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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries
Psalms 29

 

 

Verses 1-11

EXPOSITION

THIS is a psalm of praise to God, and at the same time one intended to comfort and cheer his people. It consists of three parts:

Psalms 29:1

Give unto the Lord, O ye mighty; literally, ye sons of the mighty. It is disputed who are meant. Most commentators suggest the holy angels (Rosenmuller, Hengstenberg, 'Speaker's Commentary,' ' Four Friends,' Professor Alexander, Cheyne, etc.); but some think the heathen (Michaelis, Kay); and others, the mighty ones of the earth generally (Koster), to be meant. Give unto the Lord glory and strength; i.e. praise his Name, ascribe to him glory and strength and every other excellency.

Psalms 29:2

Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his Name (comp. Psalms 96:8); literally, the glory of his Name; i.e. the glory properly belonging to it. Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness (comp. Psalms 96:9). This is generally explained as an exhortation to worship God in beautiful vestments, or with all the accessories of a beautiful ceremonial; but Dr. Alexander rightly questions whether the Beauty inherent in holiness itself is not meant. The apostle speaks of "the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit" (1 Peter 3:4). And in goodness and holiness of every kind there is a sweetness and grace which may well be called "beauty," seeing that it has a close analogy with the beautiful in external nature and in art. The Greeks expressed physical beauty and moral perfection by one and the same term— τὸ καλόν.

Psalms 29:3

The voice of the Lord is upon the waters. The description of God's might in the thunderstorm now begins with one of the sudden transitions which David loves. "The voice of the Lord"—already identified with the thunder in Psalms 18:13—is suddenly heard muttering in the height of heaven, "upon the waters;" i.e. the waters stored in the clouds that float on high in the air. The God of glory—the God set forth in Psalms 18:1, Psalms 18:2thundereth. It is he himself, according to the psalmist, no minor agent. The Lord (Jehovah) is upon the many (or, great) waters (comp. Job 37:2-5 and Psalms 18:7-14).

Psalms 29:4

The voice of the Lord is powerful; literally, in power, or with power (LXX; ἐν ἰσχύΐ). The voice of the Lord is full of majesty; literally, in majesty, or with majesty. Two somewhat distant crashes, each louder than the preceding one, are thought to be represented—the storm sweeping on, and gradually drawing nearer and more near.

Psalms 29:5

The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars. At length down swoops the hurricane—wind and rain and forked flashes of lightning all blended together, and violently tearing through the forest. The tall cedars—the pride and glory of Syria and Palestine—are snapped like reeds, and fall in a tangled mass. The Lord, who erstwhile "planted them" (Psalm cir. 16), now breaketh the cedars of Lebanon—breaketh and destroyeth them in his fury. Such storms, though rare in Palestine and Syria, are sometimes witnessed; and descriptions have been given by travellers which bear out this one of David.

Psalms 29:6

He maketh them also to skip like a calf (comp. Psalms 18:7). As the thunder crashes and rolls and reverberates among the mountains, it seems as though the mountains themselves shook, and were moved from their places. This is expressed with extreme vividness, though no doubt with truly Oriental hyperbole, in the present passage. Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn; rather, like a young wild ox. Lebanon and Sirion, or Hermon (Deuteronomy 3:9), are the two principal mountains of Palestine, Hermon being visible throughout almost the whole extent of the Holy Land, and Lebanon enjoying a commanding position beyond Galilee to the north. The storm which shook these lofty mountain-tracts would indeed be a manifestation of power,

Psalms 29:7

The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire; rather, the voice of the Lord heweth out flames of fire. The poet describes the appearances of things, not the actual reality. To him it seems as if the thunder, rolling along the sky, hewed out a chasm in the clouds, from which the forked lightning issued.

Psalms 29:8

The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness; yea, the Lord shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh. Kadesh seems to be mentioned as lying at the opposite extremity of Palestine from Lebanon and Hermon, so that the storm is made, by a magnificent hyperbole, to extend over the entire Holy Land, from the far north to the extreme south, and to embrace at once the lofty mountain-chains which are rather Syrian than Palestinian, the hills and valleys of Palestine proper, and the arid region of the south where Judaea merges into Arabia.

