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Psalm 33

"A New Song of Praise"

                                            

 

INTRODUCTION

 

It is easy to praise the LORD when things are going well; it is far more difficult to praise the LORD in times of deprivation or danger. But it may be more important to praise the LORD in the difficult times than in the good times–if the praise biblically sound. This is because the biblical pattern of praise always includes the reasons for the praise, and in descriptive praise psalms (as opposed to personal experience praises) those reasons are theological, that is, sound doctrine. It is in the time of difficulty that we need to rehearse who God is, what God is like, and what God has done in the past. It will strengthen our faith for the current crises.

     Psalm 33 will do just that. The psalmist may have been facing the danger of war, and perhaps related to it the deprivation of food in a famine; but he praises the LORD for his character and his works throughout history. This is not "Praise the Lord Anyhow" as some mottos would have it; rather, it is praise to the LORD for solid reasons, and those reasons inspire greater faith and greater prayer. Then, through it all the people will have a new reason to praise, hence, a new song to sing to the LORD.

 

Text and Textual Variants[1]

 

1          Rejoice in the LORD, you righteous;

praise is fitting for the upright.

2          Give praise to the LORD with the harp;

sing praises to him on the ten-stringed lyre.

3          Sing to him a new song;

play skillfully with a loud sound.

 

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 loyal love of the LORD.

 

6          By the word of the LORD were the heavens made,

and by the breath of his mouth all their host.

7          He gathers the waters of the sea like a heap;[2]

he lays up the deep in storehouses.

8          Let all the earth fear the LORD;

let all the people of the world stand in awe of him.

9          For he spoke, and it[3] came to be;

he commanded, and it stood firm.

10        The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing;

he makes the purposes of the peoples to be of no effect.[4]

11        The counsel of the LORD stands firm forever,

the purposes of his heart through all generations.

12        Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD,

the people whom he has chosen for his inheritance. 

13        The LORD looks down from heaven;

he sees all mankind;[5]

14        from his dwelling-place[6] he watches

all who live on the earth–

15        he who forms the hearts of them all,[7]

who considers all their works.

16        There is no king saved by the strength of his army;

no warrior escapes by his[8]great strength.

17        The horse is a vain hope for deliverance;

neither does it deliver[9] any by its great power.

18        But the eye[10] of the LORD is on those who fear him,

on those whose hope is in his loyal love,

19        to deliver them[11] from death,

and to keep them alive in famine.

20        We wait in hope[12] for the LORD;

he is out help and our shield.[13]

21        In him our hearts shall rejoice,

for we have trusted in his holy name.

22        May your loyal love rest upon us, O LORD,

because we have put our hope in you.

 

  

Composition and Context

 

Psalm 33 is properly classified as a declarative praise psalm; it has the call to worship (vv. 1-3), the cause for the worship (vv. 4-19), and the conclusion (vv. 20-22).  Such compositions usually extol the glory and the greatness of the LORD as it is revealed in creation and history, and as it is made relevant by the grace of God to the people. In Psalm 33 there is a summary statement of the  cause for praise given in verses 4 and 5, listing the directness of God’s word, the faithfulness of his work, his love for righteousness, and his loyal love for his people. Each of these themes is then developed in the body of the psalm: the idea of the word of the LORD is developed in verses 6-9, the faithfulness of God in verses 10-12, his love for righteousness in verses 13-15, and his loyal love for his people in verses 16-19. This deliberate pattern must therefore inform the expository presentation.

            There is no compelling evidence to determine the authorship of the composition. This psalm along with Psalms 1, 2, and 10 are the only psalms in Book I that have no superscription. There is an ascription of the psalm to David in the Greek translation, and in Quinta and Sexta, as well as Qumran. And there are some Hebrew manuscripts that connect Psalm 33 to Psalm 32. But these seem to be attempts to supply a missing superscription.

            The occasion for the psalm is equally obscure. Because of the emphasis on creation and redemption, the writing has been connected with the autumn festivals.[14] But the praise of God was never separated from the historical experiences and faith of the people.[15] The psalm was probably an independent composition reflecting some crisis in the nation before becoming part of the temple collection. It may have been used for various festivals in Israel’s ritual, but it its central place remained in the life and worship of the people of God.    

  

Overview of the Passage

 

Summary

            The psalmist calls upon the righteous to praise the LORD because they can trust in him for salvation, knowing that his word is true, his sovereign works are faithful, his judgment is righteous, and his loyal love to those who trust in him is eternal.

