgrace. If "do it heartily" (Colossians 3:23) applies to any duty, surely to this.
III. COLLECTIVE AND PUBLIC. When the Apostles Peter and John returned "to their own company," after their noble testimony before the Sanhedrin, we read that "they lifted up their voice to God with one accord" (Acts 4:24). Not "their voices," but "their voice," which must mean either that one spoke for the rest, or that they joined in holy song; for in music many voices become one. Accordingly, what follows may well be regarded as a psalm of praise and prayer, in which one prophet led and the rest joined in chorus. It is a very significant fact, that neither in the Jewish temple nor in ancient heathen temples was there harmony in our sense of the word. The full, rich blending of the four kinds of voice, each in its part, is an art for which the world may thank the Church.
The duty and privilege of praise is one chief lesson of the whole Book of Psalms. It draws to a close, as if with the unrisen sunlight of the new covenant shining on it, with exhortations to universal praise (Psalms 148:12; Psalms 150:6). This part of public worship, therefore—praise—as one of the noblest duties and highest privileges of Christians, is the concern of the whole Church; not to be left to a handful of choristers or a specially excellent voice here and there. Preparation intelligently and harmoniously to join in psalmody should be part of Christian education. Hearty, skilful, joyful, sympathetic psalmody is no mean part of our education for heaven.
"By the word of the Lord," etc. The Apostle Peter, warning us against applying our hasty reckonings to God's dealings, reminds us that "one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." This he puts in conjunction with the fact that "by the word of the Lord the heavens were of old, and the earth standing out of the water and in the water," and with the declaration that "the heavens and earth which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment" (2 Peter 3:5-8). In like manner St. Paul speaks of the Son of God, "by whom also he made the worlds," as "upholding all things by the word of his power" (Hebrews 1:2, Hebrews 1:3). God's creative word is no momentary fiat, but a fixed and lasting power and purpose, of which it may be said, as of his written truth, "The Word of God liveth and abideth for ever" (1 Peter 1:23, 1 Peter 1:24).
I. THE WORD OF COMMAND; i.e. the putting forth of Divine will and power. The fact of creation stands in the forefront of Bible teaching. The existence of God is never treated in Scripture as needing argument or proof; it is assumed, as self-evident to every sane and intelligent mind. The starting-point, therefore, of Bible teaching is that all things owe their origin to his will and power. "In the hennaing," etc. (Genesis 1:1). All other being has its being in him (Acts 17:24, Acts 17:28). Scientific men tell us there is a perpetual dissipation of energy in the universal frame of things; q.d. that all the forces of nature are constantly tending to change into heat, and heat is constantly passing away and wasting itself in infinite space. If so, it cannot fly beyond God's presence and control. The unfathomable fountain of all force, physical and spiritual, is with him. He who made all things "in the beginning" can, when he pleases, "make all things new" (Psalms 119:89-91).
II. THE WORD OF WISDOM. All man's most laborious discoveries—what he calls his science—consist in slowly finding out the truths embodied in God's works. The great astronomer Kepler, enraptured with the wonderful results his calculations revealed, exclaimed, "O God, I think thy thoughts after thee!" Mathematics, astronomy, chemistry—all the sciences—teach us portions of that Divine wisdom on which nature rests. Much of man's wisdom and progress consists in finding out his mistakes. New inventions are superseded by newer. Theories which one generation regards as the most advanced truths, the next generation treats as obsolete and exploded. But the lapse of time brings to light no mistakes, no miscalculations or oversights, in God's work. The history of the past, as far as we can decipher it, shows perpetual progress, but progress for which preparation was made at the very beginning.
III. Therefore it is the WORD OF DIVINE FAITHFULNESS. (1 Peter 4:19.) These three—commanding power, foreseeing wisdom, unchanging faithfulness—make up together the great idea of law. The laws of nature are the laws of God—" the word of the Lord." The constancy of nature is the image (because the result) of Divine unchangeableness (Jeremiah 31:35, Jeremiah 31:36; Jeremiah 33:20).
1. There can be no real opposition between faith and science. Men may misunderstand Scripture or misinterpret nature; but one part of God's truth cannot contradict another.
