Psalm 33, verses 1—11
The Seventh Sunday after Trinity
1 Shout for joy to Yahweh, O righteous ones,
praise is fitting for the upright!
2 Praise Yahweh with the lyre,
with a harp of ten strings make music to Him!
3 Sing to Him a new song,
play skillfully with a shout of joy!
4 For the Word of Yahweh is upright,
and He works all of His work in faithfulness.
5 He loves righteousness and justice,
the earth is full of the steadfast love of Yahweh.
6 By the Word of Yahweh the heavens were made,
and with the breath of His mouth all their hosts.
7 Like a dam he gathers the waters of the sea,
He puts the depths in storehouses.
8 Let all the earth fear Yahweh,
Let all the inhabitants of the world be afraid of Him!
9 For He spoke, and it was,
He commanded, and it stood fast.
10 Yahweh destroys the schemes of the nations,
He thwarts the thoughts of the peoples.
11 The plans of Yahweh stand for eternity,
The thoughts of His heart from generation to generation.
Translated by Pastor Andersen
Psalm 33 begins with a string of commands, all of which are related to worship: Shout! Praise! Make music! Sing! Play! (v. 1—3). While the psalmist could have gotten his point across with a single verse (or half-verse), it is fitting that he chose to write about the Third Commandment for three verses.
These first three verses don’t say a whole lot about the content of worship. Yahweh is clearly the One being worshipped and there’s a lot of noise (shouting and music). Verses 1—3, then, might be considered the rubrics. They are more concerned with telling us to praise than with doing the praising. The praise itself (the content, informed by the Word) occupies the rest of the psalm (verse 4ff.). The impression we are left with is that while there’s place for talking about praise, there’s nothing quite like doing it. And, as we will see, true praise consists in recounting what God has done for us (v. 4ff.).
By contrast, many modern “praise” songs say precious little about who God is or what He has done for us. Much of today’s praise music seems to have taken its cue from songs like “I Love to Tell the Story”, which is mostly an account of how much the author loves to tell “the story” without ever actually getting around to telling it. However, when you consider that the central content of the Christian faith doesn’t make for uplifting praise songs (suffering, the cross, death, etc.), it’s easy to see why modern praise artists would opt to write songs about more pleasant things.
True praise, by contrast, acknowledges who God is and what He has done for us, even when this means confronting unpleasant things, things like our sin and the horror of the cross. Just as water, bread, and wine remain ordinary water, bread, and wine apart from the Word of God, so it is with praise. “Praise” that is devoid of the content of God’s Word are empty words. Godly praise is saturated with His Word; it consists in recounting His work on our behalf.
Psalm 33 reminds us not only of the Word and work of Yahweh, but of His steadfast love, His righteousness and justice, His work of creation and re-creation, His tangible grace, His sovereign power over the elements of the world, etc. The confession of the Creed, as a summary of the most significant things God has done for us, serves as one of the high-points of our praise in the Divine Service (despite this often being done without any music or singing!). On the other hand, no amount of enthusiastic shouting or music-making qualifies as praise where it is devoid of God’s Word.
Verse 3 highlights the importance of bringing our best into the presence of the Lord (“play skillfully”). Just as no expense was spared when Solomon built the temple, so also we should endeavor to adorn God’s house with beauty in every way possible. We ought to use the finest of fabrics to cover the pastor, pulpit, and altar. We should endeavor to bring only the very best music into God’s house and use the only the most precious of vessels for the Lord’s Supper. It isn’t fitting to use murky water, stale bread, and leftover wine for the Sacraments. Even so, it is not the quality of the water, bread, or wine that makes a Sacrament: it’s the Word. So it is with praise. The Word makes it what it is, not the skill of the musicians or how much it stirs our emotions. While we should endeavor to bring the best combination of music and texts into the presence of God, the sole criteria for determining the quality of praise is the Word alone. The more fully the Word is present, the more fully we praise God.
This Word is described in verse 4 as being “upright” (יָשָׁר), the very same word that is used to describe the “righteous ones” in verse 1 (“praise is fitting for the upright”). The Word that shapes worship, the Word that gives content to our praise, in turn shapes the people who are worshipping. How we praise affects how we believe (lex orandi, lex credendi). This Word has the power not only to create (v. 6), but also to re-create, to make us once again “upright.” The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9); nothing accursed will be in the New Eden (Rev 22:3). Yahweh’s Word is powerful enough to save even us (Rom 1:16) who were once dead in sin (Eph 2:1—2). It is powerful enough to accomplish all of Yahweh’s purposes (Isaiah 55:11). “For He spoke, and it was; He commanded, and it stood fast,” (Psalm 33:9). It follows, then, that we should not only want our praise, but our entire lives, to be as saturated with this Word as possible.
Verse 5 introduces means of grace language into the psalm: “the earth is full of the steadfast love of Yahweh.” God’s steadfast love, His life-giving grace, comes to us via His Word at work in the physical, tangible creation. The Creator is bound to His creation. The Word became flesh; God became Man. The steadfast love of Yahweh is a visible, tangible thing. It is found in His creation. In particular, we find the resurrected Lord in means divine: beneath the water and the Word, beneath the bread and wine (“We Walk By Faith and Not By Sight”, LSB, 720; verse 4). A modern form of Arianism can be seen in the Reformed (symbolic) view of the Sacraments, where it is supposed the finite (e.g., bread and wine) cannot contain the infinite (the body & blood of Christ). However, as the Psalm says, the physical creation is full of the steadfast love of Yahweh. The same Word that became incarnate in a physical human body continues to manifest Himself among us in the physical elements of bread and wine.
The psalmist also shows us how the recitation of the deeds of Yahweh often has a profound emotional impact on those reciting them (verse 8). While such a subject response cannot be used to measure the quality of praise, it is nevertheless often present, as it is in this psalm. It is evident in verse 8 that the Word of God did not remain an external, dead letter to the psalmist, but moved him to issue another string of imperatives (cf. v. 1—3), this time related to the First Commandment. To truly consider the awe-inspiring power of Yahweh’s Word is to conclude with the psalmist: “Let all the earth fear Yahweh, let all the inhabitants of the world be afraid of Him!” (v. 8). If only our fear, love, and trust of Yahweh were perfect, we would be like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever (Psalm 125:1).
But instead, we often trust in our own schemes and begin to fear when they fail us (as they always do). Verse 10 reminds us that our best laid, most impressive plans are as nothing before God (“Yahweh destroys the schemes of the nations, He thwarts the thoughts of the peoples”; cf. 1 Corinthians 1:18—31). We recall Babel, how Yahweh had to come down to see the city and the tower (as if straining from heaven to see our trivial little effort, cf. Gen 11:5). Our best efforts, our most enthusiastic singing and soaring melodies are nothing compared to the one little word that can fell Satan. Innovations get old and our plans come to nothing, but there is something that endures: “The plans of Yahweh stand for eternity, the thoughts of His heart from generation to generation,” (verse 11). So also it is with praise that is founded on Yahweh’s Word; it endures from generation to generation. Unlike our best efforts to create something of value, praise that is founded on the Word will endure forever.