Summary: Year C. The tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 12th, 2001 Psalm 33:1-22 Title: “Praise of creation and praise of the divine plan.”

Year C. The tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 12th, 2001

Psalm 33:1-22

Title: “Praise of creation and praise of the divine plan.”

This is a hymn of praise, composed to be sung at worship. Many date the psalm in the post-exilic period, but there is nothing in its theology and no historical referents that would require it. This psalm could well have been sung during the time of the monarchy and the first Temple. Its twenty-two verses would lead one to presume that it is an acrostic psalm, where the first letter of each verse begins with the succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This is not the case here, although other features of such psalms are present, especially the repeated use of the same root in various nouns and verbs as well as the regularity and balance of the structure.

The structure of this psalm is easily discernible. In verses one to three are a call to praise. Verses four to nineteen, give the reasons for praising God: verses four to nine, because of his word; verses ten to twelve, his plan; verses thirteen to fifteen, his vision; and verses sixteen to nineteen, his might. Verses twenty to twenty-two conclude with a trusting prayer for help.

Verse one, Rejoice: The highest mood of Old Testament religion is joy. This verb, Hebrew r-n-n, occurs frequently in Isaiah and the Psalms fifty-fives times counting the cognate noun. It expresses Israel’s reaction to God’s saving deeds. It usually takes the form of a shout. The root appears in parallel with every term for “joy,” “rejoicing,” and “praise.” It is used as a synonym for “singing.” Here it is used in parallel with “praise” and clearly in the context of “singing.”

You just…upright: These terms were used for those allowed to enter the sacred area and appear before Yahweh.

In verse two, harp…ten-stringed lyre: These are only two of several musical instruments used in the liturgy. Here they may be the only two used to accompany the singing. More likely, they are singled out as representative of a much larger orchestra. Note: See Psalm 150.

In verse three, a new song: This could mean “brand new.” Most likely, however, it means “ever new.” The same old words of a familiar song not only do not wear out; they actually become fresher with each repetition. This is true of the praise of God as well. There is an ever-new freshness to the praise of God and even a re-experiencing of God’s providence in the recalling and singing of it. The experience breaks out of the categories of space and time. Only lavish, uninhibited praise a booming shout of joy can come close to doing it justice.

Skillfully play with joyful chant: The people were to bring all their human talents and skills to the service of Yahweh. They were to be at their finest, most artistic, most enthusiastic when praising Yahweh together.

This section gives four divine characteristics deserving of recognition and praise.

In verse four, the Lord’s word is true: This verse begins to give the reasons for praising God. The first one is because of his word. No doubt the author has Genesis one in mind, “He spoke and it was.” God created through his word. “Word,” dabar in Hebrew, means both “word” and “event.” It comes from a common ancient perception of reality that nothing exists unless and until it is named. However, God’s naming or speaking does not merely bring things into being, but imparts his name or character to them. Because his character is true, upright and trustworthy, what he creates shares in that reality.

His works are trustworthy: Because he is trustworthy, so is everything he does. He spoke and what he said happened. It came into being, but his being stayed with what he created. Yahweh is more than a Maker or Creator, his character or name entered into what he made. He abides in his works. They are never totally separate from his being.

In verse five, The Lord loves justice and right: It means that the Lord loves to perform righteous and just deeds. They are his nature. They express him, and as such are his “words.”

He fills the earth with his goodness: This expresses the same idea in “other words,” just as the many forms creation took –human, animal vegetable, mineral – and the many forms of them – express the same God, the source, holding them up, letting them be.

In verse six, By the Lord’s word the heavens were made: Not only the earth and all it contains, but the heavens and all humans cannot see, or experience first hand, and all they contain came into being by his word.

The breath of his mouth: This is not only a wonderful poetic metaphor for “word,” the necessary, accompanying “breathing” involved in speaking, it also links “breath” or “spirit” or “wind,” all translations of the Hebrew ruah, with “word.” This link will continually come up in the theology of Israel as well as Christianity. God’s breath is a creative, vital force, invisibly making things visible.

In verse seven, the waters of the sea…in a bowl: The waters of earth or of the heavens were metaphors for chaos. God contained them all and so overcame the archetypal powers. Here we have a different perspective from the one of God creating out of nothing. Here, in this picture –based on Canaanite ancient mythology- the “creator” is really the “savior” or “conqueror” of the forces of evil. In this perspective creation out of nothing is ignored and the dualistic battle between good and evil is in the forefront.

