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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Psalms 29

 

 

Introduction

This Psalm appears to have been written during or after a storm of particular violence. And we should recognise that when such storms occur in Palestine they can be very violent and very vivid indeed. Thus the very power of this storm brings home to the Psalmist the majesty and power of YHWH. ‘Look at this, O heavenly ones,’ he is saying to the angelic host. ‘And consider the glory of YHWH.’

He is so moved by the storm that, in the midst of the clashing of the thunder, the powerful streaks of lightning lighting up the sky, the powerful wind sweeping across the land and stripping the trees, and the drenching rain pouring from the heavens enveloping everything around, he feels that the only ones he can address are the glorious beings who surround the throne, because only they can appreciate what they are seeing. And he calls on them with their knowledge of the glory of YHWH to bear witness to that glory as revealed in the storm, and worship Him in the beauty of His majestic holiness. For he is seeing behind the storm to what it tell him about YHWH.

Then he turns to a consideration of the phenomena of the storm itself, and describes it in vividly poetic style,. Picturesquely he brings out the voice of the thunder, shaking the clouds which are full of flood water, or rolling over the floods which are already being caused by the drenching rain, and vividly portrays the dancing trees which are behaving like living creatures caught up in the storm. He draws our attention to the blinding streaks of forked lightning flashing down from the sky, lightning which in its plurality appears to be hewed out by YHWH, and describes equally vividly the bushes in the semi-desert of Kadesh as they are shaken in the tempest. And he visualises the cowering hinds who in their anxiety at the storm have been brought into a state of premature birth, and finishes with a description of the great forest which is itself being stripped bare of its leaves by the mighty wind. And his summation of all that he has described is simply this, ‘and in His Temple everything says glory’.

He then finally follows all this up with a vivid picture of the heavenly King as He once sat in His majesty at the Flood, and is still sitting there in the same majesty this very day. That is what the storm is saying to him. But the thought is not that God will now destroy the earth for a second time, but that He sits there as the One Whose purpose is to impart something of this mighty strength to His people, so that even when the very foundations of life appear to be shaken, they can know that He is there, and will, even in the storms of life, bless them with a remarkable peace which is in startling contrast to all that has described before. In the midst of a world which appears to have been torn apart the believer hears a voice which says, ‘Peace, perfect peace, in this dark (and violent) world of sin, the blood of Jesus whispers peace within’.

Isaiah put it another way, but with the same majestic perspective, when he says, ‘For thus says the high and lofty One, Who inhabits eternity, Whose Name is Holy. “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also who is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones’ (Isaiah 57:15).

Heading.

‘A Psalm of David.’


Verse 1-2

The Psalmist Calls On The Angelic Hosts To Bear Witness To The Glory Of YHWH As Revealed In A Devastating Storm (Psalms 29:1-2).

Psalms 29:1

‘Ascribe to YHWH, O you sons of heavenly ones (or ‘of mighty ones’ or ‘of God’),

Ascribe to YHWH glory and strength.


Psalms 29:2

Ascribe to YHWH the glory due to his name,

Worship YHWH in holy array.

The Psalmist commences by calling on the mighty heavenly host, ‘the sons of heavenly ones’, to behold the storm and ascribe glory and strength to YHWH, and to worship Him in their holy array (their holy garments for beauty - compare Exodus 28:2). For he feels that even to them this mighty storm must surely indicate something of the glory and strength of YHWH, and reveal Him as fitting of all honour, and as having power over all things (compare Psalms 29:10).

‘O you sons of heavenly ones (bene elim - compare Psalms 89:6; and also Job 38:7 where we have bene elohim).’ Compare for this the bene ha-elohim of Job 1:6; Job 2:1; Genesis 6:2 where we must render ‘sons of God’. Whether the lack of article and lack of ‘h’ justifies the different translation is a moot point, for the form is poetical. But the question is not of too much importance because whichever way we translate these are not seen as literally ‘sons of God’ but as a class of ‘God-like’ beings (‘sons of --’ indicates ‘being like, being followers of’) compare Psalms 89:6-7; Psalms 97:7 c. And yet they too ascribe strength and glory to YHWH and worship Him in their devastatingly beautiful and holy garments. They are a class apart from men, but still worshippers of YHWH.

‘The beauty of holiness.’ This is a possible translation, and there are a number of alternative suggestions as to its meaning:

1) That ‘the beauty’ refers to their gorgeous clothing which sets them apart as God’s servants, compare similarly ‘the beauty of holiness (holy beauty)’ in 2 Chronicles 20:21, and the garments for beauty in Exodus 28:2.

