The Stability of his Steadfast Love (Psalm 33)
Friends fail us. Stocks plummet. Health is unreliable. A promise is broken. Need I say more? The fact is, there is nothing, no one, anywhere in which/whom we can place our unqualified trust and be assured it/they will not let us down.
So what’s a person to do? If no one is infallibly worthy of our unquestioning trust, where do we turn? To whom do we ultimately look? In what do we put our hope?
For anyone who reads the Psalms, the answer is obvious. The only thing in life or death that merits our trust is God’s love. The dollar may rise or fall, nations may totter on the brink of destruction, a spouse may prove unfaithful, but through it all the confidence of the child of God ought to remain constant and unaffected, because God’s love never fails.
Three times in Psalm 33 we are told about God’s “steadfast” (ESV) or “unfailing love” (NIV; “lovingkindness” in the NASB). When everything and everyone else bottoms out, the psalmist assures us that “the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord” (v. 5). The eyes of the Lord, he tells us, are “on those who hope in his steadfast love” (v. 18). His prayer gets right to the point: “Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you” (v. 22).
Whatever else may happen in this world, whoever else may turn their back on you when the chips are down, of this you may be sure: he whose trust and hope and confidence is in the unfailing love of God will never be put to shame.
That’s what Psalm 33 is all about. It was written to remind you and me that there is one refuge that is impenetrable to disappointment and betrayal. You may think you’re all out of confidence, but what little you’ve got left, invest in the unfailing love of an undying God.
There are good reasons for that exhortation. The psalmist isn’t just making noise or writing pretty poetry. There are some things he tells us about God that make this act of trust eminently reasonable. Let’s look at them.
He begins by pointing us to God’s unstained principles in vv. 4-5.
“For the word of the Lord is upright, and all his work is done in faithfulness. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.”
Whatever God does is righteous because God does it. God doesn’t do righteous things because that is what righteousness requires. Righteousness is defined by who God is and what he does. Not only that, but he loves righteousness. He doesn’t just do it, he delights to do it!
When I hear God say, “Sam, I love you,” I take refuge in the fact that “the word of the Lord is upright.” Others may loudly proclaim their affection for me. They may swear to their ultimate demise that nothing will diminish their commitment to my cause. I hope they’re right. But I know God is, for “all his work is done in faithfulness” (v. 4b).
The psalmist also points us to God’s unlimited power. Look at vv. 6-9:
“By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; he puts the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.”
When God speaks, it is done! It’s as easy (easier) for God to create everything out of nothing as it is for you to utter a word. Now that’s the kind of God who inspires confidence! God says “Be!” and it is! God said “Light!” and light was! “Land!” and land was, “Flowers!” and flowers were, “Cows!” and the first moo was heard! This God of power is the one in whose love we find refuge.
Our God is also one of unstoppable purpose. This we see in vv. 10-12:
“The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!”
Super-powers convene summit meetings and vast, multi-national corporations formulate their strategies, but it is the purpose of God that shall stand. Even your weekly “To-Do” list is incorporated into the accomplishment of God’s purpose. Human plans and schemes are always subject to divine restraint.
Nothing is more futile than for people to oppose the purpose of God. Said Spurgeon, “their persecutions, slanders, falsehoods, are like puff-balls flung against a granite wall” (1b:107). The cause of God is never in danger.
When Joni Eareckson Tada visited Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, to speak at a conference on disability and the church, she explained how her initial perspective on the diving “accident” which left her a quadriplegic had changed. At first she envisioned God turning his back momentarily to attend to some problem in a far-away land. Satan, seizing the moment, placed his foot in the small of her back and shoved her into the shallow waters of the Chesapeake Bay. God, startled by her cry, whirls around . . . too late. He is left to piece back together the shattered remains of her life. No! And again she said, No!
Joni doesn’t profess to understand all the intricacies of God’s sovereignty, but neither is she free to dismiss him from any role in her “accident”. His ultimate purpose for her was not sidetracked by Satan’s devices. He can be trusted, even when his purpose for us is not identical with ours.
The psalmist also takes comfort in what can only be called God’s universal prescience.
“The LORD looks down from heaven; he sees all the children of man; from where he sits enthroned he looks out on all the inhabitants of the earth, he who fashions the hearts of them all and observes all their deeds” (vv. 13-15).
For several years I was a season-ticket holder for all University of Oklahoma football games. I rarely missed one. The players at OU are often heard referring to “The Eye in the Sky”, a camera strategically placed to record everything on the field. “The eye in the sky doesn’t lie,” so they say. But sometimes it does. Occasionally, a player can get away with a missed tackle or a penalty. Every now and then he can hide.
But there is another “Eye in the Sky” that never misses so much as a heartbeat. Even your unspoken opinions about what you’ve been reading in this meditation are known by God before they are thought. As David said elsewhere, “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test, the children of man” (Ps. 11:4). God sees it all, instantaneously, simultaneously, and wholly, from the North Pole to the South, whether in Russia or the Rio Grande Valley, on hilltops and in river beds, in caves and in palaces.
If that weren’t enough, he concludes by pointing us to God’s unchanging passion.
“The king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. Behold, the eye of the LORD is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love, that he may deliver their soul from death and keep them alive in famine. Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name. Let your steadfast love, O LORD, be upon us, even as we hope in you” (vv. 16-22).
Why do our hearts fail from fear? Why is there a crisis in confidence? Because most are tempted to trust in human strength and to rely on earthly stratagems. Human power and human promises are notoriously tenuous. It isn’t the army that ultimately saves the king nor the warrior that brings him victory.
So where must our confidence be placed? In whom or what must we place our hope? In God’s steadfast love! And why does God not take pleasure in horses and chariots and the strength of men? Did he not make them all? Yes, but what displeases the Lord is those who hope in such earthly props. John Piper explains:
“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” (The Pleasures of God, 208).
What is the anticipated response to all this? We return to the beginning of this psalm to find it. Quite simply: our uninhibited praise!
“Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright. Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings! Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts” (vv. 1-3).
What we now know about God and his unfailing love calls for loud and jubilant exultation, not because God is hard of hearing, but because the psalmist knows it is natural for people to rejoice loudly in that which they find most delightful.
We are to sing to God a “new song.” Why? Because every time we gather as the body of Christ to worship we have new and fresh reasons to sing! “You’ll never believe what God did for me yesterday!” “Oh yes I will. But first let me tell you what I learned about God’s character from Romans!”
With God there’s always a fresh display of goodness and grace. Each day brings a new and more powerful manifestation of his greatness and mercy. God himself creates the need for new songs by granting new insight into his works and ways. He is constantly doing new and fresh things for which we need new and fresh declarations in song! Praise God for his steadfast love!