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Bible Commentaries

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Psalms 29

 

 

Verse 1

PSALM 29

THE PSALM OF THE SEVEN THUNDERS

This is one of the most beautiful psalms in the Bible, called a "Psalm of sublime grandeur," by Dummelow, "Awe-inspiring poetry," by Yates and, "A magnificent description of a thunder-storm rolling over the land," by Maclaren.

We have adopted the title here that was used by Delitzsch.[1] There is no good reason for rejecting the ancient inscription which labels this as "A Psalm of David."

This psalm has: (1) a prelude (Psalms 29:1-2); (2) a description of the mighty thunderstorm (Psalms 29:3-9); and (3) a postlude (Psalms 29:10-11).

Anyone who has ever been in a really violent thunderstorm can truly appreciate this reference to nature in a violent mood.

A number of dependable scholars tell us that this psalm, in form and terminology, resembles, "Ancient Canaanite poems from 1400 to 1300 B.C., recently discovered at Ugarit in Syria."[2] However, as Rhodes pointed out, "The theology of this Psalm is Israelite, not Canaanite."[3] One of such ancient poems was somewhat similar to this psalm, extolling the might ascribed by the pagans to their storm-god Baal-Hadad. If indeed David made use of such a source, "His purpose was polemical, for this Psalm is a deliberate rejection of Canaanite polytheism. Here it is not Baal, but Jehovah, who is the God of the storm,"[4] not in some particular place, but all over the creation. In fact, "The name of Jehovah appears no less than eighteen times in this brief chapter."[5]

DeHoff identified the occasion for this psalm as that of the celebration, "Of that abundant rain which fell in the days of David, after the heavens had been shut up for three years" (2 Samuel 21:1-10).[6]

Kidner also pointed out that one of the happy features of this psalm is the transition, at the end of it, "From nature in an uproar to the people of God in peace."[7]

Psalms 29:1-2

THE PRELUDE

"Ascribe unto Jehovah, O ye sons of the mighty,

Ascribe unto Jehovah glory and strength.

Ascribe unto Jehovah the glory due unto his name;

Worship Jehovah in holy array."

"O ye sons of the mighty" (Psalms 29:1). The problem associated with this passage regards, "Who are these sons of the mighty?" Addis and most critical scholars render this place, "`Sons of God,' meaning superhuman beings as in Genesis 6:1." The trouble with that is that Genesis 6:1 is not a reference either to superhuman beings or to angels of God but to ordinary humans who loved and served God.

See our full discussion of this question in Vol. 1 of our Pentateuch Series, Genesis, pp. 98,99, wherein are given seven unanswerable arguments against interpreting that passage as a reference to "angels." It is no such thing. If one wants to know who "sons of God are," let him read it in the Bible (1 John 3:1; Romans 8:14; Galatians 4:6, etc.). As for the references usually cited as supporting the view that angels are mentioned in Genesis 6, namely Job 1:8 and Daniel 3:25, etc., the word "angels" is not found in any of them.

Delitzsch and other usually dependable scholars have missed it completely here. He said, "It is not the mighty of earth who are here called to worship Jehovah, but the angels."[8] To which we bring up the question: "Since when did the Bible become a book for instructing the angels of God?" What kind of imagination is necessary for supposing that the Jewish King David could order the angels of heaven to fall down and worship God and to ascribe unto him "Glory?"

No! As F. F. Bruce, the noted scholar of Manchester, England, stated it, "The American Standard Version of 1901 is the most accurate of the versions for purposes of detailed study of the Bible." This verse is an outstanding example of that superiority.

Many others have also noted that, "The mighty ones of earth" are the ones here called to worship. We are grateful for the discernment of Ash who stated that, in this verse, "It is possible that the reference is to powerful nobles."[9]

"Bishop Horne over a hundred and fifty years ago gave the correct meaning here that, `The prophet addresses himself to the mighty ones of earth' exhorting them to give God the glory."[10] Yes, the persons here exhorted to "give God the Glory" are the rich, the powerful, the rulers and authorities of the world. The angels of heaven need no such exhortation, but the mighty of earth stand in the utmost need of it.

If any further proof of our interpretation is needed, let the student turn to Psalms 96:7f. "Where these two verses are quoted and addressed there to humanity at large,"[11]


Verse 3

DESCRIPTION OF THE THUNDERSTORM

"The voice of Jehovah is upon the waters:

The glory of God thundereth.

Even Jehovah upon many waters.

The voice of Jehovah is powerful;

The voice of Jehovah is full of majesty."

