Theology was never meant to be a dry academic discipline. We are called to have a relationship with the living God. That requires that we can understand and appreciate certain things about Him; and those truths should have a profound effect on us personally. Psalm 33 is a classic example of how the Bible approaches theology.
Significantly the psalm begins with a call to worship:
“Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous!
For praise from the upright is beautiful.”
(Psalm 33:1; NKJV)
What is called for here is not an emotionally detached assent to a set of theological propositions. Rather, we are called to “rejoice,” and the Hebrew word used here suggests a shout for joy, an emotional expression of something that we genuinely feel in our hearts. And in verses 2 and 3 the psalm goes on to emphasize the role that music plays in worship. It specifically mentions the use of musical instruments: the harp and “instrument of ten strings” (a specific kind of harp). Verse 3 says that we are to “Play skillfully with a shout of joy.” The picture here is not of a dull, somber, lifeless formality, but rather of an outburst of exuberant joy. And this, we are told, is “beautiful” (v. 1). The goodness and greatness of God calls for an expression of real joy.
The psalm then goes on to explain why this is so. It begins with a general statement about the attributes of God:
“For the word of the Lord is right,
And all His work is done in truth.
He loves righteousness and justice;
The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.”
The word of the Lord, what He says and commands, is “right” – it is honest and true, and completely dependable. And God’s works are done “in truth” or “faithfulness” as it might be translated (cf. NASV, ESV). God’s character is steadfast and reliable, and His actions are consistent. Unlike human beings, who can be inconsistent and even dishonest, and therefore unreliable, God is completely trustworthy.
Moreover the psalm says that God “loves righteousness and justice” (v. 5). That suggests both that God is righteous and just himself, and that He wants to see righteousness and justice in us. This is important, because it establishes a basis for morality without which human society cannot function. As human beings we are accountable to a Supreme Being and are obligated to conform to a higher law. Otherwise might makes right and the law of the jungle prevails.
And then the psalm goes on to say that “the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord” (v. 5). The word “goodness” could be translated “lovingkindness” (NASV). It is the willingness of God to show kindness towards the weak and lowly, and especially to those in need. And the earth, the psalm says, is full of His lovingkindness, as the psalmist will go on to demonstrate.
The psalmist then turns his attention to God’s works, beginning with God’s work of creation. “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made . . .” (v. 6); and “He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap . . .” (v. 7). What strikes the psalmist here is the vast expanse of the heavens and the mighty rolling ocean. As impressive as there things are in themselves, how much greater must be the One who created them! And the heavens in particular were made by God’s mere spoken word. What amazing power God must have if He can create something out of nothing, and accomplish that merely by speaking the word! “Let all the earth fear the Lord; / Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him” (vv. 8,9).
If, therefore, God is the creator of all things it follows that He can control what He created, and this would include the actions of men. Because God is ultimately in control, His will is the final factor. People, rules and entire nations may think and plan, but “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; / He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect” (v. 10). The Lord’s counsel, by way of contrast, “stands forever” (v. 11). As a result His will is determinative.
The psalmist then goes on to point out that God can see everything that goes on here on earth. “The Lord looks from heaven; / He sees all the sons of men” (v. 13). “He fashions their hearts individually; / He considers all their works” (v. 15). The ultimate reality is not an impersonal natural force or an abstract idea; it is a living conscious Supreme Being. And while He is infinitely greater than we can imagine, that does not mean that He is so far removed from us that He is not aware of what we are doing. On the contrary, he knows everything that we do, and that should make us think twice before we act.
This, then, leads the psalmist to the practical implications of what he has said so far. The first is the realization that ultimately it is not our physical or social circumstances that control our destiny: “No king is saved by the multitude of an army . . . A horse is a vain hope for safety” (vv. 16,17). Instead the promise is this:
“Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him,
On those who hope in His mercy,
To deliver their soul from death,
And to keep them alive in famine.”
The promise is to those “who fear Him” and to those “who hope in His mercy.” Here we have the basic elements of true religion. To “fear” Him is not to live in constant terror of Him. Rather it is to have a deep reverence and respect for Him, and a desire to please Him in all our ways. To “hope in His mercy” (or “goodness” or “lovingkindness” as it might better be translated – it is the same word that was used in verse 5) means to wait patiently for God to act in His kindness to deliver us.
And so the psalm concludes with a ringing affirmation of trust in God.
“Our soul waits for the Lord
He is our help and our shield.
For our heart shall rejoice in Him,
Because we have trusted in His holy name.”
We patiently wait for the Lord; we look to Him for protection (“He is our help and our shield”). We trust in Him, and as a result our hearts are filled with joy. And then there is the concluding prayer:
“Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us,
Just as we hope in You.”
Christianity, then, is not an abstract idea or a mere religious formality. It is a deep appreciation for who God is and what He has done for us. And this, in turn, should elicit from us a heartfelt gratitude. Praise the Lord!