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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 29

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & PsalmsHengstenberg's Commentary

Introduction

Psalms 29

The key to the interpretation of this Psalm is to be found in its conclusion: “The Lord sitteth enthroned as King for ever: the Lord will give strength unto His people; the Lord will bless His people through peace.” From this it is obvious that the Psalm has no personal reference, but that the Psalmist has sung it from the soul of the people, the congregation of God, and for their edification. Hence also it is obvious that the situation is that of the suffering, the danger, and the hostile oppression of the people of God, and of the fear of the little flock in view of the might of the world. Hence it is clear from what point of view we are to contemplate all that goes before. The words, “the Lord has might,” which form the sum of the whole Psalm, are introduced merely as the foundation for the declaration, “the Lord will give might.” The majesty of God in nature is described only for this reason:—that the Church may thus see that there is a shield ready prepared for her against all anxious cares.

In the introduction, Psalms 29:1 and Psalms 29:2, the heavenly servants of God are exhorted to give to the Lord glory and strength. In the main division, Psalms 29:3-9, the Psalmist describes the manifestation of Divine glory and strength which forms the basis of this exhortation. As the result of this manifestation—the revelation of the glory of God in a thunder-storm—the celestial servants of God comply with the exhortation given them in the ( Psalms 29:1) 1st and ( Psalms 29:2) 2d verses: in His temple every one says, “Glory!” The conclusion, in Psalms 29:10 and Psalms 29:11, expresses the hope and confidence which sprung up for the Church of God out of this manifestation of the Divine glory and majesty: if her God is such a God, her own powerlessness need give her no further concern.

There is no ground for the idea, that the Psalm was occasioned by the sight of a thunder-storm. “The freshness of the painting, the vigorous conceptions, and the rapid transitions of the whole,” will give rise to this view only when low ideas are entertained of the power of poetry. According to the analogy of Psalms 17 and Job 37 Job 37:1-5, where, in the case of similar descriptions of nature, no one ever thought of any outward occasion; it was in spirit that David here also heard the “voice of God.”

The Psalm before us gives us a very instructive example as to how we ought to interpret the language of nature, and to turn it to our own edification. Every thunder-storm, every hurricane, should tell us that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church of God, or against ourselves, if we are really members of that Church and servants of God. Everything depends on our being sure of our condition. The revelations of God in nature speak a double language: they speak to every man according to his own spiritual condition. The thunder-storm, for example, is a matter-of-fact promise to the pious—to the Church of God; while to the ungodly—to the world—it is a matter-of-fact threatening. Whoever feels assured of the love of God, sees, in the manifestation of the omnipotence of God, a ground of consolation; whereas to those who are conscious of being objects of the Divine displeasure, the sentiment inspired by such appearances is that of terror.

The artistic arrangement of the Psalm is seen not only in the circumstance, that both the introduction and the conclusion consist each of two verses, and that the description of the thunder-storm occupies exactly seven verses, but also in the positions of the names of God. In the introduction and conclusion the name Jehovah occurs in every clause, that is, eight times in all,—which can scarcely be accidental. In the main body, the “voice of the Lord” occurs seven times (Luther has introduced an eighth voice of the Lord), which, as the number of verses is exactly the same, seven, cannot be regarded as accidental. As the seven thunders of the Apocalypse ( Revelation 10:3-4) were obviously borrowed from this Psalm, it is clear that attention must have been directed very early to these appearances. In like manner, it can scarcely be considered accidental that the name Jehovah should occur, in all, in the main division, ten times. This outward signature of completion indicates that it is complete and concluded within itself. Köster’s idea, that the art displayed in the arrangement is too high for David, requires no further refutation, after the discoveries which we have made in the preceding Psalms. In fact, it is characteristic of David to aim at the highest possible kind of artistic arrangement.