 

Outline

 I.          Call to Praise: The psalmist calls upon the righteous to praise the LORD anew with musical accompaniment and shouts of joy (1‑3).

A.        The righteous are called to rejoice (1).

B.        They should praise with musical accompaniment (2).

C.        Their new song should be sung well (3).

II.        Cause for Praise: The LORD should be praised because his word is right, his works are dependable, his judgment is righteous, and his loyal love to those who trust in him is eternal (4‑19).

A.        He declares and demonstrates the certainty and clarity of the word of the LORD (4a, 6-9).

1.         Summary: The word of the LORD is upright (4a).

2.         Demonstration: The LORD created everything by his word (6-9).

B.        He declares and demonstrates the faithfulness of God’s works (4b, 10-12).

1.          Summary: All his works are done in faithfulness (4b).    

2.          Demonstration: The faithfulness of his works may be seen from the way he frustrates the plans of world and accomplishes his plan (10-12).    

C.        He declares and demonstrates that the LORD’s judgment is righteous (5a, 13-15).

1.         Summary: The LORD is righteous and just (5a).

2.         Demonstration: The sovereign LORD observes and evaluates the

integrity of humans (13-15).

D.        He declares and demonstrates that the LORD’s loyal love is faithful (5b, 16-19).

1.         Summary: The earth is full of evidence of his loyal love (5b).

2.         Demonstration: It is the loyal love of the LORD that saves and preserves the lives of those who trust in him (16-19).

III.        Conclusion: The people of God demonstrate their faith in him (20‑22).

A.        They wait eagerly for the LORD (20).

B.        They will rejoice because they trust in him (21).

C.        They petition him to continue to manifest his loyal love for them (22).

 

 

 

EXPOSITION

 

I.   Call to Praise: The righteous should praise God afresh with great joy and skill (1-3).

 

A.         It is fitting for the righteous to sing joyfully to the LORD (1).

             The call is for the "righteous" and the "upright" to sing praises to the LORD.  The word "righteous" refers to believers in the LORD who seek to live according to his standard (Deut. 6:25; Ps. 1:1); and "upright" refers to those who follow the LORD faithfully and seek to do what is right in his eyes.[16] These two descriptions prepare the reader for what is to follow in the psalm, namely, that the word of the LORD is "upright," i.e., straight or direct, and that the LORD loves "righteousness"(vv. 6-9) and therefore evaluates everyone righteously (vv. 13-15).

In calling the faithful to praise God, the psalm uses six different words for praise, the first two being in verse 1. The first verb, translated "sing joyfully" means "give a ringing cry." It is a loud, shrill sound of rejoicing, such as was used in cultic shouting (Lev. 9:24), or on joyous occasions such as the deliverance from exile (Isa. 52:8, 9). The second word is the noun "praise." This word, and its verb (as in"hallalu-Yah") refer to spontaneous praise, the natural description of something praiseworthy, such as in the glowing report about the beauty of Sarai given by the princes of Egypt (Gen. 12:15). God is praised for so many things, but especially for his person (Pss. 48:10-12; 106:1), his creation and its preservation (Ps. 148:1-6), and his acts of salvation (Pss. 22:26; 34:2).

         Such praise, the psalmist says, is "fitting" for the upright.[17] It is appropriate to the nature and experience of believers to praise, for they have received everything by God’s grace. A believer without praise is like a person who is not properly dressed for the occasion.  

 

B.         Their songs of praise should be with musical accompaniment (2).

             Both halves of verse two call for praise with musical accompaniments. The first imperative, translated "praise" or "give thanks," is primarily a public praise accompanied by ritual sacrifice.[18]   properly carried out in an assembly, in public. The word may be better understood as "acknowledge" since it is used for confessing sin (Lev. 4) or confessing the faith (Ps. 32:5), i.e., praising God and his attributes and his works (Pss. 89:6[5]; 105, 106; and 145). It is also used of acknowledging some truth about people (Ps. 49:19[18]). The word may be translated "praise" or "give thanks," but it requires clarification in the exposition. The other verb in the verse is "sing praises" or "praise" or "make music." The verb may have the idea of plucking strings; if so, then the verb, and the noun "psalm," would signify singing to the accompaniment of stringed instruments.