Psalms 29:9

The voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to calve. Plutarch says, "Shepherds accustom their flocks in a thunderstorm to keep together, and put their heads in the same direction; for such as are left alone and separated from the rest through terror cast their young" ('Sympos.,' Quest. 2.). And Pliny, "Solitary sheep cast their lambs in thunderstorms; the remedy is to keep the flock together, since it helps them to have company." A traveller in South Africa observes, "In Bechuanaland, when there are heavy thunderstorms, the antelopes flee in consternation; and the poor Bechuanas start off on the morning following such a storm in quest of the young which have been cast through horror". And discovereth the forests; or, strippeth the forests. Denudes them of their leaves and branches. And in his temple doth every one speak of his glory; i.e. his grand temple, or palace (heykal), of heaven and earth. In this temple "every one," or rather everything, all that is in it. is continually speaking of his glory (literally, "says, Glory!").

Psalms 29:10

The Lord sitteth upon the flood. Most moderns translate, "The Lord sat (as King) at the Flood," and understand by "the Flood" the great Noachian Deluge (Rosenmuller, Hengstenberg, Kay, Revised Version). Some, however, regard this as a forced and unnatural interpretation (Bishop Horsley, ' Four Friends,' 'Speaker's Commentary'), and think the flood accompanying the storm just described (Psalms 29:3-9), or floods and inundations generally, to be meant. It is difficult to decide between the two interpretations. Yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever. As God has sat as King in the past, whether at the great Deluge or at any other flood or floods, so will he ever "sit as King" in the future.

Psalms 29:11

The Lord will give strength unto his people. The Lord, who shows his strength in the thunderstorm, will be able, and assuredly will be willing, to "give strength to his people"—to impart to them some of that power and might which he so abundantly possesses. Then they, partaking in his strength, need not fear the attacks of any adversaries. Struggle and contention will, by his good providence, be one day brought to an end; and ultimately the Lord will bless his people with peace—will give them the "rest which remaineth to the people of God" (Hebrews 3:9), the perfect peace which "passeth all understanding" (Philippians 4:7).

HOMILETICS

Psalms 29:2

The beauty of holiness.

To every devout Israelite Jerusalem was "the perfection of beauty," "the joy of the whole earth" (Psalms 48:2; Psalms 50:2); because the temple of the Lord was there. Its gorgeous ritual, white-robed priests and Levites, choral psalms, clangour of trumpets, harps, cymbals, all seemed the highest ideal of worship, the very visible "beauty of holiness." To all this we may well see an allusion in these words. Hence the Revisers put in the margin, "holy array;" and some even render, "holy vestments." But the Hebrew word is not "vestments," but "splendour" or "majestic adornment." And it is not to priests and Levites these words are spoken, but to angels (Psalms 29:1; Psalms 89:6); and in Psalms 96:9 to the "kindreds of the people" (Revised Version), q.d. all the families of mankind. Therefore we recognize a higher, more spiritual meaning, of which all the glory of temple-worship was a faint shadow. To perceive "the beauty of holiness," we must first know what holiness really means.

I. WHAT IS HOLINESS? The Bible gives a triple answer—three steps, from the lowest to the loftiest views, from ritual to spiritual, from spiritual to Divine. Holiness is

1. Consecrationdedication, or devotion to God. In this sense, things, places, times, ceremonies, as well as persons, are continually spoken of in the Old Testament as "holy to the Lord." The ground round the burning bush was holy (Exodus 3:5), as long as God's presence was manifested there. So was the place where, for the time, the tabernacle was pitched. When the bush ceased to burn; when the cloud rose from the tabernacle, and Israel marched to a new resting-place,—the wild creatures roamed over those spots as common ground. The notion of indelible sanctity communicated by ceremonies is foreign to the Bible; things, places, etc; were holy because actually employed in God's service. No pains were spared to impress the idea that nothing is too pure or good to give to God. The victims must be without blemish; vessels, of precious material and perfect workmanship; bread, unleavened; altar, built of whole stones; priests, free from all bodily defect; the very clothes of worshippers washed clean. Yet upon the tabernacle, the vessels, the priests, the people, must be sprinkled the blood of atonement. The lesson was that even our holiness is stained with sin in God's all-searching eyes (Hebrews 9:14, Hebrews 9:23; Hebrews 10:19; 1 John 1:7-9).

2. Likeness to God is the higher, deeper view of holiness, to which all these forms of outward holiness were designed to lead. Before a single rite was enacted, or Aaron consecrated, the people were told to be "a kingdom of priests, a holy nation" (Exodus 19:6). Again and again, like a trumpet-peal or a minster bell, sounds out the great command, "Be ye holy; for I am holy." The teaching of the New Testament cannot go beyond this (1 Peter 1:16). There are those who tell us that the Old Testament ideas of holiness were not moral or spiritual, but ritual and external. This text confutes them. Could any Israelite be so dull as not to see that all this outward ceremonial was meant to inspire deep reverence, profound worship, in thinking and speaking of God, and drawing men to him; but that God's holiness which he was bidden to imitate, must be personal purity, righteousness, goodness; and that to be truly holy, we must be like God (comp. Isaiah 6:1-6)?

