Psalm 33:12-22

Psalm 33:12-22
Ordinary C37


12 HappyA is the nationB whose GodC is the Lord,D

Notes on verse 12a

A “happy” = esher. From ashar (to go straight, lead, guide; to be level and so to be right, blessed, honest, happy). This is happy or blessedness.
B “nation” = goy. From the same root as gevah (the back, person, or body); related to gev (among); related to gaah (to rise up). This is nation or people. Often used to refer to Gentiles or foreign nations. It can also be used figuratively for a group of animals. This is where the Yiddish “goy” comes from.
C “God” = Elohim.
D “Lord” = YHVH. From havah (to be, become) or hayah (to come to pass, become, be). This is the name of the God of Israel, the self-existent and eternal one, the tetragrammaton. This pronunciation has been lost to time so “Lord” is generally used in its place.

    the peopleE whom he has chosenF as his heritage.G

Notes on verse 12b

E “people” = am. From amam (to darken, hide, associate; creating shadows by huddling together). This is people or nation. It can be used specifically for a tribe, collectively of troops or armies, or figuratively to refer to a flock of animals.
F “chosen” = bachar. This is to choose, appoint, try, excellent.
G “heritage” = nachalah. Related to nachal (to inherit, occupy, distribute, take as heritage). This is properly something that was inherited. It can mean occupancy generally or, more particularly, an heirloom or an estate. This can be an inheritance, gift, possession, or portion.

13 The Lord looksH down from heaven;I
    he seesJ allK humankind.L

Notes on verse 13

H “looks” = nabat. This is to behold, look at intently, consider, or scan. It can mean to have respect or regard someone favorably.
I “heaven” = shamayim. Root may mean being lofty. This is sky, the air, or heaven. It is in a dual noun form so this might refer to the part of the sky where the clouds move on the one hand and the part beyond that where the sun, moon, and stars are on the other hand.
J “sees” = raah. This is to see in a literal or figurative sense so stare, advise, think, view.
K “all” = kol. From kalal (to complete). This is all or every.
L “humankind” = ben + adam. Literally, “children of humanity.” Ben is from banah (to build or obtain children). This is son, age, child. It is son in a literal or figurative sense. Adam is perhaps from adam (to be red, make ruddy); related to adamah (ground, dirt, earth). This is man, humankind, also Adam’s name. It refers to a human individual or humanity.

14 From where he sits enthronedM he watchesN
    all the inhabitantsO of the earthP

Notes on verse 14

M “sits enthroned” = yashab. This is to sit and so to remain and so to dwell. It is sitting for any reason – as a judge, in order to ambush, or just sitting quietly. Causatively, this can mean settling or marrying. This can also mean continue, endure, or establish.
N “watches” = shagach. 3x in OT. This is to gaze, peep, or glance.
O “inhabitants” = yashab. Same as “sits enthroned” in v14. See note M above.
P “earth” = erets. Root may mean to be firm. This is earth, ground, field land, or country.

15 he who fashionsQ the heartsR of them allS
    and observesT allU their deeds.V

Notes on verse 15

Q “fashions” = yatsar. Perhaps related to yatsar (to be narrow, distressed, or vexed); perhaps related to tsarar (to bind, restrict, narrow, be cramped, an adversary). This is to fashion or form, perhaps by squeezing something into a shape or form. Particularly, it is to create as a potter does. Figuratively, it is to determine.
R “hearts” = leb. May be related to labab (to encourage; properly, to be encased as with fat; used in a good sense, this means to transport someone with love; used in a bad sense, it can mean to dull one’s senses). This is the heart, courage, one’s inner self, the mind, or the will. Heart is only used in a figurative sense in the Old and New Testaments.
S “all” = yachad. From yachad (to join, be united). This is a unit, both, altogether, unitedness, alike.
T “observes” = bin. This is to discern, consider, attend to. It refers to distinguishing things in one’s mind or, more generally, to understand.
U “all” = kol. Same as “all” in v13. See note K above.
V “deeds” = maaseh. From asah (to do, make, accomplish, become). This is a word – any action whether positive or negative. It can also be a transaction, construction, activity, property, or something that is produced.

16 A kingW is not savedX by his greatY army;Z
    a warriorAA is not deliveredBB by his great strength.CC

Notes on verse 16

W “king” = melek. From malak (to be or become king or queen, to rise to the throne, to be crowned; by implication, to take counsel). This is king or royal.
X “saved” = yasha. To deliver, defend, help, preserve, rescue, be safe. Properly, to be open, wide or free, which implies being safe. Used causatively, it means to free.
Y “great” = rob. From rabab (to be or become much or many, multiply). This is any kind of abundance.
Z “army” = chayil. From chul (to be firm, strong, prosperous; to endure). This is strength, wealth, ability, activity. It can refer to soldier or a company of soldiers as well as goods. It is a force of people, means, or goods. It can speak of valor, virtue, or strength.
AA “warrior” = gibbor. From gabar (to be strong or mighty; to prevail or be insolent). This is strong, mighty, or powerful. This can imply a warrior, hero, or tyrant.
BB “delivered” = natsal. This is to snatch someone or something away in a good sense – as rescue, defend, or deliver – or in a bad sense – as strip or plunder.
CC “strength” = koach. Root may mean to be firm. This is power, strength, force. It can be literal or figurative, positive or negative. It can also mean capacity or means – what something produces. Additionally, it could refer to some kind of small reptile.

