Psalm 33 is a psalm of praise made up of three distinct sections.1 In verses 1-3 we have a traditional call to praise which is a common feature at the beginning of the praise psalms. Then in verses 4-19, the psalmist list for us all the reasons we should praise God, or the cause for our praise. And finally, in verses 20-22, we have the conclusion, which describes for us the appropriate response for those who are convinced of all the things the psalmist has described about God in this psalm. Let’s begin by looking at the the call to praise in verses 1-3.
Call to Praise (vv. 1-3)
1 Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright. 2 Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings! 3 Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts. (Psalms 33:1–3 ESV)
In these verses the psalmist (who is not identified by a superscription or title) calls upon the people of God to sing a song of praise to the LORD. He says we should do this with loud shouts that are accompanied by stringed instruments like the harp and lyre. And he tells us at the end of verse 1 that these shouts of praise are the appropriate response for those who follow and serve God faithfully.
Notice in verse 3 that the song should be a “new song”! New songs, with stringed instruments, and no mention of a piano! He must have been the Old Testament version of the contemporary worship leader. In all seriousness, the words “new song” here more than likely mean singing as someone who has recently experienced the grace of God in a new way.2 The idea is that when we come together each week to worship God, we should sing all the songs (old and new) in a new way because of the fresh experiences of God’s grace we have experienced in our lives during the week that has just passed. In other words, don’t let your praise become rote and routine.
And so, with this call to praise issued, the psalmist now moves into verses 4-19 which describe for us the reasons we should praise God in this way.
Reasons for Praise (vv. 4-19)
This section begins in verses 4 and 5 with a brief summary of four reasons for which we should praise God.3 The psalmist will develop and expound upon these reasons in the verses that follow, but he begins with this summary to let us know where he is headed. And so, we’ll begin by reading these summary verses and identifying the four reasons for praise he outlines in them. Then we’ll work through the psalmist’s detailed explanation of these four reasons of praise in the remaining verses the psalm. Verses 4 and 5 say:
4 For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. 5 He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD. (Psalms 33:4–5 ESV)
So the four reasons for praise that the psalmist list for us in verses 4 and 5 are:
- For the word of the LORD is upright (v. 4a)
- All his work is done in faithfulness (v. 4b)
- He loves righteousness and justice (v. 5a)
- The earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD (v. 5b)
The Word Of The LORD Is Upright (vv. 4a, 6-9)
Let’s continue by reading verses 6-9 where the psalmist explains in detail what he meant when he said in the first half of verse 4 that the word of the LORD is upright. According to the psalmist, the word of the LORD is upright because:
6 By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. 7 He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; he puts the deeps in storehouses.
8 Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! 9 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm. (Psalms 33:6–9 ESV)
In other words, using nothing more than the words of his mouth, the LORD created everything. We are reminded here that by only uttering simple commands, God created the heavens and he made all the hosts of heaven, meaning all the stars and planets and/or all the angelic beings (both are true).
In verse 7 we are also reminded that “God controls the seas by his word and can use them as he sees fit.”4 On the third day of creation, God commanded the seas to separate from the land, and the seas obeyed (Genesis 1:9-10). The fact is, as we see in verse 9, “[God] spoke, and it came to be.” And so, we are told in verse 8 that the psalmist’s expectation is that all the people of the earth would fear this powerful and awesome God and give him the praise he deserves. He says, “Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!” And yet, for the most part the people of this world pretend like God isn’t even there. Sadly this is often true even in the church. But a day is coming soon where we will not be able to ignore him any longer. We will see the power of his commands with our very own eyes.
So the first reason the psalmist gives for praising God is that his Word is upright. Meaning that they are straight and true and, therefore, always accomplish what God intends and what is best.
All His Work Is Done In Faithfulness (vv. 4b, 10-12)
And the second reason the psalmist gives us for praising God is found at the end of verse 4. According to the psalmist we should praise God because “all his work is done in faithfulness.” And he explains this in more detail in verses 10-12. Let’s take a look at them now.
10 The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. 11 The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. 12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage! (Psalms 33:10–12 ESV)
In verses 10 and 11 we are reminded that “the God who made the world also rules it according to his own purposes”5 and that his purposes are often at odds with the plans and intentions of the people in this world who do not submit themselves to God. While the plans of these people are often thwarted by God, God’s plans stand forever. And so, as we see in verse 12, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!” When God’s plans are our plans, we are blessed because his plans will always succeed. And so, as those whom God has chosen to be his own possession, we should enthusiastically praise him with shouts of joy and songs of praise.
So, in verses 10-12 we have seen that the second reason the psalmist tells us to praise God is because all his work is done in faithfulness. And in verses 13-15, we will see that the third reason we should praise God is, as we were told at the beginning of verse 5, because “He loves righteousness and justice.”
He Loves Righteousness And Justice (vv. 5a, 13-15)
Let’s read verses 13-15 now.
