Glory from Beginning to End: Ten Things About Psalm 29

michel-porro-vfaFxFltAvA-unsplashIn preparation for Sunday’s sermon, here are ten things about Psalm 29.

1. Psalm 29 is the third creation psalm and third “mountain top” in Book 1 of the Psalms.

This point is easier to show than to tell. In the following graphic, we see how Psalms 8, 19, and 29 stand at the center of various chiastic structures (“mountains”) in the Psalter. (You can hear how this outline works here).

Book 1

Arranged in this way, we might read Psalms 8, 19, 29 together and see how the God of creation was to be worshiped by mankind (Ps 8), in response to the word of God (Ps 19), and in the temple (Ps 29). Even more, we can see how glory connects these creation psalms together.

Psalm 8 says God crowned mankind with glory and honor. Psalm 19 speaks of God’s glory displayed in creation. And Psalm 29 speaks of God’s glory coming into the temple. In all of these ways, we discover how manifold God’s glory is.

2. The creation imagery of Psalm 29 recalls the ancient battle songs of Israel.

For instance, the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15) uses creation imagery to describe God’s power to destroy his enemies. Deborah’s song (Judges 5) does the same. And according to Derek Kidner, this is a common way ancient Near Eastern songs were composed.

Early Canaanite poetry was similar in this respect.. Whether David was building the psalm out of an ancient fragment, or turning to a style that would recall the old battle-hymns of God’s salvation, the primitive vigour of the verse, with its eighteen reiterations of the name Yahweh (the Lord), wonderfully matches the theme, while the structure of the poem averts the danger of monotony by its movement from heaven to earth, by the path of the storm and by the final transition from nature in uproar to the people of God in peace. (Psalms 1–72142).

3. The “sons of gods” are called to give glory to the One True God.

Considering the genre of this Psalm (a battle hymn celebrating God’s victory over his enemies) and the stated enthronement of God over the floods (vv. 3–4, 10), we may find “heavenly beings” (bene elim) in verse 1 is better translated “sons of (the) gods.” The immediate problem with this interpretation is that it sounds as if there are many gods, instead of one.

Various scholarly proposals have wrestled with this, but my simple (maybe simpleton’s) answer is that the God of Israel is portrayed here as the God who stands above all other pretend deities (cf. 1 Corinthians 8:5). In truth, we have good reason for believing that spiritual forces (i.e., fallen angels) deceived the nations around Israel. As Deuteronomy 32:8–9 says,

When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance, when he divided mankind, he fixed the borders of the peoples according to the number of the sons of God. But the Lord’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage.

From this passage and others, we find evidence that the Old Testament spoke of “sons of god” as angelic beings. In Deuteronomy 32, these supernatural beings had authority over the nations (cf. Daniel 10:13), and in Job 1:6 and 2:1 they are the angelic beings who presented themselves in God’s throne room. Likewise, Psalm 82:1 speaks of God holding judgment among the “gods” of his court and Psalm 86:8 the Psalmist says of God: “There is none like you among the Gods.”

Altogether, these verses do not testify to multiple gods who are on par with Yahweh Elohim. Instead, they speak of the spiritual nature of God’s creation. God has made all things visible and invisible, human and angelic. And in Psalm 29:1 we find a reference to these angelic beings. The question is “Are these bene elim the angels in heaven worshiping God or the fallen angels opposing him?”

It would take more time to answer that question then we have here, but clearly Psalm 29 is calling all creation to worship him. At present, the elect angels are doing that in heaven. And one day, every angelic being will confess Jesus Christ is the Holy One of God, even as every image-bearer will also bow the knee to King Jesus.

4. Yahweh’s name and voice predominate Psalm 29.

In eleven verses, the name of the Lord (Yahweh) occurs 18 times. “The Voice of the Lord” repeats seven times. And over the course of the Psalm, the repetitions have a powerful affect on the reader. Konrad Schaeffer (Psalms, 72–73) captures it best when he organizes the Psalm according to these words:

v. 1 Ascribe to The LORD  
  Ascribe to The LORD Glory and strength
v. 2 Ascribe to The LORD Glory
    The LORD With Splendor
v. 3 The voice of The LORD Over the waters
      [God of] glory
    The LORD Over the mighty waters
v. 4 The voice of The LORD Powerful
  The voice of The LORD With splendor
v. 5 The voice of The LORD Breaks the cedars
    The LORD Breaks the cedars of Lebanon
v. 7 The voice of The LORD Flashes flames
v. 8 The voice of The LORD Shakes the wilderness
    The LORD Shakes the wilderness of Kadesh
v. 9 The voice of The LORD Causes, strips glory
v. 10   The LORD Sits enthroned
    The LORD Sits enthroned
v. 11   The LORD Gives strength
    The LORD Blesses with peace

5. Psalm 29 feels like the storm it describes.

From the drumbeat of the Lord’s name and voice, the Psalm follows the storm of the Lord. Ripping through the coastland cedars of Lebanon (v. 5), on to Sirion (or Hermon) in the center of Israel (v. 6), to the wilderness east of Canaan (v. 8), Psalm 29 follows the path of God’s thunderous voice like storm trackers would follow a tornado.

Capturing the effect of Psalm 29’s words, Schaeffer comments, “The [Psalmist] reproduces auditory and visual effects: the echoing crash of the thunder (‘the voice of the Lord’), the flames of fire, and the quaking earth and twisting trees” (Psalms, 72). As it often happens in the Psalms, the literary devices are meant to do more than explain truth; they make you feel God’s truth.

And the truth in this Psalm is that the God who sits enthroned over all his creation has power to do as he pleases. With the breath of his mouth he subdues the massive trees of Lebanon, shakes the Wilderness of Kadesh, and strips bare the forests. In the presence of such a God, all of creation is reduced to one word: “Glory!”

