We confess that we place our hope in the things of this world to save us, not in the God who created, rules, knows, and delivers us.
Through this lesson, students should:
Be encouraged to offer robust worship because the God they serve created, sustains, and saves us.
Identify the things they trust in for salvation that is not God.
Be challenged to shift their trust from those things that cannot save to God.
Catch up on the Story
We do not know much about the context of Psalm 33. What is undeniable is that Psalm 33 is connected with the previous Psalm in theme. Psalm 32 ends with an imperative to give praise to God. Psalm 33 picks up that theme, expanding upon it.
Unlike Psalm 32, however, Psalm 33 does not come with a heading like “Of David. A Maskil.” This is perhaps due to the nature of its connection with Psalm 32. We are left to look closely at the Psalm to determine a context. What becomes clear as we read this Psalm more closely is that it was likely written during an armed conflict in Israel.
Finally, the Psalmist will draw on language and imagery reminiscent of the creation story in Genesis 1. As you study this Psalm together, keep the words of Genesis 1 close at hand.
Psalm 33 follows a rather simple formula. Nevertheless, it inspires us to place our trust in God because of his greatness, his goodness, and his steadfast love. We can break the Psalm up into sections. In verses 1-3, we will be challenged to engage in vibrant worship. The focus will be on God’s creative work in verses 4-9. Not only is God’s work creative, but it is sustaining and ruling too. The sovereignty of God is emphasized in verses 10-12.
Meanwhile, verses 13-19 will look toward the goodness of God. Finally, in verses 20-22, the congregation responds in solidarity of hope and trust in the faithfulness of God.
Given the likely context of this Psalm taking place during a time of conflict, we will be challenged to continue to place our trust in God’s provision, even when it might be advisable to look toward other earthly means for salvation.
Rejoice, Praise, Sing: Psalm 33:1-3
The Psalm begins with three straight plural imperatives: rejoice, praise, and sing. An imperative is a command, and as it comes in a plural form, it is a call for all of Israel to engage in vigorous worship.
We could translate verse 1 to say, “You all, all of you, rejoice in the Lord!” Of course, the call is not issued to just anyone but to God’s people, Israel. Who, by virtue of God’s choosing and faithfulness, have become righteous and upright. They are commanded to rejoice because that is what the upright do.
Keep in mind the nature of rejoicing. When was the last time you rejoiced? What caused it? Often, when we read Psalms like this in public worship, if we are not careful, we read them in a monotone voice, and we miss the joy that the command is to elicit. Shortly we will get to why Israel (us too!) should keep this command, but for a moment, channel your greatest moment of rejoicing and live in that moment for a while.
As we move to verse 2, Israel is given specific instructions on how to go about this praising. This rejoicing is to be done with musical instruments. This is the first time in the Psalms that we mention instruments. The call is to use the work of our hands, in concert with others, to aid our praise.
We are to make a melody. The easiest and richest melodies (and harmony) are made when people gather to contribute to a piece of music. Our praise is always to be a group endeavor. It can never be a show or an individual event. Even when we rejoice and praise in individual solitude, we carry the story and collected memories of God’s church. Even alone, our worship is a corporate event.
The psalmist mentions the lyre, a stringed instrument, and a ten-stringed harp. These were the instruments of the day. The lyre and harp could easily be substituted for an organ, a piano, electric guitar, or a computer generating electronic beats. The point is not the instrument; it’s in how it’s used.
This leads us to verse 3. The final plural imperative is to sing. I recently heard on a radio program that the human voice is the only musical instrument immediately accessible to all. We are all gifted with our voices to make melodies. Of course, some are more skilled than others, but that is not the point. We are to sing!
The type of song we are to sing is a new song. This is not to say that old songs are to be discarded. Rather, God is always involved in doing new things for and with his people. If we only ever look back to the “good old days,” we will miss the grand new things that God is doing now. Our praise should always seek to reflect on the past and the present, asking what new thing God has done that is worthy of a song.
Finally, there is an emphasis on skill. This music and melody we are to make are to be made skillfully. God has given us the ability to master tone, tempo, and the poetical assembly of words and urges us to do so skillfully. If you can do none of those things skillfully, do not fear. As we worship as a community, the brokenness of our individual voices are redeemed by the talents of others who are skilled. Even loud shouts are appropriate. To paraphrase Buddy from the movie Elf, “The best way to spread Christian cheer is to sing loud for all to hear!”
The Great God who Creates
Psalm 33:4-9 As we move forward, the psalmist explains why Israel (we) is given those three plural imperatives. Those commands come simply because God is the one who creates.
The section begins with the declaration that “the word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.” Here we begin to see shadows of the creation narrative in Genesis 1-2. The Psalmist confesses that the God whom Israel has been commanded to praise is one who creates by the word of his mouth.
God’s work of creation, unlike other near east creation narratives, is not through conflict but because of the goodness and faithfulness of God. Because God loves righteousness and justice, he created the world to be full of the steadfast love of the Lord. Even though it may not seem like it, creation is steeped in God’s covenant faithfulness to it (Brueggemann and Berlinger, Jr., 165). God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, his hesed, is part of creation’s fabric.
By verse 6, the shadows of the creation narrative become outright references. “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made….” God gathered up the waters, which often symbolize the forces of chaos that threaten order and goodness, and confined them to a
bottle. Because God has created in this way, the psalmist suggests that the whole earth, not just Israel, should respect and admire God.
