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Psalm 33:10,11: A text for the times

The Lord foils the plans of the nations;

    he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.

11 But the plans of the Lord stand firm for ever,

    the purposes of his heart through all generations.

Let’s just pause for a moment to get our bearings; catch our breath, and take in our surroundings. What is the context for today’s text? We have seen that the Psalm opens and closes with the theme of joy (1-3/20-22). Then verses 5 -11 focus on God in creation. Alec Motyer writes:

‘The two stanzas of this section (4-7,8-11) unite in the theme of the supreme ease with which the Creator dominates alike the physical and the personal creation. He is master of the waters (7) and the peoples (10): the waters do his bidding; the peoples are at his disposal…In OT thought the Creator is more than the initiator; he remains sovereign over his creation, worthy of the reverence of all its people and in directive management of all its affairs, restraining and dominant, purposive and irresistible.’ ‘New Bible Commentary’, p.506.

I am so grateful for verses 10,11. They truly are a text for our times. I find they give me language with which to pray about certain current affairs. They also remind me that ‘history is His story.’ God is in control, and He is working all His purposes out. He will get Jesus back to the earth in His own way and time. However powerful a human tyrant may be, he cannot successfully oppose God. The Pharaoh’s and their armies always end up submerged beneath the Red Sea, one way or another.

‘Not only the folly of the heathen, but their wisdom too, shall yield to the power of the cross of Jesus…He maketh the devices of the people of none effect. Their persecutions, slanders, falsehoods, are like puff balls flung against a granite wall—they produce no result at all; for the Lord overrules the evil, and brings good out of it. The cause of God is never in danger: infernal craft is outwitted by infinite wisdom, and Satanic malice held in check by boundless power.’ C.H.Spurgeon: ‘Treasury of David.’

Psalm 33:6-9: ‘God’s Word is his work’

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,

    their starry host by the breath of his mouth.

7 He gathers the waters of the sea into jars;

    he puts the deep into storehouses.

8 Let all the earth fear the Lord;

    let all the people of the world revere him.

9 For he spoke, and it came to be;

    he commanded, and it stood firm.

Nan Shepherd wrote about her life in the Cairngorms, ‘The mind cannot carry away all that the mountain has to give.’ I was thinking that this is true of any study of God. He is infinitely greater than our ability to comprehend.

Just over 4 years ago, Jilly and I visited La Palma – one of the smaller Canary Islands. It is noted for its dark skies. One particular night, probably in the early hours of the morning, Jilly came into our room and said, ‘You’ve got to come and see this.’ I somewhat reluctantly pulled myself up from my warm, cosy bed, and plodded outside into the rather chilly air. But I have to say it was worth it. The great expanse of the heavens was bejewelled, and those jewels looked larger, closer and more sparkly than I had ever seen. It was impossible to feel anything but awe and wonder.

It is “fitting” to praise God for His Word. It is such a powerful Word. He spoke creation into being. He commanded the sun, moon and stars into existence. God’s Word is His work. This is why I am so committed to trying to expound Scripture in context; because I believe if God speaks worlds of beauty will be formed in human lives. Alec Motyer says with reference to “breath” (6): ‘…what the Lord says is full of the Lord’s energy to bring it to effect (cf.9; 104:7,30; GNB.1:3,6).’ ‘New Bible Commentary’, p.506.

‘It is as easy for God to create the universe as for a man to breathe, nay, far easier, for man breathes not independently, but borrows the breath in his nostrils from his Maker…Happy is the man who has learned to lean his all upon the sure word of him who built the skies!’ C.H.Spurgeon: ‘Treasury of David.

It could well be that we have intimations of the Godhead in verse 6: see reference to “the LORD”, “the word” (see John 1:1-4), and “the breath” (or ‘spirit’, or ‘Spirit’).

God is not only the Creator of the universe (6,9), but He is also its sustainer (7). He is in control. In Scripture, the “waters’ are regularly seen as representing the forces of chaos. We need to know that wherever see chaos, God is over it. He rules and reigns.

Spurgeon points out that we can read verse 8 not only as a prayer, but also as a prophecy. One day this will happen. The awareness of the glory of the Lord will cover the earth “as the waters cover the sea” (Habakkuk 2:!4).

PRAYER: Lord God, amidst the chaos of current history, (and what may sometimes feel like the chaos in my own personal world), help me to know that your purposes will be fulfilled and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of your glory.

Thought: One of the hardest things to do is to remember that the story of God is still the story of the world (John Eldredge).

Psalm 33:4,5: How much do you love your Bible?

For the word of the Lord is right and true;

    he is faithful in all he does.

5 The Lord loves righteousness and justice;

    the earth is full of his unfailing love.

It has been pointed out that this psalm is a helpful ‘primer on praise’. The verbs are plural, so it envisages a worshipping community.The psalm opens with a call to jubilant, joyful, musical praise – even shouted praise! The praise of God is “fitting.” But why so?