13 The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; 14 from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, 15 he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds. (Psalms 33:13–15 ESV)
What we learn in these verses is that because God loves righteousness and justice he looks down from heaven and “evaluates all people according the standard of his righteousness.”6 He has fashioned our hearts and he observes all our deeds. And because he loves his righteousness and his justice, that is his standard. And because he sees into our hearts and minds, his right and just demands apply even to our thoughts and desires.
God is, thus, worthy of our praise because he is not like humankind. He is in every way righteous and just. And he is able to see past the outward facade that people of the earth are often so impressed with. God is able to see and judge the hearts and men and women. And he is to be praised because, unlike human rulers and kings, God’s judgements are always right and fair. They are always perfect because he is perfect and he has perfect information about each and every one of us.
So the psalmist has told us to praise God first of all because the word of the LORD is upright and second of all because all his work is done in faithfulness. And the third reason we should praise God according to verses 13-15 is that, “He loves righteousness and justice.” And the final reason the psalmist lists in this psalm for why we should praise God is found at the end of verse 5 where he says, “The earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.”
The Earth Is Full Of The Steadfast Love Of The LORD (vv. 5b, 16-19)
Let’s look now at verses 16-19 where the psalmist explains this in more detail. He says:
16 The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. 17 The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.
18 Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, 19 that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. (Psalms 33:16–19 ESV)
In these verses we are reminded where our true hope lies as men and women whose hearts are fully exposed to the all-seeing and all-knowing God in heaven. Kings aren’t ultimately saved by armies. Soldiers are not ultimately delivered by their great strength. War horses and military force are only a false sense of salvation. God is the one who saves. God is the one who delivers. And as his people we must remember this. We must remember where our hope is really found.
The Bible tells us time and time again that the only place where certain security is to be found is within the steadfast, loyal, covenantal love that God has for his people. If we place our confidence and hope in those human inventions and institutions, that promise us security, we will soon find that we have placed our hope in something that could never deliver on its promises.
As we see in verse 18, God’s eye is on those who fear him. God’s protection is on those who place their hope in his steadfast love. And the way God has most clearly demonstrated his steadfast love to us is by putting on human flesh and coming to the cross to die in our place. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8 ESV). Friend, if your hope and trust is in anything other than the cross of Jesus Christ, you are only going to be disappointed in the end. The cross of Christ is God’s means to deliver our souls from death and to sustain us in difficult times. Place your trust there and forget the cheap imitations that the world offers.
The Appropriate Response (vv. 20-22)
And so, as God’s people, what should our response be to these things? Well the psalmist tells us in verses 20-22. He says:
20 Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. 21 For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. 22 Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you. (Psalms 33:20–22 ESV)
Is that your prayer? “Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon [me], even as [I] hope in you. If not, I pray that it will be.
Let’s pray through this psalm together now.
O Father in Heaven, we want to enthusiastically praise you for who you are and what you have done for us.
O God, your Word is powerful and true. By nothing but the words of your mouth you have created a universe so vast our minds cannot comprehend it. You have created everything in it and given it a purpose. You have given us a beautiful place in this vast universe to live. And you have done it all with nothing more than the words of your mouth.
And God you have given us more of your words in written form. Words to convict us of sin and words to guide us to a Savior. You have given us words to lead us as your people. You have given us trustworthy words that describe for us the purpose of your church. And yet, so often we ignore them. Forgive us Father for ignoring the very words of the mouth of God. And Father we pray tonight that you would shine a light of understanding into the hearts of those people and those so-called churches who now reject the Bible as God’s Word. Make your word real to them and may they stand before you in fear and awe.
Father we are grateful that even as we live in a world that is set against you, that those plans will never ultimately succeed. We are grateful that you have made your plans and that your plans are good and that your plans will always succeed. We are grateful that no matter how hard we try, we can never thwart your good plans for us as your people. Grant that we might relinquish our own plans and adopt your plans as our own.
Father we praise you for being a righteous and just judge of humankind. We are thankful that you are not like human rulers who are so often corrupted by their power. We are thankful that absolute power does not absolutely corrupt as the saying goes. We are thankful that you alone have absolute power and that you are, at the same time, absolutely just and righteous.
And it is because of this Father, that we place our trust only in you. We know that all human-devised inventions and institutions that promises security will only disappoint when Jesus returns. And so tonight we reject all of those things and place our trust only in what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross. We trust in Jesus to deliver our souls from death.
And as his people we confidently and patiently wait on you to bring your plan of redemption to its ultimate conclusion. We find great joy and happiness as we trust in your holy name. Yes, “Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you.”
- Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms: Volume 1 (1-41) (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2011), 723-724. ↩
- Lane T. Dennis and Wayne Grudem, eds. The ESV Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008), n.p.; Ross, 730. ↩
- Ross, 723. ↩
- Ross, 733. ↩
- Lane T. Dennis and Wayne Grudem, eds. The ESV Study Bible. Accordance electronic ed. (Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008), n.p. ↩
- Ross, 736. ↩