The praising was to be done with the lyre, an instrument shaped like a harp, having from 3 to 12 strings.[19] The other word may have been a type of lyre or harp with ten strings. Whatever the shape and sound of these instruments, it is clear that the call to praise included the use of stringed instruments; other psalms list different instruments, but this one prefers the lyre and harp.

 

C.        They should play skillfully with a new song of praise (3).

             Verse 3 has two more verbs for praising. In the first colon the verb is simply "sing"; and parallel  to it is the expression "play skillfully." The word "sing" is a general term used for individuals (Exod. 15:1ff.), Levitical choirs, or the assembled people who might sing antiphonally or in unison on an anthem. The second command is a little more involved. It literally says "make good to play a stringed instrument." This construction is uses an imperative and an infinitive; but in it the imperative becomes an adverb and the infinitive the main verb, hence, "play (a stringed instrument) skillfully." The verb "play a stringed instrument" is used of David playing the harp before Saul (1 Sam. 16:23).

            All the congregation is called on to sing "a new song." While this could mean a new composition, it probably refers to a new experience for praise (and so a metonymy). The motif of a new song is used 7 times in the Old Testament. In Psalm 40:2-4 David explains his recent deliverance by saying that God "put a new song in my mouth." The new song here is clearly a figure of speech (metonymy), the "new song" being put for the deliverance that inspired it. The other references (Pss. 96:1; 98:1; 149:1; Isa. 42:10) as well as this passage (Ps. 33:3) are set phrases in calls to praise with renewed enthusiasm resulting from a new experience of deliverance or a new appreciation of the LORD’s presence. Calling people to sing a new song was a way of calling people to enjoy God’s presence and his benefits, so that they would have something new to sing about in the sanctuary.

 

 

II.   The righteous should praise God for his powerful word, his faithful works, his righteous supervision, and his loyal love (4-19).

 

In the second section of the psalm we have the reason for the praise. It begins with a four-part summary (vv. 4, 5) listing four attributes of the LORD. Each of these themes will then be developed in the subsequent sections of the psalm. The understanding in each of these sections is that people should praise him for both the basic themes and the events and interventions that develop them.

            The first line of the summary declares that "the word of the LORD is upright." Then verses 6-9 develop the theme with the most compelling example, the creative pronouncements of the LORD. Those pronouncements were clear and direct; they did not contain uncertainty, they were not inadequate, they did not digress from the point.

            The second theme is "all his work is done in faithfulness" (v. 4b). "All his work" is much broader than creation–it refers to everything that God does. And it is done in faithfulness, which means that his revealed plan is completely dependable.[20] To develop this theme the psalm simply focuses on the plan of God for human history, for that is the most relevant summation of "all his works." God’s plan will be fulfilled in spite of many human plans to oppose it.

        The third idea (5a) is that the LORD "loves righteousness and justice."[21] The verse begins with the participle, "loves," but omits the subject pronoun: "he [referring to the LORD] loves." "Righteousness" and "justice" refer to the righteous acts and just deeds that flow from these attributes(so they are metonymies; see also Ps. 98:   and 99:4). The word "righteousness" refers to that which conforms to the standard–and the LORD himself is the standard and he has revealed it in his word. And since the LORD loves righteousness, he requires it in his people (Ps. 11 ). The other word  "justice" applies to all aspects of governmental activities, but primarily judicial decisions. Legal acts are just when they are in harmony with the justice of God revealed in his word.  And so these ideas are explained more fully in verses 13-15.  There we read how the LORD who fashioned the human heart examines it in his quest for righteousness in the race.

            And the fourth theme (5b) is the presence of God’s loyal love in all the world. Here too the word translated "loyal love" (khesed) refers to what this love produces, salvation and care (so it is a metonymy of cause). And this is the point of the elaboration in verses 16-19: by his loyal love the LORD delivers his people in battle and spares theirs lives in famine.

 

A.         Praise the LORD because his word is direct (4a and 6-9).

             The first theme, then, that "the word of the LORD is upright" (v. 4a), is illustrated by the directness of God’s word from creation. From this the psalmist will conclude that the LORD should be obeyed and feared.

