Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Psalm begins by repeating the call to praise with which the preceding Psalm closed, and recites the grounds on which Jehovah is worthy to be praised. It stands here as an answer to the invitation of Psalm 32:11, an example of the “songs of deliverance” spoken of in Psalm 32:7. Yet it differs widely in character from Psalms 32. That Psalm is an instruction based upon a particular personal experience; this is a congregational hymn of praise, arising (if indeed any special event inspired it) out of some national deliverance.
Contrary to the general rule in Book 1 (Introd. p. liii), it has no title in the Hebrew, though the LXX ascribes it to David.
It may commemorate some national deliverance from heathen enemies (Psalm 33:10-11; Psalm 33:16 ff.), but it is impossible to fix its date or occasion. It does not, like 147, which has many points of resemblance to it, contain clear references to the Restoration. There are echoes of it in Psalms 144, partly in later language.
The structure is symmetrical. To the introductory call to praise (Psalm 33:1-3) corresponds the concluding profession of trust in Jehovah (Psalm 33:20-22). Between these comes the main body of the Psalm, reciting the grounds upon which Jehovah is worthy of praise and trust. This falls into two equal parts, i. Generally, He is to be praised for His moral attributes (Psalm 33:4-5), for His creative Omnipotence (Psalm 33:6-9), for His sovereign rule (Psalm 33:10-11). ii. Specially, He is to be praised for His choice and care of His people in the midst of the nations (Psalm 33:12-15); material force is a delusion (Psalm 33:16-17), but He is the sure Protector of His people (Psalm 33:18-19). Psalm 33:4-19 are arranged in couplets or in quatrains.
Rejoice in the LORD, O ye righteous: for praise is comely for the upright.1. Rejoice] Shout for joy: the same verb as in Psalm 32:11 b, though in a different form. As in that verse, the righteous and the upright, the true Israelites, are addressed. Praise is their duty and their honour: in their mouths alone is it seemly.
for praise &c.] Omit for. Cp. Psalm 147:1 b.
1–3. Introductory call to praise.
Praise the LORD with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings.2. Give thanks unto the Lord with harp:
Sing praises unto him with the psaltery of ten strings (R.V.).
The harp and psaltery were both stringed instruments, differing somewhat in form.
Sing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise.3. a new song] Fresh mercies demand a fresh expression of gratitude. See Psalm 40:3; and cp. Psalm 96:1; Psalm 98:1; Psalm 149:1; Isaiah 42:10; Jdt 16:13; Revelation 5:9. Psalm 144:9 reproduces 2 b, and 3 a.
with a loud noise] Referring either to the music itself, or to the accompanying shouts of joy. See note on Psalm 27:6, where the same word is rendered joy in A.V.
For the word of the LORD is right; and all his works are done in truth.4, 5. The moral attributes of Jehovah. Jehovah’s word is upright: the same word as in Psalm 33:1; cp. Psalm 19:8; Psalm 25:8; Psalm 92:15; Hosea 14:9 : and all his work is in faithfulness: cp. Deuteronomy 32:4; Psalm 36:5; Psalm 92:2. Word and work need not be limited; they include all the expressions of the Will of Him Who is always consistent with Himself (James 1:17).
4–11. The grounds of praise.
He loveth righteousness and judgment: the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD.5. Righteousness is the principle of justice; judgement the application of it in act. Cp. Psalm 36:6; Psalm 103:6; and for loveth cp. Psalm 11:7.
goodness] Better, as R.V., lovingkindness. This line recurs in Psalm 119:64.
By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.6. The breath of his mouth is synonymous with the word of the Lord: together they represent and God said in Genesis 1:3 ff. The parallelism and the addition of his mouth seem to exclude a reference to the spirit of God in Genesis 1:2, though the word in the original is the same. The germ of the doctrine of the Word in John 1:1; John 1:3 may be found here, though of course the Psalmist had no idea of a personal Word. Cp. Psalm 107:20; and Sir 43:26, “By his word all things consist.” The host of heaven (Genesis 2:1) are the sun moon and stars, marching forth like an army in ordered array at God’s command (Isaiah 40:26).
6–9. Jehovah’s creative omnipotence. Word is the expression of thought; command of will: He had but to think and will, and the Universe came into being.
He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap: he layeth up the depth in storehouses.7. The separation of land and water (Genesis 1:9-10). The present tense (gathereth … layeth up) expresses the continued action of maintenance as well as the original creation. The comparison as an heap probably refers to the appearance of the sea from the shore, and may have been derived from Exodus 15:8; cp. Joshua 3:13; Joshua 3:16; Psalm 78:13.
But all the Ancient Versions render as in a bottle, reading nôd for nçd. To the infinite power of the Creator the bed of the sea is but as the water-skin which a man carries with him for a journey. See Isaiah 40:12; Isaiah 40:15. Cp. “the pitchers of heaven” (Job 38:37).
the depth] Better as R.V., the deeps: the vast masses of water stored away in subterranean abysses (Genesis 7:11; Psalm 78:15). So we read of the storehouses of the wind (Psalm 135:7 = Jeremiah 10:13), of the snow and hail (Job 38:22).
Let all the earth fear the LORD: let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him.8, 9. With what awe should man regard such an Almighty Creator! Cp. the argument of Amos, Amos 4:13; Amos 5:8; Amos 9:6. Emphasis is laid on the wonder of the method of creation, by the simple divine fiat.
