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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Psalms 29

 

 

Verses 1-11

Psalm 29

[Note.—This is one of the psalms of nature. Keeping his father"s flock at Bethlehem, David may have witnessed such a storm as is here described, gathering around the summit of Hermon in the north, and shaking at the last the wilderness of Kadesh in the south. It is believed that the psalm was sung on the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. In modern synagogues this psalm is appointed for the first day of Pentecost. The Hebrew Psalmist ever remembers the personality of God in nature. He never confounds Personality and Nature as equivalent terms, though he always regards nature as full of God and as revealing God in every phase.]

Peace

"The Lord will bless his people with peace" ( Psalm 29:11)

These words are the more remarkable as occurring in a psalm which sounds like a storm; or, to change the figure, they are like the calm sunset of a most tempestuous day. The Psalmist says, The voice of the Lord is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the Lord is upon many waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars; yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon. He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn. The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire. The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness; the Lord shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh.—After declarations like these, who would expect to hear anything of Peace? Are they not like thunder which shall continue for ever? Yet it is even here, amid storms which shake the forests and make the paths of the seas bare, that we hear a still small voice promising the blessing of peace!

You know what peace Isaiah , do you? Few common terms are less understood. Silence is: not peace; nor is indifference; nor is insensibility; nor is the quiescence which comes of selfish fear of consequences. There cannot be peace where there cannot be passion. It is only in a modified sense that we speak of a tarn, or a pool sheltered on every side, being at peace; but when we speak of a peaceful sea we speak accurately, for the sea is exposed to forces which rouse it into terrible tempests. Peace must, then, be understood as a composite term,—as an affirmative, not as a negative condition. Some men have no sensibilities towards God; they see him, hear him, feel him, nowhere; not in the light, not in the wind, not in the day"s story of gift and love and mercy; they are in a state of moral torpor. Are they at peace with God? Most truly not, for peace is other than death. Where there is true peace there is of necessity a right relation of forces; nothing preponderant, nothing conflicting; everything has its due. In the case of the heart there must be life; that life must balance the entire nature, judgment, conscience, will, affection; towards God there must be intelligence, devotion, constancy; towards man there must be justice, modesty, honour. Finding all this, and we find peace; finding a tendency towards this, and we find a tendency towards peace; finding this in perfection, and we find a peace which passeth understanding.

These explanatory words should put us on our guard against self-delusion, and excite the spirit of self-examination. Let us look at the text as indicating Specialty of Character. A particular class is spoken of,—not a world, but a section,—not everybody, but certain particular persons,—"his people." In one sense all people are his; he created them by his power, he sustains them by his bounty; they hold the breath of their nostrils at his will; if he frown upon them they wither away. Is it not, then, true that in one sense all people are the Lord"s? In another sense all people may be the Lord"s; he addresses the world, he welcomes the nations to the fullest joy of his love; he draws no line of separation, but bids all men look unto him and live. But in this text the Psalmist uses the expression "his people "in a peculiar sense; and if we give it a Christian interpretation, which we are at liberty to do, we may regard it as comprehending all who have exercised repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ,—all who are sealed by the Holy Ghost, and, consequently, all who direct their walk by the guidance of the Comforter and Sanctifier of redeemed men. In so far as we come under this designation we are inheritors of this final blessing,—this blessing of Peace.

This distinction is made the clearer by a special reference to those who set themselves against God, and so put themselves beyond the range of his blessing. We can supply a terrible background to the text "There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked." "Destruction and misery are in their ways, and the way of peace have they not known." "The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt" "The wicked man travaileth with pain all his days." These citations show that "peace" is not an indiscriminate blessing. The sun shines and the rain falls upon all; but "peace" alights only upon those who have acquainted themselves with God, and made themselves at peace with him. What then? Shall we boast of this? God forbid! Shall we carry ourselves contemptuously towards those who are not enjoying the same holy comfort, the same deep sweet calm? Let us rather turn our peace into an appeal to seek theirs, and by the very ecstasy of our joy let us labour to make others happy in the Lord. In calling us to peace, God has not called us to indolence; a deep sleep must not be mistaken for a deep peace. We must resemble in some degree the worlds which are at rest by reason of their velocity. The earth is at rest, yet no wing of flying bird can travel so fast; the light gives no sign of motion, yet no runner can give us the faintest idea of its speed. Rest is the ultimate expression of motion. God is at rest, yet energy is streaming out of him constantly to vivify all the creations of his power. We refer to these things to save the text from abuse, lest the alien should claim the child"s heritage, and lest the child himself should forget his duty to the alien. Such is peace, and such are they to whom the blessing is given.