            Verse 6 repeats the summary statement’s expression, "the word of the LORD," forming a link with that statement and introducing the contents of the next few verses. The best example of the theme is the proclamation of God in creation, specifically first the heavens and the earth (Gen. 1:6-8). Then, the parallel colon refers to the formation of the heavenly host (Gen. 1:14-19; see also Isa. 40:12ff, and Ps. 147:4). But now it is "his breath" that forms the decree (a metonymy of cause, rephrasing the statement about the "word" in the first colon). The point is that all of creation came about by the powerful word of the living God, delivered effortlessly and directly.[22] 

            Verse 7 presents the creative acts of God in rich poetic expressions. Most likely, the waters being gathered like a heap refers to the events on the third day of creation when the lands were separated from the seas. Other texts say that God set a boundary for the sea which it could not pass (see Jer. 5:22; Pss. 104:9; 148:6; Job 26:10; prov. 8:27-29).

             There are some connections between the language of Psalm 33 and the Song of the Sea in Exodus 15. The expression stating that the waters of the sea were gathered as a heap (v. 7), appears in Exodus 15:8.  And Psalm 33:7 mentions the "deeps," and in Exodus 15:5 and 8 the "deeps" are the instrument of destroying the Egyptian army. Moreover, Psalm 33:7 says that the LORD gathered the deeps into store-houses, and we have the same sense in other related passages (see Deut. 28:12;  Job 38:22). Although good things come from God’s store-house, the "deeps" are dangerous and destructive, and so the deeps in the storehouses may suggest an arsenal of weapons for God to use (Jer. 5:25). God controls the seas by his word, and can use them as he sees fit. In fact, God often uses the elements of creation as weapons as he did at the exodus. So the Song of the Sea is drawing on creation, which is the subject of Psalm 33:6-9). 

             The natural response to all of this is fear:  "Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the world’s inhabitants stand in awe of him" (v. 8). The "earth" refers to the people in the earth (metonymy), as the parallelism clarifies. Upon realizing the truths of this psalm, all people should now acknowledge the sovereignty of the LORD–as they will sooner or later.   Anderson notes, the LORD has a special relationship with the people of the world because he is their creator and sustainer, whether they acknowledge this or not (Psalms I:263, 4). 

            The exhortation is for people to revere (worship) and obey the LORD. It is a call for the only appropriate and reasonable response to the absolute authority of the universe, reverence and submission.  The parallel verb is even stronger: "stand in awe"; it means to fear in the sense of being intimidated by something superior and more powerful (see Deut. 1:17; 18:22; 1 Sam. 18:15). So not only are people called to acknowledge God as their creator, the truth of that acknowledgment should fill them with fear, a fear that will prompt reverence and obedience in them.

            The reason for this call is given in verse 9, and it is disarmingly simple but overwhelmingly deep. Here is where we come back to the idea of the directness and clarity of God’s word: "For he spoke, and it came to pass; he commanded and it stood firm." The LORD simply spoke, and what he said brought the universe and everything in it came into existence. "He spoke" is literally "he said," which makes a direct connection to the verb used throughout Genesis 1. And the verb "and it was/came to pass" certainly recalls "and there was light" in Genesis 1:3. 

        The second line uses "commanded" and "stood firm" (verb is literally, "it stood"). The idea of standing is often used for the action of a subordinate to a superior (e.g., Joseph standing before Pharaoh in Gen. 41:46). This report of his commanding and everything standing firm emphasizes that all creation endures by God’s decrees and stands before the LORD to do his bidding. Delitzsch says "He need only command and it stands forth like an obedient servant, that appears in all haste at the call of the Lord" (Psalms I:42). The same emphasis is found in Psalm 119:89, 90.

        So all people are called on to praise God for his direct and powerful word, for by it he made and sustains everything. When people in their modern sophistication, even in religious circles, ignore or even deny the word of God that reports creation, they not only rob God of his glory but they also destroy true worship, for if there is no sovereign Lord of all creation, there is no reason for worship or obedience. 

 

B.         Praise the LORD because his work is dependable (4b and 10-12).

 

    This section focuses on the LORD’s sovereign plan in history as the development of the theme that all his work is dependable (vb). Verses 10 and 11 go together as the plan and intentions  of the nations (v. 10) are contrasted with the plan and intentions of the LORD (v. 11). The two key words here are "plan" and "intention." The first word means "plan, counsel, advice" (see Ps. 1:1; and Exod. 18:19 where Jethro gave Moses advice). The second word, often translated "purpose," looks more to the idea of intention (see Gen. 50:20 where it is said the brothers "intended" [planned] evil in their treatment of Joseph). Now, as for the plan and intentions of the nations, the psalmist says that the LORD "annuls" and "thwarts" them. This second term has the idea of stopping an action (as in forbidding someone from carrying out a vow; Num. 30:9[8]).         