For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast.9. For HE (emphatic) spake, and it was (cp. Genesis 1:3; Genesis 1:7, &c.); HE commanded and it stood; came into existence and stood there before Him ready to obey His commands; or simply, stood firm. Cp. Psalm 148:5; Psalm 119:90-91; Isaiah 48:13.
The LORD bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought: he maketh the devices of the people of none effect.10. bringeth … maketh] Or, hath brought … hath made, with particular reference to some recent event. But it agrees better with the argument of Psalm 33:4-11 to regard the words as expressing a general truth, though quite possibly it had been verified by recent experience.
10, 11. Jehovah’s sovereignty in the world.
The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.11. The A.V. obscures the parallelism between Psalm 33:10-11. The counsel of the nations and the thoughts of the peoples are contrasted with the counsel of Jehovah and the thoughts of his heart. His counsel stands fast like His work in creation (Psalm 33:9). Cp. Jeremiah 33:20-21. With Psalm 33:10, cp. Isaiah 8:10; Nehemiah 4:15; with Psalm 33:11, cp. Isaiah 5:19; Isaiah 19:17; Isaiah 46:10-11; Micah 4:12; Isaiah 55:8-9; Jeremiah 29:11; and generally, Proverbs 19:21; Proverbs 21:30. To us the words may suggest that “through the ages one increasing purpose runs,” and point forward to
“The one far-off divine event
To which the whole creation moves.”
The addition in P.B.V., and casteth out the counsels of princes, is derived through the Vulg. from the LXX.
Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.12. Blessed] Or, happy; see note on Psalm 1:1. This ‘beatitude’ is based on Deuteronomy 33:29; cp. Deuteronomy 4:6-8. The first line of the verse recurs (with some variations) in Psalm 144:15; with the second cp. Psalm 28:9.
12–19. From the nations the Psalmist turns to the chosen people. Jehovah’s care for Israel constitutes His special claim on their praise. Happy the nation which is the particular object of the choice and care of the omniscient observer of men.
The LORD looketh from heaven; he beholdeth all the sons of men.13, 14. The Psalmist dwells upon Jehovah’s all-seeing omniscience in order to emphasise the peculiar privilege of His people. Throned in heaven (1 Kings 8:39 ff.) He surveys all mankind. Cp. Psalm 11:4; Psalm 14:2; Psalm 102:19-20.
From the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth.14. looketh] R.V. looketh forth; a rare word, different from that in Psalm 33:13.
He fashioneth their hearts alike; he considereth all their works.15. Even he who formeth the hearts of them all,
Who considereth all their works.
He Who created man must know man’s heart (Psalm 94:9). As God ‘formed’ man originally (Genesis 2:7-8), so He continues to ‘form the hearts’ of individuals and of races (Zechariah 12:1). All are in some sense subservient to His plan and purpose.
There is no king saved by the multitude of an host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength.16. A king is not saved by a numerous host; or, by greatness of power, including other forces beside forces of soldiers. See Psalm 20:7; Psalm 44:3 ff.; Psalm 60:11 f.; and comp. the noble expression of this truth in 1Ma 3:19; “The victory of battle standeth not in the multitude of an host; but strength cometh from heaven.”
16–19. The delusiveness of material resources is contrasted with Jehovah’s care for His people. The discomfiture of Pharaoh with his host and horses and chariots (Exodus 14:17; Exodus 15:4) may have been in the poet’s mind; and ‘saved’ again recalls Deuteronomy 33:29.
An horse is a vain thing for safety: neither shall he deliver any by his great strength.17. A horse—to the Israelites cavalry seemed the most formidable part of an army—is but a vain thing—lit. a lie, a delusion—for safety—for victory (Psalm 21:1): neither can it give escape by the greatness of its power: it cannot even secure its rider’s escape in case of defeat. Cp. Proverbs 21:31.
Behold, the eye of the LORD is upon them that fear him, upon them that hope in his mercy;18. the eye of the Lord] Cp. Psalm 32:8, note; Psalm 34:15; Ezra 5:5; Job 36:7; 1 Peter 3:12.
that hope in his mercy] Or, that wait for his lovingkindness (Psalm 31:24).
To deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine.19. death] Violent death by war or pestilence is meant, as the parallel line shews. Famine was a common scourge in Palestine (Psalm 37:19).
Our soul waiteth for the LORD: he is our help and our shield.20. waiteth] R.V. hath waited; a different word from that in Psalm 33:18; Psalm 33:22; found in the Psalter again only in Psalm 106:13; but used in Isaiah 8:17; Isaiah 30:18; Isaiah 64:4; &c.
our help and our shield] Cp. again Deuteronomy 33:29, “the shield of thy help”; Psalm 3:3; Psalm 28:7; and Psalm 115:9-11.
20–22. The people’s concluding profession of patient trust and hope, corresponding to the introductory invitation of Psalm 33:1-3, and springing naturally out of the consideration of Jehovah’s character in Psalm 33:12-19.
For our heart shall rejoice in him, because we have trusted in his holy name.21. his holy name] See note on Psalm 30:4.
Let thy mercy, O LORD, be upon us, according as we hope in thee.22. Let thy lovingkindness (Psalm 33:5; Psalm 33:18), O Lord, be upon us,
According as we have hoped in thee (or, waited for thee).
Comp. Psalm 31:1; Psalm 31:24; Romans 5:4-5.