In verses eight and nine, fear…awe: Now that the congregation has contemplated the Creator, his works through his word, the appropriate reaction and response is pinpointed. Fear and awe, a wide-eyed, reverential gasp, in the presence of such overwhelming majesty is the appropriate stance to take.

There is now a transition from the praise of God in creation to the praise of him in history, or as the author puts it “in his plan,” his ultimate design and control of all things, people and events. Whereas creation rests upon the divine word, history rests upon the divine plan.

In verse ten, foils the plan of nations: “Foils” translates Hebrew hepir, which means “brings to naught.” Like his word, God’s plan has substance. Human plans do not, unless, of course, they are in line with God’s. For all their seeming strength, human plans are ultimately subject to divine restraint. The “plan of nations” means those who would strive for historical power. The primary reference would be political and military leaders, but its secondary meaning would apply to anyone grasping for power, power belonging only to God. No power in the world can frustrate the purposes of God.

In verse eleven, The plan of the Lord…all generations: If the word of the Lord is the effective power of creation the “plan of the Lord” is the continuing power of directing history. They are not two different realities, but slightly differing forms of the same reality.

In verse twelve, Happy the nation: “Happy” translates the Hebrew ‘ashre, which means “Hats off,” “Congratulations,” “O lucky you.” Israel’s national existence is based on the plan of God rather than human aspirations. It will therefore succeed. Just look at the Exodus or later the Return from Exile. God’s vision, inseparable from his plan, comes in for special emphasis.

In verses thirteen to fifteen, The Lord’s “eye” is not mentioned explicitly in this next section, but “seeing” verbs abound: has looked, has seen, has gazed, discerns. The Lord sees or looks down from his position of dominion and perceives the thoughts and actions of individuals and nations. This prompts a call to praise as well as an awareness of being constantly scrutinized by God. Yahweh is no absentee landlord. He knows and cares about everything that is going on in his creation.

The whole…all…all: “All” is repeated. In Hebrew what is here translated as “whole” is actually “all,” to contrast the narrow, biased, factually limited basis for all human judgments with the omniscience of God.

The next section, verse sixteen to nineteen, praises God’s might.

In verses sixteen to seventeen, great …great …great: This threefold repetition makes the point that God is not only omniscient, but omnipotent as well. The power brokers of this world, the kings and generals, are shown to be as nothing; like their plans. Where secular power does succeed it is only by divine fiat, not by horsepower, a symbol for the military, or human, political, power.

In verses eighteen and nineteen, In reaffirming God’s strength the author returns to his omniscient vision, mentioning specifically God’s “eye,” a symbol for his relentless scrutiny. He is especially watchful of the “reverent,” those who “fear,” stand in awe of him and hope in his “steadfast love,” Hebrew hesed. It is he who provides the might and defense they require – in any circumstances.

The psalm closes asking for the first time for his loving kindness, Hebrew hesed. The dominant mood throughout has been praise, but that is not the only mood of worship. Petition, after praise, has its place.

In verse twenty, our soul waits: “Soul” translates the Hebrew nephesh, which stands for the whole person, here “we.” “Wait” is a very packed word to point to the attitudes of trust, listening, patience and obedience necessary to receive help and protection from the Lord. The long reflection on God’s word, plan, might and knowledge prompts an awareness of need for his continued help and blessing.

In verse twenty-one, rejoice…trust: Just as God’s characteristics, though varied, are one, so also human joy and trust are at bottom the same.

In verse twenty-two, May your kindness be upon us: The psalmist asks that all the greatness praised in its generality may continue to come upon each one specifically The “kindness” asked for translates the Hebrew, hesed, which expresses all the love and fidelity characteristic of God’s covenant with Israel. In a word, it asks God to continue being God, all the while knowing that he will in any event.


Praise is the recognition of what is. This long song of praise brings out what is there but otherwise hidden about God. Praise serves not so much to add anything to God, but to heighten and enrich our awareness of him. It picks apart and looks at aspects of God and his activity in order to appreciate the profundity and nuances of his presence.

Praise asks nothing of God, only basks in his past and present graciousness. Petition is different. It is all too aware of the present and seeks to move from things, apart from God, as they are to things, as they ought to be. It is concerned with the future. Petition knows it needs God to change anything.

