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Psalm33

A SONG of praise, intended to excite and to express the confidence of Israel in Jehovah, and closely connected with the didactic psalm before it, the closing sentiment of which is here carried out. This intimate relation of the two psalms may account for the absence of a title in the one before us, as in the case of the ninth and tenth. See above, p. 46.


After a general invitation to praise God, ver. 1–3, the reasons are assigned, to wit, his truth, faithfulness, and mercy, ver. 4–6, his creative power, ver. 7–9, and his control of human agents, not only individuals but whole nations, making them subservient to his own designs, ver. 10, 11, from all which is inferred the happy lot of his peculiar people, ver. 12. The Psalmist then continues his praise of God, as omniscient, ver. 13, 14, and contrasts the insufficiency of all created help, ver. 15, 16, with the security of those whom he protects, ver. 17, 18, and the whole concludes with an expression of strong confidence in him, on the part of all his people, ver. 19–21.


1. Exult, ye righteous, in Jehovah! To the upright suitable (is) praise. The Hebrew verb, according to the etymologists, originally means to dance for joy, and is therefore a very strong expression for the liveliest exultation. In Jehovah, i.e. in the knowledge and possession of him, with particular reference to the covenant relation between him and his peculiar people, who are here called the righteous and the upright, by way of eminence, as in Num. 23:10, not because they were all actually so, but because they ought to have been so, as this was the idea or, so to speak, the theory of a chosen people, and those natural descendants of Israel who were not of this character were not entitled to the privileges of the church, which, on the contrary, to the true Israel, were legitimate occasion of rejoicing, and made praise peculiarly comely or suitable to them.


2. Give thanks to Jehovah with a harp; with a lyre of ten (strings) make music to him. The first verb means to acknowledge, either sins or favours; in the first case, it answers to confess, Ps. 32:5, in the other to thank, Ps. 7:18 (17). See also Ps. 28:7, 30:10 (9). The common version, praise, is too indefinite, though this idea is undoubtedly included. The mention of the instruments does not exclude vocal praise, but merely gives it an accompaniment and support, as if the voice were too weak by itself to utter the divine praise. The precise form of the instruments here named is now unknown and wholly unimportant. The ten strings of the second are mentioned, either to identify it by a similar circumstance, or, as some suppose, because the number had a mystical significance. The same combination reappears below in Ps. 144:9, while in Ps. 92:4 (3) the two words are separately used, as if denoting different instruments.


3. Sing unto him a new song; play well with joyful noise! A new song implies the continual recurrence of fresh reasons and occasions for the praise of God, and also the spontaneous ebullition of devout and thankful feelings in the hearts of those by whom the praise is offered. This is the first instance of the expression, but it frequently reappears in later psalms—Ps. 40:4 (3), 96:1, 98:1—and once or twice in the New Testament, Rev. 5:9, 14:3.—Play well, literally do well to play or in playing. This peculiar idiom occurs in the history of David, 1 Sam. 16:17.—Joyful noise, see above, on Ps. 27:6, in which place, as in this, there is no certain or necessary reference to sacrifice, but only to an audible and lively expression of religious feeling.


4. For right is the word of Jehovah, and all his work is (done) in faithfulness. The word here meant is the word of promise, and the work is its performance or fulfilment. The word is right or upright, i.e. uttered in sincerity and with a full determination to redeem it. In faithfulness, executed faithfully. Compare Num. 23:19, Ps. 105:42.


5. Loving righteousness and justice—(with) the mercy of Jehovah is the earth filled. He is loving, i.e. he habitually loves. The last clause represents God’s mercy as a matter of notorious and universal observation, and the whole verse exhibits his justice and his mercy as in harmony with one another, and equally consolatory to his people.


