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Psalm 29 Biblical Commentary:
This is a hymn of praise. It gives praise to Yahweh without asking anything in return.
It is also an anti-Baal hymn. Canaanites worshiped Baal as their storm god, responsible for rain and storms. This psalm makes it clear that Yahweh is the true God of rain and storms. It pictures a Yahweh-created storm sweeping away the Baal influence affecting Israel.
A Psalm by David.
In one source this superscription is, ” A psalm; a dedication song for the house. Davidic.” See the comments on verse 9b below about authorship.
PSALM 29:1-2. ASCRIBE TO YAHWEH GLORY AND STRENGTH
1 Ascribe to Yahweh, you sons of the mighty,
ascribe to Yahweh glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to Yahweh the glory due to his name.
Worship Yahweh in holy array.
Note the progression: Ascribe; ascribe; ascribe; worship. The first three lines call the reader to give Yahweh his due––to honor his name––to acknowledge Yahweh’s glory and strength.
The fourth line calls the reader to take the next step. Once the reader has acknowledged Yahweh’s glory and strength, it makes sense to worship him––to bow down in reverence.
“Ascribe (Hebrew: yahab or hab) to Yahweh, you sons of the mighty,
ascribe to Yahweh glory (Hebrew: kabod) and strength” (v. 1). The word yahab (translated “ascribe” here) means to give or come or pay attention. The psalmist calls the reader to give proper credit to Yahweh’s glory and strength––to acknowledge them––to pay attention to them.
The word “glory” (kabod) is used in the Bible to speak of various wonderful things––but especially God’s glory––an aura associated with God’s appearance that reveals God’s majesty to humans.
“Ascribe to Yahweh the glory due to his name” (v. 2a). Names are important. They serve as a proxy (representation) for the person who bears the name. Even today we acknowledge the significance of a person’s good (or bad) name. The psalmist is calling the reader to give Yahweh the glory that he is due.
“Worship (Hebrew: shachah) Yahweh in holy array” (v. 2b). The verb shachah means to bow down or to prostrate oneself or to worship. Once a person has acknowledged Yahweh’s unique glory and strength, the next logical step is to worship Yahweh.
The phrase “in holy array” suggests a worship service where an array of garbed priests would assemble to give Yahweh praise.
PSALM 29:3-4. YAHWEH’S VOICE IS POWERFUL
3 Yahweh’s voice is on the waters.
The God of glory thunders, even Yahweh on many waters.
4 Yahweh’s voice is powerful.
Yahweh’s voice is full of majesty.
“Yahweh’s voice (Hebrew: qol yhwh) is on the waters” (v. 3a). This the beginning of a litany of qol yhwh (Yahweh’s voice). It appears seven times (verses 3, 4 [twice], 5, 7, 8, 9). Imagine the effect of that repetition when this psalm was sung in congregation. If we have the privilege of reading this psalm publicly, we would do well to emphasize “Yahweh’s voice” as it repeats again and again.
God’s voice is powerful. In the creation, “God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:3). By his word, God created an expanse, gathered the waters together in one place, brought forth vegetation, put lights in the sky, and created animals and humans (Genesis 1:6-27).
God’s voice cannot be held by prison walls. It cannot be tamed by chains. It penetrates to our hearts, and breaks the bonds its enemies would impose on it.
“The God of glory thunders, even Yahweh on many waters” (v. 3b). The waters in this verse could be any seas, lakes, or rivers. They could even include the waters in the clouds above the earth––the waters that descend as rain. The idea of rain correlates nicely with the thunder mentioned in this verse.
The voice of thunder is particularly impressive when heard from the confines of a boat––especially a boat on the Mediterranean or a small boat on the Sea of Galilee. A storm at sea (even the Sea of Galilee, which is little more than a lake) can quickly turn deadly. Sailors fear storms at sea––with good reason.
“Yahweh’s voice is powerful.
Yahweh’s voice is full of majesty” (v. 4). This is true of Yahweh’s thundering voice, but it is also true of God’s voice however heard––even when presented as “a still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12). Like thunder, we can both hear and feel Yahweh’s voice. It is majestic, having great power and dignity.
PSALM 29:5-7. YAHWEH ‘S VOICE BREAKS THE CEDARS
5 The voice of Yahweh breaks the cedars.
Yes, Yahweh breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes them also to skip like a calf;
Lebanon and Sirion like a young, wild ox.
7 Yahweh’s voice strikes with flashes of lightning.
“The voice of Yahweh breaks the cedars” (v. 5a). Cedars were the largest and most highly prized trees of that region. Cedars could reach a height of 120 feet (36 meters) and eight feet (2.5 meters) in diameter. They were the only tree in that region large enough for the construction of very large buildings, such as palaces or the temple. They were also prized for their resistance to insects––and for the lovely fragrance that we now associate with cedar chests.
Cedar trees didn’t grow in Israel in significant numbers, but they were plentiful in the snow-capped mountains of Lebanon north of Israel.
But however sturdy a cedar tree might be, it will still be subject to the thundering voice of Yahweh. Yahweh’s stormy voice can tear a cedar from limb to limb––can snap it like a twig.
