This article was originally published in Worship Leader magazine (Nov/Dec 2007). For more great articles like this one, subscribe today.
Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; It is fitting for the upright to praise Him. Praise the LORD with the harp; Make music to Him on the ten-stringed lyre. Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully, and shout for joy. For the Word of the LORD is right and true; He is faithful in all He does. The LORD loves righteousness and justice; The earth is full of His unfailing love.
Verses two and three of Psalm 33 call for actions we regularly associate with worship. They advocate praise accompanied by string instruments. They urge us to sing and shout for joy. Such affirmations are common throughout the Psalms and might not demand special attention in Psalm 33. But the context for these verses is striking, causing us to look at worship from a fresh, perhaps even an unsettling perspective. In ways we might not expect, Psalm 33 shows us who should worship God and why, and how worship can change our lives.
Who Should Worship God? Verse one calls the “righteous” to sing to the Lord. The Hebrew word underlying this translation, tzaddiqim, can also be translated as “just ones.” The second part of verse one adds that “it is fitting for the upright to praise Him.” These are, literally, the “straight ones” (Hebrew, yesharim). We might say they walk on the straight and narrow, doing that which honors the Lord.
So, those who live rightly and justly are summoned by Psalm 33 to worship God. Other psalms offer a more widespread invitation, even inviting all peoples into worship (Psalm 96:7, for example). But Psalm 33 focuses on those whose lives praise the Lord even before their words and songs. This psalm does not say that the unrighteous are excluded from worship, though it surely offers no encouragement to those who dishonor the Lord in their daily lives. Rather, it urges continuity between musical praise and righteous living.
Why Should We Worship God? After calling forth praise, singing, and shouting from those who are “righteous” and “upright,” Psalm 33 explains why such worship is appropriate. According to verse four, “For the Word of the LORD is right and true.” The Hebrew of this verse reads literally, “For the Word of the LORD is upright/straight [yashar].” Verse five adds, “The LORD loves righteousness and justice,” using the Hebrew words tzedaqa and mishpat. Tzedaqa, righteousness, refers to human relationships rightly ordered by God’s law. Mishpat is justice in the court of law. We should worship God, therefore, because of His nature and actions. God is just and acts justly. God is righteous and acts rightly. His excellence, both in being and in behavior, calls forth praise.
Worshipers Are Like the One Who Is Worshiped When we look closely at this passage, we notice a peculiar parallelism. The righteous (tzaddiqim) are called to sing to the God who loves righteousness (tzedaqa). Plus, it is fitting for the upright ones (yesharim) to praise the LORD whose Word is upright (yashar). In other words, Psalm 33 calls to worship those who, in crucial ways, are like God.
We don’t become like God through our own best efforts. This process, from a Christian perspective, involves receiving the benefits of salvation in Christ, including the indwelling power of the Spirit. As we live with the Lord, following His guidance and relying on His strength, we become like Him. And the more we become like Him, the more it is appropriate for us to draw near in worship.
But true worship also helps us become more like God. When worship reflects God’s revelation in Scripture, when worship helps us see God more accurately and offer ourselves to Him more completely, our lives will change as a result. We will desire God and that which God loves. So if God loves righteousness and justice, then we will find our own hearts drawn in the same direction. Moreover, we will seek to live in a way that God will love, a way that expresses our love for Him in tangible actions. We will be people whose lives are, in fact, characterized by righteousness and justice, and who, for this reason, are drawn to worship the One who is truly right and just.
The Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a pastor, author, leader, speaker, blogger, and consultant for Christian organizations. Find out more here.