Psalm 33, a hymn of praise, expresses hope and joy in a time of fear.
Israel’s circumstances, whatever their precise character, generated a deep need for God’s help and protection (“shield”) in the face of death and famine (Psalm 33:19-20). This fear was possibly occasioned by the threat of war or battle (Psalm 33:16-17).
Given recent terror attacks and the threat of ISIS, fear abounds. The US political situation has also generated fear among many. Some respond with threats; others respond with hate. Still others respond with despair and worry. Psalm 33 calls for worship.
The Psalmist responds to Israel’s dire situation with a call to joyful praise. This is appropriate for the people of God who are characterized by a rightful trust in Yahweh (Psalm 33:1, 21-22) and place their hope in their Creator and Redeemer.
The Psalm opens with five imperatives, each a different verb (Psalm 33:1-3). Each one is a call to worship because “praise” (tehilla) adorns and befits God’s people, even amidst their worst fears.
- Sing joyfully in Yahweh (v. 1)
- Give thanks to Yahweh with the lyre (v. 2)
- Sing praise to Yahweh with the harp (v. 2)
- Sing a new song to Yahweh (v. 3)
- Play music skillfully on the strings with loud shouts (v. 3)
While fear seems the most prudent response to difficult circumstances–and we all experience such fear, the Psalmist calls Israel to worship.
Why this call to worship when we are surrounded by fear? Psalm 33 explains.
We worship because….
- The word of Yahweh is upright, and all Yahweh’s “doing” (making) is done in faithfulness (Psalm 33:4-9).
- The plans of Yahweh stand forever, and Yahweh’s “heart-thoughts” extend to all generations (Psalm 33:10-12).
- The eye of Yahweh is set upon those who trust and hope in Yahweh’s steadfast love (Psalm 33:13-19).
We worship, even in times of fear, because Yahweh’s word is powerful and faithful, Yahweh’s intentions are permanent, and Yahweh’s care is interminable.”
First, the word of Yahweh” does not describe inscripturated propositions. The Psalmist is not talking about the Torah, though other Psalms do. Instead, the “word of Yahweh” is God’s active presence as Creator and Redeemer. The “word of Yahweh” here is God’s performative speech
Performative speech actualizes something. For example, when the officiant says, “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” that language actualizes the union’s reality. The language has power; it does something.
God speaks, and it is done. What God speaks is done, and what is done is established as a firm, immovable rock. What God does is characterized by faithfulness (Psalm 33:4) and it stands (Psalm 33:9).
The word of Yahweh, then, is an active, living voice which actualizes what God intends, and nothing can resist it. God made the heavens and gathered the waters. God’s speech acts actualized the heavens and the earth. These words are the breath of God, which yield life, order, justice, and righteousness.
This creative work, and the redemptive work in the Exodus which this language also echoes (cf. Exodus 14:31; 15:6-8), arises from God’s love for righteousness and justice (Psalm 33:5). The divine goal, expressed as a confident reality in hopeful worship, is to fill “the earth” with “Yahweh’s steadfast love” (Psalm 33:5).
Israel worships Yahweh because the word of Yahweh accomplishes what it speaks by its powerful love.
We do not fear because the living word of God effects God’s righteousness and fills the earth with God’s steadfast love.
In the light of this, “let all the earth fear Yahweh” because Yahweh’s love is universal and Yahweh’s work is awe-inspiring.
Second, the plan of Yahweh is permanent. Yahweh’s intentions are evident to Israel; every generation knows what Yahweh plans will happen. Nothing can frustrate Yahweh’s goal, Yahweh’s “thoughts” (Psalm 33:11).
The nations believe they control their own destiny. They use their power to secure their own ends. What the nations plan, however, is no match for Yahweh’s plan. Yahweh “breaks” and “frustrates” the “plan of the nations.”
Whatever it may seem, however it may appear, the plans of the nations are subservient to the “counsel of Yahweh,” Yahweh’s “heart-thoughts.” Ultimately, Yahweh’s intentions are realized no matter what the nations may do. God is sovereign over the nations.
When fear pervades a people, they have lost their trust in God’s sovereignty. When worship fills our hearts, we trust in God’s powerful, redemptive, and loving work.
This is our blessedness. When we confess Yahweh as our God, we confess God’s election. Yahweh loved us, and Yahweh chose us, and we are Yahweh’s inheritance or heritage (Psalm 33:12).
This is not simply the confession of Israel. It is, in fact, the hope of the nations. One day, Isaiah promises, even Egypt and Assyria will be a “blessing in the midst of the earth,” and Yahweh will call them “my people” and “my heritage” (Isaiah 19:24-25).
Consequently, we do not fear because God’s intent is to bless all the nations so that the whole earth becomes Yahweh’s inheritance.
Third, the eye of Yahweh covers the earth to deliver from death those who hope in Yahweh’s steadfast love (Psalm 33:18-19).
This “eye” is not passive but active. Yahweh is no mere observer. On the contrary, the eye of Yahweh (Psalm 33:13-15):
- looks down from heaven
- sees all humankind
- watches all the inhabitants of the earth
- forms every human heart
- discerns every one of their deeds
In other words, Yahweh is intimately engaged with human hearts and lives. Yahweh “forms” hearts just as Yahweh “formed” adam from the ground in Genesis 2:7 (same Hebrew term). Further, God “understands” or “discerns” humanity’s deeds. God not only knows what is going on, but God also discerningly considers what humanity does. God is attentive–shaping human hearts and probing their deeds.
This is a function of God’s sovereignty since Yahweh is enthroned above the earth from where Yahweh “watches” and “forms” all humanity. The repetitive use of “all” (kal), used three times in Psalm 33:13-15, underscores the universal reach of God’s work.
Consequently, no king, army, warrior, or war horse can “save” by its own “great might” (Psalm 33:16-17). This once again echoes the Exodus narrative where no king or warrior saved Israel from Egypt’s mighty army. Instead, Yahweh redeemed Israel and delivered her from death.
The Yahweh of the Exodus is still Israel’s God, and Yahweh will yet deliver those who “fear him” and “hope in his steadfast love” (Psalm 33:18).
Therefore, we do not fear because Yahweh reigns over the earth, forms human hearts, and acts to redeem those who trust in God’s love.
We are not afraid because we know and have experienced God’s redemptive love in our lives, and we trust the one who has loved us.
The Psalmist dispels fear through worship because worship calls us into God’s story.
- Yahweh’s word is powerful and actualizes what it commands.
- Yahweh’s plan is firm and immovable.
- Yahweh’s eye is squarely upon us for our redemption.
As a result, we “wait for Yahweh” because our God is our “help and shield” (Psalm 33:20).
We even learn to rejoice in the middle of fearful circumstances “because we trust in Yahweh’s holy name” (Psalm 33:21).
This patient endurance (“waiting”) and hopeful worship spawns a wish-prayer. It is the only word addressed to Yahweh in the whole Psalm. It functions like a blessing, a benediction, or a corporate response from the assembly. It is a prayer we should make our own.
Let your steadfast love, O Yahweh, be upon us, even as we hope in you.