The word “For” introduces two key reasons:

  1. Because of what God’s Word is:
  2. Because of who God is.

As I said yesterday, if we ‘count our blessings’ we will find numerous reasons for praise. But here we arrive at the alpine peak of all motivations. Here’s the pinnacle: the greatest reasons for worship revolve around who God is in Himself, and the Word He has breathed out from Himself (see 2 Timothy 2: 16,17. The Greek word for “God-breathed” there is‘theopneustos’ meaning ‘breathed-out’. This led one preacher to observe that maybe we should speak not so much of God’s ‘inspired’ as His ‘expired’ Word!)

This all causes me to ask:

  • How moved are we by our Bibles? Job said: “I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my daily bread” Job 23:12
  • How stirred are we by the truth about God revealed in the Bible?

Warren Wiersbe writes: ‘Of greatest importance is that the worship be scriptural (v.4a; and see Col.3:16). A choir has no more right to sing a lie than a preacher has to preach a lie…When God works, He obeys His own Word; so any worship that is contrary to God’s Word will not please the Lord.’ Old Testament Commentary, p.914.

As we move on through the psalm, we will find that there is a major emphasis on God as Creator. With reference to the last sentence in verse 5 Spurgeon writes:

‘Come hither, astronomers, geologists, naturalists, botanists, chemists, miners, yea, all of you who study the works of God, for all your truthful stories confirm this declaration. From the midge in the sunbeam to leviathan in the ocean all creatures own the bounty of the Creator. Even the pathless desert blazes with some undiscovered mercy, and the caverns of ocean conceal the treasures of love…If earth be full of mercy, what must heaven be where goodness concentrates its beams?’

PRAYER: Lord God, as I consider the beauty of earth, sea and sky, enable me please to look beyond it and revel in the unimaginable beauty of the God who made it all.

Psalm 33:1-3 (Part two): ‘The dress of saints’

Good people, cheer God!

    Right-living people sound best when praising.

Use guitars to reinforce your Hallelujahs!

    Play his praise on a grand piano!

Compose your own new song to him;

    give him a trumpet fanfare. (The Message).

In ‘The treasury of David’, Spurgeon writes:

‘Even the righteous are not always glad, and have need to be stirred up to enjoy their privileges. For praise is comely for the upright. God has an eye to things which are becoming. When saints wear their choral robes, they look fair in the Lord’s sight. A harp suits a blood washed hand. No jewel more ornamental to a holy face than sacred praise. Praise is not comely from unpardoned professional singers; it is like a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout. Crooked hearts make crooked music, but the upright are the Lord’s delight. Praise is the dress of saints in heaven, it is meet that they should fit it on below.’

As Spurgeon observed, we are not always the happy people we could be; we live well below the possibilities open to Jesus’ own people. Joy often has to be chosen. You have to put it on as a garment. I don’t mean ‘feign it’, but, rather, choose it.

I find I can easily get sucked into a vortex of negative thinking. In such times, to deliberately thank God for as many blessings as you can think of will change the whole atmosphere of your thoughts. Your blessings are more than you can number. I know they are. Mine are too. But what are the greatest blessings? We will see as we move on in this psalm.

Psalm 33:1-3: A fitting garment

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;

    it is fitting for the upright to praise him.

2 Praise the Lord with the harp;

    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.

3 Sing to him a new song;

    play skillfully, and shout for joy.

‘Whereas all Scripture speaks to us, the psalms speak for us.’

In Jonathon Aitken’s autobiography, ‘Pride and Perjury’, he describes how early on in his spiritual journey, as his life was falling apart, he met a pastor in a church in New York. This man encouraged him to pray the Psalms.

In the middle of the Bible we have this great prayer book (or hymn book? Both!??). For the next few weeks we are going continue on from Psalm 32, by taking time to study some of these wonderful prayer poems.

Psalm 33 opens where Psalm 32 closed – with the theme of joy and rejoicing. In fact, this psalm itself begins and ends calling for, and affirming, joy in the Lord (1-3,20-22).

The “righteous” are those who have been made right with God. Out of that relationship – in the overflow of it – they endeavour to live ‘’upright’’ lives before men. It is entirely “fitting” that such people should want to praise God with joyful shouting and singing and skilful music-making.

Alec Motyer, in the ‘New Bible Commentary’, says that a “new song” is ‘not so much novel as fresh, prompted by a fresh awareness of who and what he (God) is. True praise requires this fresh sense of God as it needs the fervour of joy and the skill of good musicianship’ (pp.505,506).

Last week-end, on a Radio 4 programme, I heard a fascinating story told by a lady about an incident which occurred a number of years ago. I think she must have been a child at the time. She was with her dad one day, when they came across a former Prime Minister who was in trouble in the water. Her father rescued him and saved him from drowning. The next morning they just happened to come across him again. She said that he clearly was not pleased to see them, but did speak to them because he had to. Apparently there was a feeling that he could suffer severe political embarrassment if the story got out, as his chief opponent was a highly proficient yachtsman. It wouldn’t make him look good. (It appears this story has never found its way into any of the biographies written about this leading statesman). As I listened to this I thought, ‘How could you fail to show warm gratitude to one who saved you?’ He clearly was not pleased to see us. How inadequate and inappropriate! But…

“…it is fitting for the upright…” to praise God.