            On the other hand, the plan and the intentions of the LORD endure forever. Here we find the verb "stand firm, endure" repeated. As the LORD’s creation stood firm at his decree (v. 9), so his plan stands firm forever (v. 11). It cannot be shaken or interrupted by the antagonistic plans of the world. As the sage says, "There is no counsel, no wisdom, no plan against the counsel of the LORD" (Prov. 21:30). And as Isaiah says, "He brings to nothing the plans of the nations" (Isa. 40:23).  The certainty of the plan of the LORD is not temporary–it is eternal. This is stressed by the both "for ever, to the farthest time," and "until endless generations."  The point then is that the plan of the LORD is completely dependable; it can be trusted completely because it is carried out in faithfulness.

            Verse 12 appropriately pronounces a blessing on those who are in covenant with the LORD, who live according to his plan and purposes.  They are called a "people" and a "nation," recalling the use of these words in verse 10 for the nations for the purpose of making a contrast with them. In other words, there is a nation, a people, who are not trying to destroy the plan of God, for they are at the heart of it. The verse uses the covenant language to make the point that at the heart of God’s plan is the choice of Israel in accordance with the covenant made to Abraham to bring blessing to the world.  And the endless variations of the plan of the nations to oppose the divine plan by opposing Israel will come to nothing.  Craigie says, "the ‘nation whose God is the Lord’ (v. 12) is blessed precisely because its national existence is based upon the divine plan or scheme, not merely upon human aspirations" (p. 273).  So the nation whose God is Yahweh is not only blessed, but it occupies an enviable position among the nations.

            How did the LORD become Israel’s God? He chose them for his own inheritance (v. 12). Through election the LORD claimed Israel for his own. Deuteronomy 32:8,9 say that when the LORD gave the nations their inheritance, he set up boundaries for them according to the number of Israel (or the sons of God), for Israel was his allotted inheritance. Caird further explains that when God divided the world up into provinces, he appointed angels to be governors of each of the nations; but he decided to govern Israel himself; thus, one can conclude with the biblical writers that God was sovereign over the whole world, but uniquely and recognizably sovereign over Israel where his rule was acknowledged and followed.[23]

        Thus, Psalm 33 affirms that the LORD is sovereign Lord of history. He has a plan for the world which he will certainly carry out, often by cancelling out the plans and purposes of the world. His plan includes his nation Israel, whom he has chosen for his own possession. And all the plans of the world to destroy Israel or the Messiah (see Ps. 2:1-3) that have surfaced from generation to generation have failed, because those plans are contrary to his plan. And his plan is eternal.

 

C.        Praise the LORD because in righteousness he evaluates all mankind (5a and 13-15).

 

In the third section the psalm presents the LORD as the righteous ruler who observes and evaluates all people according to the standard of his righteousness. Verses 13 and 14 are parallel, each verse containing three ideas: the LORD’s exalted position ("from  heaven" // "from his dwelling place"), his observing ("he looks down" and "he sees" // "he watches"), and the objects of his investigation ("all humans [the sons of man]" // "all who live on earth").

The most telling contrast is that the place from which the LORD looks is "the heavens," and the dwelling place of humans is "the earth" (v. 13). The next verse adds that it is "his dwelling place," or more precisely, the place of his "sitting/dwelling." The language of sitting applied to the LORD is figurative (anthropomorphic); it usually signifies his kingship (see Pss. 9:8[7]; 29:10; 55:19[20]); and 107:13). It describes the LORD as the sovereign ruler who has an exalted position from which he observes all creation.

        Three verbs are used in these two verses for LORD’s observation: "gazes intently," "sees" and "watches." Since the LORD is never an indifferent observer, the meaning of the verbs must be either supervision or evaluation.  Verse 15 supports the idea of evaluation by its use of the verb "discern," i.e., to make distinctions between things. The LORD is "he who considers," the participle with the article functioning nominally and standing in apposition to the formal subject of verses 13, 14, the LORD). The function of this form is to clarify that the LORD is the one who evaluates–his watching is discerning. The first colon of verse 15 parallels this construction with the participle "he who forms." The two halves of the verse both explain who the LORD is in practical terms: the one who sees all is "he who forms" and "he who discerns." And the connection between these two participles is clear: the one who forms the heart, i.e., fashions it according to his plan (as yatsar signifies[24]), evaluates their activities.