The Psalm before us is united to the (Psalms 28) 28th, and forms with it one pair. The fundamental idea in both Psalms is the same, and is expressed in both, to all appearance designedly, almost in the same words: compare “the Lord is their strength,” Psalms 28:8, with “the Lord will give strength to His people,” Psalms 29:11, where the relation of למו to לעמו is specially noticeable. The differences also render still more evident the design to draw attention to the connection between the two Psalms, than even an unlimited agreement, which might have been accidental. The distinction between the two Psalms is, that the Psalmist in the (Psalms 28) 28th has to do with domestic, and here with foreign enemies. Then, there is a very striking agreement in the arrangement of the two Psalms: in the one, there is an introduction and a conclusion of one verse; in both, a main division of seven verses; and in the other, an introduction and a conclusion of two verses. Further, the nine verses of the (Psalms 28) 28th, and the eleven of the (Psalms 29) 29th Psalm, make up together two decades, the verse which is wanting in the one Psalm being supplied from the other. Finally, the five repetitions of the name Jehovah in the (Psalms 28) 28th mark it out as a half—as incomplete: compare on the number five as the signature of incompleteness, the divided ten, Bähr. Symb. P. I. p. 183. Still more remarkable is the circumstance, that the five repetitions of the name Jehovah in the preceding Psalm) the eight repetitions of it in the introduction and conclusion of this one, together with the seven repetitions of “the voice of God,” make up the number twenty, which is exactly the number of verses in both Psalms.

Those who are opposed to the idea of attaching any importance to the numbers in the arrangement of the Psalms, and are suspicious as to the existence of any design in the positions of the names of God, and of the juxtaposition of two Psalms as one pair, through which the same, or a similar train of thought may run (although as to this latter point none of the ancient expositors felt any difficulty), and are disposed to bring forward the common objection of artificial arrangement or conceit, would do well to bestow a thorough examination on those two Psalms: those who do so, will scarcely fail of obtaining new light on the matter.

Verse 1

Ver. 1. Give to the Lord, ye sons of God, give to the Lord glory and strength. The call addressed to the celestial servants of God, to praise His glory and strength, directs attention to the glory of the manifestations thereof set forth in what follows. If the highest creatures of God, the angels, must humble themselves in the dust before these manifestations; and if they feel themselves, in consequence thereof, called upon to express their devout acknowledgment, and to give utterance to liveliest praise; should not the servants of God on earth be led thereby to banish from their minds all care and all fear, deeply impressed by a sense of the presence of Him “who appointeth to the clouds, to the air, and to the wind, their way, their course, their path, and who will find out a way where His people can walk?” The Bne Elim are the same as those who, in other passages, are called Bne Elohim. In both cases, the explanation of the plural seems to lie in the idea, that the Divine unity is a unity; not of poverty, but of riches. In the one true God all that fulness is concentrated which the heathens divided among their many gods. He alone is instar multorum. Elohim and Elim are the abbreviated forms of אלהי האלהים and אל אלים : compare Deuteronomy 10:17, “For Jehovah, your God, He is the God of gods, and the Lord of lords;” Daniel 11:36; Psalms 136:2-3. As this use of the plural of majesty is very widely spread throughout the language (see on this subject the “Dissertation on the names of God in the Pentateuch, in the Beitr.”), there is no reason for adopting the idea of Ewald, that the plural is expressed doubled in the compound—an idea opposed by all the parallel passages, and which it is impossible on logical-grounds to justify.

Very many of the older expositors understand by the Bne Elim the kings and the mighty men of the earth, referring to Psalms 96:7, where, instead of Bne Elim, we find “kindreds of the people” introduced. This exposition has been partially revived by Köster. “Sons of God,” he supposes, is an expression which may be applied to whatever is powerful: the angels in heaven, kings on the earth. But, that the mention of angels is peculiarly suitable here, appears from comparing the really parallel passages, Psalms 103:20-21: “Bless the Lord, ye His angels that excel in strength, that do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word: bless the Lord, ye His hosts, ye ministers of His that do His pleasure:” and Isa. vi., where the seraphim who stand round the throne of God, sing, Holy, holy, holy, the whole earth is full of His glory, and ascribe to the Lord glory and might. Not only is Bne Elohim, but also Bne Elim, used in other passages very decidedly of angels: see Psalms 89:6. On the other hand, neither Bne Elim, nor Bne Elohim, nor Bne Eljon, is ever used of the mighty men of the earth: for in Psalms 82:6, to which Köster appeals, it is distinctly denied that the mighty ones of the earth are the sons of God: “I thought that ye were gods, and sons of the Highest, all of you; but ye shall die as men.” Finally, the ( Psalms 29:9) 9th verse is decisive against the reference to the mighty ones of the earth, where everything in the temple of God says, “Glory!” It is impossible here to think of the earthly temple; for the rulers of the nations assuredly are not there. Nothing but the heavenly sanctuary can be meant, in which the angels make known the praise of God. Most assuredly, however, there is an indirect reference made, in the passage before us, to the potentates of earth; and it is to this that the application made in Psalms 96:7, etc., of the first and second verses, refers:—the exhortation to the angels to praise the glory and the might of God, is intended to convince the Church of God that she has very little reason to quail before the potentates of earth,—the glory and the might of her God, which even the angels devoutly praise, is a sufficient ground of confidence in the face of a whole hostile world.