2. The study of God's works is a religious and Christian duty (measured, of course, by opportunity and ability). The New Testament teaches that the glory of creation is the glory of Christ (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2). If many students of science are atheists or sceptics, that is their fault or their calamity. Nature is full of God.
3. The more we study the revelation of God in nature, the more we are struck with its silence as to what we most need to know—what only the gospel reveals. "The heavens declare the glory of God," but not his grace. Is there a God who created all things? Is he almighty, all-wise, good, bountiful, patient, just, unchangeable? Nature, with innumerable voices, cries aloud, "Yes!" But is he merciful to sinners? Will he pardon the breakers of his laws? Is there atonement for sin; forgiveness; restoration; eternal life? Nature is silent. The Bible alone answers these questions (Exodus 34:6, Exo 34:7; 2 Corinthians 5:19, 2 Corinthians 5:21).
Permanence of Divine purpose.
"The counsel … for ever." In this world of change what is there that abides. Can we count on anything as unchangeable;? One generation passeth away, and another cometh. Laws, customs, lances, empires, races, decay and perish. Even "the everlasting mountains" are so only by comparison. "The waters wear the stones." "The mountain falling cometh to nought." The answer which our modern science gives to this question is summed up in the word "evolution;" i.e. unfolding, progress, development. Nothing abides; but all things advance to some higher stage, or decay and are dissipated. Scripture teaches the doctrine of evolution, only with this difference—not development of a blind necessity, evolution of law without a Lawgiver, perpetual motion of a self-acting machine that is always winding itself up; but the carrying out of a Divine plan, the unfolding of the eternal thought and all-comprehending purpose of God (Psalms 33:6, Psalms 33:9, Psalms 33:11).
I. GOD ACTS ACCORDING TO SETTLED PLAN, UNCHANGEABLE PURPOSE.
1. Not according to the sudden exigency of occasion. "Known unto God," etc. (Acts 15:18, Authorized Version). Nothing is more incomprehensible, yet nothing more certain, than that God knows the future as perfectly as the present and the past (Hebrews 4:13). Else he neither could have made the world nor could rule it. One great use of Scripture prophecy is to make this plain Isaiah 45:21; Isaiah 46:10).
2. Not according to blind necessity. What we call "laws of nature" are the laws which man discovers in nature because God has long ago fixed them there (Psalms 119:89-91). They are unchangeable because he changes not. But to suppose that God's laws interfere with God's will is absurd; it is to make God less powerful than man. Men cannot break or suspend the least law of nature, but men use the laws of nature to carry out their will.
3. Not according to arbitrary caprice. The will of God, which we are to pray to have done (Matthew 6:10; Matthew 26:39), is guided by perfect wisdom, righteousness, and love. Not simply "his will," but "the counsel of his will." (Ephesians 1:11).
II. THIS DIVINE PURPOSE IS UNCHANGEABLE. Change would imply imperfection in the plan or in God himself, want of foresight or instability of purpose (Malachi 3:6). But the manifestation of God's purpose may and must change. The Bible is the history of this manifestation (Ephesians 3:4, Ephesians 3:5; Colossians 1:26). What we do not need, or could not bear, to know, God still hides (Acts 1:7).
III. THIS DIVINE PURPOSE SHALL FINALLY TRIUMPH over all that oppose it. Even men's wickedness is overruled to bring about (against their will) God's purposes (Acts 2:23; Acts 3:18; Psalms 76:10). To reconcile this all-embracing, persistent, victorious purpose with human freedom and responsibility is beyond our limited power. True wisdom lies in accepting both. But a small part of the great circle of truth is above our horizon.
1. This truth is the greatest encouragement to prayer. If all were not foreseen and provided for, prayer would be useless. Prayer avails, not to change God's purposes, but as the appointed condition of the fulfilment of his promises (1 John 5:14, 1 John 5:15).
2. The resting-place of faith (Daniel 4:35; Romans 8:28).
HOMILIES BY C. CLEMANCE
Joy in God.
