Psalm 29 — The Thunder Psalm
29 Give unto the Lord, O ye mighty, give unto the Lord glory and strength.
2 Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
3 The voice of the Lord is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the Lord is upon many waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
5 The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars; yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn.
7 The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire.
8 The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness; the Lord shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to calve, and discovereth the forests: and in his temple doth every one speak of his glory.
10 The Lord sitteth upon the flood; yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever.
11 The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace.
A number of years ago, I spent the morning at a Hindu sacrificial site on a mountain north of Katmandu, Nepal. The people bought and brought their sacrifices made to idols, which the Bible reveals are demons in disguise (Rev 9:20). Fear ruled this scene as the people attempted to remove their curse through the blood sacrifice of goats and chickens. Satan, symbolized by the serpent overlooking the sacrificial altar, has deceived these people into worshiping him instead of the One True God.
David was aware of the idol worship of demons in the surrounding nations bordering Israel. His call to worship YHWH was issued to the angels who were usurping the worship of God’s people in Israel. Syncretism by Israel was the merging of worship to YHWH with other gods. The classic scene is King Solomon, David’s son, setting up high places around Jerusalem to cater to his foreign wives and their gods. The Hindu temple is built next to the Buddhist shrine, which resides next to the Mosque, near the local church. God’s displeasure in all this religious fodder is depicted with a thunderstorm.
David seems to adopt the terms and tenor of Canaanite Baal worship. Baal-Hadad was the storm god in Canaanite religion. He is portrayed riding the thrashing bull of a storm. The Psalmist’s polemic is to replace Baal with YHWH and denote the destructive nature of God’s angry voice. Psalm 29 joins 8, 19, and 104 as Psalms of nature; but it also shares in the category of victory songs with the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15) and the Song of Deborah and Barak (Judges 5).
The structure is a call to worship (vv. 1–2); a crescendo of shouts attributed to YHWH (vv. 3–9); and an epilogue of comfort for God’s people, who have found shelter in YHWH’s sanctuary (vv. 10–11). Repetition is profound here with the divine name “YHWH” used eighteen times. The “voice of the Lord” is repeated seven times. “Glory” is noted four times, and the call to give honor to YHWH (ascribe) is issued three times. A number of additional repetitions are employed in a remarkable display of climactic parallelism. In this literary device, a word or theme is placed in the poem; and then it is enlarged and enhanced in subsequent lines. The effect is a crescendo of thunder rolling across the page.
The subject is the Lord shouting with thunderous power, producing a myriad of effects. Nothing escapes the ominous moving presence of the Lord of the storm. The message is polemical against the demons and those who worship them. All of creation is called to repentance. YHWH is the King, who sits enthroned forever above all, and He is the God of glory expressing His fury at the breach of His commandment to have no other gods before Him (Exodus 20:3).
The Psalmist opened with a call to worship issued to the children of the gods (v. 1). Ascribe means to give or bestow. God receives nothing from His creation out of need. It is actually to our benefit to worship Him. Still, all praise, honor, and glory do belong to Him. The Hebrew phrase translated, “children of the gods,” is adopted from Canaanite worship of el. El is the ancient near eastern title given generically to the mighty god. Elim is the plural form, “gods.” This only appears four times in the Old Testament, and “sons of the mighty” is used twice. Its use here points to the identity of those called to worship. The angels, in rebellion against YHWH, receiving worship from man, made in the image of YHWH, are summoned to submit to God. They apparently refuse. The storm is rising.
Power and majesty belong to YHWH, but deceit and perversion belong to these imposters. They pretend to have power to release their worshipers from the curse of sin. Observing their requirements for worship, man, the icon of God must subject himself to sexual perversion, self-flagellation, and even human sacrifice. The whole ordeal is filthy, the epitome of unholy.
David gave instruction for proper worship of YHWH (v. 2). Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth is the battle cry of holiness. God is holy, which manifests His glory. His name or reputation is at stake. To worship other gods is to enter the sanctuary of squalor. To worship YHWH is to enter into the splendor of His holiness. Clothe yourself with Christ! Put on the white robes of purity and come to worship in holy attire. The allusion is spiritual, pointing to the state of the inner man. Thus, the dirty peasant can come with clean hands and a pure heart. Man looks at the outward appearance, but God searches the heart.
The Psalmist introduced the revelation of God in thunder (v. 3). The voice of YHWH is repeated seven times with increasing fervor. The NET Bible translates this phrase, “The Lord shouts…” Growing up in Michigan, I remember being near the Great Lakes when the summer storms approached. Our friends had a cottage on Lake Huron that was built to look like a ship. On the bow, inside the living room and looking out onto the lake was a large wheel to steer the cottage/ship. I loved being there as a child. We were a ship on steady ground looking out over the tumult of troubled, white-capped waters. The dark skies would thunder and crack, and then roll out over the surging waters toward distant shores. I feared the God of glory in that place, but I knew I was safe in the storm.
David explicated God’s thundering voice in terms of power and majesty (v. 4). The simple sentences carry over from v. 3. YHWH is powerful, in contrast to the power of Baal. YHWH’s glory displayed in His creation made a mockery of Baal’s claims. The message is clear: YHWH is Lord of the storm, not Baal. These are the reasons to acknowledge Him and ascribe these attributes to Him. You must choose this day whom you will serve.