We have spoken of peace. But there is a peace that is false, against which we should strive with all our might. Some of the Puritan writers were very emphatic on this point:—

"A man that comes into his house at midnight sees nothing amiss; in the daylight he finds many things misplaced. Nature is but a dark lantern, when by it we endeavour to ransack the conscience. Only the light of grace can demonstrate all the sluttish and neglected disorders in our souls."

—Adams, 1653.

"In two ways especially the devil pipes and lulls drowsy consciences asleep—by mirth and by business. Mark this, you that dwell at ease and swim in wealth. Your consciences that lie still like sleepy mastiffs, in plague times and sweating sicknesses they will fly at the throat; they flatter like parasites in prosperity, and like sycophants accuse in adversity. Such consciences are quiet not because they are at peace, but because they are not at leisure."

—Ward, 1577-1639.

"The peace of an ill conscience arises not from any sound security, but rather from want of spiritual exercise. Herein like unto a lame horse, which complains not of his lameness while he lies at ease, but when by travel he becomes sensible of his pain, he cannot endure it, but halts downright"

—Downame, 1642.

"If the pulse beat not, the body is most dangerously sick; if the conscience prick not, there is a dying soul."

—Adams.

"Security is the very suburbs of hell: there is nothing more wretched than a wretched man that recks not his own misery; an insensible heart is the devil"s anvil—he fashions all sin on it, and the blows are not felt"

—Adams.

Such is the testimony of some of England"s great preachers of other days. Their testimony is solemnly, awfully true. Possible to have something like peace, and yet be awakened into tormenting and inappeasable remorse! Possible to think one"s self strong, and yet all the while to be rotting away at the very heart!

We gladly turn from this phase of the subject to point out the practical consequence which ought to flow from such a promise as that "the Lord will bless his people with peace." Surely such a promise should make the Church calm and hopeful under the most distressing circumstances, even though the earth be removed and the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea. It speaks little for our vital relationship to God when we are disturbed by every sound of tumult. Union with God should mean participation in the nature of God; not mere connection, but spiritual oneness; not the union of a link, but the union of life. The good man may be violently tossed about as if God had a controversy with him, yet in the depths of his heart there may be a great peace. The very stress, too, that is put upon him will give him a bolder and richer character if it be accepted filially, and deepen the peace which it threatened to destroy. The good man should not read the surface, or trouble himself with the accidents of the hour. The apostles, when cast down, were not destroyed; when persecuted, were not forsaken. If God be for us, who can be against us? Let men who have no God tremble and be dismayed when portentous shadows stretch over the earth, and reverberating storms shake the atmosphere, and lightning flashes like the sword of awakening vengeance; but they who abide under the wings of the Almighty may

Two things are clear: Out of God there is no peace; in God there is perfect peace. The good man meets every day with a hopeful spirit, and will meet his last day with the most hopeful spirit of all. He will have great peace in the day of death. He knows what death means. Immediately behind death is heaven, and towards that he has been making his toil an aspiration, and his suffering a desire.

We know how the poet, standing in the city, longed for the open country:

Prayer

Almighty God, thou dost train us to strength and lead us to peace by thine own way. What strange things thou dost permit us to see; they shock our sense; yea, sometimes our piety revolts, and we begin to ask our souls most painful questions. Sometimes it seems as if thou wert absent altogether from thy creation, or as if thou hadst turned away from it in disdain, and left all men to do what they please. We have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading themselves like a green bay tree, and we have wondered where their root was, and how they came to be nourished by the light and the dew of heaven; they are not in trouble as other men: their eyes stand out with fatness; their houses are full of beautiful things, and their stables are full of horses, and as for their fields they abound in grass and in corn; and we have said to ourselves, Surely God hath forgotten his own children, and hath lavished his love upon men who never name his name. The evildoer has outrun the doer of good, and has had rest and peace and plenty and fatness, when men whose souls are pure have been left without to lie down where they might, and suffer all the ills of contemptuous fortune. Behold, we have looked upon these things, and we have no answer to them. If they lie within the compass of time, then are we without reply to the mysteries which they present. Whilst we say these things our hearts go down within us; yea, they sink like lead in the waters. Then a voice is heard, saying, Their time is very short, their rope is very little, their opportunity is but a moment long: presently they will consume like the fat of lambs, into smoke shall they consume away, and the place of their root shall know them no more, and their evil shadow shall be chased from the earth. So then we take comfort in the words we have read—for ever; yea, for ever. Then any little measurable time set against this infinite period is as the twinkling of an eye, or as a watch in the night; it is nothingness and disappointment. Then we hear still further music from heaven: Rest in the Lord, wait patiently for him; commit thy way unto the Lord, and he shall bring it to pass; trust in the Lord, and do good. Such exhortations elevate us, bring us to a new level and tone of mind, and make us feel that we are not yet without teaching and without spiritual direction. Thou hast thine own way of teaching thine own school; we cannot tell altogether what it Isaiah , but we have come to believe that it is well, wise, best; we are now willing to do what once we could not do—to wait, to stand still, to expect and hope. This is thy miracle wrought in the heart. We praise thee for it. Once we were blind, now we see; once impatient, now time is nothing to us: the days come, and linger for a moment, and fly away, and the years are rounded off and the hour of consummation draws near. We bless thee for all thy care—tender, minute, full of detail, so that every moment has been treated as an eternity, and every pain as an agony, and every cry of sorrow and need as a mighty prayer. Thou hast anticipated all our wants: whilst we have been praying for them thou hast been spreading the table, so that when our eyes have been opened the feast has been ready. When we have said, We will hasten unto the sanctuary and tell God this, behold messengers have met us to say the prayer is answered. We thank thee for all personal testimony, for direct individual oath, sworn in the court of the universe and in the presence of men and of angels. We thank thee for the assurance that we are standing upon a rock, that what is over us is God"s own blue sky, full of hidden stars and warm with coming summer. So now we have no pain, or fear, or grief, dragging us down into unfaith and despair, but we know that the word of Jesus Christ thy Son shall be realised, that thy kingdom shall come, that thy will shall be done on earth as it is done in heaven, and that thy day will burn as an oven against all evil. We cannot give up this holy truth, this poetry of the soul, this revelation of God; it is most to us when the world is least to us: disappointment helps our prayer; the emptiness of the world suggests the fulness of heaven; when there is no water in the channel, when our feet are pained and bruised by the rocks over which we pass to seek thy fountains, behold a voice says, The river of God is full of water. All this we have learned in the school of Christ under the discipline of the Cross and under the inspiration of God the Holy Ghost. We have learned this because of thy providence in the ages gone. All past time gathers up its fulness in our experience; so that we are not ourselves only: we represent the generations that are passed. We increase the faith of the olden time; we add to it our own experience, and speak it all with our own accent. Look upon men as they need to be looked upon. Too swift a glance would kill some men, because they are so weak; look gently upon those, as if not looking: come to them as a dawning day rather than as a flash of lightning. Speak comfortably to those who are much cast down, whether through bodily infirmity, or circumstantial difficulty, or domestic perplexity, and breathe into such the spirit of hope. Comfort those who do not know what to do because of the many ways which lie before them—some full of temptation, and others hard with difficulty. Be thou the guide and light, and a lamp unto the feet, a directing voice in the soul; then shall men be delivered from perplexity and led in an open way. Pity those who have seen how bad a master the devil Isaiah , and how hot are the wages of sin,—fools who have been led miles down the wrong road, and who have been evasive and false and equivocating, who have tampered with evil, who have compromised with wickedness and have gone near to being criminals, but who this day see how foul is the wrong road, how detestable is the evil spirit, how awful is the pit of hell. They have come back; they are in thy house; they are scourged; they are bent down; they feel that their bones are full of arrows, and that a spear is in their heart Wherein they repent and shed true tears of contrition, thou wilt be pitiful to them, and merciful, with an infinite gentleness, and even they may be brought to see how good a master is Christ, how mighty a Redeemer bows his head upon the Cross. The Lord permit us to walk still in his way, and teach us by the sufferings of others how we may avoid some suffering ourselves; may the lessons of the day not be lost upon us; may the events of the time be eloquent preachers, discoursing of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come; and lead us to say to the living Father, Hold thou me up, and I shall be safe. The Lord heal broken hearts; the Lord himself make soft the bed of pain and the pillow of weariness; the Lord set a lamp in the house at midnight; the Lord receive the prodigal with open arms. Cleanse us by the precious blood—the blood of Christ, the atoning, sacrificial blood,—the mystery of eternity, the mystery of love. Amen.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Psalms 29:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/psalms-29.html. 1885-95.

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