In this section of the Commentary we aim at discovering the unity of the psalm, and of dealing with it accordingly, reserving the treatment of specific verses as separate texts, for another department. This psalm has neither title nor author's name appended thereto. It is manifestly an outburst of glad and gladdening song from some Old Testament believer, and is a glorious anticipation of Philippians 4:4. It is refreshing to the spirit to find that in the olden times there were pious and holy souls, receptive of the revelation which God had even then given of himself, and who could gather up their thoughts in grateful calm as they mused on the perfections of their ever-reigning Lord. In this psalm there are no historic considerations presented, nor is there any individual experience suggested at which we have to look in studying this amazing illustration of joy in God. It is the "itself by itself "—the pure thing, the uplifting of a soul from the cloudland of earth to the sunland of heaven. Here is—
I. AN ENRAPTURING VIEW OF THE GLORY OF OUR REVEALED GOD. We use this word "revealed," as indicated By this psalm, advisedly on two grounds. For
(1) the name "Jehovah" (Philippians 4:1) is the name by which God revealed himself to Israel (Exodus 6:3). The name "I am that I am" at once removes the God of the Hebrews far above all anthropomorphism. Then
(2) in Philippians 4:4 we are told, "The Word of the Lord is right;" so that, as the word is the expression of thought, and as expressed thought indicates will, it is here declared that God had made known his will (see Psalms 103:7; Hebrews 1:1). How far God's early disclosures of himself went, our Lord Jesus Christ tells us (Matthew 22:31, Matthew 22:32). And it is by the light from words of God that we read his natural works. Having, then, God revealed by name and by word, what are the contents of that revelation which are here pointed out?
1. Right. (Philippians 4:4.) The Word of God, as given under the Old Testament, was preeminently right. As being such, the whole of the hundred and nineteenth psalm extols it. And now no nobler ethical code does the world possess than that given to Moses and the prophets, and confirmed by Christ.
2. Truth. (Philippians 4:4.) I.e. faithfulness. As righteousness marks the Word, so fidelity to the Word marks the works of God.
3. Goodness. (Philippians 4:5.) I.e. loving-kindness. The earth is full of it. The sound eye rejoices in the sunshine; and the pure heart reads the goodness of God everywhere.
4. Power. (Philippians 4:6, Philippians 4:7, £ 9.) We cannot rejoice in bare power; but when infinite power is in alliance with perfect goodness and with loving-kindness, then we can.
5. Wisdom. (Philippians 4:10.) There is not only a power that sways matter, but a wisdom which controls mind, so that among the nations there can never be any plotting which can frustrate or intercept his plans.
6. Omniscience. (Philippians 4:14, Philippians 4:15.) He espies from afar the hidden thought of every soul (Proverbs 15:3; Psalms 139:1-24.). He knows men's hearts, as having created them (Philippians 4:15) "alike," i.e. altogether, in one. There are variations in mind, but yet all minds act responsively to some necessary laws of thought inlaid in their original structure.
7. Steadfast counsels. (Philippians 4:11.) This is true of the plans of providence; but it is most gloriously true of the hidden mysteries and triumphs of his grace (1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 3:9; Acts 15:18).
8. All his counsels are in alliance with a holiness which warrants and invites confidence. (Philippians 4:21.) He cannot do wrong; he cannot be unfaithful or unkind (Psalms 92:15).
9. On some he looks with special favour and love. (Philippians 4:18, Philippians 4:19; see Psalms 18:25, Psalms 18:26.) Those who trust God most fully and follow him most faithfully will find that their lot is as beautifully ordered for them as if God had no one else to occupy his care. They will be guarded in peril, supplied in need, and comforted in sorrow; the loving glances of a gracious eye and the cheering words from a loving heart will give to such many a song in the night. Let all these nine features of God's glory be put together and looked at in blended sweetness, and see if they will not raise to an ecstasy of delight.
II. THE JOY WHICH UPRIGHT SOULS HAVE IN SUCH A GOD IS UNBOUNDED. Yes.
1. The joy has uprightness for its condition. Upright souls! Only such. But this does not mean absolutely perfect men, but men who mourn over the wrong, who have confessed it before God, who have received his pardoning mercy, and who loyally conform their lives to God's holy will and Word, who would not knowingly harbour any sin or aught that would grieve their God—men who have gone, in fact, through the experiences of Psalms 32:1-11..
2. This joy has grace for its resting-place. (Verses 18, 22.) "Mercy." The joy would have no ground stable enough if it were settled on any other basis than God himself, nor unless that basis were "mercy." "O God, be merciful to me I" is the cry which goes up from the penitent's lips more and more pleadingly as he moves forward in the pardoned life.
