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It feels like little commentary is needed for Psalm 33. This is a direct celebration of who God is. It is praise and worship and adoration, full of images of his strength and power. This psalm needs to be read with a shouting voice and hands raised high or with awe and wonder with face low to the ground.
As I read Psalm 33, I’m reminded of all the people in our world who don’t acknowledge God in this way. Who don’t have someone so much bigger than themselves to look up to, to thank, to praise when they see the beauty of a sunrise, the majesty of a mountain, and the grandeur of the ocean. They don’t have a God who “gathers the waters of the sea into jars.” I love that image! We put peanut butter in jars, God puts the sea! The sea is a terrifying place, and it was even more so in the ancient near east. It was full of mystery, darkness, sea monsters, and death. This was well before the days of scuba gear and highly sophisticated boats. If you were caught in a storm at sea, you were at the sea’s mercy, and many didn’t make it back alive. In fact, the sea was so terrifying it became the symbol of evil itself in many ancient near eastern religious writings and culture, Israel included. Could your god master the sea? If not, he or she wasn’t much of a god at all. Psalm 33 shows our God putting the sea in jars, the way you would your supper! There’s no drama and no battle, just God in his absolute might and victory. While the breadth of ocean animal life wasn’t known to the ancient Israelites, I always picture a mason jar filled with sharks and great blue whales when I read this verse, sitting on God’s shelf. This psalm gives God complete mastery over the most dangerous, mysterious entity on the earth, and the comparison of God’s might vs. the sea’s isn’t even close. I think of God when I look at the beauty of intricacy of the forest–of the complex web of animal and plant life that create an ecosystem. I think of God when I think of the intricacy of each human body. Of life itself. Of the mystery of life. And even that supernaturally thin line between life and death. I am sad for those who don’t have God to look to for these things. Who are alone. Who miss out on the majesty of this created world, on the feeling of being small and looking up to someone who is so, so big. This someone who also loves me and cares about me and whom I can run to as my shelter in life’s storms.
We would do well to put our faith in this God for our salvation and for our purpose in this world. Verses 16-17 tell us no king is saved by the size of his army, no warrior escapes by his great strength, and a horse is a vain hope for deliverance, despite all its strength. These verses are pinpointing the epitome of strength and power in the ancient world–a world of kings and military might. I wonder what examples a psalmist would use for our epitomes of power today that we look to to deliver us… No businessman is saved by the size of his portfolio; no politician escapes by his great following. Possessions and wealth are vain hopes for deliverance, despite all their momentary comfort, they cannot save. Just as kings, physical strength, and horses were not sinful in the ancient world, I’m not saying portfolios, politics, and possessions are sinful today. But am I saying that we look to these things to deliver us. They are the things we spend most of our worry, anxiety, and stress on. For non-believers, these are where salvation lies. These are the be-all-end-all of life. But just as the ancient Israelites were known for their mingling of idols, so too have Christians today mingled with these. These are our deliverance for purpose, for meaning. Without them we feel empty. We put all of our energy and strength into them, with little thought into God being as majestic as he is, and how all things of this earth pales in comparison to him. Psalm 33 is a poignant and celebratory reminder to put God back in the place where he belongs, to rejoice in him, and to trust and rest in his holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.
Invitation to reflection:
Prayer for the day: Thank you for your unfailing love, Lord! Thank you that you have power of the sea, power over all creation, and power over evil! This is what makes your love unfailing. You cannot fail! Your love to me cannot fail! Thank you that you conquered sin and death on the cross and in the empty tomb, a victory that cannot fail! Help me to see you today as I look at the trees, the clouds, the sun, the birds, and the stars. I worship you! I thank you! I am in awe of you. Help me not to put my hope in worldly idols but in you and you alone. Help me to rest in you. Help me to cast all of my cares at your feet. Help me to live sacrificially in worship of you and orient my life around you and your will.
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