        The verse says that he forms the heart of them "all." This word usually means "together" or "all-inclusive" or "all." It refers to individuals doing something or going somewhere together (e.g., Isa. 44:11, "let them be put to shame together"). It is sometimes just a synonym for the actual word  "all," and is found in parallelism with it as it is here. So the verse may be interpreted to say, "He who forms the hearts of all, who considers all their works." Since the LORD is the sovereign creator of everyone, he knows the acts and the intentions of them all. And since he created with a design (as the verb indicates), then his knowledge is evaluative. And furthermore, since the summary statement says the LORD loves righteousness and justice (v. 5), then the standard of this evaluative observation is to determine if people are righteous.

            So the sovereign LORD is the righteous judge; he thoroughly evaluates all human actions. Because he created mankind, his evaluation can penetrate even to the motivations behind the actions. He understands completely what we are, what we do, and why we do it. And the standard by which he evaluates us is his righteousness.

 

D.        Praise the LORD because he demonstrates his love by saving his people (5b and 16-19).

 

This fourth section explains how the loyal love of God works in the affairs of people. The summary statement (v. 5b) says that the earth is full of the loyal love of the LORD, meaning that the loyal love of the LORD manifests itself throughout the world in God’s dealings with his people (so the expression is as metonymy of cause). The elaboration of the point begins in verse 16: no king is saved by the greatness of an army, and a mighty man is not delivered by the greatness of his strength. The verse is set forth as a general principle, essentially a universal truth. It may appear at times that the victory belongs to the mighty army–and at times God may choose to use the mighty army; but the reality is that the victory comes only if the LORD wills. Those who trust in their military might alone will be dismayed when the LORD fights against them (see Ps. 20:6-9). The point is that ultimately that victory does not come through military strength alone (as the Egyptians learned; see Exod. 15:1-11).

            The idea is developed further in verse 17 as the writer focuses on the horse, the embodiment of military might in the ancient world. But he says it is a "vain thing"(sheqer). The word means "vain, false, empty." The use of this word is significant in this section of Psalm 33 that focuses on the faithful covenant love (khesed) of the LORD, because it, and especially its related verb, is often used with reference to broken covenants (cf. Ps. 44:18[17]; 89:34[33]; Gen. 21:23; Isa. 63:8; and Lev. 19:11).  For example, Psalm 89:34 says, "I will not take my loyal love (khesed) from him, nor will I betray (shaqar) my faithfulness."   The LORD will display his loyal love for his people, but the war horse or the chariot will be a false hope for deliverance–people who trust them will feel betrayed, because in spite of its great strength, it cannot save.

        In contrast to the hopelessness of putting one’s trust in military force (the "horse" represents the weapons and machines of warfare"), the psalmist announces the expectation of deliverance that hoping in the loyal love of the LORD brings. Verse 18 begins with a particle which historically was translated "behold." It is a particle that points out something important–here, "the eye of the LORD"; and by doing this in this context, it also express a contrast, such as "but, on the contrary."  This mention of the "eye of the LORD" (an anthropomorphism) recalls the evaluative looking reported in verses 13 and 14. But now the LORD watches over those who fear him, the faithful covenant believers. And if, according to verse 15, the LORD knows the hearts of the people, he certainly knows those "who hope for his loyal love."

         "Hope" includes the ideas of waiting with some tension (see Gen. 8:2) and of a confident expectation of trust (Ps. 42:6[5]). It is not a last resource, a hoping against hope, as it were. Rather, it is an expectant faith, but a faith that struggles with the tensions in life. Here the object of the hope is the "loyal love" of the Lord, i.e., the faithful, loving acts done in accordance with the covenant promises.

The double purpose of the LORD’s watchful care for believers is expressed in verse 19 by two infinitives. The first is "to deliver them from death." "Deliver" means "to snatch away, rescue, deliver" (what the warrior in verse 16 could not do). And "death" may be reference to the result of war (a metonymy of effect; see verses 16 and 17). But it may also be taken in the general sense of death for any reason, as the parallelism suggests. That parallel clause provides the second purpose infinitive, "to keep them alive in famine." The famine may have been part of a military siege; but it could also simply be a natural disaster (see Job 5:20).