17 The war horseDD is a vain hopeEE for victory,FF
    and by its great mightGG it cannot save.HH

Notes on verse 17

DD “war horse” = sus. Root may mean to skip as in jump for joy. This is a crane or a swift bird. It is also a horse as leaping.
EE “vain hope” = sheqer. This is deception, lie, or disappointment. It can also be something that is vain or wrongfully.
FF “victory” = teshuah. Related to “saved” in v16. From yasha (see note X above). This is deliverance or salvation.
GG “might” = chayil. Same as “army” in v16. See note Z above.
HH “save” = malat. This is to be smooth, which implies to escape as slipping away from. It can also be release, rescue, deliver, or preserve. It can be used specifically to meaning giving birth or making sparks.

18 TrulyII the eyeJJ of the Lord is on those who fearKK him,
    on those who hopeLL in his steadfast love,MM

Notes on verse 18

II “truly” = hinneh. From hen (lo! Behold! If, though; an expression of surprise). This is to draw attention, show suddenness or surprise, or to emphasize the importance of the coming statement. See! Lo! Behold!
JJ “eye” = ayin. This is eye in a literal or figurative sense so eye, appearance, favor, or a fountain (the eye of the landscape).
KK “fear” = yare. From the same as yare (to fear, be afraid, dreadful; also fearful reverence – to fear in a moral sense is to say to revere, respect). This is fearful or morally reverent.
LL “hope” = yachal. This is to wait, which implies patience, hope, and trust. It can also be pained waiting.
MM “steadfast love” = chesed. From chasad (being good, kind, merciful; may mean bowing one’s neck as is done in the presence of an equal for courtesy’s sake; so, if one in a superior position is treating you like an equal, that is what is captured here). This is favor, goodness, kindness, loving kindness, pity, reproach, or a good deed. When done by God to humanity, this is mercy/loving kindness. When done by humanity to God, it is piety.

19 to deliver their soulNN from deathOO
    and to keep them alivePP in famine.QQ

Notes on verse 19

NN “soul” = nephesh. Related to naphash (to refresh or be refreshed). This is soul, self, person, emotion. It is a breathing creature. Can also refer to appetites and desires.
OO “death” = mavet. From muth (to die in a literal or figurative sense). This can be death, deadliness, the dead, or the place where the dead go. It can be used figuratively for pestilence or ruin.
PP “keep…alive” = chayah. This is to live or keep alive in a literal or figurative sense. So, it can be revive, nourish, or save.
QQ “famine” = raab. From raeb (to be hungry). This is hunger, death, or hunger from famine.

20 Our soul waitsRR for the Lord;
    he is our helpSS and shield.TT

Notes on verse 20

RR “waits” = chakah. 14x in OT. Perhaps related to chaqah (to carve, cut in). This is to long for, await, or lurk in ambush.
SS “help” = ezer. From azar (to help, protect, support, ally; properly, to surround so as to provide aid). This is help, aid, or helper. This word is used in Genesis 2:18 when God decides to make for Adam, “a helper as his partner.” If the same word can be used of God’s help (as in Psalm 121:1), then we should not downplay the significance of this formulation of “help.”
TT “shield” = magen. From ganan (to surround, cover, defend, protect). This is a shield, defense, or figuratively a protector. It can also be used for a crocodile’s hide.

21 Our heart is gladUU in him
    because we trustVV in his holyWW name.XX
22 Let your steadfast love, O Lord, beYY upon us,
    even as we hope in you.

Notes on verses 21-22

UU “is glad” = samach. This is to rejoice or be glad. Properly, it is to brighten up in a literal or figurative sense.
VV “trust” = batach. This is to hide for refuge, be secure or sure. Figuratively, it refers to trust, being confident, or hoping.
WW “holy” = qodesh. This is set apart and so sacred. God is different from us and so God is holy/set apart. Things we dedicate to God’s service are set apart for God and so they, too, are holy, etc.
XX “name” = shem. May be from sum (to put, place, set). This is name, fame, renown. A name was thought to indicate something essential about a person – something about their individuality. So, this word can also mean honor, authority, or character.
YY “be” = hayah. Related to “Lord” in v12. See note D above.

Image credit: “The Famine Memorial sculpture on Custom House Quay” in Dublin by Rowan Gillespie. Photo by Bernd Thaller, 2018

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