We once lived in a house with lots of large Douglas Firs––big, brute trees). That area was subject to high winds. One morning we awoke to find that a fir tree 12 inches (30 cm) in diameter had snapped in two about six feet off the ground. On another occasion, a neighbor alerted us that a tree twice that size had blown over in a high wind. We were properly impressed. It also made us just a bit anxious.
“Yes, Yahweh breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon” (v. 5b). The psalmist is talking about more than trees. “Cedars of Lebanon” serves as a metaphor for the region under consideration––this place where Baal worship was so widespread. Yahweh can break not only cedar trees, but can also break false gods––can shatter them into bits and pieces.
“He makes them also to skip like a calf” (v. 6a). This is poetic language. The psalmist pictures stately cedars skipping like a calf––moving this way and that––not at all what we would expect of a great tree.
I would love to see what Walt Disney would have done with these great skipping trees. He wouldn’t have found them unimaginable––not in the least. He would have had them dancing a waltz––or a jitterbug. He might have had them doing the hokey pokey. Disney called that Imagineering.
We know that mighty trees are subject to God’s voice. As I write this, fire storms are consuming tens of thousands of acres of California forests. The heat gets so intense that trees explode into flames. In one moment, a tree is alive and mighty. In the next moment, doomed.
“Lebanon and Sirion like a young, wild ox” (v. 6b). Now we get to the point. Lebanon and Sirion who are skipping like a calf––like a young, wild ox. Lebanon and Sirion are places just north of Israel that are infested with Baal worship. They have seemed mighty and immovable, but they will dance when Yahweh speaks.
Lebanon was especially impressive, with mountains as high as 11,024 feet (3,360 m.). Another range of mountains (the Anti-Lebanons), while not as high, served as a watershed to feed the Pharphar and Abana Rivers on which Damascus was dependent for its water supply. Between the two mountain ranges, the fertile Bekaa Valley supplied abundant food to the populace.
Sirion is the Sidonian or Phoenician name for Mount Hermon, a 9,230 foot (2814 m.) mountain at the extreme north edge of Israel’s tribe of Manasseh. At its base, Mount Hermon is 13 miles wide. It isn’t easy to imagine Mount Hermon skipping like a calf––but if the Lord decides to make it do that, it will skip, skip, skip.
This region at the north edge of Israel was Baal country. Tyre and Sidon were located on the coast there, and their influence permeated the region. King Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, was the daughter of King Ethbaal (which means “Baal is with him”) of Tyre. Ahab and Jezebel set up an altar to Baal and worshiped him (1 Kings 16:31-33). This precipitated Elijah’s opposition, and his challenge to pit Yahweh against Baal on Mount Carmel, also in the far north of Israel (1 Kings 18).
Baal was a Canaanite storm god, known as “Rider of the Clouds” and often pictured with a club in one hand and a spear of lightning in the other. Canaanites appealed to Baal for rain and feared storms at sea attributed to Baal.
So this psalm isn’t really about cedars or mountains. It is about the Yahweh’s power over Baal country––and those who worship Baal. I would say that it is also about Yahweh’s power over Baal, but there was no such thing as Baal. He was only a figment of the imagination of deluded people. He had no power to help or hurt them. He didn’t exist.
“Yahweh’s voice strikes (Hebrew: hoseb) with flashes of lightning” (v. 7). The word hoseb (strikes) is most often associated with hewing or quarrying rock––but it was also used for chopping wood with an ax (Isaiah 10:15). Here the psalmist portrays Yahweh’s voice as using lightning to reshape forests, even as a sculptor would use a chisel to reshape rock––bringing the forest (or the Baal region) into congruity with Yahweh’s intended design.
At first glance, it would appear that the sculpting agent is lightning. That would be plausible, because lightning has great power to shape or reshape things.
But the sculpting agent is only nominally lightning. The real force at work here is Yahweh’s voice––the same voice that created the heavens and the earth––the same voice that created human life (Genesis 1).
We should also note that lightning strikes can be deadly––can split a tree in half or set it on fire. So also Yahweh’s voice can destroy as well as sculpt. If people refuse Yahweh’s efforts to reshape their lives, he will not save them against their will. He will allow them to die. He might even strike them dead.
PSALM 29:8-9. YAHWEH’S VOICE SHAKES THE WILDERNESS
8 Yahweh’s voice shakes the wilderness.
Yahweh shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9 Yahweh’s voice makes the deer calve,
and strips the forests bare.
In his temple everything says, “Glory!”
“Yahweh’s voice shakes the wilderness.
Yahweh shakes the wilderness of Kadesh” (v. 8). In the prior verses, Yahweh’s voice was likened to a great storm with various effects. Now the psalmist adds that Yahweh’s voice shakes the wilderness. The desert wilderness of the Bible was desert instead of forest land. A storm in a desert shakes things––blows sand––rearranges dunes––makes people miserable.
