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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Psalms 33

 

 

Verse 1

PSALM 33

A NEW SONG OF PRAISE TO GOD

"This is the last of the four Psalms in Book I that have no title, the others being, Psalms 1; Psalms 2, and Psalms 10."[1] Of course, such an omission is the best excuse on earth for the denial of the Davidic authorship of the psalm and for declaring it to have, "A post-exilic date."[2]

To be sure, it must be admitted that a definite uncertainty clouds the question of who wrote the Psalm; but we believe that David wrote it for these reasons:

(1) It is definitely ascribed to David in the LXX, published about 250 B.C., a full century prior to the "Maccabean period in which some date it."[3]

(2) For ages, it has been included with the other Davidic Psalms in Book I.

(3) We have the first mention here of instruments of music being used in the worship of God; and that was David's error. It is hardly reasonable to suppose that anyone except David would have done such a thing and then have written a psalm about it. (See a full discussion of this in Vol. 1 of my minor prophets series of commentaries, pp. 163-169,180-182.)

(4) The downgrading of such military devices as the "horse" (Psalms 33:17) would hardly have occurred at any time after Solomon's acquisition of 40,000 horses as the pride of his military machine, indicating that the psalm was very probably written in the times of David.

The general organization of this psalm was outlined by Maclaren as: "The first three verses are a prelude, and the last three are a conclusion."[4] The central mass (Psalms 33:4-19) falls into two divisions, (1) praise for the creative power of God as Creator of all things, and (2) His creative power with reference to salvation. We shall also observe subdivisions of these two parts.

PRELUDE

Psalms 33:1-3

"Rejoice in Jehovah, O ye righteous:

Praise is comely for the upright.

Give thanks unto Jehovah with the harp:

Sing praises unto him with the psaltery of ten strings.

Sing unto him a new song;

Play skillfully with a loud noise."

"Praise is comely for the upright" (Psalms 33:1). This means simply that it is becoming of righteous people to praise their God and Redeemer. The paraphrase of this in the Book of Common Prayer is, "For it becometh well the just to be thankful."[5]

"Rejoice ... Praise ..." (Psalms 33:1). "The response of the righteous to the goodness of God takes the form of public worship."[6] We believe that this is always true. The people who love God and seek his favor are always the people who attend public worship.

"Give thanks unto Jehovah with the harp" (Psalms 33:2). This was David's favorite musical instrument; and right here he first proposed the use of it in the worship of God, an action for which God's prophet Amos most certainly announced God's disapproval of it. See notes above.

"Sing unto him a new song" (Psalms 33:3). In all probability, these words designate this psalm as "new"; and we may inquire, `How is it new'? "To any one who has (in the preceding Psalms) been traveling through the heights and depths, the storms and sunny gleams, its sorrows for sin and rejoicing from forgiveness, this Psalm is indeed a new song."[7] It is exclusively a song of praise and rejoicing.

"Play skillfully with a loud noise" (Psalms 33:3). Some modern translators love to inject instrumental music into as many passages of the Old Testament as possible; and, in keeping with that intention, the RSV renders this place, "Play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts." "The words on the strings are not in the Hebrew text."[8] The words were simply added to the sacred text by the translators!

"The righteous ... the upright" (Psalms 33:1). These are not `perfect people,' or `sinless souls' who are called to worship. "They are the worshipping congregation of believers in God who acknowledge themselves to be God's Covenant people."[9] Some of God's enemies openly sneer at people who "only go to church"; but this is a good place to say that there is nothing that Christians can do as witness of their obedient faith that exceeds the importance of regular attendance at public worship. "Church attendance," despite all the derogatory things sometimes said about it, is still the grand "separator" between the wicked and the righteous. It was true of old; it is still true.


Verse 4

THE PRAISEWORTHINESS OF GOD

Psalms 33:4-11 develop this thought from a number of viewpoints:

"For the word of Jehovah is right;

And all his work is done in faithfulness.

He loveth righteousness and justice:

The earth is full of the lovingkindness of Jehovah."

In these verses, the praiseworthiness of God is based upon, "His being the God of revelation in the kingdom of Grace."[10] A number of the moral attributes of God are listed here, such as uprightness, faithfulness, justice and lovingkindness.


Verse 6

"By the word of Jehovah were the heavens made,

And all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.

He gathereth the waters of the sea together as a heap:

He layeth up the deeps in storehouses."