David exposed the destructive nature of YHWH’s shout in the north (v. 5). The Lebanon range rested at ten thousand feet above sea level. The cedars of Lebanon there were the homes of the gods. The people ascended to the high places and gloried in the fertility. The Mediterranean builders paid homage to the mighty cedars by building their finest structures with the precious commodity. The cedars were the wealth of Lebanon. The storm moved from the sea where Jonah had learned obedience to YHWH. The other men prayed to their gods, of sea and sky, but to no avail. Only YHWH could calm the raging sea and storm. God’s thundering assault on these most sturdy of trees produced another statement. The Lord of the storm can break the strength of idolatry as if his opponents were toothpicks. YHWH’s demand for worship, over and against Baal, would ultimately remove the curse Baal promised to remove. Baal was the curse, just as world religions are the curse in our day. Some trust in trees, some trust in horses, others trust in chariots, but we will trust in the Lord our God.
David expressed the impact of thunder on the mountain topography in terms of cowering animals (v. 6). YHWH’s thunder moved mountains. The greatest of them shook with reverberating fear. The storm was moving from the foreign nation to the north into Israel’s territory. The glory of Sirion, Mt. Hermon, remains today. Snow capped, even in the summer heat, Hermon is the high place of glory chosen by God for Jesus’ majestic transfiguration. Even the closest disciples still could not delineate between Jesus and the prophets. The name of Jesus was glorified by the voice of YHWH, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him (Lk 9:35).” Was that thunder? The children of the gods should bow their knees to the only begotten Son of God.
Elijah, on Mt. Carmel, bears witness of YHWH’s call to Israel for allegiance. Who is God? Baal or YHWH? The people were mute. The prophet preached at the high place during the climax of three years of drought. Where was Baal? Sleeping? Vacation? Lightning consumed Elijah’s acceptable sacrifice, and the storm rolled in off of the Mediterranean. The drought was over because YHWH was exalted and glorified above Baal and his motley crew of pathetic priests.
David marveled that the storm produced lightning (v. 7). The imagery of lightning, here called, “flames of fire,” always symbolizes power. Whether in bolts or in sheets, lightning never ceases to astound the observer. When I was a child, living in my hometown, the neighbor girl was struck by lightning while riding her bike. I remember the neighbors gathered around her waiting for the ambulance to come for her. She survived, but I never rode my bike in the rain ever again.
David described the thunderstorm moving south to the wilderness of the Negev (v. 8). When the Bible talks about the whole of Israel’s geography it uses the idiom, “From Dan to Beersheba.” The storm travels south across the heart of Israel, the promised land. If the mountains are subject, so are the wilderness places. David said, “Wherever I go, You are there.” There is no escaping the storms in this life. Surely, David watched the storms of the early and latter rains from his protective caves while on the run from Saul. David was an outdoorsman. He was a shepherd in wilderness places. Wide open spaces entertain the declaration of glory from heaven.
When I was learning to shepherd at Dallas Theological Seminary, the Lord provided the finest storms one could ever observe on the flat fields of Texas. The heat rises in west Texas and joins the cool winds blowing southeast from the Rocky Mountains. The hot wet air from the Gulf of Mexico adds yet another element. The result is a violent electrical storm sporting tornados and horizontal rain. Our termite infested house was hardly at cedar strength. We had no basement because of the cracking clay beneath us. We were vulnerable, so when the storms came, I sat on the porch to watch. The voice of my wife called out from the bathtub where she and our small children cowered in the most reasonable safe place. My reply was non-conformist, “If I am going to die today, I am not going to miss the show.” I was learning about the Lord of the big storm, by observing His prodigious pomp across the plains.
David observed the impact of the thunderstorm on the trees being stripped of their leaves (v. 9). Wind, rain, fire, and thunder served to exfoliate the foliage. Some interpret the Hebrew here to read, “the deer are forced to calve,” using the Hebrew to refer back to v. 6. This probably stretches the translation unnecessarily, but it, too, demonstrates the effect on all creation. The point is that if everything is affected by the thunderstorm of God, where are God’s people?
The temple was a sanctuary. The representative shelter of God on earth was at Jerusalem. The destructive force of the wrath of God, in judgment against the earth, is known everywhere. On the day I visited a Buddhist Shrine in Katmandu, interestingly struck by lightning just weeks before our arrival, a 9.0 earthquake shook Japan, and subsequently raised up a 25-foot surf that surged inland for miles, killing ten thousand people. The fallout included nuclear radiation. Not one news report attributed this “natural” disaster to the offended deity, YHWH. The Lord shakes the earth but still does not have the world’s attention. In the end times of Great Tribulation, it will be no different, but the devastation will be global, as the judgments of God are poured out on unrepentant idolaters. Inside the sanctuary, safe from the storm, everything cries, “Glory!” The crescendo of thunder climaxes with this collective voice of praise. God has the attention of His people, who stand in awe of the Almighty. His name is YHWH. There is no other.
The Psalmist witnessed the resulting flood from the rainstorm, and he attributed sovereignty to YHWH (v. 10). The wilderness of Kadesh (Syrian Kadesh?), our last location, is marked by dry riverbeds that bear witness to the violent rush of waters following the storm. The flood of water washes out bridges, roads, and misplaced homes. The better allusion refers to the Hebrew word for flood, mabbul. It only appears thirteen times in the Hebrew text and twelve of them are in Genesis 6–9. We would be remiss to ignore the implications. YHWH is King of Glory (Ps. 24). He is sovereign over every disaster, even the pinnacle of disasters, the Great Flood.
David affirmed YHWH’s sanctuary for His people amidst the storm and flood (v. 11). God’s people need power and protection to survive chaos in this world. YHWH, the Lord of the storm, provides strength and security. God shelters Israel from His just wrath. He is their God, and they are His people. The power of God unto salvation is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, good news for those who place their trust in the King of kings. The wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men (Rom 1:18), but there is salvation for God’s people in the great fish, in the ark, in the cleft of the Rock, and in the boat on the sea of chaos with the One who says to the storm, “Peace, be still.”
Spokane Valley, Washington
June 18, 2021