Several expositors take “glory” here in the sense of praise, and עז in the sense of renown. But, that כבוד is rather to be understood of “glory,” is evident from the clause, “Give to the Lord the glory of His name;” and, that עז signifies here, as it always does, “strength,” is evident from the connection in which the expression, “the Lord will give strength to His people,” in the conclusion, stands to the clause, “Give to the Lord strength,” at the opening of the Psalm: He has strength, therefore He will give strength. This exposition, moreover, is refuted by the parallel passage, Psalms 96:6-7: “Strength is in His holy place; give to the Lord strength;” and by the fundamental passage, Deuteronomy 32:3:“Ascribe ye greatness to our God.” In the fundamental passage, and in those derived from it, “to give,” is “to ascribe glory, strength, greatness to God,” “to recognise these as present,” “to glorify Him accordingly.” The design of Psalms 29:1-9 is to awaken the mind to a vivid perception of the truth, that the Lord possesses glory and strength: from this the inference which concludes the whole is drawn, that the Lord, will give strength to His people.

Verse 2

Ver. 2. Give to the Lord the glory of His name; adore the Lord in holy attire. The name of the Lord is considered as the product of His deeds: the glory of His name is the glory which belongs to Him as resulting from His glorious manifestations and deeds. The expression, “in holy attire,” is equivalent in sense to, “with deep reverence.” As the earthly priests, before engaging in the service of God, must put off their usual clothing, and clothe themselves in holy garments (the expression is used in this sense in 2 Chronicles 20:21: compare also Psalms 110:3, Psalms 96:9), so must the angels, His servants in heaven, do the same. Their usual clothing is too mean to allow of their drawing near in it to their holy and exalted Lord, and testifying that reverence with which the glorious manifestations of His omnipotence have filled their minds.

There follows now the description of that revelation of the glory of God in a thunder-storm, which formed the basis of the preceding call to the angels to do Him homage.

Verse 3

Ver. 3. The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of glory thundereth: the Lord is upon many waters. The “Jehovah” of the first clause, is supplemented in the second, and the “water” in the third. Thunder is “the voice of the Lord” only for believers. An ungodly Hebrew would assuredly not consider it as such. Every gentle breath of air is also the voice of the Lord: all nature proclaims His glory: God speaks in everything to men. But because our ears are dull of hearing, that especially is called His voice, by which He speaks in loudest tones, and proclaims to us, in spite of all unwillingness on our part to hear, His omnipotence and His majesty. The “waters” are the clouds, “the waters which are above the firmament,” Genesis 1:7; “the dark waters,” Psalms 18:11; “the multitude of waters,” Jeremiah 10:13: compare Psalms 17, Job 36:28. Several interpreters apply the term to the waters of the sea and rivers. But the word “many,” in the last clause, is decisive against this: it shows that the waters form a part of the storm itself; for only in this case is their multiplicity of importance to the object in view, inasmuch as it serves to bring forward the greatness of God in the storm. The designation of God as “the God of glory,” points back to Psalms 29:1-2, and shows that the description which begins in our verse, serves as a basis to the exhortation which is there addressed to the angels to praise the glory of God.

Verse 4

Ver. 4. The voice of the Lord is power: the voice of the Lord is majesty. It is generally remarked that ב with the substantive supplies the place of the adjective. But in this way the article is left altogether out of sight. The ב in this passage must rather be considered as indicating that in which the being of anything consists; Ewald’s Sm. Gr. p. 528. The voice of God has its essence in the power and majesty which appear in it: it is, as it were, power and majesty itself.

