There are few books in the Bible more well-known in the church and the world today than the Book of Psalms. Even unbelievers have Psalm 23 memorized. Psalms 95 and Psalms 100 are mainstays as calls to worship in Reformed and Presbyterian churches. The New Testament authors quote the psalter again and again. That does not necessarily mean, however, that the psalms are well-understood. There are many good reasons to learn the psalms, of course. Throughout this collection of inspired songs, we can see more clearly who our God is, why he deserves our worship, and what he has done for us. We can better understand our Savior and the task he completed to earn our salvation. We can read inspired words that direct us toward God during our emotional highs and lows.
This is where Psalm 29 comes into the picture. Perhaps we have heard some of the language in this song, but do we really understand what the Holy Spirit is telling us through it? There is a reason for some of our lack of understanding—that is, Psalm 29 includes some unusual elements. It is in the first book of the psalter (Psalms 1–41), which can be described as a collection of psalms that generally express confidence in the LORD despite the laments of life.1
We know there are various subgenres in the psalms, and Psalm 29 is a hymn. Hymns praise God because of his creation, providence, and redemption. Some psalms focus on one, two, or all three of these reasons for praise. We see elements of all three in Psalm 29, and in this psalm, we see who God is by noticing what he does and by hearing what he says. To put it more simply, this psalm is about knowing the one whom we worship. It is our knowledge of God that ought to affect what we do and how we act. Psalm 29 celebrates God’s might and glory, and calls us to bow down in response.
The Worship of the LORD
1 Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.
Many psalms begin with calls to worship God, but this one is directed not to the human congregation but to the heavenly beings—the angels. That is shocking enough, but there is something else going on here that is not immediately obvious to us. Baal was the primary god of the Canaanites, and he was the god of storms and rain. In 1 Kings 18, we read about the contest between Elijah and the prophets of Baal and Asherah. Through lightning and rain, Yahweh proves that he is the true God and Baal is a fraud. There is something similar happening here: Psalm 29 is an apologetic to those Israelites who were tempted to worship Baal.2 It is a defense of the Godship of God, if we can use such a phrase.
The phrase “heavenly beings” in our English translation is the same as that used in Job 1:6 when the “sons of God” presented themselves before the LORD. These angels are creatures, not gods. Yahweh is the creator and king who deserves worship from the angels whom the Canaanites would have worshiped. In Scripture, when a human sees an angel in its glory, the human has an instinct: fall down and worship. Yet these angels are not worthy of this; instead, these mighty beings are called to worship God alone. In those days, an earthly king’s court was filled with men and women, but the King of King’s court is filled with powerful angelic beings. We can think of Isaiah 6 and the seraphim who called out, “Holy, holy, holy,” in Yahweh’s throne room. This is the LORD who is God over the storm, not Baal. There is only one Creator—only one Lord of creation. There is glory due to his name, not Baal’s name.
God’s glory is a reference to the way in which God is superior to all things. He is the highest authority, the greatest good, the most glorious beauty. As the first article of the Belgic Confession of Faith (1561) says, he is “eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, unchangeable, infinite, almighty; completely wise, just, and good, and the overflowing source of all good.” Beyond being glorious, God is also strong. His power and might is sufficient to create everything out of nothing and also sustain everything. None of us can come close to fathoming such power. Therefore God is worshipped because of his glory and strength, but how do we know that he is glorious and strong? Because he reveals himself to us.
The Voice of the LORD
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over 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 breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
Now here is something that perhaps we skip over when we first read this psalm. This God who is worthy of the worship of angels, well, he speaks. If he did not speak, we would have no way of knowing him. Perhaps this is not the way we expect God to speak, however. He is not giving a dream or a vision to a prophet. He is not speaking audibly to his people. He is not even inspiring someone to write his Word by the power of his Spirit.
Instead, he is speaking through natural revelation, much as he does in Psalm 19:1: “The heavens declare the glory of God.” Or we can think of Romans 1, where Paul tells us that God’s power and divine nature are revealed through creation, leaving men without excuse. As the Belgic Confession reminds us, the LORD speaks to us in two books: nature and Scripture. Both are revelations of the God we worship. Therefore, we can say that storms speak to us because God is speaking to us through them. This is what he reveals to us through the storm: he is the LORD of all nature.
I grew up in Bellevue, Nebraska, an Air Force town on the edge of Tornado Alley. Every spring the storms would roll in, the wind would pick up, the temperature would drop, and the sky would turn green. Sure enough, these storms often came with a shrill warning: sirens blaring all over the county telling us to seek shelter lest a tornado take us. You could always tell the native Nebraskans from the Air Force transplants when the sirens went off. The people who came from elsewhere would all rush into their basements. Meanwhile, the Nebraskans would all pour out of their houses to see whether there was really a tornado! We were intrigued, but looking back we probably did not take the forces of nature seriously enough. Or at least, I did not take them seriously. All that changed on June 16, 2017, when two tornadoes touched down in Bellevue. Seeing roofs taken off houses or tree branches driven through walls made us remember the power of these storms and how dangerous they can be.
Similarly, the cedars of Lebanon were a symbol of strength. They were the strongest trees in the Ancient Near East. The ancient Israelites would have thought of the trees in Lebanon like we think of the Sequoias or Redwoods in the USA. Yet God breaks them in this storm. Yahweh is stronger than the strongest thing we can see in creation. Not even the mighty mountains can stand up to him. Mt. Lebanon and Mt. Sirion are both around ten thousand feet tall (by way of comparison, Mt. Zion where the Temple was built stood fewer than eight hundred feet tall). These impressive mountains of the north were supposedly the home of the Canaanite gods, yet Yahweh invades them. This is war. Yahweh is going into the home of the gods and blowing away everything. The gods of Egypt, the gods of Philistia, the gods of the North, it does not matter.
This is the God we worship, Christian. This is the God who made us and has come close to save us in Jesus Christ. He alone is worthy of our worship. Why? Because glory and strength are his. Because he is God alone. Because he is our God, and as we will see in Part 2, this great God has come close to save us in Christ.
- W. Robert Godfrey, Learning to Love the Psalms (Orlando: Reformation Trust, 2017), 47–51.
- Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 19: Psalms 1–50, 2nd Edition (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005), 246.
©Christopher Smith. All Rights Reserved.
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