by Bob Wheeler



Pieter Claesz, A Vanitas Still Life, 1645


The current coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated, dramatically, how fragile life can be.  Within a matter of weeks, and even days, our lives have been turned upside down; and now we wait, not sure what to expect, but bracing for the worst.  Nearly everyone will be put to an inconvenience.  Many will get sick, and some will die.  Events have been cancelled and plans have been disrupted.  How will it all end?

There is a sense in which none of this is new – it is a part of the human condition.  Just ask the survivors of the Bubonic Plague in the Middle Ages.  And the frailty of human life is reflected in many of the psalms in the Bible.

One such psalm is Psalm 33.  The human author is unknown, but the psalm is found in the early part of the psalter that contains many of the psalms of David..  The psalm begins, appropriately, with a call to worship:

“Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous!

For praise from the upright is beautiful.

Praise the Lord with the harp;

Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings.”

(Psalm 33:1,2; NKJV)

Praise is the proper and fitting response to all that God is and has done, as the psalmist will go on to demonstrate.

The psalmist describes God’s character as one of “righteousness and justice,” and says that “The earth is full of the presence of the Lord” (v. 5).  Even natural disasters do not detract from the fact that we live in a rationally ordered universe created by an intelligent Supreme Being.  There is evidence of Intelligent Design everywhere.

The psalmist points to the enormous power of God demonstrated in creation.

“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,

And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth . . .

For He spoke, and it was done;

He commanded, and it stood fast.”

(vv. 6,9).

\Contemplate for a moment the sheer immensity of the universe, the distant stars and galaxies millions of light years away, and then realize that all this came into being by the mere spoken word of God!  How amazing beyond all comprehension!  “Let all the earth fear the Lord, / Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him” (v. 8).

But if God is the all-powerful Creator, it stands to reason that He exercised absolute control over what He has created.  And this means, in turn, that He can override the counsels of men.  “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; / He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect’ (v. 10).  Think of what has just happened in our lives.  A tiny microbe appeared in a distant city in central China, and within just a matter of a few months entire countries on the other side of the globe were shut down and the financial markets are in upheaval.  The most that the healthcare officials can do is to try to slow down the rate of infection; they are powerless to stop it completely.  And all of this because of an invading army equipped with tanks, planes, missiles and bombs?  No!  Because of a microscopic bug!  How fragile life is!  And yet God, the Creator and Lord of the universe, is in control of it all.  “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, / The plans of His heart to all generations” (v. 11).

The psalmist points out that God is perfectly aware of all that is going on down here:

“The Lord looks down from heaven;

He sees all the sons of men . . .

He fashions their hearts individually;

He considers all their works.”

(vv. 13,15)

What this suggests is that what is happening now did not happen by accident – God is perfectly aware of what is going on, and is controlling its course and determining its outcome.  It is all a part of His eternal plan.

The psalmist then makes a telling observation:

“No king is saved by the multitude of an army;

A mighty man is not delivered by great strength.’

A horse is a vain hope for safety;

Neither shall it deliver any by its great strength.”

(vv. 16,17).

An army, one’s own physical strength, and a horse are all things on which we are naturally inclined to rely.  But all of them, by their very nature, are finite.  There always exists the possibility that they will be overwhelmed by an even greater force.  And since God is infinite, He can easily overcome any of them.  As we have seen in the current crisis, there are even forces in nature that can overwhelm a government.  But God is greater than all of these.  God is ultimately in control.  In God we should place our trust.

And so the psalmist tells us that “the eye of the Lord is on those who fear Him . . .to deliver their soul from death . . .” (vv. 18,19).  This in itself is remarkable.  Why would the infinite Creator and Lord of heaven and earth pay any attention to any of us finite creatures of the dust?  The answer is that it is precisely because He is infinite that He is aware of everything.  “The Lord looks from heaven; / He sees all the sons of men” (v. 13).  That being the case, He takes a personal interest in “those who fear Him, / On those who hope in His mercy” (v. 18).  To “fear” God does not mean to live to live in constant terror of Him.  God is good – He is kind and gracious.  To “fear” Him means to have such a deep reverence for His power and authority that one would dread to offend Him in any way.  It means to approach Him in deep and humble reverence.

To “hope” in God means to have a confident expectation which will then demonstrate itself in patient waiting.  “Mercy” might better be translated “lovingkindness” (NASV).  It is the kindness of God “in condescending to the needs of his creatures” (Brown-Driver-Briggs).  The key to weathering the storms of life is to put our trust in God’s unfailing goodness.  But that requires faith.

Thus the psalmist concludes by saying:

“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.”

(vv. 20,21).

We put our trust in Him.  We rely on Him to get us through life’s trials and difficulties.  And as a result we patiently wait on Him; and we do more than that – we “rejoice in Him” – our heart is filled with joy and gratitude precisely because we have the confidence that He will come and deliver us.

The psalmist finally concludes with a prayer: “Let Your mercy, O Lord, be upon us, / Just as we hope in You” (v. 22); His “mercy” again being His lovingkindness.

The question, then, is how firm is our faith in God?  Do we have the confidence that He will deliver us from all our trials and difficulties?  In a situation like the one in which we now find ourselves it may seem difficult.  The whole world seems in chaos – the things upon which we have always relied my no longer be there for us.  But if our faith is real and genuine, if God has a real presence in our lives, we will go to Him in prayer, confess our fear and anxiety, and wait for “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding” to “guard you hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).