3. Therefore our highest idea of holiness is this—It is God's own character. Thought cannot soar above this. Uninspired human thought has never risen so high. The Bible idea of Divine holiness—perfect moral and spiritual excellence—as much excels all heathen religious teaching as noontide, twilight. It is summed up in 1 John 1:5; 1 John 3:8.

II. THE BEAUTY OF HOLINESS MUST, LIKE TRUE HOLINESS ITSELF, BE SPIRITUAL, INWARD. Yet also manifest; for beauty is something we can behold, if not with the eyes, with the mind. Not a beauty we confer, by clothing, adorning, materializing the spiritual; but a beauty it confers on us, by purifying and exalting. If the heart be consecrated, the life that flows from it will be beautiful. All the outward beauty of God's works is a parable of loveliness of character and soul. Sunbeams are not so bright as loving smiles; the rose and the lily are less lair than modesty and innocence; the gorgeous sunset less grandly beautiful than the calm evening of a holy life.

REMARKS.

1. The perfect "beauty of holiness" is seen in the Lord Jesus; at once the Revelation and the Reflection of God's character in human nature—"Immanuel."

2. This beauty can be truly seen only by those whose eyes are opened (John 1:14 contrasted with Isaiah 53:1-12 :27).

3. The life of every Christian ought to be beautiful. (Matthew 5:16.)

HOMILIES BY C. CLEMANCE

Psalms 29:1-11

The glorious sceptre of universal power.

There are many productions of poets and poetesses, celebrating the grandeur of nature, and the glory of God as manifested in the works of his hands; but there are none which, even in a poetical point of view, surpass those in Job 26:1-14; Job 28:1-28; Job 38:1-41.; Isaiah 40:1-31.; Psalms 104:1-35; Psalms 19:1-14; Psalms 147:1-20; and that in the psalm before us now, which rises to the very noblest heights of Hebrew poetry, in its symmetry and grandeur. Bishop Perowne (who acknowledges his obligations to Ewald therein) has a most interesting introduction to this psalm, in which he points out the beauty of its structure, as in its grand description of a tempest it shows the storm at its height of majesty, and then in its subsidence to comparative calm. And, verily, even on this lower ground of poetic beauty, he would be by no means to be envied who could read it without a strange commingling of rapture, wonder, and awe. We seem to hear the roll of the ocean, to listen to the pealing thunder, to watch the flash of the lightning, the crashing of the trees of the forest, the heaving of the mountains, as if they were loosed from their foundations by an earthquake, Lebanon and Sirion £ leaping as wild creatures free from all restraint. But while it is to the descriptions of all this grandeur and majesty that some expositors chiefly call our attention, neither nature's grandeur nor majesty is the main topic of the psalm. By no means; but rather the glory of HIM whose dominion extendeth over all! In the eye of the psalmist, all the forces of nature are under one sceptre; that sceptre is wielded by one hand; that hand is moved by one heart, even that of our redeeming God. Such is the theme before us. £

I. HERE POWER IN VARIED MANIFESTATIONS IS TRACED TO ONE SOURCE. There are five thoughts which are presented cumulatively.

1. Power in nature's works and wonders specially as shown in storm and tempest, lightning and thunder, earthquake and mountain wave. Note: The larger our knowledge of natural science, the more capable shall we be of discoursing with interest, delight, and profit to others on these "wonderful works of God." £

2. Power in providential administration. (Psalms 147:10.) "The Lord sat enthroned at the flood." This word rendered "flood" is the one applied to the Deluge of Noah, and only so applied. Hence it seems to include the specific thought that over and above all merely natural disclosures of power, there is a moral enthronement, whereby natural phenomena are made subservient to moral ends. Not only is every atom kept in harness, but the collocation of atoms is subsidiary to the discipline of souls.

3. There is gracious loving-kindness towards his own people. (Psalms 147:11.) "His people." There are those in the world marked off from the rest by tokens known to God alone. They are his, having "made a covenant with him by sacrifice" (Psalms 50:5). And with reference to them, there is a grace marvellous in its tenderness. The same Being who can thunder most loudly can also whisper most sweetly, and can also give out blessings to his own.

4. He who thus rules in nature, providence, grace, is the everlasting King. (Psalms 147:10.) "King for ever! 'The sceptre of universal power will never drop from his hands, nor will he ever transfer it to another (Psalms 97:1). The hand that upholds all will never become weary. The eye that watches all will never droop with fatigue. The arms that clasp believers in their embrace will never relax their hold. The voice that whispers, "Peace!" will never be stilled in death. The love that enriches with blessing will never be chilled. "King for ever!"