The psalm ends with petition, but starts with praise. That is a model for all prayer. The praise of God lets us see how different our situation is from what God’s plan intends it to be. So, we ask God to change it, to fill in the gaps, the empty spaces, with his loving kindness (hesed). Praise tempers and modulates petition, keeps it in check. Praise keeps us from asking God to change his mind to fit our preference. As we see God in the broadest possible context, as he is in himself rather, than, as we would like him to be, we are careful not to ask for something inconsistent with God’s character. We tend to ask not for things or even for things to change, but for virtue, power, grace, to endure what we must and, ourselves, to change what, with his grace, we can.

The praise of God keeps us within his orbit. For instance, like the psalmist, we are less concerned with the science of creation than with its source. We see creation and history as under the direction of the same God. We appreciate creation because we discern God’s presence and character within it, rather than because there are questions we cannot yet answer about it. We keep science in its place and resist the temptation to let it replace God.

Psalm thirty-three, teaches us that when we pray we should first praise and then, and only, then petition. Skipping praise runs the risk of making prayer merely a wish list of the world as we would like it to be. It can omit real communication with the God who made it in the first place and sustains it at all times.

There is nothing in God’s creation that cannot be used to praise him, since everything reveals his presence, love and power, unless prevented by sin or misuse.

Humans praise God by recognizing, developing and using their talents in service of God’s plan.

The abundant variety found in God’s creation has but one God behind them.

In praying to God praise should precede petition.

Praise as Teacher: Although praising God, acknowledging him, recognizing him within all things and people, has no ulterior motive but pure worship; it does have a corollary effect. It teaches us how to recognize God in all things and at all times. Simply becoming aware, bringing to consciousness, any particular instance of God’s presence, power and or love opens us up to seeing the same thing in another particular instance. The more we praise the more this multiplies and the broader and higher our own vision becomes as we ponder the vision of God. Also the more we ponder the great plan of God, consistency amidst seeming inconsistency, the more our plans align with his and the more we can actually do. Thus, there are practical consequences to the apparent non-productive, non-functional prayer of praise. Knowing the source of all power, we ask that source and power for help in doing anything we divine as the advancement of God’s plan.

Praise as Music and Poetry: All the fine arts take ordinary creation and rearrange creation’s elements into a new creation, in a higher key. This is not really creation-from-nothing, for only God can do that. The former sentence is itself a praise of God. Humans do not really “create” so much as reconstitute creation in a variety of ways intended to bring out the potential in God’s natural creation. God not only lets us do that; he wants us to do that. In that way we imitate God or model him. Artists are like little children who pick a dandelion and bring it to their mother. God created dandelion, mother and child, but the child’s action brings to the surface the hidden beauty in the dandelion by placing it in a context of a beautiful and loving act. Anyone who sees it, the child, the mother and any other onlookers, cannot help but be affected by it, affected positively. Like the ever-widening call to praise to include all the earth and heavens, an act of beauty or love gets passed on until it too reaches the ends of the earth. Music and poetry, noise and words in a higher key, may contribute to praising their creator, but praise itself is music and poetry. We are all musicians and poets when we bring to consciousness and then to expression our recognition of the presence, power, activity, involvement and love of God. A dandelion-presenting child may not be a creative florist, but to anyone who can see into the act, the child is surely making music and poetry. God, like a smiling mother, must be more pleased by our praising, by the act itself, than by any means we use to express it. Praise is neither a critique of God nor of the praiser’s expertise, but a celebration of what is.

Intimations of the Trinity: The immense and seemingly endless variety of people, animals, plants, terrains, minerals, chemicals, etc. we encounter within creation should not cause us to lose sight of the one and only God who created all this variety. The various ways God relates to us point to his ingenuity. They do not disprove his integrity. The same is true of humans. The more self-actualized a human being is the more ways that person can express him or herself, the more relationships he or she has, the more power-to-do is available to him or her. Variety and diversity do not need to reveal different sources, but the multi-formity of the one source. The Old Testament is replete with intimations of the Trinity, though it never saw fit to bring that truth to the surface. That would be left to Jesus and his followers. They indeed had the experience of the triune God and expressed that experience, especially in the psalms, but did not have anything like an explanation doctrine for it. Clearly, the experience is much more important than the explanation. Amen.