         So the reasons for praising God started with his powerful word, illustrated by creation. The next reason was God’s faithfulness in bringing about his sovereign will in history–revealed to us in his word. This focus on his sovereign will prompted the meditation on his sovereign evaluation of humans in his search for righteousness and justice. And finally, this sovereign and righteous God is to be praised for his loyal love that delivers from danger and death.      

 

 

III.   The righteous should remain confident in their faith as they wait for his loyal love (20-22).

 

In the final three verses the psalmist speaks on behalf of the congregation, using the plural forms of the verb. Normally descriptive praise psalms end with a praise, or a renewed call for praise; but here we have a confession of confidence in the LORD by those waiting for his protection (v. 20), joyfully trusting in his holy name (v 21), and calling in hope for his continued his loyal love (v. 22).

            In short, the response of the people is one of confident waiting on the LORD. The first verb is "we wait patiently" –it is an eager and confident expectation. For example, Hosea uses the verb for bandits waiting for a victim (6:9). But in this psalm the objective of the waiting is good–they wait for the LORD. And the two key words, "help" and "shield," provide a clue to the reason for their waiting. These two words are frequently used of the LORD. The first word, "help,"refers to the victory that only God can give (and so it is the metonymy).  The word essentially means that he will provide for them what they do not have, or cannot do themselves. For example, it is used in this sense in Deuteronomy 33:26, 27, where the LORD "helps" by driving out the enemies. The other word, "shield," is a metaphor signifying protection. It is a term belonging to a military context; in general it means that LORD defends and delivers his people.

        In verse 21 we have the second part of the conclusion, the expectation of rejoicing. This rejoicing will be based on faith in the "name of the LORD," i.e., the attributes and acts of the LORD. The line has the imperfect tense first, "our heart will rejoice," and then the perfect tense "we have trusted" in the second colon, the causal clause. While they both could be translated as present tenses, it seems better in the context to make a distinction. Because they have trusted (present perfect, meaning they came to faith at some point and continue to trust) in the LORD, they are confident they will rejoice. The word for "trust" expresses the security that comes from have such a God in whom to place confidence.  And this is what is meant by "his holy name." "Name" speaks of the person of God in all his manifestations, his divine attributes revealed in his actions (see Ps. 20:7). And it is a holy name because he is totally incomparable.

        Finally, in verse 22, the confidence of the people turns to prayer in the form of a request for the LORD’s continued loyal love because they have put their hop in him. The psalm suddenly shifts to address God directly (an apostrophe, a closing prayer). The use of "loyal love" (khesed) in the first colon, again a metonymy of cause for the effect, recalls verse 18; here they are wanting what that loyal love produces, further acts of deliverance and protection. The second half of the verse reaffirms their faith: "even as (or because) we hope in you." Their appeal is based on their hope in him, for he delivers and sustains believers (vv. 18, 19).   

 

 

MEANING AND MESSAGE

 

The reasons for the righteous to praise the LORD are many; but this psalm singles out four very basic characteristics of the person and work of the LORD. And in elaborating on these four themes, a world of theology is opened up–creation, the eternal plan of God, the evaluation of all mankind by the righteous ruler in heaven, and the love of God that delivers and defends those who trust in him. The order of the themes builds to a climax with the loyal love of the LORD; and this emphasis is confirmed by the prayer that expects the loyal love of God to continue to act on their behalf. After all, they are the covenant people because the LORD chose them, gave his word to them,  built his plan for human history around them, evaluates everyone in righteousness and delivers by his faithful covenant love.

             So the exposition of the psalm, which will surely focus on the cause for the praise (vv. 4-19), must also build to this climax with the love of God.  So we may provisionally word an expository idea for this psalm as follows: It is fitting for God’s people to praise him for his exact word, his reliable plan, and his righteous standard of judgment, but most of all, for his faithful love that sustains us in times of great danger and deprivation.

             It will not be too hard to find New Testament passages that speak to these themes. Praise for the creator is found in the heavenly choirs of Revelation 4 and 5, but also in the treatises of the apostles (Col. 1). But John 1, which is written in the style of a psalmic composition, focuses on the creative Word.  For the faithfulness of the divine plan, his righteousness, and his faithful covenant love, we may consider the praise that opens Ephesians (1:3-23), or the conclusion of Romans 8. All the doctrines in the psalm may be found in dozens of New Testament passages. And these doctrines are not only reason for praise; they also encourage and strengthen the faith in times of danger or deprivation. Therefore, all believers should be filled with praise for these and all other aspects of God’s nature, and that praise will build their faith as they await further displays of his love.