"The voice of Jehovah is upon the waters" (Psalms 29:3). In the land of Palestine, where David lived, such a statement clearly means that "It is thundering out in the Mediterranean Sea as a great thunderstorm approaches the land." Another acceptable interpretation is that of Rawlinson who wrote that the "waters" mentioned here, "Are the waters stored in the clouds that float on high in the air."[12] Some writers have proposed that the "waters" are the "waters above the firmament, mentioned in Genesis 1:7."[13] This is true, of course, only if those "waters above the firmament" are truly interpreted as being "those billions of tons of water stored in the clouds." (See a full discussion of this interpretation in our Commentary on Genesis, pp. 31,32.)

Delitzsch thought that, "The best understanding of, `The voice of Jehovah is upon the waters,' is to take it as meaning the mass of water gathered together in the thick, black stormclouds,"[14] then moving on to the land.

"The voice of Jehovah" (Psalms 29:3-4(twice), 5,7, 8,9). This remarkable phrase appears no less than seven times in the passage before us. That voice is here metaphorically presented as the thunder, bringing to mind instantly the reference in Revelation to the effect that, "The seven thunders uttered their voices" (Revelation 10:3).

The voice of the seven thunders here is plainly stated:

"The voice of Jehovah is upon the waters (Psalms 29:3).

The voice of Jehovah is powerful (Psalms 29:4).

The voice of Jehovah is full of majesty (Psalms 29:4).

The voice of Jehovah breaketh the cedars (Psalms 29:5).

The voice of Jehovah cleaveth the flames of fire (Psalms 29:7).

The voice of Jehovah shaketh the wilderness (Psalms 29:8).

The voice of Jehovah maketh the hinds to calve (Psalms 29:9)."SIZE>

"Upon the waters" (Psalms 29:3). It is not merely the thunder which the psalmist hears, "Jehovah himself is upon the waters," as stated in the second line of this verse. It is indeed a true discernment of ultimate reality to find Almighty God Himself in the marvelous Creation which He made. God is in every blooming flower, in every sunrise or sunset; he is in the wings of the smallest humming bird, and in the incredible masses of the mighty snow-covered mountains; he is in the skies and seas, the grass and the trees, the songs of wild geese, and the swarms of the bees. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it:

"Every bush is aflame with God;

But only he who sees takes off his shoes."SIZE>

David here saw the power and the glory of God in a thunderstorm. I remember taking my mother to see the Gulf of Mexico; and she said, "How can anyone see that and not believe in God?" Oh God, give us eyes to see!


Verse 4

"The voice of Jehovah is powerful;

The voice of Jehovah is full of majesty.

The voice of Jehovah breaketh the cedars;

Yea, Jehovah breaketh in pieces the cedars of Lebanon."

"Yea, Jehovah breaketh in pieces the cedars" (Psalms 29:5). Thunder in this psalm is metaphorically referred to as "The voice of Jehovah." But in this clause and the very similar one in Psalms 29:3, it is God Himself who is "upon the waters" and who "breaketh the cedars."

It is really frightening to see first hand what tremendous energies are unleashed in a bolt of lightning. This writer remembers a very large oak tree, some four or five feet in diameter, at least, that stood just west of his grandfather's barn on the old Anderson Ranch in Taylor County, Texas. One night a bolt of lightning totally demolished that oak tree, reducing the several cords of strong oak wood in it to the equivalent of kindling. The neighbors for miles around came to view the remarkable sight.

"The voice of Jehovah is powerful" (Psalms 29:4). Yes indeed, it was His voice that hurled the suns in space, that lifted up the Cross, that stilled the sea! It is His voice that shall at last summons the dead before the Great White Throne for the Final Judgment. It is that voice which shall sound over the tombs of land and sea, and the myriads of the dead shall "Come Forth," even as Lazarus did at Bethany. It is important to understand that the psalmist here sees the hand and hears the voice of God in Nature, and especially in this great thunderstorm.

Oh yes, we live in a sophisticated age that knows all there is to know about thunderstorms, etc., and many arrogant human beings, intoxicated with a little knowledge, would doubtless find this psalm "unscientific,"[15] However, as the same author declared, "This Psalm begins where science leaves off."[16] Amen!

<SIZE=2>FLOWER IN THE CRANNIED WALL

"Flower in the crannied wall,

I pluck you out of the crannies.

I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,

Little flower - but if I could understand

What you are, root and all, and all in all,

I should know what God and man is!"

