Summary: Year C. The tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 12th, 2001 Psalm 33:1-22 Title: “Praise of creation and praise of the divine plan.”
Year C. The tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 12th, 2001
Title: “Praise of creation and praise of the divine plan.”
This is a hymn of praise, composed to be sung at worship. Many date the psalm in the post-exilic period, but there is nothing in its theology and no historical referents that would require it. This psalm could well have been sung during the time of the monarchy and the first Temple. Its twenty-two verses would lead one to presume that it is an acrostic psalm, where the first letter of each verse begins with the succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet. This is not the case here, although other features of such psalms are present, especially the repeated use of the same root in various nouns and verbs as well as the regularity and balance of the structure.
The structure of this psalm is easily discernible. In verses one to three are a call to praise. Verses four to nineteen, give the reasons for praising God: verses four to nine, because of his word; verses ten to twelve, his plan; verses thirteen to fifteen, his vision; and verses sixteen to nineteen, his might. Verses twenty to twenty-two conclude with a trusting prayer for help.
Verse one, Rejoice: The highest mood of Old Testament religion is joy. This verb, Hebrew r-n-n, occurs frequently in Isaiah and the Psalms fifty-fives times counting the cognate noun. It expresses Israel’s reaction to God’s saving deeds. It usually takes the form of a shout. The root appears in parallel with every term for “joy,” “rejoicing,” and “praise.” It is used as a synonym for “singing.” Here it is used in parallel with “praise” and clearly in the context of “singing.”
You just…upright: These terms were used for those allowed to enter the sacred area and appear before Yahweh.
In verse two, harp…ten-stringed lyre: These are only two of several musical instruments used in the liturgy. Here they may be the only two used to accompany the singing. More likely, they are singled out as representative of a much larger orchestra. Note: See Psalm 150.
In verse three, a new song: This could mean “brand new.” Most likely, however, it means “ever new.” The same old words of a familiar song not only do not wear out; they actually become fresher with each repetition. This is true of the praise of God as well. There is an ever-new freshness to the praise of God and even a re-experiencing of God’s providence in the recalling and singing of it. The experience breaks out of the categories of space and time. Only lavish, uninhibited praise a booming shout of joy can come close to doing it justice.
Skillfully play with joyful chant: The people were to bring all their human talents and skills to the service of Yahweh. They were to be at their finest, most artistic, most enthusiastic when praising Yahweh together.
This section gives four divine characteristics deserving of recognition and praise.
In verse four, the Lord’s word is true: This verse begins to give the reasons for praising God. The first one is because of his word. No doubt the author has Genesis one in mind, “He spoke and it was.” God created through his word. “Word,” dabar in Hebrew, means both “word” and “event.” It comes from a common ancient perception of reality that nothing exists unless and until it is named. However, God’s naming or speaking does not merely bring things into being, but imparts his name or character to them. Because his character is true, upright and trustworthy, what he creates shares in that reality.
His works are trustworthy: Because he is trustworthy, so is everything he does. He spoke and what he said happened. It came into being, but his being stayed with what he created. Yahweh is more than a Maker or Creator, his character or name entered into what he made. He abides in his works. They are never totally separate from his being.
In verse five, The Lord loves justice and right: It means that the Lord loves to perform righteous and just deeds. They are his nature. They express him, and as such are his “words.”
He fills the earth with his goodness: This expresses the same idea in “other words,” just as the many forms creation took –human, animal vegetable, mineral – and the many forms of them – express the same God, the source, holding them up, letting them be.
In verse six, By the Lord’s word the heavens were made: Not only the earth and all it contains, but the heavens and all humans cannot see, or experience first hand, and all they contain came into being by his word.
The breath of his mouth: This is not only a wonderful poetic metaphor for “word,” the necessary, accompanying “breathing” involved in speaking, it also links “breath” or “spirit” or “wind,” all translations of the Hebrew ruah, with “word.” This link will continually come up in the theology of Israel as well as Christianity. God’s breath is a creative, vital force, invisibly making things visible.