6. The voice of the Lord responds to the voice of David.

When we read Psalm 29 in the context of the entire Psalter we find that God’s voice comes in response to the cries of David. Previously, David’s voice greets the Lord in the morning (5:3), and David’s voice is heard by God in his temple (18:6). Likewise, God had previously responded to David in words very similar to Psalm 29:

13 The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire. 14 And he sent out his arrows and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings and routed them. 15 Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils. (Psalm 18:13–15)

In these verses David is praising Yahweh for his salvation and he is using creation imagery to speak of God’s power to save him. Interestingly, Psalm 18 is followed by another creation psalm, which speaks of God’s voice:

1 The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. 2 Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. 3 There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. 4 Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, 5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. 6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat. (Psalm 19:1–6)

In Psalm 19 God’s voice runs through the heavens so that there is no place where God has not spoken. Now in Psalm 29 God’s voice comes in power and in the context of Psalm 28, we should consider that God’s word comes in power to save. Just as in Psalm 18, Psalm 28:2, 6 reveal that David’s voice is crying out for God’s salvation:

2 Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.

6 Blessed be the Lord! For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.

In these two verses, we find David’s plea for mercy and his thanksgiving. God has heard his prayers and now, when we read Psalm 29 with Psalm 28, we can see how God’s storm is coming to reveal his power and produce worship in his people. In the context of what comes next, we might even see that Psalm 29 is meant to lead God’s people into the sanctuary.

7. Glory in the cosmic temple prepares the worshiper to enter the sanctuary.

The resulting sound of God’s voice is a singular, resounding word: “Glory!” In response to the power of God coming into the land, all creation cries out in worship. In this way, we can see how Psalm 29 recognizes the power of God in creation and prepares the human worshiper for entering the sanctuary.

Psalm 30 is a psalm for the temple’s dedication. It praises God for the salvation he offers, a salvation prayed for in Psalm 28:8–9, The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed. Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever.”

Together, we can see how these Psalms work to bring the worshiper into the presence of God. First, the worshiper cries out for God (Ps 28), Second, God comes in power (Ps 29). Third, God’s people respond in worship at the temple (Ps 30)—the place God has ordained for his people to worship.

As it will be seen later (in Psalms 32–33), creation plays a key role in salvation. In Psalm 32 confession makes it possible to praise God for creation (without making it an idol) in Psalm 33. But here, God enters creation (Psalm 29), so he can be worshiped for his salvation (Psalm 30). Admittedly, salvation as word is not found in Psalm 29, but the resulting peace (v. 11) is a product of God’s saving work, and a work that responds to David’s plea for salvation in Psalm 28:8–9.

8. The Word of God always comes with power.

Regardless how we read Psalms 28–30, we cannot miss this point—God’s word is powerful. It does all that God designs. Though it can come as a whisper (1 Kings 19), the voice of the Lord is never thwarted; it always achieves his purposes.

In this way, God’s Word is utterly unique. Unlike the speech of creatures, whose power is contingent and whose will is frequently blocked, God’s words are never overturned. That’s the whole point of this Psalm. It indicates God sits enthroned above the flood of the world’s chaos and he accomplishes all his plans for salvation and judgment.

9. Psalm 29 is associated with the Feast of Tabernacles and Pentecost.

As we consider how this Psalm relates to New Testament Christians, Derek Kidner makes a fascinating observation. “The LXX adds to the psalm’s title an allusion to its own translation of Lev. 23:36, indicating that it was used at the Feast of Tabernacles, which commemorated the journey through the wilderness. But it is now a psalm for Pentecost, and may well have been so used in New Testament times” (Psalms 1–72, 142n87).

Going further, he draws connection between Psalm 29’s imagery and that of Pentecost: “It may be worth noting, in passing, the conjunction of fire, mighty wind and (in a very different form) the voice of the Lord, on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1–4), the feast for which the Talmud appoints this psalm” (144).

Whether we can draw a straight line from Psalm 29 to Acts 2 is debatable, but with the temple theme of verse 9 and the temple dedication psalm standing next to it in Psalm 30, we have good reason for seeing a connection. Clearly, God’s Word came in power at Pentecost, which is the very thing that Psalm 29 describes. Moreover, the new covenant temple was created by Pentecost, just as Psalm 29 led the people of God to cry “glory” in God’s temple.

10. Psalm 29 ends with God’s rainbow of peace.

After the voice of God has passed through the land, it is clear who is Sovereign over heaven and earth. Verse 10 reads, “The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.” Picking up the word “flood” is significant, as it points back to Genesis 6–11, the only other place where this word is used.

In this final scene, Psalm 29 extols the God of creation as the one who reigns above the flood waters and even sends the flood waters to do his bidding. Likewise, his voice outshouts all the other voices on the earth, and therefore, those who trust in him can find peace. As verse 11 prays, “May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!”

Truly the closing words promise peace to those who trust in him. So that, just as Noah was sheltered through the storm and Moses found shelter in the rock, so all who trust in the God of Israel for salvation will discover that the one who rules over creation is all powerful to complete their salvation. As Derek Kidner summarizes his comments,

This closing word with peace is like a rainbow arch over the Psalm. The beginning of the Psalm shows us heaven open while its close shows us his victorious people upon eatth, blessed with peace in the midst of the terrible utterance of his wrath. Gloria in excelsis (glory in the highest) is the beginning, and in terra pax (peace on earth) the close.  (Psalms 1–72, 145)

Indeed, God’s glory is manifold and this Psalm captures a great deal of how his glory is witnessed and worshiped in creation and salvation. To that end let us read and pray and remember this Psalm.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

Photo by Michel Porro on Unsplash