6. By the word of Jehovah were the heavens made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. Having set forth the righteousness, fidelity, and mercy of Jehovah, as displayed on earth, the Psalmist now demonstrates his ability to deliver and protect his people, by exhibiting his almighty power in the creation and sustentation of the universe. There is obvious allusion to the history of the creation in Genesis. This is especially apparent in the closing words, all their host, which are borrowed from Gen. 2:1. Breath is a poetical equivalent to word, and conveys still more strongly the idea of the ease with which a God could make a world. At the same time, it is not a mere fortuitous coincidence, that these two words are used in Scripture to designate the second and third persons of the Godhead. Compare Gen. 1:2, Job 27:3, 33:4, Ps. 104:29, 30, Isa. 11:4.


7. Gathering as a heap the waters of the sea, putting in storehouses the depths. The participle represents it is an act still continued, and affording a perpetual evidence of God’s almighty power, which is just as necessary now as on the first day of creation, to prevent the earth from being totally submerged.—As a heap. Dealing with fluids as if they were solids, with an obvious allusion to Exod. 15:8. See also Josh. 3:13–16, Ps. 78:13.—Putting, literally giving, storing, depositing.—Depths, masses of water. The main point of the description is God’s handling these vast liquid masses, as men handle solid substances of moderate dimensions, heaping the waves up and storing them away, as men might do with stones or wheat.


8. Let them be afraid of Jehovah—all the earth; let them stand in awe of him—all the dwellers in the world. The position of the verbs at the beginning of the clauses adds greatly to the strength of the expression. The parallelism is exact, the terms being nearly synonymous. That the earth of the first clause means its rational inhabitants, is implied in the plural verb, and expressed in the parallel clause. For the precise sense of the word translated world, see above, on Ps. 24:1. The remoter inference suggested is, that this omnipotent creator and preserver of the universe is able to protect his people, and entitled to their confidence.


9. For (it was) He (that) said (Be), and it was; (it was) He (that) commanded, and it stood. The whole form of the sentence here is modelled upon that of the cosmogony in Genesis, where these two verbs repeatedly alternate. The common version, he spake and it was done, is liable to three exceptions. The first is, that the emphatic pronoun of the Hebrew is not fairly represented; the second, that the phrase it was done is much less striking than it was; the third, that the Hebrew verb (אָמַר) does not mean to speak but to say. See above, on Ps. 4:5 (4). What was said, every reader could supply from recollection of the narrative in Genesis.—Stood, appeared, came into existence. Compare Ps. 119:90, 91.


10. Jehovah has annulled the counsel of nations; he has frustrated the plans of the peoples. What he has done he can do, although this is not explicitly affirmed. He who created and sustains the universe can frustrate, as he pleases, the designs of his own creatures, whether individuals or nations, from whom, therefore, his own people can have nothing to fear.


11. The counsel of Jehovah to eternity shall stand; the thoughts of his heart to generation and generation. This is the converse of the proposition. For the same reason that no purpose of his creatures can succeed against his will, no opposition of the creature can affect the execution of his own designs.—Counsel, plan, purpose.—Thoughts of his heart, conceptions or intentions of his mind.—To generation and generation, a common idiomatic phrase meaning one generation after another, or indefinitely, all generations.


12. Happy the nation whose God (is) Jehovah, the people he hath chosen for a heritage for him. This is the centre of the whole psalm, the conclusion from what goes before, and the text or theme of all that follows. Under the general proposition is included a particular felicitation of Israel as the actual choice and heritage of God, i.e. chosen to be his, in a peculiar sense, by hereditary succession, through a course of ages.


13. From heaven looked Jehovah; he saw all the sons of man (or Adam). He looked not at any one time merely, but at all times; he has always looked upon them since he first created them. As his omnipotence is constantly exerted to sustain them in existence, so his omniscience is continually exercised in the same inspection as at first.

14. From the place of his dwelling he gazed at all the dwellers on the earth. From his own residence without and above the earth, he has continued still to look intently upon its inhabitants. The verb is a poetical one, stronger than the ordinary look. See Song Sol. 2:9, Isa. 14:16.


