Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
This is a hymn of praise to Jehovah, as at once Almighty Creator and Ruler of the universe, and the Protector of His chosen people. It was plainly for liturgical use, and beyond this, as even the compilers of the collection left it anonymous, it is useless to inquire into its authorship or date. All that we see clearly is that faith in the protection of Jehovah and not in material force, that which we regard as the traditional faith of Israel, had by this time been firmly implanted. Both in rhythm, which is fine and well sustained, and subject this psalm bears a close relation to Psalms 147
Rejoice in the LORD, O ye righteous: for praise is comely for the upright.(1) Rejoice.—A common hymnic word, meaning properly to “shout,” or “sing for joy.”
Praise the LORD with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings.(2) Harp.—Heb., khinnôr (LXX. and Vulg., “cithara”), most probably a trigon or three-cornered harp, such as may be seen sculptured in Egyptian bas-reliefs. The number of strings probably varied, as different accounts are given. (See Bible Educator, 1:19.)
With the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings.—Properly, as LXX. and Vulg., “with the ten-stringed psaltery.” (See 1Samuel 10:5.) Evidently a more elaborate instrument than the khinnôr, and with greater capacities. (See Bible Educator, 1:70, and art. “Psaltery” in Smith’s Biblical Dictionary.) From the Greek psalterion comes the title “psalter” for the Book of Psalms. By its derivation it meant an instrument played with the fingers. The word was in use in old English:
“And before hem went minstrels many one,
As harpes, pipes, lutes, and sautry.”
CHAUCER: The Flower and the Leaf, 237.
Sing unto him a new song; play skilfully with a loud noise.(3) A new song.—This expression occurs in Psalm 96:1; Psalm 98:1; Psalm 149:1; Isaiah 42:10; Judith 16:13, and was adopted in Revelation 5:9; Revelation 14:3. The term apparently marked the revival of national psalmody after the Captivity. “Behold, the former things are come to pass, and new things do I declare . . . Sing unto the Lord a new song” (Isaiah 42:9-10).
Play skilfully with a loud noise.—The latter words represent a Hebrew expression of common hymnic use, describing the full choral effect when instruments and voices were joined in the service of the sanctuary (Psalm 95:1; Psalm 100:1, &c). Some, however, limit it (after Leviticus 25:9) to the trumpet accompaniment, and render—
“Strike the harp deftly for him,
Amid the blare of trumpets.”
For the word of the LORD is right; and all his works are done in truth.(4) Right.—The first inspiring cause of praise for a faithful Israelite is the righteousness of the God of the Covenant. But the pregnant expression, “word of Jehovah,” naturally leads him on from the thought of its truth to the thought of its power, and in Psalm 33:6-7 we have praise of the creative act of the Almighty.
By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.(6) The breath of his mouth.—This is plainly only a synonym for word. (Comp. Isaiah 11:4, where “breath of his lips” is used for the Divine sentence of judgment upon the heathen.)
He gathereth the waters of the sea together as an heap: he layeth up the depth in storehouses.(7) As an heap.—The image explains itself (so we speak of waves “mountains high “) without reference to the passage either of the Red Sea or the Jordan. Still less is there a comparison to heaps of corn, some think, since storehouses in the next clause are not necessarily barns, but reservoirs. But the LXX., Vulg., and all ancient interpreters read nôd (“a skin”), instead of nêd (“a heap”), and make the reference to the rain, the clouds being considered as bottles. With this comp. Job 38:37.
The LORD bringeth the counsel of the heathen to nought: he maketh the devices of the people of none effect.(10) The Lord bringeth.—The thought now passes on to the irresistible rule of Jehovah. His counsel stands for all generations, and being righteous as well as eternal, frustrates the counsel and thoughts of the heathen, while His chosen people (Psalm 33:12) rest in stable peace under the Theocracy. (Comp. Acts 5:38.) The word devices in Psalm 33:10 should be thoughts, as in Psalm 33:11, or, better in both, purposes.
Psalm 33:12 is the pivot, as it were, on which the whole psalm turns, and was doubtless sung in full chorus.
He fashioneth their hearts alike; he considereth all their works.(15) He fashioneth.—Better,
“Moulding their hearts for all,
Observing all their deeds.”
The Hebrew word rendered “fashion” is that used of a potter moulding clay.
There is no king saved by the multitude of an host: a mighty man is not delivered by much strength.(16) There is no king.—Better, The king doth not triumph by the greatness of his force.
An horse is a vain thing for safety: neither shall he deliver any by his great strength.(17) Safety.—Better, victory. (Comp. Habakkuk 3:8.) The allusion is to the war-horse.
Our soul waiteth for the LORD: he is our help and our shield.(20-22) Hope—wait—trust.—The Hebrew language was naturally rich in words expressive of that attitude of expectancy which was characteristic of a nation whose golden age was not in the past, but in the future—a nation for which its great ancestor left in his dying words so suitable a motto—
“I have waited for thy salvation, O Lord,”
and which, while itself held back outside the promised land of the hope of immortality, was to be the birth-race of the great and consoling doctrine that alone could satisfy the natural craving expressed by the moralist in the well-known line—
“Man never is, but always to be, blest;”
and by the Christian apostle—
“For here we have no continuing city, but we seek one to come.”