In these verses, the praiseworthiness of God is based upon, "His being the Creator of the world in the kingdom of Nature."[11]

"The heavens ... all the host of them" (Psalms 33:6). These were spoken into existence by God. His simple word was all that was required to bring them into existence.

"By the breath of his mouth" (Psalms 33:6). This is merely another way of saying, "by God's Word."

"He gathereth the waters of the sea together as a heap" (Psalms 33:7). Here we have a classical example of how some translators, confronting a word of many meanings, sometimes choose the worst possible rendition. (In our New Testament Series, Vol. 11, we commented extensively upon this, pp. 219,222.)

"As a heap" (Psalms 33:7). This word is capable of a number of translations. Dahood mentioned, "`Jar,' `pitcher,' `flask,' and `water-skin' as possible renditions."[12] The RSV has the ridiculous translation of the verse as, "He gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle." What were the translators thinking about? Putting all the oceans of the world "in a bottle?" The second half of the verse, which after the manner of Hebrew poetry repeats the thought of the first half makes it unthinkable to accept such a rendition. Furthermore, the sacred Hebrew Text, "The Hebrew text of the Old Testament (the Masoretic Text) has the word `heap' in this place,"[13] as translated in the KJV and in our own American Standard Version.

Why did translators make this change? Kidner explained it: "`Bottle,' or `wine-skin' seems more suited to a creation context than the Masoretic Text ('heap') which alludes elsewhere to the exodus."[14] All that excuse says is that the translators decided to substitute their own words in place of the legitimate Hebrew text.

Not only is the word `heap,' the only legitimate rendition for this verse, it also fits the facts. If we inquire as to "How has God gathered the seas together in a `heap,'" in order to allow much of the dry land on earth to appear, the answer lies in the polar ice-caps, both of which are miles deep in solid ice, of which scientists have warned us that, if they were all melted at one time, practically all of earth's greatest cities would lie several hundred feet submerged in the ocean.

The allusion to the exodus, mentioned by Kidner, above, is not merely allowable, it gives the only worthy parallel to the incredible walls of frozen waters in the polar caps, referring, as Barnes noted, "To Exodus 15:8, `The floods stood upright as a heap.'"[15]

Another remarkable error that surfaces with reference to this chapter is that of Dummelow who made Psalms 33:7 here, "A reference to the ancient idea of a reservoir of water under the earth."[16] There may have been such an "ancient idea," but Dummelow did not find it in the Bible. Genesis 7:11, which he cited in his comment teaches no such thing. The "great deep" mentioned there is a reference to the oceans, not to waters under the earth.

DeHoff's comment here is very discerning. He said, with reference to Psalms 33:7 that, "The use of the present tense (as in `gathering') suggests God's continuous actions in the sustaining of the universe."[17] How true this is! God's `gathering of the seas' is going on right now in the fact of God's Deep Freezer keeping the mighty polar ice-caps in the tremendous `heaps' where God is gathering them.


Verse 8

"Let all the earth fear Jehovah:

Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.

For he spake, and it was done;

He commanded, and it stood fast."

These verses continue to establish the praiseworthiness of God upon the basis of his being the Creator and Sustainer of all things in the kingdom of Nature.

"Let all the earth fear Jehovah" (Psalms 33:8). The mighty Creator is also the Judge of all men; and this universal commandment for the whole world to fear God is here backed up with three tremendous reasons, which are: (1) God's great power which he showed in Creation (Psalms 33:9); (2) God's ability to battle and destroy all human opposition to his will (Psalms 33:10); (3) the permanence and certainty of the triumph of God's will in absolutely everything (Psalms 33:11).


Verse 10

"Jehovah bringeth the counsel of the nations to naught;

He maketh the thoughts of the peoples to be of no effect.

The counsel of Jehovah standeth fast forever,

The thoughts of his heart to all generations."

See under above paragraph for discussion of these verses.


Verse 12

GOD THE GOD OF ALL NATIONS

"Blessed is the nation whose God is Jehovah,

The people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.

Jehovah looketh from heaven;

He beholdeth all the sons of men;

From the place of his habitation he looketh forth

Upon all the inhabitants of the earth."

It is amazing to us that some liberal scholars suppose that the author of this psalm must have borrowed these ideas of the universality of God from a fictitious writer they call Deutero-Isaiah, and make that the basis of dating the psalm after the exile.[18] There never was a person who answers to the destructive critics' alleged "Deutero-Isaiah." That mythical character is the Piltdown Man of the Destructive Critics. Those who would like to see that critical myth exploded are referred to Vol. 1 of our Major Prophets Series of Commentaries (Isaiah) in the Introduction.

