This psalm is a reminder to us that there need never, ever be a crisis in confidence for the Christian. The dollar may rise and fall, nations may totter on the brink of destruction, health may come and go, but through it all the confidence of the Christian ought to remain constant and unaffected. How so? To use the words of David in Psalm 20, "some boast in chariots and some in horses, but we will trust in the name of the Lord, our God" (v. 7). Or better still, read Ps. 33:16-22 . . . Psalm 33 is a hymn of confidence, a song of faith, a poem about the grounds for our hope.
A. A Call to Worship - vv. 1-3
Here we see again what we have come to expect of a call to worship in the psalter:
(1) Worship is often loud and jubilant to the accompaniment of a wide array of musical instruments (vv. 2-3). The psalmist calls for loud praise, not because God is hard of hearing, but because he knows that it is natural for people to exult loudly in that which they find most delightful.
(2) Worship is "becoming" or "fitting" (v. 1a) for two reasons: first, because of who God is, and second, because of who we are; i.e., we were created to worship. Worship is the place where we feel most comfortable and at home. "A harp suits a blood-washed hand" (Spurgeon).
B. The Cause for Worship - vv. 4-22
Here we see the grounds for our confidence in God. Five things are mentioned.
(1) God's unsullied character - vv. 4-5
a. "the word of the Lord is upright" (v. 4a)
b. "all his work is done in faithfulness" (v. 4b)
c. "he loves righteousness and justice" (v. 5a)
Whatever God does is righteous because it is God doing it. God doesn't do righteousness because that is what righteousness requires. Righteousness and truth are not eternally self-existent and external standards to which God is obligated. There is no law above him to which he is subject. Things are righteous because God does them. Things are true because God speaks them.
d. "the earth is full of his lovingkindness" (v. 5b)
Isaiah said that God's "glory" filled the earth, whereas here it is his love. But the two are related, as Exod. 33:18-19 makes clear. God's "glory" is his goodness, compassion, and love for his people.
(2) God's unlimited power - vv. 6-9
Shadrach Lockridge said this of God's creative power:
"God came from nowhere because there was nowhere for Him to come from. And coming from nowhere, He stood on nothing because there was no place for Him to stand. And standing on nothing, He reached out where there was nowhere to reach, caught something when there was nothing to catch, and hung something on nothing, and told it to stay there!"
(3) God's irresistible purpose - vv. 10-12
Man proposes but God disposes. See Prov. 19:21; 21:30-31; Isa. 8:10; 46:10-11. It would do us well to apply this truth (and these texts) to our "To-Do" list each day! Human plans and schemes and goals are always subject to divine restraint. Of the attempts by people to thwart God's purposes, Spurgeon said: "Their persecutions, slanders, falsehoods, are like puff-balls flung against a granite wall."
(4) God's all-encompassing insight - vv. 13-15
Note the move from God's transcendence in vv. 6-12 to his immanence in vv. 13ff. The psalmist goes from God's providence over creation in vv. 6-9 to his providence over the affairs of men in vv. 10-12 to his providence over you and me in vv. 13-22.
Compare vv. 13-15 with Ps. 11:4.
(5) God's unchanging love - vv. 16-22
There is a crisis in confidence only because most are tempted to trust in human strength, to rely on earthly stratagems, human power and prestige, the work of our own hands and our own ingenuity. Ultimately, though, it isn't the army that saves the king or the strength of man that preserves the warrior or the horse that brings victory. Confidence placed in such earthly resources will inevitably suffer a crisis. So where must our confidence be placed? . . . in God's unchanging love.
We are "wait" on the Lord. Why?
"Because when you hope in God you show that he is strong and you are weak; that he is rich and you are poor; that he is full and you are empty. When you hope in God you show that you are the one who has needs, not God. . . . You are the patient, he is the doctor. You are the thirsty deer in the forest, he is the overflowing spring. You are the lost sheep, he is the good shepherd" (Desiring God, 207).
Why does God not take delight in horses or chariots or the strength of men? After all, he made them. God is displeased
"with those who hope in their horses and in their legs. He is displeased with people who put their hope, for example, in missiles or in make-up, in tanks or tanning parlors, in bombs or body-building. God takes no pleasure in corporate efficiency or balanced budgets or welfare systems or new vaccines or education or eloquence or artistic excellence or legal processes, when these things are the treasure in which we hope, or the achievement in which we boast. Why? Because when we put our hope in horses and legs, then horses and legs get the glory, not God" (ibid., 208).