PRAYER: Lord, fill our hearts and churches with joyful songs and shouts, skilful music, and utterly befitting praise to you, the One who saved us.

Psalm 32:11: Choose Joy

Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous;

    sing, all you who are upright in heart!

The blessing of joy

“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!’ Philippians 4:4;

“Rejoice always…” 1 Thessalonians 5:16.

This is not primarily about our emotions. We might be feeling good; we might be feeling bad. Thisis a choice, a decision. It’s something we are called to do/commanded to do.

One thing that can help us with this is song. Singing should not be reserved for church services only, but what about its place in our personal lives? One church minister wrote that every week he chose a hymn of the week, and he would sing it every day (or read it as a prayer).

You will note that the call is to “Rejoice in the LORD.” Our rejoicing is in Him: Who He is and what He’s done. Feelings change; circumstances change; but He never changes. He is always the same.

“Rejoice in the LORD and be glad, you righteous”: i.e. you who are in a right relationship with God. The greatest reason for rejoicing, every moment of every day, is to know that we are forgiven through faith in the crucified Jesus.

“God buries our sins in the deepest sea, and puts up a big sign: ‘No fishing!’ “

Psalm 32:8,9: ‘Wonderful Counsellor’

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;

    I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

9 Do not be like the horse or the mule,

    which have no understanding

but must be controlled by bit and bridle

As we work through Psalm 32, we are continuing to reflect on some of the blessings of the ‘saved’ person. We have considered the blessing of prayer (6a), and the blessing of a relationship with God (6,7, 10). Today we are going to think about the blessing of guidance.

What a wonderful promise is contained in these verses! In my mind, I set alongside them Proverbs 3:5,6:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

    and lean not on your own understanding;

6 in all your ways submit to him,

    and he will make your paths straight.

It has been pointed out that we experience God as our “hiding place’ (7) as we live under His guidance and watchful care. The safest (and sweetest) place in all the world in which to live is in the centre of God’s will. He knows what is best for us and where is best for us. May His will always be done!

As God guides us, our response should not be the forced compliance of an animal lacking understanding, but a loving obedience (9).

‘We ought to be as a feather in the wind, wafted readily in the breath of the Holy Spirit…’ C.H.Spurgeon: ‘Treasury of David’.

PRAYER: Lord God, you are the ‘Wonderful Counsellor”, and you are always with me – and in me. Help me to be alert to your voice: even to your faintest whispers; and when I hear you speak may I not be stubborn, but willing to go your way.

Psalm 32:6,7,10: ‘I live in God’

Therefore let all the faithful pray to you

    while you may be found;

surely the rising of the mighty waters

    will not reach them.

7 You are my hiding place;

    you will protect me from trouble

    and surround me with songs of deliverance…

…Many are the woes of the wicked,

    but the Lord’s unfailing love

    surrounds the one who trusts in him.

I read about an elderly gentleman who was living in a care home. One day, some visitors insensitively asked him, ‘What’s it like to live in an old folks home?’ Pulling himself to his full height, the man replied with great dignity, ‘I don’t live in an old folks home; I live in God.’

How’s that for perspective?

The second blessing I want to highlight here is that of a personal relationship with God. (This, of course, links with the previous blessing of prayer. To say we believe in God, but not pray to Him, is a form of ‘practical atheism’).

It’s been pointed out that, as believers, we are not necessarily immune from the “rising waters” (6), but even when they come we are surrounded by a love that never fails (10).

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;

    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

We need to grasp that we live not so much in these set of circumstances (whether good or bad), but in God. Our lives are “hidden with Christ in God” (Col.3:3). So if something is going to touch us, it has to come through Him, and if He allows it to touch us, He must have a purpose in it.

“Hide yourself in God, so when a man wants to find you he will have to go there first.” Shannon L. Alder

Psalm 32:6,7: Digging where David dug

Therefore let all the faithful pray to you

    while you may be found;

surely the rising of the mighty waters

    will not reach them.

7 You are my hiding place;

    you will protect me from trouble

    and surround me with songs of deliverance.

As we work through the remainder of Psalm 32, I want to highlight other blessings in the lives of the blessed! Those who experience the blessing of salvation, sins forgiven, a right relationship with God, experience other blessings too. The first of these is:

The blessing of (answered) prayer.

The word “Therefore” looks back to verses 1-5, and David’s answered prayer for forgiveness of sins. David is sharing his own experience as an encouragement to others.

I was speaking on this psalm recently, and afterwards someone rightly commented that prayer is a blessing in itself, aside from any answers we may receive. It is such a blessing to be able to talk to God about everything. That is true. I agree one hundred per cent. But I would still assert that it is primarily the blessing of answered prayer to which David refers here.

Consider these two excellent quotes on verse 5:

‘If prayer is sufficient to deal with the most serious problem of all – will not prayer solve every problem of life.’ Alec Motyer.

‘Remarkable answers to prayer very much quicken the prayerfulness of other godly persons. Where one man finds a golden nugget others feel inclined to dig.’ C.H. Spurgeon.

No doubt the experience of David, in his personal dealings with God, has encouraged many other people through the years who might otherwise have wallowed in despair.

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