A New Thing!
One of the original visions for Abiding Ways Ministries was as a place of learning and studying Scripture. I freely confess that one of my personal pet peeves is biblical illiteracy. More on that some other time! Today, and prayerfully every Wednesday, I will post a mini-reading plan, a devotional reading, a passage of scripture for study and of course, questions for thought and application. I hope you’ll let me know what you think, and offer your responses in the COMMENTS.
This month’s study is from “The Standard Lesson Commentary 2016-2017” . Each month I’ll share a study from a multitude of resources that I have available and make sure to let you know with a link to purchase for yourself. At the end of each month, I’ll post the full monthly study in the Facebook group in PDF for download and use in your small group or personal study. Be sure to join the Facebook group!
Now on to this week’s study…
Praising God for Creation
Devotional Reading: Psalm 146
Background Scripture: Psalm 33:1-9 Key Verse: Ps. 33:6
Supplemental Daily Readings:
Wed, Jan. 4 Justice Will Be Established Isaiah 42:1-4
Thu, Jan. 5 Salvation Is for All Peoples Isaiah 49:1-7
Fri, Jan. 6 Sing Praises, O Gentiles Romans 15:7-13
Sat, Jan. 7 Singing Around the Throne Revelation 5:11-14
Sun, Jan. 8 The Lord Reigns Supreme Psalm 96:1-6, 10-13
Mon, Jan. 9 Rejoice During the Festival of Booths Deuteronomy 16:13-15
Tue, Jan. 10 God Forgives and Saves the People Psalm 65:3-4
After a first reading of the passage-can you share your answers to these?
1. What are some reasons to praise the Lord and rejoice in him?
2. How is worship a function of God’s creation?
3. How does your church worship? What would you like to see to improve the worship experience?
A. Call to Worship
Traditional worship services begin with a “call to worship.” This may simply be a reading from Scripture (often from the book of Psalms) or it may take the form of a short responsive reading. Many contemporary churches now begin with music! I know mine does!
The lines of Psalm 33:20-22, include the elements of waiting on the Lord, acknowledging his protection, rejoicing and trusting in him, and anticipating his love and mercy. All such elements can play an important part in unifying a congregation to the purpose of worship. We must not forget that we have come to worship, and skilled worship leaders issue this call clearly.
Today’s study encompasses the first nine verses of this same psalm. Although the words were penned over 2,000 years ago, the purposes of and necessity for worship have not changed. If we let it, Psalm 33 can enliven and focus both our corporate and personal worship.
B. A Little Background
The psalmists composed their works for specific purposes, and sometimes the purpose and identity of the author is revealed in a psalm’s superscription. For example, the superscription of Psalm 51 refers to that psalm as “of David … after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.” What follows is David’s repentance for that sinful episode.
If you have a Bible in an electronic format, you may find it interesting to discover these superscriptions to be tagged as “verse zero” of the psalm that follows. Many psalms, however, lack a superscription, and Psalm 33 is one of those. In these cases, we must look within the psalm itself to get an idea of how the Israelites originally used it.
Psalm 33 bears no statement of authorship, but a reasonable guess is that David wrote it. One piece of evidence to support this theory is that Psalm 32:11 and Psalm 33:1 are worded very similarly, with the superscription of Psalm 32 attributing that composition to David.
One theory about Psalm 33 is that it was used in public assemblies to thank God for a good harvest. In an era when 98 percent of the people made their living by growing things in rural settings, when a harvest was good or bad , it was felt immediately by nearly everyone. While a national celebration of a good harvest may seem odd to those of the modern Western world, where only 2 percent of people live on farms, such a celebration was quite fitting for the ancients (compare Psalm 65:9; 67:6; 85:12; contrast Jeremiah 8:13).
Giving thanks to God is the essence of worship. When we are aware of and grateful for the blessings of adequate provisions for life, praising God should be a natural and first response!