2) That ‘the beauty’ refers to God in the beauty of His holiness.

3) That the heavenly court are seen as wholly dedicated as servants to God, which is seen as making them truly ‘beautiful’ in their behaviour and attitude.

4) That the moral holiness of these heavenly beings is in itself their beauty.

There may in fact be a combination of thought in that Heaven is a place of holy beauty both because God is there and because of the angels who do His bidding. Here it may well indicate distinctive character (holiness - set apartness) in contrast to man.

The whole idea is that these glorious beings all worship YHWH and ascribe glory to Him, and that they can hardly help doing so in the face of this mighty storm with its primordial connections going to the very heart of creation. It is not just a question of very bad weather or even the majesty of the storm. It is a seeing in the mighty storm all the forces of nature that lie behind it, forces which God has under control, and which are the result of the way He created the world. As such they had once been let loose at the Flood, and the thought behind it is that if God were not reigning over it then the whole universe would go into reversal. Compare Colossians 1:17 where Jesus is described in terms of ‘He is before all things, and by Him all things hold together’.


Verses 3-9

A Vivid Description Of The Mighty And Unforgettable Storm (Psalms 29:3-9).

The Psalmist now vividly describes the power and awesomeness of the storm, and ends up with visualising true believers sheltering in the Temple and crying, “Glory!” They thus join with Heaven itself (Psalms 29:1-2) in ascribing glory to ‘the Lord’.

Psalms 29:3

‘The voice of YHWH,

Is upon the waters,

The God of glory thunders,

YHWH is upon many waters.

Attention now turns to the storm itself. ‘The voice of YHWH’ occurs seven times in the Psalm indicating its importance to his meaning, ad stressing the completeness of the divine activity. Here is the voice of the Creator at work upon His creation. We can compare the seven references to ‘and God said’ in Genesis 1:3-25 prior to the creation of man (or alternately one for each day and two on the sixth day). And there too the voice of God had spoken on the waters (Genesis 1:9), and now here it is happening again. But this time the voice is a voice of thunder and it is reverberating on many waters, and is a reminder of the Flood (Psalms 29:10). This vivid picture may be indicating that He sits over the storm clouds which are just waiting to pour out their floods as He thunders upon them (Psalms 18:11-12; Jeremiah 10:13), or it may indicate that they have already poured out much of their contents, so that it already almost appears as though the whole land is again about to be flooded (compare Psalms 29:10, where mabbul is used, a word which is a reminder of The Flood and only used of that, being found eleven times in Genesis 7-11, and otherwise only here). Either way He is in control and will not allow another such disaster to happen (Genesis 9:11). However, the point is that He could if He wanted to, all the power is there to be able to do it again, but that instead it is rather His intention to exercise His tremendous power on behalf of His people (Psalms 29:11). And what is being described here is the voice of the God of glory mentioned in Psalms 29:1 performing His own will.

It is instructive to consider what His voice will do, for all is at His command. It is powerful and full of majesty (Psalms 29:4). It breaks the cedars in pieces, and makes them skip like young cattle (Psalms 29:5-6). It hews out and separates the lightning (Psalms 29:7). It ‘shakes’ the wilderness (Psalms 29:8). It causes the pregnant hinds to calve (Psalms 29:9 a) It strips the forest of its leaves (Psalms 29:9 b). And the resulting cry comes back from the Temple of, “Glory”, as it brings home to His people the majesty of YHWH.

It is valuable in this regard to see the whole canvas, before considering the detail.

Psalms 29:3-9

‘The voice of YHWH,

Is upon the waters,

The God of glory thunders,

YHWH is upon many waters.

The voice of YHWH is powerful,

The voice of YHWH is full of majesty.

The voice of YHWH breaks the cedars,

Yes, YHWH breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.

He makes them also to skip like a calf,

Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild-ox.

The voice of YHWH hews out the flames of fire.

The voice of YHWH shakes the wilderness,

YHWH shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of YHWH makes the hinds to calve,

And strips the forests bare,

And in his temple everything says, “Glory.”

Having thus read it and appreciated its beauty and its forcefulness we will now consider it verse by verse.

Psalms 29:4

‘ The voice of YHWH is powerful,

The voice of YHWH is full of majesty.

As a poet he sees the storm as revealing the power and majesty of the voice of YHWH. He sees all this as happening because YHWH is speaking, and His voice is powerful and full of majesty.

Psalms 29:5

The voice of YHWH breaks the cedars,

Yes, YHWH breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.