Furthermore, the universality of God was drilled into the minds of the Hebrew people continually, beginning with Abraham, whom God informed that the blessing through that Patriarch was intended for "All the families of the earth." (Genesis 12:3). Why then should any Jewish writer have needed to be informed by Isaiah, or anyone else, about such a basic fact?

Psalms 33:12 here speaks of the Racial Jews as that nation which has Jehovah for their God; but at the same time, the affirmation is reiterated that God beholds `all the sons of men,' that is, `all the inhabitants of the earth.'


Verse 15

"He that fashioneth the hearts of them all,

That considereth all their works."

This completes the thought of the previous three verses, namely, that God created all men, he looks upon all men continually, and he considereth (and judges) "all their works." There is no one who is not under the responsibility and accountability to Almighty God, whether or not he may be willing to acknowledge it.


Verse 16

JEHOVAH A BETTER DEFENDER AND PROTECTOR THAN ANY EARTHLY POWER COULD POSSIBLY BE

(This theme is developed in Psalms 33:16-19.)

"There is no king saved by the multitude of a host:

A mighty man is not delivered by great strength."

"By the multitude of a host" (Psalms 33:16). This is another way of saying that no king is ever saved merely by the size of his army. Pharaoh, Sennacherib, Xerxes, Mohammed, Napoleon, Lord Ponchertrain, the Marquis De Montcalm, and countless other mighty generals illustrate the truth of this.

"A mighty man is not delivered by great strength" (Psalms 33:16). Goliath of Gath might have been in David's mind as he penned these words.


Verse 17

"A horse is a vain thing for safety;

Neither doth he deliver any by his great power."

To us this appears as a clue to when the psalm was written. Beginning with Solomon, Israel acquired great numbers of horses for use in their military; and it hardly seems plausible that a remark such as this would have been written during or after the reign of Solomon.

In ancient warfare, the horse was the equivalent of the modern tank, especially if combined with war-chariots.

George DeHoff quoted in full the remarkable poem of Rudyard Kipling, "The Recessional," with its haunting refrain, "Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet; Lest we forget; lest we forget," labeling it, "A valid comment upon today's world."[19]


Verse 18

"Behold the eye of Jehovah is upon them that fear him,

Upon them that hope in his lovingkindness;

To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine."

Nebuchadnezzar was condemned to roam like a wild beast upon the earth for a period of seven years in order to teach him, "That the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men and giveth it to whomsoever he will" (Daniel 4:25).

Any nation that puts its trust in their numbers or military power and which does not trust in God and look to him for preservation and victory is destined for a terrible awakening. The all-important factor in every life, whether that of a nation or of an individual, is simply, "the will of God."

"The race is not to the swift,

Nor the battle to the strong,

Neither bread to the wise,

Nor riches to men of understanding,

Nor favor to men of skill;

But time and chance happeneth to them all." (Ecclesiastes 9:11).SIZE>


Verse 20

THE CONCLUSION

"Our soul hath waited for Jehovah:

He is our help and our shield.

For our heart shall rejoice in him,

Because we have trusted in his holy name.

Let thy lovingkindness, O Jehovah, be upon us,

According as we have hoped in thee."

"In Psalms 33:20, we still hear the echo of Deuteronomy 33:29, that basic promise, in which God pronounced the perpetual blessing upon Israel."[20]

The nation, as did Israel, or any individual who really belongs to God need have no fear of anything whatsoever. That passage from Deuteronomy is this:

"Happy art thou, O Israel,

Who is like unto thee, a people saved by Jehovah,

The shield of thy help,

And the sword of thy excellency!

And thine enemies shall submit themselves unto thee;

And thou shalt tread upon their high places." - Deuteronomy 39:29.SIZE>

These glorious promises once belonged to Racial Israel; but today God has a New Israel, the Church of Our Lord; and all of the glorious promises that once pertained to Racial Israel are today the exclusive property of the Holy Church of Jesus Christ. This excludes no racial Jew; but, at the same time, it includes no one whomsoever merely upon the basis of his racial origin. The New Israel is composed of "The one New Man in Christ Jesus."

"Lovingkindness" (Psalms 33:22). We have already noted that this is one of David's favorite words, adding another link to the chain of evidence that points to the harpist of Israel as the author of this psalm.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 33:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/psalms-33.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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