A Praise Psalm for Everyone, Part 1

By James Boice

Theme: A Call to Worship

In this week’s lessons the psalmist teaches us how and why we are to praise the Lord.

Scripture: Psalm 33:1-22

The psalter has been called “Israel’s Hymnbook,” because so many of its psalms are nationalistic or individualistic. That is, they are written from the perspective of Israel’s experience as a nation, or they express the personal defeats, victories or longings of some individual Jewish writer such as David. Psalm 33 follows a somewhat different pattern. It looks to all the nations and to all generations and calls on all people everywhere to praise God and thank him for his universal blessings. It is a praise psalm for everyone.

In spite of the obviously new direction of this composition there is a verbal link with Psalm 32, which precedes it. Psalm 32 ended by calling on the righteous to sing praises to God. This note is picked up in Psalm 33, almost as if its first three verses were written as an elaboration of the last verse of Psalm 32:11. In particular, the words “sing,” “upright” and “righteous” are repeated.

And there is this possible link too. Psalm 33 is one of the few psalms in Book One of the Psalter without a title. But the content and tone of Psalm 33 are so different from Psalm 32 that no one today seriously suggests that they were once one psalm. The second may not even be by David. Nevertheless, the fact that they are placed together as they are suggests that the arrangers of the Psalter saw some connection between them. Psalm 32 describes the joy of the person who has confessed his or her sin and has been restored. For such a person, it is now natural to praise and thank God, which is what Psalm 33 does. Any person who has experienced God’s forgiveness should be thankful.

Moreover, I think this explains something else that is interesting. The psalm praises God for his word and his works, focusing on creation and God’s deliverance of the people from enemies. But underlying this is praise of God’s attributes, particularly his “unfailing love,” mentioned in verses 5, 18 and 22. The one who has been forgiven by God will be particularly overtaken by this quality.

The psalm has a straightforward outline. The first three verses are a call to worship. The last three verses (vv. 20-22) are a conclusion in which the worshipers declare their intention of waiting trustingly in God. In between is the body of the psalm (vv. 4-19), in which the Lord is praised for his word and works, as I have indicated.

Not only is the outline straightforward. The opening call to worship is straightforward too. It contains six imperatives in which the righteous are called upon to “sing joyfully,” “praise,” “make music,” “sing,” “play” and “shout” their thanks to God. They are to do it loudly, which the last verb specifically commands. And they are to do it with instruments, as if the human voice by itself is not enough. This is the first time in the Psalter in which musical instruments are mentioned as being employed in worship, and it shows that the Jews used instruments. In the time of Nehemiah they even had the ancient equivalent of an orchestra (Neh. 12:27). In light of this fact it is hard to believe, as some do, that it is improper to use musical instruments in worship. It is actually an encouragement to do so.

Study Questions:

  1. What is the link between Psalms 32 and 33?
  2. What do we learn about worship from this psalm?

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