In those ancient days nothing seemed more firm and solid than the cedars of Lebanon. They stood there firm and strong, appearing to withstand the tide of history, and were seen as ‘high and lifted up’ (Isaiah 2:13). But before this mighty storm they are broken as though they are but matchsticks. YHWH speaks and the cedars come crashing down, and their mighty roots are torn up, while others are simply torn apart leaving their stems sticking up into the air.
29:6

He makes them also to skip like a calf,

Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild-ox.

Even the stolid mountains of Lebanon and Hermon are made to skip like a calf and dance about like a young wild-ox as a result of His activity. Sirion is the ancient name for Mount Hermon (compare Deuteronomy 3:9). Unless there was an earthquake, we must see here the effect of the storm on what was growing on them. All the trees and vegetation were swaying in, and torn by, the wind, making the mountains look alive, and this went on until the vegetation could stand the pressure no longer and collapsed before the storm. It is a picture of huge desolation.

Psalms 29:7

The voice of YHWH hews out the flames of fire.

And all around were streaks of lightning flashing from Heaven as though they were being hewn out by YHWH. The Psalmist stands in awe as he sees the continual forked lightning splitting the sky, and setting on fire the trees and vegetation, as the thunder continually rolls. He sees it as the very voice of YHWH from Heaven.

Psalms 29:8

The voice of YHWH shakes the wilderness,

YHWH shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

And at the other end of the country, in the semi-desert of the Negev, the bushes and trees are shaken, and torn up by their roots, as a mighty hurricane sweeps the land. It is as though the whole area is being taken up and shaken. And it occurs at the command of YHWH. He speaks and it is done. In it is a hint of the reversal of creation, a reminder of what could happen if the Creator withheld His hand.

Psalms 29:9

The voice of YHWH makes the hinds to calve,

And strips the forests bare,

And in his temple everything says, “Glory.”

Meanwhile wildlife also is affected. Such is the effect of this powerful storm that the pregnant hinds come to birth before their time. Nature is being shaken through and through. They are but a vivid example of a more general catastrophe. We are left to imagine the wild beasts cowering in their lairs.

And the great forests of Canaan are being stripped of their leaves as the howling wind tears through them, until the whole of the forests have been laid bare. And all this again at the sevenfold voice of YHWH.

‘In His temple everything says, “Glory!”. This may have reference to the heavenly Temple where the angelic hosts are gathered watching in awe this mighty storm, the like of which has not been seen before within the lifetime of those who witnessed it on earth. Or it may signify that the people had gathered in the security of the Temple and were now, along with the angelic hosts, crying ‘glory’ to the Lord. Alternately the idea might be that the symbolism of all the furniture in the Temple is crying glory to the Lord, for which compare Hebrews 8:5; Hebrews 9:1 to Hebrews 10:14.


Verse 10-11

This Mighty Phenomenon, And Its Limitation, Arises Because YHWH Is Seated In Power In Control Of His Creation, Paradoxically Aiming Through The Storm To Give Strength To His People And To Give Them Peace (Psalms 29:10-11).

The end of the Psalm comes as a surprise. Far from being seen as a judgment of God this mighty display of power is seen as revealing His intention to make His people strong and give them peace. For it is a reminder that He Who originally brought the Flood upon the world, and controls all that happens on earth, still reigns as King, and instead of again destroying the world will utilise His power in giving strength to His people and in establishing them in peace and security. Out of seeming chaos will come blessing.

God is revealed in the same way at the cross. As Jesus hung on the cross all the mighty devastation of the ages was heaped upon Him. But from it was to flow strength to His people, peace with God and a peace which passes all understanding.

Psalms 29:10

‘YHWH sat as King at the Flood,

Yes, YHWH sits as King for ever.’

And what does this huge act of power demonstrate? It demonstrates that the same YHWH Who once sat as King when the Flood came on the earth and devastated it, is still the same YHWH Who sits on His throne and reigns today. His power is still unlimited. And yet the very fact that they have survived the storm is an illustration of the fact of God’s mercy. He has not again brought a Flood upon the earth. He reigns supreme and nature is subject to His will, and His voice.

Psalms 29:11

‘YHWH will give strength to his people.

YHWH will bless his people with peace.’

And the Psalmist’s final remarkable conclusion is that this great power which has caused this devastating storm, the like of which has not been seen before in his lifetime, and which has been a manifestation of the glory of YHWH, is the same power that YHWH will exercise in order to strengthen His people and give them peace. He will work in them to will and to do of His good pleasure. And none know this better than those whose whole hope is placed on what God accomplished at the cross and through the resurrection. That was a storm indeed.

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 29:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/psalms-29.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, September 19th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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