The Sovereign Ruler: Psalm 33:10-15
God’s goodness and greatness do not stop with creation. God is not finished with creation once it has been set in place. Rather, God continues to act in decisive ways in his creation. For those who plot and scheme, God is there to frustrate their plans. On the other hand, those who look to God’s counsel will find that God’s counsel stands the test of time. Blessings will fall on those whom God has chosen. Here the psalmist speaks directly of Israel, but we get the sense that those who choose to follow the counsel of God will be similarly blessed.
As we move toward verse 13, we encounter a set of phrases that describe God’s continued vigilance (Knowles, 135). The Lord looks down, sees, watches, fashions hearts, and observes all their deeds. The psalmist intends us to understand that the world has not been left to its own devices, so we should offer great praise!
God is watching, not necessarily to bring judgment on those who have engaged in plots and schemes, but to mold the hearts of those who will be faithful to him. The psalmist may intend us to understand that God is watching us as a parent watches a young child's behavior to mold and shape the child’s behavior. The child will experience correction and punishment along the way, but the child will also receive love and discipline.
The phrase in verse 14 indicates that this sovereign watching and molding is not just for Israel but for all who inhabit the earth. Israel may be God’s chosen people, but as the rest of the Scriptural witness will show, God’s intention is for the flourishing of all creation.
The Deliverer: Psalm 33:16-19
In this section, we get a powerful corrective to our ideas about what national strength and salvation look like. So very often, in America anyway, we worship God on Sunday, but the American flag and all that it stands for every other day. We look into our world and see violent groups bent on imposing their ideologies on everyone else. All sorts of threats pile up at our borders and from within. The solution to those outside threats often seems to be military action.
We have a great army with war horses made of the strongest stuff on earth. The psalmist reminds us that trust that is placed in the war horse is a vain hope. It cannot save. The psalmist can say this because of his confidence in the story he has just told us, the story of God weaving his faithful love throughout the fabric of creation. The God the psalmist worships and serves is the God who created the world with the word of his mouth. It is the God who continues to watch over our world, frustrating the plans of the wicked and muddling the council of the evil. It is only this God who is worthy of praise. It is only this God who can save.
While God’s eye never moves from those who do evil, his eye is especially turned toward those who respect him and hope in God’s steadfast love. God will actively work for their good.
Waiting on God: Psalm 33:20-22
The final three verses of the Psalm are a confession of Israel’s confidence in the God who calls them to worship. At the same time, these verses are a call that the steadfast love that has brought them this far might sustain them as they wait for God to finally and fully make things right.
Israel's hope and trust in God is not a passive hope or trust. It is, as the quotation at the beginning of the lesson says, a courageous action. To place our trust and hope in God’s steadfast love and not in our own power, be it war horses or our relational power over others, is at the center of our call to worship.
It is the fifth Sunday of Lent. Throughout the years, the church has used the season of Lent as a time of preparation. In the early church, Lent was specifically for those preparing to join the church through the sacrament of baptism on Easter Sunday. Eventually, Lent became a time of preparation for the entire church as it approached Holy Week.
We continue with that tradition. The goal of our faith is that we might look increasingly more like Christ, enjoying ever deeper communion with the God who created us, both now and for the rest of eternity. So, during Lent, we confess how we are not yet like Christ.
This week’s Psalm helps us in that endeavor because it shows us how we are all too often convinced that someone or something other than Jesus will save us. For Israel, the temptation was to place their trust in kings and the machinery of war. For us, the temptations vary. At times what we look at to save us is the same as Israel. This is especially true at a time when every outside group seems to be a threat to our national security. At other times, we look to money, sex, technology, or relationships. In our attempts to have those things save us, we end up offering them our worship.
None of those things can save us because, unlike the God that we say we worship, none of those things brought the world into existence with the whisper of a word. None of those things wove into the fabric of the world, steadfast love, and faithfulness.
If we desire to worship in the way that this Psalm calls us to, we must examine if we have placed our trust and hope in God or something else. This week, as you live each day, ask God to reveal to you the things which you are hoping in for salvation. Confess when you are not hoping in God, and then pray that God’s steadfast love might be upon you so that you might hope in him.
Read the text aloud. Then, read the text to yourself quietly. Read it slowly, as if you were very unfamiliar with the story.
The Psalm begins with three plural imperatives: rejoice, praise, and sing. What does each of those imperatives mean? How are they similar? How are they different?
The psalmist states that the “earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord” (Verse 5). What does that mean?
Why does the psalmist paraphrase for us echoes of the creation narrative? What connection does that have with worship?
We have established that God has created the world through his spoken word. In verse 13 and what follows, we hear, "The Lord looks down from heaven; he sees….” What is God continuing to do?
Look at verses 16-17. The psalmist proclaims that the army and war horses cannot save. Why would he mention this? What is the possible connection with the command to worship at the beginning of the Psalm?
As a group, make a list of the things that humanity has put their trust in for salvation. Do we ever offer worship to any of those things?
The final two verses of the Psalm declare Israel’s intention to wait and trust in God. How does worship help us to do the same thing?
Personally, what things have you placed your trust in that are preventing you from worshiping properly? How can you shift your trust from those things to God?
What is God saying to you through this passage?
What are you going to do about it?
Melody D. Knowles, “Psalm 33,” in Psalms for Preaching and Worship: A Lectionary Commentary, ed. Roger E. Van Harn and Brent A. Strawn (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 2009).
Walter Brueggemann and William H. Bellinger Jr, Psalms, New Cambridge Bible Commentary (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014).