Psalm 33 is about the trustworthiness of God over the threats that might come from nature, from other nations, and from invading armies.
It’s a hymn in which the congregation are invited to praise God, and by the very act of doing so, have their perspective challenged, and lifted up, in order to see the trustworthiness of this God.
Verse 12 celebrates:
‘Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people he chose for his inheritance.’
Of course, in the Old Testament that was a reference to the nation of Israel. But even Israel’s prophets foretold a day when that would be widened to people all over the world, to mean all who follow Christ.
The New Testament calls the people of Jesus his ‘inheritance’: his gift, his treasure, something to be protected and cherished.
At Evensong we pray: ‘O Lord save thy people, and bless thine inheritance.’ That prayer is as pertinent now as it would have been when this Psalm was first composed.
- It’s believed that the background to Psalm 33 may have been the threat of a military siege.
- Israel could never guarantee national security. They were always a small nation surrounded by larger and stronger kingdoms and empires.
- In living memory our own nation has faced the threat of invasion, in WW2, but nowadays, ever since 9/11 and 7/7 and especially over the last year, the threat is more local and unpredictable, with danger more likely to come from an explosive backpack, or knife or gun, than a warplane.
But even in the face of threat, Psalm 33 acknowledges (vv16-17):
16 No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength.
17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
despite all its great strength it cannot save.
This psalm challenges the idea that success, power or security comes by military might, because even the most foreboding powers that humans can wield are nothing compared to the power of God.
Throughout the Old Testament we see God’s people time and time again measure their safety and success in terms of their own military strength, and the prophets frequently challenged them:
“Will you choose to grasp for power or trust in God?”
‘No king is saved by the size of his army’
The point at which Jesus was most visibly depicted as a king –albeit in mockery, was on the cross, wearing a crown of thorns and a sign above him saying, ‘The King of the Jews’.
As the true King of Israel he demonstrated that salvation is not about having an army. He warned the people who arrested him that he could have called upon legions of angels if he’d wished to.
But he trusted in his Father instead of military might, and his moment of greatest weakest would turn out to be the moment of greatest triumph, because God raised him, and death itself was conquered.
The message of Jesus in Luke 12 today: “Will you put your hope and trust in the right places, the right things, the right person?”
There are many places and people in whom we expect to be able to place our trust, but very few of them are able to bear the weight of the trust we put in them.
- We expect to trust our leaders and politicians; our managers; employers, and vicars!
- We expect to trust our economy and our wi-fi connection.
- We expect to be able to trust our peers and colleagues, our friends and the people in our own family.
But rarely a week goes by when I don’t hear about a disappointment in at least on of these areas of hoped-for trust.
We expect to be able to trust in ourselves.
Why is it we so often realise we cannot?
- That’s a lesson which may come from the short-lived success of a new year’s resolution or Lenten discipline,
- or more painfully, from a guilty memory that haunts us or a significant mistakes.
The message of Psalm 33 is simply that there is one who can be trusted, and it is the Lord, and though it seems everything else may let us down, he will not.
13 From heaven the Lord looks down
and sees all humankind;
14 from his dwelling place he watches
all who live on earth—
15 he who forms the hearts of all,
who considers everything they do.
The point is:
- God has the perfect vantage point – he knows what’s going on in every heartbeat.
- God is present to all things and all people.
- ‘Almighty God to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden…’
And what does God ask of us? verse 18 puts it very simply:
‘the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love…’
‘those who fear him’
- Remember, ‘fear’ doesn’t mean that we go around afraid of God, as if he might smite us at any moment – that goes against the whole message of this Psalm.
- ‘Fear of the Lord’ is a a phrase used all through the Bible, and it means utmost respect, honouring the Lord above all things, being attentive to God, taking direction from him before anything else.
- Basically it means what Jesus said, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength…’
‘the eyes of the Lord are on…
those whose hope is in his unfailing love…’
- God doesn’t just have love for his people, but unfailing God’s love for you is unfailing.
- Perhaps there are people in this world to to whom we’ve looked for love (whether parents, friends, spouses, children) and it’s not come to us, or come to us conditionally, or it’s waned or failed.
- God’s love is unfailing.
Sermon from Sunday 7th August 2016 by Rev. James Pettit