Verse 5

Ver. 5. The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars; the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon. The lightning is here, as it is also at Psalms 29:7, and Exodus 9:28, considered as an appendix to the thunder. The cedar is named, as the queen of the forest; and in the way of climax, the cedars of Lebanon are introduced in the second clause, because they are the stateliest of all. With the same omnipotence with which God breaks the cedars of Lebanon, He can also annihilate the mighty ones of earth (frequently represented by this emblem), who threaten to endanger His Church.

Verse 6

Ver. 6. And He maketh them to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young buffalo. The “them” must be referred to the cedars. As the skipping of the trees, however, is only the consequence of the skipping of the hills, these also are mentioned in the second clause. Sirion is, according to Deuteronomy 3:9, the Sidonian name of Hermon. Terms of rare occurrence and of antiquated character are congenial to poetry. Jo. Arndt has, with great accuracy, expressed the practical import of this verse: “Just as in great storms the hills quiver and quake before the thunder, so our beloved God is able by His word to make the proud and lofty quiver and quake.” Schmid, in like manner: “sic etiam hostes Jehovae cum omni sua potentia coram ipso irato dissilient, fulminibus judiciorum ejus disjecti.”

Verse 7

Ver. 7. The voice of the Lord heweth with flames of fire. The brevity of this verse depicts the rapid motion of the lightning, which comes in here as the wounding instrument in the hands of the voice of the Lord, the weapon with which it adds destruction to terror. The verb חצב means always to hew, never to cleave, or to scatter; so that the expositions, “He scatters,” “He casts abroad,” i.e. “fiery thunderbolts,” are to be rejected: compare Hosea 6:5; Isaiah 51:9, where חצב is used in speaking of an avenging. God. לחבות אש is in the accusative (comp. Ew. § 512), “with flames of fire.” It stands related to the voice of God, as what is particular does to what is general.

Verse 8

Ver. 8. The voice of the Lord maketh the wilderness to quiver; the voice of the Lord maketh the wilderness of Kadesh to quiver. Expositors ask why the wilderness is represented as quivering by the thunder. The only correct answer is, that the wilderness gives the impression of something great, immense, terrible: compare Deuteronomy 1:19, “The great and terrible wilderness;” Deuteronomy 8:15, “Who led thee through the great and terrible wilderness, where were serpents, and scorpions, and drought;” Deuteronomy 32:10, “He found him in a desert land, and in a waste howling wilderness.” The wilderness is, next to the hills, the most appropriate symbol of the power of the world: its quivering before the voice of the Lord must convince every pious mind of the folly of giving way to fear before the might of the world. In this way we see the reason why, as an ascending climax, in the second clause the particularly horrible wilderness of Kadesh, the northern part of the Arabian desert, is introduced. It forms, as it were, one pair with Lebanon and Sirion. The symbols of the power of the world on the north and south of the Lord’s land are overwhelmed with terror at His voice. This parallelism with Lebanon explains why that part of the terrible Arabian desert is mentioned which borders immediately on the land of Canaan.

Verse 9

Ver. 9. The voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to cast their young, and strips the forest; and in His temple everything says: Glory. The opposition between the hinds and the forest tends to impress upon our minds, that the Lord, in a thunderstorm, makes known His power over every created thing; that which is great shall not escape Him because of its greatness, nor that which is little because of its littleness. יחולל , Pil. from חול , can only be translated, “makes them bring forth;” i.e. “so terrifies them with the loud peals of thunder, that they cast their young before the time:” this is evident from Job 39:1; compare also 1 Samuel 4:19. According to Job 39:3 of Job 39. the hinds bring forth their young easily; so that there can be no room for the idea of Bochart and others being referred to here, that they bring forth with difficulty. “It strips the forests,” is, it strips them of their attire, their branches and leaves. The Chaldee has correctly given the sense of the last words: In His upper sanctuary all His servants praise His glory before Him. A common exposition is, The whole universe, heaven, and earth, and sea, together with all that they contain, are awed by the glory of the Lord, as seen in a thunder-storm, and feel themselves called upon to praise Him. But the only correct point in this exposition, is its opposition to another, according to which, by “the temple,” is meant “the temple at Jerusalem.” The temple of God, however, is much rather, according to Psalms 11:4, Psalms 18:6, His heavenly dwelling-place, and those who there praise His glory are the angels. The correctness of this interpretation appears also from Psalms 29:1 and Psalms 29:2. The angels in this verse, after they have seen the Divine glory, comply with the exhortation which the Psalmist had addressed to them, grounded upon that manifestation. If they, the highest of all God’s creatures, are filled with holy awe before the Divine glory, how great must that glory be, and how easily may the Church of God, which is sure of His protection, trample all danger and all fear under foot! He, whom angels praise, must impart to His people unassailable protection against all their enemies. The suffix in כלו , refers back to the temple,—its entirety, the entirety of that which is therein, or of those who are therein. כלו never occurs without a preceding noun n to which the suffix refers. כבוד , which is to be considered as a cry, “Glory!” has its commentary in the words, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord, the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory,” of the seraphim in Isaiah; where the holiness denotes not specially moral excellence, but also the infinite superiority of God to all created beings, His glory. Compare what has been said on Psalms 22:3.