5. He who is this everlasting King is our redeeming God. The usual term for God as the God of nature is "Elohim" (Genesis 1:1). But here we are reminded that the God who thunders in the heavens and controls the swelling seas; that he who guides the forked lightning, is "Jehovah," the "I am that I am," the Lord who has thus revealed himself to his people as their God. And the great Ruler of nature is he who exercises loving-kindness, righteousness, and judgment in the earth, in order that he that glorieth may glory in the Lord.

II. SUCH THOUGHTS OF GOD MAY WELL EVOKE GRATEFUL SONG. They know not how much of gladness and inspiration they lose who cannot see God everywhere. To see law everywhere and God nowhere would be enough to crush us. To see God everywhere working by law inspires rest and joy: our "Father is at the helm." Note: Since we have such disclosures of God, we have:

1. Unity in diversity. The seemingly complicated question of" the origin of force "£ is settled once for all by the man who sees God. And this privilege is reserved for "the pure in heart" (Matthew 5:8).

2. Since one God is over all, natural phenomena as well as providential incident may be made fuel for the religious life. A thunderstorm may aid worship.

3. Since one Being is the Origin of all kinds of force, prayer for natural blessings and temporal mercies is perfectly reasonable; e.g. prayer for rain. It is quite true that prayer and rain lie in totally distinct spheres. £ But since the same Being who hears one sends the other, the spheres find their unity at his throne.

4. Since the God who governs all is One whom we know, we may read and sing of glory under all circumstances and everywhere. (Psalms 147:9.) "In his temple every whir of it uttereth glory; "or, "In his temple every one says, Glory!" Yes; we may triumph everywhere since our God is "King for ever!"

5. Holy awe may well combine with triumph, and loyalty with praise. For God "sits enthroned"—such is the sublime figure suggested here. And "his people" though we are by grace, his absolute sovereignty must never be forgotten by us (Psalms 147:2); ever must we give unto the Lord "the glory due unto his Name," £ and "worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness"—in holy attire, even in the "fine linen which is the righteousness of saints" (Revelation 19:8), "having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water" (Hebrews 10:22).

6. Amid all natural convulsions and national upheavings, let confidence and hope remain undisturbed. "King for ever!" Then, however gloomy the outlook of events, nothing can happen beyond the bounds of Divine control, nothing which he cannot make subservient to the inbringing of his everlasting kingdom. "Therefore will not we fear, though the earth be removed, and the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea" (Psalms 46:2).—C.

HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH

Psalms 29:1-11

The works and the Word of God

should not be separated. They are both revelations, and the one is necessary to the right interpretation of the other. If we study God's works by themselves, we are apt to forget God's Word, and so forget God himself. If, on the other hand, we confine ourselves to God's Word, we are in danger of falling into a similar error—that of forgetting God's presence in his works, and so turning the world without us into a world without God. The psalmist shows us a more excellent way. "The occasion of this psalm is a thunderstorm; but it does not limit itself to the external natural phenomenon, but in it perceives the self-attestation of the God of redemptive history" (Delitzsch). If Psalms 8:1-9. should be read at night when the sky is bright with stars, and Psalms 19:1-14. by day when the sun is high in the heavens, this should be studied in the gloom of the storm, when the lightnings flash and the thunders roll, and the terrors of the Lord are on every side. It is then we can realize its deep grandeur and beauty, and feel its power to bring us nearer God.

1. The first thing is that we should take the right standpoint. "Not to the earth confined ascend to heaven." We must rise above the things seen, above the various forces working around us, above the mere reasonings and imaginations of our own hearts. We must take our place by the side of the highest, "the God-like ones," "the sons of the mighty"—the angels, who are in truest sympathy with God. It is as we hear with their ears, and see with their eyes, and enter into fellowship with them in mind and spirit, that we can truly behold Jehovah's glory, and fitly sing his praise (Psalms 19:1).

2. The true spirit with which to contemplate the magnificent spectacle is reverence and trust (Psalms 19:2). Thus prepared, we are able to recognize God's presence. A "voice" implies a speaker. Behind all the glory of visible and natural things there is the glory of God. He is the Force of all forces, and the Life of all life. The man of science may see nothing in the thunderstorm but cold material law, and the savage may recognize only a mysterious power which fills his soul with fear and trembling; but if we are of the same spirit as the psalmist, we can rise from the seen to the unseen, and acknowledge the presence and the glory of God.

