Psalm 33 as preached by Timothy O'Day.
In Psalm 33, we see that praise is a response to glory. In these verses, we see God's glory in...
His just mercy
Rejoicing in God's Glory
If you want to annoy me, then put me in a large group of people and then have someone say to the large group, "Let's make some noise! Stand up and cheer." This annoys me for several reasons. Like most people, I don't overly enjoy being told to do things that seem meaningless. But that isn't the only reason I am annoyed. Such requests annoy mean because it is a request for me to be disingenuous. They might as well say, "pretend to be excited and happy."
And this is how many people feel when they hear a Christian say that we should worship God. It can sound like the request to stand up and cheer when there doesn't seem to be anything genuine about such an action.
Whether we can articulate it or not, we know deep in our bones that praise is a response to glory. While I do not want to stand and cheer simply on someone's command, I have often found myself standing and cheering without prompting. When you see an incredible feat in a sports event, thousands of people cannot help but stand up and cheer. No one has to tell them to do so.
In the same way, when we are commanded to "shout for joy" and to "Praise," and to "give thanks," and to "make melody" and to "sing" and to "play skillfully" on the strings, this is not a call to be disingenuous. It is a call to see rightly and to respond as we see what is true.
What glory do we see in Psalm 33 that should lead us to praise God? We see God’s glory in the following ways.
First, we see God’s glory in forgiveness (1-3)
This psalm begins with a call to praise the Lord in verses 1-3. As you look at the wording of these verses, you might notice that it uses the same language as the very end of psalm 32. The writer of Psalm 33 writes, “Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous. Praise befits the upright” just as David wrote in Psalm 32, “Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.”
As Psalm 32 closes by addressing the forgiven as “righteous” and “upright", Psalm 33 opens calling upon those the “righteous” and “upright,” meaning those who are forgiven, to praise God.
Psalm 33 calls on us to “give thanks” and to “Make melody” and to “sing to him a new song,” and to “play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.” All of this is appropriate for those who are forgiven. The call to sing a new song makes sense because when we are forgiven by God in Christ, we are made new.
If you recall from last week when we looked at Psalm 32, forgiveness is the event of your sin being lifted from you and placed on another. It is taken away and covered by God himself (see Psalm 32:1), and thus it is no longer counted as belonging to you (Ps 32:2) but belongs to Christ who bore it on the tree.
Why Forgiveness Causes Us to Sing a New Song
Forgiveness is monumental because it means we have peace with God and are blessed as we have communion with him. This is so monumental that we are called to sing “a new song.” God’s act of redemption makes us new and thus leads us to sing songs that fit the newness of our right standing with him.
That we are to sing a new song to match God’s redemption is not a novel idea in the Bible. We see this happen with Israel in the Exodus. As Israel was leaving Egypt, Pharaoh and his army pursued Israel. God parted the Red Sea for Israel to pass through. When Egypt pursued them through the water, God closed the waters on Egypt. Israel was saved as Egypt was destroyed. Their pursuers where gone. Those who had enslaved them for as long as they could remember were destroyed and would never come for them again. In response, we see Israel sing a new song to the Lord who fought on their behalf (cf. Exodus 15).
How much more do you, Christian, have reason to sing because God has made an end to your sin? How much more cause to you have to shout for joy because you are counted as righteous? In Christ, you get to pass through the waters of judgment because they fell on him instead.
Do You Struggle to Praise God?
But perhaps you struggle to praise God. You hear this call to shout for joy but feel no impulse to do so. You are told that praise is fitting for you, but it doesn’t feel like it fits in your life right now. Why could that be the case? Let me lay out three possible reasons.
First, perhaps you are not forgiven of your sin. It is as if you are Egypt passing through the waters and you know that when they drop down you will be crushed. Praising God feels impossible when his wrath is hanging over you because of your sin. Your unrighteousness acts like a muzzle on your mouth and your sin like cuffs on your wrists: you cannot shout for joy or play the strings with skill. Like in Psalm 32, the Lord’s hand weighs heavy down on you and your strength is dried up. But do you know that you do not have to stay that way? The Lord longs to forgive you and make you new. Do you feel like you don’t deserve it? None of us do. But he longs to forgive you because he is good. Confess your sin today and be free. Be free of the fear of judgment crashing down on you. Be free of the fear of death. Be free of the weight of sin on your shoulders. Jesus calls out, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Sin presses you, but Jesus will lift you.
But perhaps you are here today and you have already trusted in Christ, yet praise doesn’t seem to fit. You can do it, but it kind of feels like a pair of pants that are one size too small. That is to say, you know Christ. You are judicially forgiven of sin, meaning that you are justified by faith alone. But this morning you are thinking about the sin you are hiding away. The sin that you don’t want anyone else to know about. The sin you want to put away, but really you are keeping it in a cage to take out every other week or month. You aren’t walking in the light, so is it any surprise that worship seems cold? When a wife or a husband is having a secret affair, is it any surprise that they do not feel at ease with their spouse? That moments together are filled with guilt and regret instead of joy? Christian, is this you? It’s time to walk in the light! Hear this promise from 1 John 1:6-7,
“If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
In the darkness, you are blind to his glory and so worship seems hard. As you come into the light, confessing your sin, you are cleansed. Yes, the light will hurt your eyes at first; his glory is bright. But then like a child leaving his dark room on Christmas morning, your eyes will adjust to see the bounty of his goodness and you will rejoice in worship.
Or perhaps worship seems hard for you this morning, Christian, because you understand praise as a lightheartedness when it isn’t necessarily that. You can have an ease that is also heavy. Consider the song It is Well. Horatio Spafford wrote this song of worship after undergoing two great hardships. First, he was financially ruined when the Great Fire of Chicago destroyed most of his investments. Second, while his wife and four daughters were crossing the Atlantic, their ship sank and his four daughters died. Shortly after this, he crossed the Atlantic to be with his grieving wife. As his ship passed the place where his daughters died, he wrote the song It is Well.
“When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.”
Why is it well? You can see it in the next verses,
“Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed his own blood for my soul.
My sin, oh the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to his cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!”
Do you think these words are written with a light heart? Absolutely not! They are written by a heart weighed down with the beauty and glory of God in the midst of his sorrow. Worship is not shallow but deep because the love of God on us is deep.
Worship is not for the tidy, but it is for the saved no matter your circumstance.
Second, we see God’s glory in his word (4-9)
In verses 4-9, we see two ways that God’s glory is displayed in his word.
First, God’s glory is displayed in the reliability of his word. Look at verse 4, “For the word of the LORD is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness.” When it says that this word is upright, this simply means that it is right. It is never wrong; it never misleads or tricks you into error and loss. Why is this the case? Because God’s word comes from God and “all his work is done in faithfulness”—meaning he is faithful to the truth, lining up to what is true. In fact, he is truth himself. And, as it says in verse 5, “he loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the LORD.”
Putting this all together, we can say that God’s word is reliable because God is reliable. He is the rock of truth upon which all else is built. You can trust God’s word because God is God: he makes no mistakes and does not have ill intent for you. He does not delight in wickedness but in righteousness and in justice.
Parents, you can trust God’s word as being even more reliable than your words to your children. Kids rely on the words of their parents in order to understand what is good, bad, dangerous, joyful. But parent’s can make mistakes. How much more, then, should we trust God’s word since he does not make mistakes? His way is perfect and his word directs us to his perfect ways.
Second, God’s glory is displayed in the power of his word. This is captured in verses 6-7 which speak of the creation of the world from Genesis 1. By his powerful word, God created all that exists. Mountains, oceans, winds, continents, stars, planets, the solar system, the universe: all were made by his powerful word.
There are few things that can make you feel as powerless as standing in the face of nature. When you stand by the ocean and fear to go in because the waves are too mighty; when you cower in a shelter because the wind and the rain would kill you; when you have to abandon your home because a storm is coming that will wipe away all that you have. These events make it plain: you are powerless. But everything that can make you fear in this way came into existence by, and must obey, God’s word.
Mark 4 (cf. Luke 8:22-25, Matt 8:23-27) captures a moment in Jesus’ ministry in which he is asleep on a boat that is in the midst of a raging storm. His disciples wake him up, saying, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Upon hearing this we read about Jesus that “He awoke and rebuked the wind and saidto the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (Mark 4:39). How did the disciples respond? Just as we are called to respond to the power of God’s word in Psalm 33:8, “Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!” They were terrified and asked, “who could this man be?”
When you consider the power of God’s word, fearful awe comes over you. How could it not? As it says in verse 9, “For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.
This can cause us to fear God. Now, you can fear God by trembling before him, in terror of what he will do. Or, you can follow the psalmist in verse 12 and say, “blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage.” Remember in Psalm 32 what it means to be blessed? Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (Psalm 32:1-2). When you belong to the Lord, you do not have a fear of terror but what we should call filial fear—the kind of fear that a child has of his powerful but loving father. With a good father, a child can look at him and know that his power, while not under the child’s control, works for the child’s benefit.
Those who belong to the Lord are safe because his goodness and power redound to their benefit.
How does his word benefit you? Let’s just run through some ways.
First, just as his word is powerful to create in the beginning, it is powerful to work new creation today. We read in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that when you are in Christ, you are a new creation. The old has passed away and the new has come. Just as God created all things by his word, he is making the new creation by his word. You become a new creation by God’s word through faith in his word (cf. Romans 10). God is making all things new and, when Jesus returns, he will usher in the new heavens and the new earth. But his new creation is also breaking into the present through his people. You are being made new now for the new creation that is to come.
If you think, “I can’t be a Christian,” or if you are a Christian and you look at people and think, “they will never believe,” do not look at God’s word as if it is powerless. It is by hearing the word of God that we become truly woke. It is through God’s word that our eyes can be opened to the reality of sin and the beauty of God. The world does not make sense without God, but so many people have blinded themselves to this reality. But opening up God’s word, the Bible, can remove the veil of blindness that sets over someone’s eyes.
Do you want to believe? Then take up the word and read it, study it with a Christian. Do you, Christian, long for others to believe? Then open up the Bible with them and discuss it. You cannot praise God for his powerful word until you see it and experience it as his powerful word to make you new.
Second, God’s word benefits you as your reliable guide. 2 Peter 1:3, speaking of God, says “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” And where do we have a sure footing of this knowledge? In the Bible. When you take up the Bible, you can be sure that you have in your hand the Scripture that, as we read in 2 Timothy 3:16, was “breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete and equipped for every good work.”
But this equipping and completing doesn’t happen by osmosis. Owning a Bible does you know God if it is closed. That is like being out in the wides in pitch black dark with a flash light and never turning it on. You will not be able to praise God for his reliable word until you experience it as the reliable word.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:5)
“How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word” (Psalm 119:9)
“I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11)
“Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors” (Psalm 119:24)
You will find the word reliable as you base your life on it. As you find it reliable, you will praise God because of it.
Why Don’t You Open Up the Reliable and Powerful Word?
One reason we do not worship God is because we do not open his word and live it. One reason we do not open his word and live it is because we are satisfied with trifling things. We would rather read the incessant rolling of 250 word tweets, look at the endless pictures of relatives and someone we spent 5 minutes with in high school, watch 15 second videos that bring a slight thrill, then we would expose ourselves to the gaze of God on our hearts that would lead us into his excellence. Like CS Lewis said, we are far too easily satisfied by saying one more video, one more movie, one more podcast, one more…And you wonder why your heart is cold to the things of God and what he calls good seems so foreign to you?
God does not lack glory, beauty, and majesty. You lack the attention to look up and see it.
Third, we see God’s glory in his just mercy (10-22)
Simply put, justice is inevitable. God’s powerful word is not just over creation but over man as well. Look at verses 10-11, “The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples.” In contrast, we read in verse 11, “The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.” The word of man cannot stand against the word of God; the plans of man cannot undo the plan of God. As we read in Psalm 2, “the peoples plot in vain” (Ps 2:1) as they make plans against God and his Anointed. Plotting against God doesn’t strictly look like a formal paper disputing his existence. It is anything that you do to try to take his place as the center of the existence. It is, then, setting your focus on sin and claiming to be the judge of good and evil yourself.
But such an action is utter folly, as verses 13-17. There we see that God’s powerful word made all people, including you. This has important implications: he has rights over you and will hold you accountable. He looks down at all and has fashioned the hearts of all. All of our sin, then, is taking the good gifts we have been given by him and using them to assault God and to accuse him of evil. Everyone who attempts to prove that God doesn’t exist uses his mind, something which God has given him, in order to defame him.
Would you expect anything less than his judgment?
But we feel safe from his judgment, even though feeling safe from it is foolish. Don’t deceive yourself into thinking that you can overcome God. You can gather to yourself so many things that make you feel secure. Verses 16-17 display this reality. A king feels safe because of his army; a warrior feels secure because he is strong or because he has a war horse. But these are all things that God has given to you and God can take away in a moment.
People find security in so many things that really are no security at all. For example, maybe you feel safe in your rebellion against God because your spouse says, “don’t worry about what God says.” Or maybe you feel safe because the culture around you says, “We will judge you as right.” While these things can make you feel safe, in the end you will find them powerless to deliver you.
Whatever you have that makes you say, “I don’t really need God,” know that this very thing is a gift from him to you and he can remove it in an instant. King Nebuchadnezzar, after boasting that he had almighty power, was humbled as God took away his mental faculties by which he had built his kingdom (cf. Daniel 4:28-32). And this was done, as the Lord said, “until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will” (Dan 4:32).
Justice is certain whether you like it or not. You will stand before God and will have to give an account.
But there is reason to hope. Why? Because God calls us to hope in verse 18.
Mercy for Those Who Fear
In verse 18 we read, “Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love.” Let’s ask and answer two questions in regard to this verse. First, what does it mean to fear the Lord and hope in his steadfast love? Second, why is the eye of the Lord on those who fear him and hope in him?
Fearing and Hoping in God
Fearing God and hoping in his steadfast love are not identical, but they are related to each other. Those who sin are said to have no fear of God. Psalm 36:1 says “transgression speaks tot he wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. The wicked are those who disregard God’s justice and think that they will escape it. Those who fear the Lord are not those who tremble in their boots, anticipating God to crush them at any moment. Those who fear the Lord are those who take his word seriously—his word of judgment and his word of mercy. Those who fear the Lord are also those who hope in his steadfast love. Fearing the Lord means that you realize your guilt before God and know that you rightly deserve his punishment. But rightly fearing the Lord also leads you to hope in his steadfast love, which means you confess your sin and place your trust in him to save you. Hoping in his steadfast love causes you to plead for mercy that isn’t grounded in you, but grounded in him.
The Lord Desires to Show Mercy
Why is his eye on those who fear and hope in him? The answer is laid out in verse 19. His eye is on them “that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine.” If you acknowledge your sin before the Lord and hope in his love, then his gaze will be upon you for care and not for judgment. Understanding the storyline of the Bible is key for understanding what this means. After the Fall, Adam and Eve are cursed because of sin. Part of this curse is that they will die. Additionally, Adam is told that now he will have to fight with the earth in order for it to produce food for him. In short, there will be famine. What God is promising in verse 19, then, is that he will shelter you through the curse and ultimately deliver you from it as you fear him and hope in his love.
When you fear him and hope in him, he sets his gave upon you in order to deliver you from the curse.
So We Wait on Him
The psalmist knows that only God can deliver from the curse of sin, so in verses 20-22 we see him state the following:
He declares that those who fear and hope in his love will wait for the Lord (20)
He declares that those who fear and hope in his love are glad in him. Why? Because by trusting him they are able to worship. Their trust is sure because their God is surely good (21)
He prays that God’s love would be upon those who fear and hope in him (22)
What the psalmist waits for, however, is different than us. Simply put, we look back on what they looked forward to: the cross of Christ. Romans 3:23-26 lays out this difference for us:
“For all have sinned and all short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”
These verses are important because they address an issue integral to the gospel: God’s justice in justifying sinners. We know that we have all sinned, so how is God just not to count our sins to us? Likewise, how is God just not to count the sins of David to David in Psalm 32? If David and the writer of Psalm 33 are glorying in forgiveness, what is the basis of that forgiveness if God is truly just?
The answer is Jesus. As Romans 3:23-26 tells us, God passed over former sins, not excusing them, but knowing that they would be paid by Christ on the cross. They looked forward to God providing justice on the cross. In other words, they waited on the Lord looking ahead to the cross. We look back to it. On the cross, Jesus really did bear my sin in his body on the tree so that I might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Peter 2:25-27); he has made me new by his work on the cross. But now we, too, wait, but not for the cross. We wait for the return of Christ when he will make all things new.
And just as the saints of old confidently worshiped God as they awaiting the coming of Christ, we can confidently and joyfully worship God as we await his second coming.
Jesus Welcomes Us to Worship
But worship begins with forgiveness because the glory of God is obscured by our sin. Forgiveness only comes through Jesus Christ. On his cross we see the mercy of God displayed as the justice of God is upheld.
Do you long to worship? Do you long to be satisfied as you were created to be satisfied? Then look at Jesus. He is the one who is able to bear your sin on the cross so that you can be made new as you come to him in faith. When you look on the Lamb who was slain, you cannot help but sing a new song as you are made new through him.