Several expositors have endeavoured to exhibit a regular progression of thought in the description of the thunder-storm: first, the storm is seen in the sky ( Psalms 29:3-4); then it attacks the hills ( Psalms 29:5-6); and, last of all, its influence is felt in the plains ( Psalms 29:8). But this progression is altogether forced. Psalms 29:4 th contains a description of the voice of the Lord, which is wholly general: it is impossible to see, according to this view, in what way Psalms 29:7 th is brought in; and in Psalms 29:8 th, it is not the plains that are mentioned, but the wilderness with its frequently lofty hills.

There follows now, in Psalms 29:10 and Psalms 29:11, the application: If God is the God of glory, His people need be afraid of nothing.

Verse 10

Ver. 10. The Lord sat at the deluge, and therefore the Lord sits as King for ever. As the Lord on one occasion manifested Himself at the deluge as King and Judge, in the destruction which He prepared for the ungodly, and in the deliverance which He afforded to those who feared Him, therefore will He also,—this confidence the Psalmist had acquired from the majestic sight which he had seen with the eye of his mind, and from the “glory!” of the sons of God, which had penetrated the very depths of his soul,—throughout all eternity, manifest Himself as King and Judge in the deliverance of His people, and in the destruction of all His and their enemies. Sitting is the position peculiar to a king and judge: comp. John 4:12; Revelation 18:7; see also Ges. Thes. on the word. It is more accurately defined by the second clause: “as king” belongs in reality also to the first. That the ל in למבול has reference to time, at the deluge—compare on this usage, Ew. Sm. Gr. 527; Ges. Thes. 730; the ל is, in such cases, as it is always, the particle of proximity—appears from the corresponding לעולם , in which the usage of ל seems to have given rise to its usage in למבול . The article points to a particular flood, and directs attention manifestly to the deluge—an event which would occur all the more suitably to the mind of the Psalmist, that the Lord had, on that occasion, manifested His glory in the tempest. This is evident, as מבול is used only of the deluge, Genesis 6:17, Genesis 7:6-7, etc.—a word which, even at the time when the Pentateuch was composed, had disappeared from the ordinary language, and had been handed down as a kind of proper noun for that particular flood, with the memory of it, from the times of old. The Fut. with the V. conv. וישב , intimates, that what is to come, develops itself out of what has already been.

Other translations of the verse are to be rejected; such as: the Lord sits on the floods; He directs the inundations which follow a thunder-storm, and guides them; or, He is enthroned above the floods of the sky. But, in addition to the Preterite and the מבול , it may be urged, that into the conclusion of the Psalm, where an application only is appropriate, an unsuitable element is introduced.

Verse 11

Ver. 11. The Lord shall give strength to His people; the Lord shall bless His people with peace. The second clause points to the beginning and end of the Mosaic blessing “May the Lord bless thee—and give thee peace.” Jo. Arnd remarks on the first clause: “This is glorious consolation against the contempt and persecutions of poor Christians, the little flock, which has no outward protection in the world, no outward strength. But the Holy Ghost imparts consolation, and says, The world shall not give strength and power to the Church, but the Lord; as king Jehosaphat comforted himself when he said, ‘With them is an arm of flesh, but with us is the Lord of Hosts;’ and John, ‘He who is in us, is greater than he who is in the world.’”

Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 29". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-29.html.
 
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