Psalm 33: 4-6, 9, 18-20, 22
This week’s responsorial psalm is from Psalm 33, a hymn in which the just are invited to praise God, who by a mere word created the universe.
Upright is the word of the LORD, and all his works are trustworthy. He loves justice and right; of the kindness of the Lord the earth is full.
The passage opens with a statement that reflects the basis of ancient Israel’s faith in God. This faith is rooted in the truth of God’s word, in the faithfulness of God’s works, in the justice of God’s covenant, and in the steadfastness of God’s love. Everything else flows from these convictions.
The trustworthiness of God’s word is as firm as God’s own self. The order and stability manifested through the marvels of creation not only stem from God’s power and faithfulness, they are witnesses to it. If we rely on the firmness and regularity found in the natural world, surely we can trust the creator from whom it flows.
All of this is grounded in God’s kindness, which is more than simple benevolence or thoughtful consideration. It is the steadfastness of covenant loyalty (hesed). The trustworthiness of God’s word parallels the constancy of God’s covenant.
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made; by the breath of his mouth all their host. For he spoke, and it was made; he commanded, and it stood forth.
The psalm picks up the theme of God’s creative word and carries us with it back to the account in Genesis, where this word establishes the heavens.
Some of the Church Fathers (for example, Saint Athanasius, Saint Augustine, and Saint Gregory) see the “Word” and the “Breath” as references to the persons of the Son and the Holy Spirit. This Old Testament hint at the trinitarian nature of God certainly fits the theme of our celebration today.
See, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him, upon those who hope for his kindness, to deliver them from death and preserve them in spite of famine.
The psalmist has moved from consideration of creation to that of divine providence. For whom does God care? For all those who fear the LORD.
In this context, fear means standing in awe. Having surveyed the marvels of creation and having reflected on the trustworthy word of God that called them into being, what other attitude would be appropriate?
This is wisdom language, and wisdom, like creation, spreads its influence across the entire universe. It enjoys a universal sway. These verses suggest that anyone with the requisite religious attitude will be gathered under the wings of God’s providence and will be protected from famine and death.
Our soul waits for the LORD, who is our help and our shield.
Here we see the worshipping community’s response after listening to the proclamation of the psalmist.
God is described as our help (’ēzer; the same word that describes Eve in Genesis 2:18,20) and our shield (māgēn). Together, the two words suggest some kind of military protection. There is no indication in these verses that the People of God are under any siege, but it may be because God, who has chosen to be in covenant with them, is always attentive to their safety and is with them as protector.
May your kindness, O LORD, be upon us who have put our hope in you.
The psalm ends with a return to the theme of covenant kindness (hesed). The placement of these themes is significant: creation imagery is bracketed by covenant language.
This literary arrangement can make two quite startling statements. First, it implies that the covenant God made with the people is as firm and reliable as is the order of nature, creation itself. Second, it suggests that from the very beginning, creation actually serves the goals of the covenant.