- Alfred Lord Tennyson.SIZE>

Rhodes saw that we have something of the same spiritual understanding in this psalm. "These verses are a poetic and theological interpretation of a thunderstorm as a revelation of the glory of God."[17]


Verse 6

"He maketh them also to skip like a calf;

Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild-ox.

The voice of Jehovah cleaveth the flames of fire.

The voice of Jehovah shaketh the wilderness;

Jehovah shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh."

There are definitely overtones in this psalm that suggest the final judgment of the Great Day. In these lines, the great mountains of Lebanon and Hermon are moved out of their places, or at least are made to appear as doing so. Furthermore, there is a mighty earthquake that shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. In the Apocalyptic description of the Judgment Day in Revelation 6, among the features of it are listed, "A great earthquake, ... and every mountain and island were moved out of their place" (Psalms 29:12,14).

God revealed to the Prophet Joel that there were overtones and warnings of the Final Judgment in the terrible Locust Plague featured in that Book; and it is not unthinkable that this devastating thunderstorm may have been intended to convey the same kind of warning.

"Maketh them to skip like a calf" (Psalms 29:6). This may refer to the cedars mentioned in the preceding verse; but Delitzsch and others apply this clause to Lebanon and Sirion. "According to Deuteronomy 3:9, Sirion is the Sidonian name for Mount Hermon. Side by side with Lebanon, it represents Anti-Lebanon. It is the lightning that makes the mountains bound like young antelopes!"[18]

We appreciate the discernment of Ash who twice mentioned "an earthquake" as the occurrence suggested by these lines.[19]

"Jehovah shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh" (Psalms 29:8). This is the third time that the distinction is made in this psalm between the thunder (the voice of Jehovah) and Jehovah himself, namely at the end of Psalms 29:3,5,8. David is not really thinking of a thunderstorm but of Jehovah!


Verse 9

"The voice of Jehovah maketh the hinds to calve,

And strippeth the forests bare:

And in his temple, everything saith, Glory."

"Maketh the hinds to calve" (Psalms 29:9). This is usually interpreted to mean that wild animals, mammals, living in the forests were caused to bring forth their young prematurely because of their terror of the violent thunderstorm. The hinds here are the female deer. Dahood affirmed that, "There is no evidence that either wild or domestic animals are so affected by a thunderstorm."[20] However, as Rawlinson pointed out, "Plutarch stated that the shepherds reported that, `Sheep left alone in a thunderstorm do indeed cast their young.' Also Pliny, the Roman historian wrote that, `Solitary sheep cast their lambs in thunderstorms; and the remedy is to keep the flock together, which helps prevent that.'"[21] Dummelow also recognized this phenomenon as, "An actual effect of terrifying thunderstorms."[22]

Until competent authorities are willing to qualify Dahood as an expert in Animal Husbandry, we shall be content with the competent witnesses we have here cited on this subject. And, of course, there is another sense in which God indeed enables both man and beast to reproduce themselves, being, in fact the First Cause of all things.

"In his temple everything saith, Glory" (Psalms 29:9). "This vision of `The Glorious One' semantically and structurally balances Psalms 29:2, a full fourteen beats from the beginning of the psalm."[23]


Verse 10

THE POSTLUDE

"Jehovah sat as King at the Flood;

Yea, Jehovah sitteth as king forever.

Jehovah will give strength to his people;

Jehovah will bless his people with peace."

"Jehovah sat as King at the Flood" (Psalms 29:10). "The word for Flood here is significant, for it is found elsewhere only in Genesis 6:11, and only of the Flood in the days of Noah."[24] That event, of course, was a great judgment upon all mankind; and here we have another evidence of something more being intended here than the mere description of a violent thunderstorm. Although we are unwilling to join completely in the affirmation made by Gaebelein, there is certainly much in the psalm that may be understood as he understood it. He stated that, "The Day of Jehovah is here poetically described under the figure of an onrushing thunderstorm."[25]

"Jehovah will bless his people with peace" (Psalms 29:11). Just as the Great Deluge was a judgment of mankind in which God's wrath was poured out upon the wicked, and his mercy was extended to the righteous in the person of Noah and his family, so does it appear in this psalm. The same pattern is detected here. The lightnings flash, the thunders roar, the trees come crashing down, the forests are stripped, the wilderness trembles, and the mountains jump around like young antelopes, but God provides peace for his people! As Kidner put it, "`Gloria in excelsis' is the beginning of the psalm; and `Terra pax' is the end of it."[26]

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 29:4". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/psalms-29.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, September 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25
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