I. Praise by the Upright (Psalm 33:1-5)
A. Use Every Means Ps. 33: 1-3)Ps. 33:1
The original wording behind the exhortation sing joyfully is translated similarly in Psalm 81:1 as “sing for joy” and in Psalm 98:4 as “burst into jubilant song.”
The singing of praise to the Lord finds expression in loud and jubilant exultation, accompanied by musical instruments. The worship of God’s ancient covenant people was a joyous occasion. The community of worshipers (v. 1) consisted of the “righteous” ( צַדִּיק tsaddı̂yq, tsad-deek’ see Ps. 1:6) and “upright” ( יָשָׁר yâshâr, yaw-shawr’ see Ps.7:10; cf. Ps.32:11). Apparently musical instruments had their place in worship. The psalmist only selects the harp (or “lyre”) and the ten-stringed lyre as samples of the instruments. We need not infer that there were no other instruments
This harp, also called lyre, was held upright, so that the resonance body remained vertically.
The rest of the passage (Ps. 33:1-3) reveals the feature of parallelism for which ancient Hebrew poetry is noted. One form of parallelism involves two lines saying the same thing only with different words. We see this here in that those who are righteous and those who are upright are actually the same people. Their rejoicing is praise.
People are not made righteous by their praise of God, but praising him is the right and proper thing to do. We cannot consider ourselves to be upright if we refuse or neglect worship.
Considering the above
What steps can you (and/or your church) take to ensure that our joy is in the Lord rather than in “things”?
-What might be signs that point to a lack of joy?
-What ideas do you have that might bring back the joy and that also witnesses to others
-What do you think is the difference between joy and happiness
The psalmist (possibly a worship leader) turns his attention to include instrumentalists. As we are on the alert for more parallelism, in light of what we just saw in verse 1, we may be tempted to conclude that only one musical instrument is in view here, with harp and lyre being merely different words for the same thing . But the fact that harp and lyre are listed together in several nonpoetic passages requires that they be seen as distinct instruments (see 1 Chronicles 15:16).
But the fact that the two instruments are different does not mean that parallelism is absent. There is more than one kind of parallelism, and the one we see here is a parallel of category: harp and lyre are both stringed musical instruments, mentioned dozens of times in the Old Testament. David played at least one of these instruments, perhaps both, with skill (see 1 Samuel 16:23).
Harps can vary widely in size. Some are small enough to be portable (compare Psalm 137:2). On the other hand, harps used for worship may be very large, thus capable of producing great volume at the cost of portability. Perhaps the larger harps are played while standing.
Archaeologists have found inscriptions depicting ancient harps, as well as a few actual harps. These reveal configurations of two posts extending from a sound box, with a connecting bar at the top. The strings that connect the sound box with the bar are tuned to specific musical notes. The strings, made from prepared goat or sheep intestines, can be plucked or perhaps played with a bow.
Evidence from ancient drawings indicates curved yokes and jar-shaped sounding boxes to be features of lyres. An instrument featuring 10 strings, whether to be plucked or played with a bow, can be enormous if designed for use in large worship gatherings (Psalm 144:9).
Ps. 33:3 Sing to him a new song;play skillfully, and shout for joy.
The fact that singers are to sing … a new song doesn’t necessarily mean a newly composed tune, but a song that is fresh and renewing rather than stale and tired (compare Psalm 98:1; Revelation 5:9). And as they sing such a song, the instrumentalists are to hold nothing back in terms of skill, volume, or joyous exuberance.
There is a place for contemplation, stillness, and silence, but not in the worship service envisioned by this psalmist. How wonderful it would be if we discovered a 3,000-year-old video that showed us such a worship service in progress! Our notions of stately, dignified worship in ancient Israel might be turned on their head if we could witness the exuberance of the joyful, loud praise that seems to be sketched here. This psalm offers no words of caution on restraint for worship.