  

   


 

[1] Some Greek and Hebrew manuscripts attributed the psalm to David: "instruction by David." The evidence is insufficient to support Davidic authorship for the psalm.

[2] For "like a heap" the Greek has "as in a bottle," reading the letters with different vowels. The Greek reading is supported by the Targum, Syriac, and Old Latin. Others suggest reading the form, "jar," which would make a good parallel with "store-houses" (see the NIV rendering). But the MT reading is close to Exodus 15:8 and Psalm 78:13.

[3] The Greek has this verb, and the last verb in the plural: "they came to be" and "they were created."

[4] The Greek version has added a third colon, which duplicates 10a by and large: "and brings to nought the council of princes."

[5] The text literally is "the sons of man."

[6] There is some manuscript evidence to read "his holy" in place of "his sitting."  But the Greek and Qumran both support the standard MT reading.  

[7] The word for "all" or "together," is difficult in this sentence. So the Greek has "individually." A. A. Anderson takes it in the sense of "alone," meaning the LORD alone fashions the hearts (Psalms 1-72, p. 265).

[8] Some of the versions insert "his" into the text.

[9] The verb (a piel imperfect in the MT) is rendered passive (= niphal) in the Greek as in the Targum. It would then read: "neither shall he be delivered."  

[10] One manuscript, as well as the Greek and Syriac make this plural.

[11] Literally, "their life."

[12] Literally, "Our soul waits."

[13] Greek has "defender."

[14] See for example A. A. Anderson, Psalms 1-72, p. 260. For Sigmund Mowinckel it was part of the New Year’s festival (The Psalms in Israel’s Worship, I:89, 94, 95). Weiser also puts it with the fall festival, but to him it is a covenant festival (Psalms, p. 289).   

[15] See Claus Westermann, Praise of God in the Psalms, p. 155.

[16] The word "upright" has the idea of going straight or direct. The upright look straight ahead, i.e., there is no deviation (Prov. 4:25); the upright do what is right in the eyes of the LORD, i.e., they keep his commands (Exod. 15:26; Deut. 6:17, 18).  

[17] The meaning of the word is "fitting, appropriate." We can see the meaning best by looking at things that are not fitting. Proverbs uses it to show that excellent speech (17:7), luxury (19:10), and honor (26:1) are not fitting for the fool–they are out of character for the fool. But praise is appropriate for the upright–it fits.

[18] Recall that the word for "thanks" (todah)  is also used in "the sacrifice of praise" found in Leviticus 7:  . The worshiper would bring the peace offering for the praise, and while the animal was being roasted for a communal meal offer the praise that occasioned the sacrifice.

[19] See Eric Werner, "Musical Instruments," in IDB, 3:474-75; see also Joachim Braun, Music in Ancient Israel/Palestine (Eerdmans, 2002).

[20]This word means "reliable, steady, firm." For example, it describes the hands of Moses as "steady" when Aaron and Hur held them up. And the developed sense is "faithful, dependable," referring to things that one can depend on. The LORD is dependable in all that he does.

[21] These two words, "righteousness and justice," may be interpreted as one idea, one modifying the other: "righteousness in justice," or "righteous justice."

[22] The account of creation was no magical text, as in the ancient religions In the pagan religions there are parallels. In Egypt the god Ptah conceives the elements in his mind and brings them into existence by his word (see ANET, p. 5). The difference is that in the Bible the power is in the LORD and not in the word as some magical element. Genesis 1 therefore also forms a polemic against pagan beliefs.

[23] G. B. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible, p. 179.

[24] The word means "form, fashion" by design. It is a word appropriate to the work of an artist, as the participle is used for "the potter." The related noun means "intent."

                 The call is for the "righteous" and the "upright" to sing praises to the LORD.  The word "righteous" refers to believers in the LORD who seek to live according to his standard (Deut. 6:25; Ps. 1:1); and "upright" refers to those who follow the LORD faithfully and seek to do what is right in his eyes.[16] These two descriptions prepare the reader for what is to follow in the psalm, namely, that the word of the LORD is "upright," i.e., straight or direct, and that the LORD loves "righteousness"(vv. 6-9) and therefore evaluates everyone righteously (vv. 13-15).