3. Further, we are able to confess with humility and awe the supreme majesty of God. The storm in progress witnesses to his eternal power and Godhead. We behold his glory as the Lord of heaven and earth. We see him not only as the Lord of the "waters," but of the dry land; not only of "the cedars," but of all living creatures; not only of the children of men, but of all the host of heaven (Psalms 19:3-9).

4. Lastly, we are able to rejoice in God as our God, the supreme Object of our fear and love. The psalm ends as it began, with God. At the beginning we are raised from earth to heaven, and in the close we have heaven brought down to earth. It is as we ascend with Christ to God that God will descend with Christ to us. Thus we are enabled to confide in God as our almighty King and our gracious Redeemer. "The Lord will give strength unto his people." These are the two great blessings of salvation. "Strength" we have lost through sin; but it is recovered through Christ. God's people are strong to do, to suffer, and to endure, to overcome evil and daily to perform their vows in the service or' their Lord (Philippians 4:13). God's people have "peace "—that inner harmony and calm which results from oneness with God. Amidst all the stress and struggle of life, though there should come wars and famines and pestilences, when men's hearts are failing them for fear, they are able to say "It is the Lord!" He will keep us from evil; he will bless us with strength and with peace.—W.F.

Psalms 29:11

The priestly benediction

(Numbers 6:22-27) may be said to be summed up in these two things, "strength" and "peace." Together they make up all that is needed for daily life. When man goes forth in the morning to his work (Psalms 104:23), what he requires is "strength," that he may be able to do the will of God. When the evening comes, what he needs is "peace"—the rest and content of the heart in God. The two things cannot be separated. It is in the measure we use aright the "strength" God gives that we can have "peace." If we are unfaithful, if we alienate to selfish and unworthy purposes the "strength" which should have been wholly devoted to God, we mar our "peace." David has taught us the secret (Psalms 119:165), and David's Son and Lord has made the truth still plainer (John 15:10). "His people." There is nothing arbitrary in this. In one sense all are God's people, for he is the Maker of all. Then in the higher sense all may become God's people if they so choose. But besides, the blessings of "strength" and "peace" can only be received by such as are in a fit state to receive them. There are blessings that are common. There are other blessings that are of a nobler kind, and are necessarily limited to those who can receive them (2 Corinthians 2:11, 2 Corinthians 2:12). The delights of art and science and literature are for those who have a certain preparedness. So it is in spiritual things. We must be weak before we are strong. We must be of one mind with God in Christ before we can have peace (Romans 5:1; John 14:27).—W.F.

HOMILIES BY C. SHORT

Psalms 29:1-11

The thunderstorm.

Compare this with the nineteenth and eighth psalms—all nature psalms. This is a wonderful description of a thunderstorm.

I. THE OMNIPOTENCE OF GOD IN NATURE INSPIRES THE DEVOUT MIND WITH THE SPIRIT OF WORSHIP. Inspires the common mind with fear. The scientific mind with inquiry. Inflames the imagination of the poetic mind. But fills the devout mind with the spirit of worship of the great invisible Creator. "Give unto the Lord the honour [or, 'glory'] due unto his Name." Every manifestation of God is interesting to the religious man.

II. THAT THE DEVOUT MAN SEEKS FOR SYMPATHY AND FELLOWSHIP IN HIS WORSHIP. (Psalms 29:1, Psalms 29:2.) He calls upon the whole invisible world of the sons of God to give glory to God in the "beauty of holiness," or in holy apparel, i.e. dressed as priests in spotless attire.

1. Human praise is poor and inadequate. And he would have the angelic choir give full-voiced utterance to God's glory in higher strains than he could reach.

2. The spirit of worship brings man into closer sympathy with his fellow-man. Hence the necessity of public worship, because all our best emotions become deepened when shared with others. We are made for fellowship in all the highest good of life.

III. THE GOD WHO IS MIGHTY IN NATURE WILL GIVE STRENGTH UNTO HIS PEOPLE. The crashing thunderstorm which awakens fear in ordinary minds awakens trust and confidence in the devout mind.

1. He who by his might raises the storm will give strength to the weak and persecuted. He sits above the storm, is Master and King over it; and he sits above the storms of the mind and heart, to control them.

2. lie who quells the storm is able to quell the tumults of the mind, and to give us peace. Christ gave his peace to the disciples; and "the peace of God which passeth all understanding is able to keep [guard] our hearts and minds." It is inward trust and rest, and not outward tranquillity.—S.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 29:4". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/psalms-29.html. 1897.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, September 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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