3. This joy has all that God is, has, and does for its contents. So the whole psalm teaches us; for the pardoning mercy of God has brought us so near to him that we know there is for us such an outpouring of love Divine as makes us infinitely rich for time and eternity.
4. This joy has boundless hope for its outlook. (Verse 22.) As Bishop Perowne well remarks, "hope" indicates the perpetual attitude of a trusting and waiting Church. Believers know that God will do exceeding abundantly for them above all they can ask or think. As the rich disclosures of God under the prophets have advanced to their unveiling in the unsearchable riches of Christ, so will the wonders of Christ in grace move forward to those of Christ in his glory. We yet seek a Fatherland. "God is not ashamed to be called our God, for he bath prepared for us a city."
5. This joy has prayer for its upward expression. (Verse 22, "Let thy mercy, O Lord, be upon us," etc.) Not that this is its only form of expression (for see below), but it is a joy which must and will find outlet in prayer for the constant supply of that mercy which feeds and sustains it.
III. THE JOY IS SUCH THAT IT MAY WELL RIPEN INTO A HOLY FELLOWSHIP OF MUSIC AND SONG. Here in Psalms 32:1-3 the psalmist calls on all upright souls to join him in sounding forth the praises of the Lord.
1. God having taken off all our burdens of guilt and care, the tongue is set free for praise.
2. A common joy in God may wall suggest a grand concert of song. Fellowship in trouble is soothing; fellowship in peril is uniting; fellowship in need touches common sympathy; fellowship in gladness creates a grand inspiration and a mighty burst of praise.
3. In giving vent to our joy musical instruments may be "skilfully" made subservient thereto. (Psalms 32:3.) To plead against this verse that we live in another dispensation, is not in place; for musical instruments in the hands of sanctified men are the servants of the Spirit, and we do but utilize God's own world of harmony when we press them into the service of celebrating redeeming love.
4. The right use and ample enjoyment in hallowed mirth, as we celebrate the praises of the Lord, may be made a holy and blessed means of grace. It is of no mean importance to recruit the bodily powers for God by means of the enjoyment of sacred music and song. And if, indeed, Christian people of musical tastes would seek to sanctify their special powers for God and his Church, many an abuse of their talents might be prevented, and many a holy outlet for their use secured. Well might Frances R. Havergal write—
"Take my voice, and let me sing
Always, only, for my King."
5. The largest scope for the noblest music is opened up by the wonders of redeeming love. Poetry, painting, sculpture, music,—all are grandest when inspired by the Cross.—C.
HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH
This is a hymn of praise to God,
as at once the Almighty Creator and Ruler of the world, and the Protector of his chosen people. Psalms 33:12 may he regarded as the pivot on which the whole psalm turns. What was true ideally, and in part of Israel, is true in fact and perfectly of God's people. "Blessed"—
I. BECAUSE THE LORD IS THEIR GOD. The prophets delight to mark the contrast between the gods of the heathen and Jehovah (Deuteronomy 32:31; Psalms 86:8; Isaiah 40:18-25). The vital difference between the false and the true was brought out powerfully in Egypt (Exodus 8:10), and with still more intense and dramatic effect on Mount Carmel in the day of Elijah (1 Kings 18:24). No doubt some of the heathen attained to high views of duty, but amongst the people it was otherwise. As has been said, their gods were like themselves—
"Gods partial, changeful, passionate, unjust,
Whose attributes were rage, revenge, and lust."
But our God is the living and true God. His character commands our highest admiration (Psalms 33:1-3). His Word and his works call forth our most devoted homage and praise (Psalms 33:4-11). Idolaters and all with idol-loving hearts may be constrained to say, in the day of their trouble, "They have taken away my gods, and what have I more?" (Judges 18:24). But no power can take away our God. He says to us, "I will never leave thee." And we cry to him with exulting faith, "Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee" (Psalms 73:23-28). To Israel God appealed as the God of Abraham, and claimed their obedience as the Lord their God, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt (Exodus 3:6; Exodus 20:1); but he stands in a nearer relationship, and has higher claims upon us, as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:3, Ephesians 1:7; 1 Peter 1:3, 1 Peter 1:7).
