Psalm 29- The Thundering Voice of God

Supercell Thunderstorm over Chaparral, New Mexico on April 3, 2004

Supercell Thunderstorm over Chaparral, New Mexico on April 3, 2004

Psalm 29

<A Psalm of David.>
 1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
 2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; worship the LORD in holy splendor.
 3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters.
 4 The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
 5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
 6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, and Sirion like a young wild ox.
 7 The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
 8 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
 9 The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl, and strips the forest bare; and in his temple all say, “Glory!”
 10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.
 11 May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!
What language do we use to praise God and where does it come from? I know for many contemporary Christians there is a fear of using the secular language or language that may come from a mythological or another religion’s background. Yet, here is Psalm 29 which uses the language that the Canaanites used to talk about their god Baal and repurposes that praise in a way to explicitly and repetitively talk about the LORD. In our desire to ascribe to the LORD glory and strength what words, what language and what images shall we use? How do the metaphors capture some piece of what the LORD’s strength and power is? One of the gifts of the Psalms is the way in which it stretches and challenges the ways in which we can poetically allow ourselves to talk about God.

The metaphorical exploration of the power of God’s voice as a thunderstorm is a potent image on its own. The powerful image also takes on a polemical context when paired in a Canaanite environment when their primary god Baal is a storm god who battle the chaotic sea (Yam). In a bold move the poet who puts these words on paper takes the primary image of strength of the god of the surrounding nation and usurps the image to talk about the voice of the LORD. All the other heavenly beings are summoned from the beginning to honor the LORD and to assume their proper subservient positions. The unimaginable power of the mighty storm which can strip the forests are or which can break the mighty cedars of Lebanon is now one attribute of the LORD’s strength.

To use the language of the surrounding world as a part of the language we use to praise God is necessary and yet like all metaphors it has its limits. The Psalms never pretend to be a systematic theology but rather a window into the ways in which God has been experienced. The metaphors can capture our imaginations as ways, as in this Psalm, to give praise to God. In a Psalm where the voice of the LORD is emphasized seven times the only word spoken is reserved for those in the temple. We, like those in the temple, use our own limited words to try to proclaim, “Glory!” The bible wants to use the language it can muster to bring honor and praise to the LORD, and if it means redirecting language which the people of the LORD believed was misused to worship other gods then they would repurpose and recast those words to bring honor and praise to their God. To echo another poet quoted by Paul in Philippians they wanted to see that time when “every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” (Philippians 2. 10)

Psalm 29 celebrates the power of the LORD with all its destructive might but ultimately that power is wielded so that the people may be at peace. As in Psalm 46 where the bows are broken and spears are shattered and shields burned to make wars cease, so here the incredible powerful voice of the LORD is wielded to bring the people peace. As Rolf Jacobson can state, “God’s strength quells the warring madness of the children of Adam and Eve. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 286) Until the days to come that the prophet Isaiah could dream of when swords are turned into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks (Isaiah 2.4) and where the voice of the LORD blesses the people with peace and all the nations stream to the house of the LORD we live in the expectation for the time when the voice of the LORD’s immense power thunders across our world, strengthens the people, blesses us with peace and all can proclaim, “Glory!”

5 thoughts on “Psalm 29- The Thundering Voice of God

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