Psalm 33: Rejoice!

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
    it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully, and shout for joy.

For the word of the Lord is right and true;
    he is faithful in all he does.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
    the earth is full of his unfailing love.

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
    their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea into jars;
    he puts the deep into storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
    let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
    he commanded, and it stood firm.

The Lord foils the plans of the nations;
    he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,
    the purposes of his heart through all generations.

Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
    the people he chose for his inheritance.
From heaven the Lord looks down
    and sees all mankind;
from his dwelling place he watches
    all who live on earth—
he who forms the hearts of all,
    who considers everything they do.

No king is saved by the size of his army;
    no warrior escapes by his great strength.
A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
    despite all its great strength it cannot save.
But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
    on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
to deliver them from death
    and keep them alive in famine.

We wait in hope for the Lord;
    he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
    for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
    even as we put our hope in you.

– Psalm 33

Paul wrote, ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’ (Philippians 4:1) and then for good measure he adds, ‘I say it again: rejoice!’  Rejoicing is something that doesn’t always come naturally to us, but joy is an authentic mark of the Spirit’s presence (Galatians 5:22), even in a world of suffering, a world with which we are familiar and to which Paul was no stranger.

The Psalm is a call to rejoice, to make music and to sing aloud (vv. 1–2). The basis of such exuberant worship is not the circumstances of our lives, which ebb and flow like the tide, but upon the word of the Lord (v4). In contrast to the happenstances of this life, there is an emphasis on God’s unchanging character: God is utterly reliable (v4) and his love is unfailing (v5).

Verses 7–9 make it clear that this world, in spite of appearances to the contrary, is God’s world. He is the Creator and Sustainer and so is to be revered and respected (v8). The awesome God who created life hasn’t abandoned it but is sovereign over it (vv. 10, 11) and is utterly attentive to it. It is this conviction rather that any upturn in circumstances that leads to confidence and liberation from anxiety, something that Jesus noted in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25–33).

In the concluding verses the Psalm circles back to the theme of rejoicing. All the normal sources of security are insecure (vv. 16–17) but God’s people are called to trust in the steadfast love of the Lord.

We began with Paul’s call to rejoice. What we often forget is that call was made not from an ivory tower but from a Roman prison cell (Philippians 1:7, 13) with the threat of execution looming over him (Philippians 1:20). I’m sure that Paul knew this Psalm, and probably knew it off by heart. I can imagine how he would have sat in the candle-lit darkness and thought of Christ who suffered with us and for us, and in whose resurrection we are delivered from death. I imagine that these ancient words would have encouraged Paul in his troubles and if we take them to heart they will encourage us in ours.