15. The (God) forming all their hearts, the (God) attending to all their deeds. The article agrees with the subject of the verb understood, and this construction it is necessary to retain, in order to connect the sentence as closely with the one before it as in the original. Forming implies knowing, which is more distinctly expressed, in reference to their outward conduct, in the other clause. God is also described as the creator of the human soul in Zech. 12:1. Compare Num. 16:22, 27:16. His control of it is expressly affirmed in reference to kings, Prov. 21:1.


16. Not at all is the king saved by greatness of force; a mighty (man) shall not be freed by greatness of strength. It shall not be, because it is not so, nor ever has been. The future therefore really includes a universal present. The negation is of course to be limited by what precedes, the saving power of mere human strength being only denied as it stands opposed to God, or affects to be independent of him. The Psalmist here begins a contrast between God’s perfection and all created helps, considered as objects of confidence. The king is a generic term, describing a whole class, more strongly than our indefinite phrase, a king.


17. A lie (is) the horse for salvation, and by the greatness of his strength he shall not deliver. This is a mere specification of the general statement in the sixteenth verse. The horse meant is the war-horse, and is singled out as one of the elements of military strength in which the ancients were especially disposed to trust. See above, on Ps. 20:8 (7), and compare Isa. 31:1–3. A lie, a falsehood, i.e. something which deceives and disappoints the confidence reposed in it. The deliverance and salvation here referred to are deliverance and salvation from the perils of war.


18. Lo, the eye of Jehovah (is) towards his fearers, to those waiting for his mercy. While the material strength of other men fails to secure them, those who fear the Lord, and hope in his mercy, are secure beneath his vigilant inspection. That this is intended for their good, is more distinctly stated in the next verse.


19. To deliver from death their soul, and to keep them alive in the famine. The sentence is continued from the foregoing verse. His eye is towards them for the very purpose of interposing when he sees it to be necessary, for the rescue of their soul, their life, from death in general, to which is added one specific form of danger well known to the ancient Hebrews. The famine is a similar expression to the king in ver. 16, and to our common phrase the pestilence, when used in a generic sense, and not in reference to any particular disease or visitation.


20. Our soul has hoped (or waited) for Jehovah; our help and our shield (is) He. In the remainder of the psalm, the people of God express their trust in him, and pray that he will deal with them according to their faith. The preterite expresses a habit already formed and fixed, and therefore really including a description of the present. In the terms of this verse, there appears to be a reference to the language of the Pentateuch in several places. See Gen. 15:1, 49:18, Deut. 33:29. The figure of a shield occurs above, in Ps. 3:4 (3), 18:3, 31, 36 (2, 30, 35). The position of the pronoun is emphatic and significant. Our safety and protection are in him, and him alone.


21. For in him shall our heart rejoice, for in his holy name have we trusted. The consecution of the tenses is not unmeaning or fortuitous. The Psalmist’s assurance of the future is derived from the possession of a faith already tried and proved to be truly in existence. It is because he has trusted that he knows he shall rejoice. The exchange of both these tenses for a present is at once enfeebling to the sense and ungrammatical.—His holy name, in the wide sense which the epithet so often has in this book, nearly corresponding to his glorious, his divine name. See above on Ps. 22:4 (3). To trust in this name is to build one’s hopes on the manifestation of God’s attributes in previous acts; to believe that what he has heretofore shewn himself to be, he will be still in the experience of his people.


22. Be thy mercy, Jehovah, upon us, as we have waited for thee. The faith implied in this hope being the sole condition of God’s mercy, its possession constitutes a claim upon that mercy, which is here urged as the sum of all the previous petitions. What is thus waited for cannot but be realised. A merciful and righteous God cannot, without denial of himself, withhold that which his people thus expect. Any appearance of a meritorious claim is excluded by the doctrine sufficiently implied here and abundantly taught elsewhere, that the condition is as much the gift of God as that which is suspended on it. The claim in reality amounts to a petition that as God had given the desire he would fulfil it.—As, according as, not merely since, because, in proportion to our faith, so deal with us. Compare Mat. 9:29.


Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 140–144). Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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