Over-the-top exuberance is not the same as uncontrolled chaos, however. For the musical expressions of singers and notes to blend harmoniously implies the skill that comes from rehearsal. But the motive behind rehearsal is important. Wrong motives put the professionalism of the musicians first. Right motives put the meaningfulness of the worship experience first. And we do well to remember that what is meaningful to us may not be meaningful to God (see Isaiah 1:13; Amos 5:21).
How do we keep musical expressions of praise from becoming mere performance?
It’s all too easy to get caught up in personal preferences and showmanship in musical expressions of worship. Is the volume according to my taste? Is the worship team properly attired for being on stage? Is each song timed perfectly with no dead space?
Skillful praise is the ideal to aim for, but heartfelt praise also counts (in Isaiah 29:13 we see what God thinks of the opposite). What a blessing it must be to God to hear the sincere praise of his children!
B. Acknowledge His Attributes (Ps. 33:4-5)
Having primed the singers and the musicians for worship, the psalmist now begins to give content to their praise. What we say in worship is important, and it should not be approached carelessly. It is not profitable for the church to sing words that contain unbiblical sentiments or misleading doctrinal statements.
We guard against such errors by careful study of Scripture in order to derive song lyrics from the Bible itself. No matter how catchy or popular a worship song might be, it should have no place in a church service if it detracts from biblical truth. Music makes words memorable, and church leaders must insist that the worship words in their services glorify and praise the Lord appropriately.
In the half verse before us and in the next three, the psalmist celebrates four attributes of the Lord. First, the Lord’s word is right, meaning what God has communicated to mankind is true and without error. We can depend on the reliability and authenticity of God’s Word. God’s Word is truth, always and forever (John 17:17).
In the second half of Ps. 33:4 -“For all he does is faithful” means that just as God’s words are always trustworthy, his actions are as well. God is consistent in the ways he deals with humanity. He has sent his messengers to proclaim his ways and call people to repent. But in spite of human sin and an all-too-often unwillingness to repent, God loves us deeply. His works are consistent with and speak of both his love for us and his holy insistence that we abandon sinful ways.
This combination of trustworthy words and faithful works means that God always keeps his promises, whether of judgment or of blessing. This is a great lesson of the Old Testament. What God promises Israel, God delivers—even when (or especially when) it is not to their liking. This is true for us also; we can always depend on God’s promises.
Ps. 33: 5
The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
Psalm 97:2 tells us that “righteousness and justice are the foundation of [God’s] throne.” Since this is so, it is no wonder that God expects and loves to see righteousness and justice exhibited by his people. Righteousness refers to “doing the right thing,” while justice refers to treating others fairly, as in “being just.”
The two ideas are so close in meaning that they are practically synonyms. This indicates one rather than two attributes of God (notice how they are parallel in Psalm 9:8). It’s virtually impossible to think of God or anyone else who does the right thing yet is unjust!
God is unrelenting in his calls for the people of Israel to do the right thing in maintaining justice in their society. As righteousness and justice undergird the throne of God, so are they to be the foundation of human society as well.
The psalmist looks to creation to find a fourth attribute of God: his provision of good things within our world. God pronounced the goodness of his creation at the beginning (Genesis 1:31), and we should celebrate the one who has provided such bounty for us.
The word translated unfailing love (חֶסֶד cheçed, kheh’-sed;) is very common in the Old Testament (see Psalms 33:18, 22; Ps.36:7; Ps.119:76; etc.). The psalmist is saying that creation itself is a testimony of God’s favor toward us. The goodness evidenced in his world should stimulate ongoing praise and worship.
What do YOU think…
What are some ways to ensure that worship , whether corporate or individual, addresses the attributes of God?
II. Praise for His Works-Psalm 33:6-7
A. Heavens and Their Host
The psalmist now steps backward in time to consider the initial creative acts of God. The emphasis is the method of creation found in Genesis 1: God spoke the universe into being.
The psalmist considers first the realm beyond the earth: the heavens and that which inhabit them. Starry host may refer to stars of the night sky or to the angels who reside in Heaven as God’s servants. In ancient Israelite thinking, the two may be one and the same (compare Judges 5:20; Job 38:7; Isaiah 40:26).