II. BECAUSE UNDER GOD'S GOVERNMENT THEY ARE BEING FORMED TO THE CHARACTER OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. Righteousness is the great want of the world. Get people made righteous—right in their being and their life, and there would be an end to the great evils that afflict society. Righteousness is the craving of all consciences and the hope of all troubled hearts. God's great aim is to make his people righteous. For this end he has given his Law; for this he sent his Son into the world; for this, as the potter with the clay, he is continually working in his gracious providence, "fashioning" the hearts of men. Well, therefore, has Paul said, "We are his workmanship" (Ephesians 2:10). God is blessed because he is righteous; and he would have his people made happy after the same fashion (Isaiah 32:17). "Righteousness exalteth a nation" (Proverbs 14:34); and this holds true also of individuals. "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled" (Matthew 5:6).
III. BECAUSE THEY HAVE A GREAT FUTURE BEFORE THEM. Nations have their decline and fall. Even Israel, because unfaithful, have been scattered (Deuteronomy 29:24-28); but the true Israel shall be under the eye and the keeping of the Lord for ever. They are his own inheritance (cf. Ephesians 1:18). Therefore they are encouraged to "hope," to "wait," to "trust." Their golden age is not in the past, but in the future. What Jacob said on his death-bed may be said with joy by all his true children, "I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord!" (Genesis 49:18; cf. Luke 2:28-32; 1 Peter 1:10-13).—W.F.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
A call to praise God.
The psalm is anonymous, and was composed apparently to celebrate some deliverance of the nation from heathen oppression, resulting from God's interposition and without war. Psalms 33:1-3 are a summons to praise God, the song to be accompanied with instrumental music. God is to be praised—
I. AS THE GOD OF REVELATION. (Psalms 33:4, Psalms 33:5.)
1. His Word is upright, always fulfilling itself.
2. All his conduct is faithful and righteous.
3. All his manifestations of himself are full of loving-kindness.
II. AS THE CREATOR OF THE WORLD. (Psalms 33:6-9.)
1. His Word—the breath of his mouth—was sufficient for the creation of the heavens.
2. He gathered together the waters of the sea.
3. Such manifestations of his power ought to fill us with reverence and awe. Study God's works as well as his Word. In the nineteenth verse we have the thought of the sixth verse repeated.
III. As THE IRRESISTIBLE RULER IN THE HISTORY OF MEN. (Psalms 33:10, Psalms 33:11.) Contrast here between what God does with the thoughts and counsels of men—bringing them to nought—and what he does with his own—making them to stand fast to all generations. The counsels which he brings to nought are evil counsels; he prospers and establishes the counsels of the righteous, and fulfils his own plans and purposes.—S
What God's people possess in him.
The call to praise God is supported by a setting forth of that which his people possess in him. The theme of this second part of the psalm is set forth in the twelfth verse, "Blessed is the nation whose God is Jehovah."
I. BECAUSE GOD IS THE CREATOR HE HAS THE MOST PERFECT KNOWLEDGE. (Psalms 33:13-15.) He not only observes men's doings, but knows their hearts, as having created them. You cannot know a man perfectly from his acts; you must know his thoughts and purposes to know his character.
II. HIS PEOPLE HAVE IN GOD A STRONGER DEFENCE THAN THE GREATEST WORLDLY POWER WOULD BE. (Psalms 33:10-12.)
1. The victory of the king and the safety of the warrior are not they own works. Even the war-horse, a thing that promises much in strength, can in reality do nothing apart from God's overruling power.
2. The eye of God is ditched towards those that fear him, to deliver them from danger and death.
III. THE CHURCH ACKNOWLEDGES GOD AS ITS HELP, ITS SHIELD, AND ITS SOURCE OF JOY. (Psalms 33:20-22.)
1. The Church waits for God. (Psalms 33:20.) To be its Help and Shield.
2. The Church rejoices in the holiness of God. If he were not perfectly good we should have to tremble with terror and not rejoice.
3. The Church hopes in God. Hope has been the attitude of the Church through all the ages. It must be our personal attitude towards God in Christ. "Which hope we have as the anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast," etc. What can sufferers do but hope?—S.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 33". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany