Commentary on Psalm 33:12-22
God is Great, God is Good
One of the table prayers we have used in our family has been “God is great, God is good, and we thank him for our food.” This prayer summarizes the pattern of the psalms of praise in the Bible: it expresses praise and thanks and gives two reasons for praise and thanks: God’s greatness and God’s goodness.
I suggest that Psalm 33 is an excellent choice for preaching this Sunday considering it as a whole. It follows the typical pattern of hymns or psalms of praise in the Bible with imperative plurals calling to praise (verses 1-3, “Rejoice, Praise, Sing”) followed by reasons for praise, including God’s greatness (verses 4-12) and God’s goodness (verses 13-19). The psalm is then rounded off with an affirmation of trust (verses 20-21) and a request addressed to the Lord in “you” form (verse 22).
The Same Old Songs? (verses 1-3)
The three imperative plural verbs are addressed to the congregation: “rejoice, praise, sing.” These three verses provide thought for a worship committee:
1. Worship should be joyful! (verse 1)
2. Worship may include the use of musical instruments, mentioned here for the first time in the psalms; a modern-day writer would have spoken of trumpets, trombones, guitars, harps.
3. Worship of the Creator ought to be marked by creativity. In other words, let us have a few new songs in the language and melodies of our own age! (verse 3)
4. Those leading worship ought to be well trained so that they “play skillfully.” Let us worship God with the best musicians and poets we have! After all, we are following in the tradition of Johann Sebastian Bach!
5. Worship ought to be enthusiastic, even with the volume turned up! (verse 3)
Why Praise? God is Great! (verses 4-12)
Now the psalm gives some reasons for praising God. The first word of verses 4 and 9 is “for,” bracketing that section as a unit. Why praise God? Because God created the whole cosmos and especially our “blue planet” with its deep blue seas. How did God do this? The psalmist picks up the notion of creation through the word. God said “let there be”—and there it was! (Genesis 1).
The “God is great” theme continues in verses 10-12 when the writer reflects on God’s work in history. As the prophets make clear, God was concerned not only with what was happening in Israel and Judah! God was also involved with the great nations of their day, in the actions of Assyria, Babylon, Persian and Greece (see Amos 9:7-8, Isaiah 13-23, Jeremiah 46-51). And while God may be moving in mysterious ways in our own time, we may assume that God is also concerned about what happens in the nations of our time, Iraq or Afghanistan, Africa or Antarctica, the United Kingdom or the United States. Psalm 32 had things to say about individual happiness (32:1-2, 11). Psalm 33:12 asserts that a people whose God is the Lord — will be blessed.
Why Praise? The Lord is Good! (verses 13-19)
I recall touring a Greek Orthodox church where there was, front and center, near the ceiling, a painting of a huge eye, with a brown iris and black pupil. Our guide explained: “That painting represents the eye of God. Walk around anyplace in our sanctuary, look back and you will see that the eye of God is watching you!” Verses 13-15 declare that the Lord looks down at what is happening on our planet. Verses 18-19 promise that the Lord “keeps an eye on us.” Children, as we know, love to have their parents and grandparents “keeping an eye” on them. They like be watched and praised for their accomplishments. But I think they also like the sense that someone who loves them is watching, protecting, in case anything should go wrong!
God is great, says this psalm, and God is also good. That goodness is expressed in the declaration of God’s steadfast love (Hebrew, hesed; verses 5, 18). The prophet Isaiah had said that the earth was filled with the glory of God (Isaiah 6:3). This psalm says that the earth is filled — with God’s steadfast love (hesed, verse 5). Thus, we ought not locate God only high in the heavens…but think of God in terms of a cloud of amazing grace, spread throughout the entire planet! The fact that God has an eye on us is reason for fear and trust in God’s steadfast love (hesed, verse 18).
In the Meantime (20-22)
The writer catches our mood as we live out our days. We can be glad because we can trust.
Finally, we can pray (and here is the third hesed) “Let your steadfast love be upon us, as we live in hope.”
Preaching and Worship on Psalm 33
In the case of this psalm one can preach right through it, following the pattern of the psalm itself. The “God is great” theme will be enhanced by singing “How Great Thou Art” or perhaps with photographs illustrating the wonder of space and the beauties of creation. The threefold “steadfast love” theme (5, 18, 22) could be developed by reading Psalm 136 responsively. The congregation will discover that modern “praise songs” did not invent the device of repetition to make a point! Or that theme could be illustrated with stories from the Bible (the waiting Father in Luke 15; Hosea’s picture of the God who loves no matter what) or personal experience. In any case the tripling of the steadfast love theme indicates its centrality. Then of course the hesed theme of the Old Testament emerges in the notion of agape in the new, with John 3:16 giving most succinct expression. As for the “eye” theme, which occurs only here in the Bible, how about singing “His eye’s upon the sparrow, and I know God watches me…” Finally, this might be just the time to try a few “new songs,” as suggested by this old text itself!