Modern science has expanded our knowledge of the physical aspects of the universe far beyond that of the psalmist. The number of stars by one estimate is between 1022 and 1024—almost incomprehensible numbers. The ever-growing list of scientific discoveries tests the faith of some. But how much better it is to allow those awe-inspiring discoveries to drive us to our knees in worship of their Creator!
For creation to come about by the breath of God’s mouth is not to imply that he has physical body parts. Rather, the psalmist is emphasizing creation by means of God’s words. This is difficult for us to understand, but we might say it this way: God imagines it, speaks it, and it is created. Interesting to consider at this point is 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed.”
What Do You Think?
Considering creation, Scripture and your own life experiences, what helps you best appreciate God’s creative power?
B. Waters of the Sea
The psalmist turns his attention to another realm of great wonder and mystery: the oceans. The fact that God is able to gather the waters of the sea into jars is demonstrated in the facts of history noted in Exodus 14:21, 22; 15:8; Joshua 3:13-16; and Psalm 78:13.
The imagery of the forces of nature being kept in storehouses is also reflected in Job 38:22; Psalm 135:7; and Jeremiah 10:13; and Jer. 51:16. The Creator is the master of the mighty oceans and all other forces of nature.
We manage water supplies, with varying degrees of success, by building colossal dams, levees, and waterways. As we do, we should not allow hubris to cause us to forget that it was God who created the self-renewing water system of the earth in the first place.
III. Duties of the Created-Psalm 33:8-9
The two lines of this verse are saying the same thing (again, parallelism). The contemplation of God’s great creative acts prompts the psalmist to call for a proper response: jaw-dropping fear and reverence. There are many aspects to worship, including remembering God’s grace, celebrating his love, and expressing our gratitude to him. But what about fear and reverence? Have we lost these elements of worship?
A proper fear will strip us of high-minded pride (Romans 11:20) as it humbles our hearts. Any pretense or delusion of our own greatness or worthiness is swallowed up in recognition of the vast superiority of God’s eternal power.
The psalmist finishes this section with a return to the most baffling and amazing consideration in all of this: God’s ability to speak creation into existence. Nothing thwarts God’s creative intentions. God speaks, it happens, and it happens in a permanent way. It stands firm. This is not digital creation, but hard and fast reality. We are not independent players in this cosmic drama, but part of God’s plans and purposes. Our role is to recognize, marvel, and submit.
What to consider…
How might Ps. 33:8-9 be used in corporate, personal or other forms of worship?
Churches today carefully plan and rehearse their worship times to bring believers before the throne of God in a spirit of praise. Such elements undergird today’s text as well. The psalmist’s desire for skill as various elements of musical expression interact implies planning for a large community’s time of worship.
Underlying, however, is a broader picture of what worship is. God is not to be awe-inspiring only for an hour or two on Sunday morning; he is eternally and always so. A weekend gathering of believers might be a high point in our worship, but it should not be the only worship experience.
We can worship when we see God’s activity in a gentle rain or a thundering storm. We can worship him when we view a glorious sunset or a clear, starry night. We can worship when we gaze into the eyes of a newborn baby. We can worship when we calm our hearts for sleep or when we awaken fresh for a new day. We can worship when we remember the many blessings God has laid in the pathways of our lives, or when we consider the many things he has in store for us in the future (see Ecclesiastes 3:11).
Our worship should not be confined to a sanctuary or worship center in a building. By lifting our “worship awareness” to a higher level, we find endless things that point our hearts to the Lord, the maker of the heavens and the earth and the provider of our daily needs.
This week, look for small worship opportunities as they present themselves to you. When you recognize one, smile as an act of joy directed to the Lord, for he alone is worthy of worship. Mouth this simple prayer: “Thank you, Lord, for letting this remind me of you.” When you fill your heart with worship, you will not be disappointed.