We also see in v. 21 that the fruit of trust is joy! Lack of confidence breeds misery. Doubt breeds sorrow. Confidence creates joy.
[In view of the psalmist's repeated emphasis on our looking to God for help, deliverance, sustenance and protection, i.e., his emphasis on our need of God rather than his need of us, this is a good time to remind ourselves of the danger of trying "serve" God rather than letting God serve us.
(1) The danger of trying to serve God
There is a way of "serving God" that belittles Him, insults Him, and thus robs Him of glory. We must beware of serving Him in a way that implies a deficiency on His part or asserts our indispensability to Him. God is not in need of our service or help. His purpose in the earth is not sustained by our energy. We have nothing of value that is not already His by right.
"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45; Matt. 20:28).
"The God who made the world and all things in it, since he is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things" (Acts 17:24-25).
"If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all it contains. . . . And call upon Me in the day of trouble. I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me" (Ps. 50:12,15).
As John Piper has said, "The gospel is not a Help Wanted ad. . . . On the contrary, the gospel commands us to give up and hang out a Help Wanted sign." He is not glorified by recruits who want to help Him out. Our God is so completely full and self-sufficient and so overflowing in power and life and joy that He glorifies Himself by serving us.
(2) The delight in letting God serve us
God is our servant in the sense that He uses all his divine resources to help us and strengthen us and support us and provide our needs as we obey His command to serve others.
"For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45).
"Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps alight. And be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master shall find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them" (Luke 12:35-37).
* Here we see "that the 'master' insists on 'serving' even in the age to come when he appears in all his glory 'with his mighty angels in flaming fire' (2 Thess. 1:7). Why? Because the very heart of his glory is the fullness of grace that overflows in kindness to needy people" (Piper).
"From of old they have not heard nor perceived by ear, neither has the eye seen a God besides Thee, who acts in behalf of the one who waits for Him" (Isa. 64:4).
"For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His" (2 Chron. 16:9).
"Behold as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress; so our eyes look to the Lord our God, until He shall be gracious to us" (Ps. 123:2).
"I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing" (John 15:5).
"Whoever serves, let him do so as by the strength that God supplies, so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 4:11).
The radical call to self-sacrificing discipleship and holiness of life is not fundamentally a call to serve Jesus. It is a call to be served by Jesus so that we may then serve others. We honor God, not by pretending to give Him what He needs, but by praying for and posturing ourselves to receive all that He is and has obtained for us in Jesus. Why? Because the very heart of God's glory is the fullness and abundance of grace that overflows in kindness to needy people like you and me. God will gladly receive from us only that which reveals our dependence and His all-sufficiency.
(3) The duty to obey His commands
How, then, do we properly "serve" God, as it is described in Romans 1:1; 12:11; 16:18; and countless other texts?
a. We must begin by defining what it means to be God's "servants" without belittling Him as needful of us.
(1) We are rightly called God's "servants" or "bondslaves" because He owns us: we "have been bought with a price" (1 Cor. 6:20), the blood of Christ; we belong to Him.
(2) We are rightly called God's "servants" insofar as we submit to His authority and acknowledge His right to tell us to do whatever He pleases.
b. Every command from God is His way of telling us how He wants to serve us. The path of obedience is the place where Christ meets us as our servant to carry our burdens and give us His power to do His will. Jesus does not need your help. He commands your obedience and offers His help.
c. The radical call to commitment and obedience to everything commanded in Scripture is not something we do for Him, but things He enables us to do for others. "The Christian life is a life of serving others in the strength that he supplies as our servant. It is loving others with the love he gives us as our servant. It is sacrificing and suffering with the hope and joy and patience that he gives us as our servant" (Piper).
d. We are the patients in need of help. God is the physician who provides a cure. "Patients do not serve their physicians. They trust them for good prescriptions. The Sermon on the Mount and the Ten Commandments are the Doctor's prescribed health regimen, not the Employer's job description" (Piper). Thus we honor God most when we trust Him to serve us as a physician serves his patients
Summary: The heart of all that God helps us do in His service of us is to maximize our satisfaction in Him. God is committed (that's His grace) to do in service for us everything we need to find maximum pleasure and delight and satisfaction of soul in His Son. The call to holiness is the invitation to let the beauty and sweetness and joy and power and presence of Christ Jesus so fill our hearts and minds that the passing pleasures of sin will be as poison in comparison with Him.