The particular wilderness in mind here is the wilderness of Kadesh. This is not Kadesh-Barnea, located at Israel’s extreme south edge. All the other geographical references in this psalm are located at Israel’s extreme north edge or to its immediate north. This would be Kadesh on the Orontes River, north of Damascus. That groups it with the other geographical references in this psalm.
“Yahweh’s voice makes the deer calve,
and strips the forests bare” (v. 9a). Like a great storm, the force of Yahweh’s voice makes deer give birth prematurely. It strips branches from trees. It has great power.
“In his temple everything says, ‘Glory!'” (v. 9b). Is this the heavenly temple or the Jerusalem Temple? If the latter, it brings into question the Davidic authorship referenced in the Superscription (above). David’s son, Solomon, built the Jerusalem Temple after David’s death.
But the point of this verse isn’t authorship, but the majesty of Yahweh which inspires all godly beings to shout “GLORY!”
PSALM 29:10. YAHWEH SAT ENTHRONED––AND SITS ENTHRONED
10 Yahweh sat enthroned at the Flood.
Yes, Yahweh sits as King forever.
“Yahweh sat enthroned at the Flood” (v. 10a). This would be the flood of Noah’s time (Genesis 6-7). Yahweh caused the flood because of the disobedience of the people. He saved a remnant (Noah and his family) as he always does. Yahweh was as powerful then as at the time of the psalmist––and as at our time now.
“Yes, Yahweh sits as King forever” (v. 10b). Yahweh will reign eternally––not just during the next storm that passes––not just during the psalmist’s lifetime––not just during our time. Forever!
PSALM 29:11. YAHWEH WILL BLESS HIS PEOPLE
11 Yahweh will give strength to his people.
Yahweh will bless his people with peace.
“Yahweh will give strength to his people.
Yahweh will bless (Hebrew: barak) his people with peace” (Hebrew: shalom) (v. 11).
The psalmist closes this hymn with a double blessing.
- First, Yahweh gives strength to his people. This can manifest itself in many ways. God provides material blessings such as food and shelter that give us physical strength. He provides the scriptures that make it possible for us to know him and his loving will for our lives. He provides us with 24/7 access to him by prayer. In ways that will remain unknown to us until we see him in glory, he guides us through life’s hazards, both physical and spiritual. He gives us strength and helps us to preserve our strength.
- Second, Yahweh will bless (barak) his people with peace (shalom). When the word barak is used of humans, it means kneeling to bless Yahweh. When it is used of God, it means bestowing some sort of blessing on the person(s) being blessed.
Peace (shalom) involves the kind of tranquility that comes from knowing who you are and where you come from. It involves the kind of prosperity that arises, not from an accumulation of material possessions, but from a thankful spirit. It involves the kind of security that comes from the faith that God loves you and will provide for your needs.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Anderson, A.A., The New Century Bible Commentary: Psalms 1-72 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972)
Broyles, Craig C., New International Biblical Commentary: Psalms (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999
Brueggemann, Walter, The Message of the Psalms A Theological Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg Press, 1984)
Clifford, Richard J., Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002)
Craigie, Peter C., Word Biblical Commentary, Psalms 1-50, Vol. 19 (Dallas: Word Books, 1983)
DeClaisse-Walford, Nancy; Jacobson, Rolf A.; Tanner, Beth Laneel, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014)
Gower, Ralph, The New Manners and Customs of Bible Times (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987)
Kidner, Derek, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Psalms 1-72, Vol. 14a (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973)
Limburg, James, Westminster Bible Companion: Psalms (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2000
Mays, James Luther, Interpretation: Psalms (Louisville: John Knox, 1994)
McCann, J. Clinton, Jr., The New Interpreter’s Bible: The Book of Psalms, Vol. 4 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996)
Ross, Allen P., A Commentary on the Psalms, 1-41, Vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2012)
Waltner, James H., Believers Church Bible Commentary: Psalms (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 2006)
DICTIONARIES, ENCYCLOPEDIAS & LEXICONS:
Baker, Warren (ed.), The Complete WordStudy Old Testament (Chattanooga; AMG Publishers, 1994)
Baker, Warren and Carpenter, Eugene, The Complete WordStudy Dictionary: Old Testament (Chattanooga: AMG Publishers, 2003)
Bromiley, Geoffrey (General Editor), The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Revised, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1979-1988)
Brown, Francis; Driver, S.R.; and Briggs, Charles A., The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 1906, 2004)
Doniach, N.S. and Kahane, Ahuvia, The Oxford English-Hebrew Dictionary (Oxford University Press, 1998)
Fohrer, Georg, Hebrew & Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament (SCM Press, 2012)
Freedman, David Noel (ed.), The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, 6 vol. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007)
Freedman, David Noel (Ed.), Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000)
Mounce, William D., (ed.), Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006)
Renn, Stephen D., Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words: Word Studies for Key English Bible Words Based on the Hebrew and Greek Texts (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2005)
Richards, Lawrence O., Encyclopedia of Bible Words (Zondervan, 1985, 1991)
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob (ed.), The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, 5 vol. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006-2009)
VanGemeren, Willem A. (General Editor), New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, 5 vol., (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997)
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Copyright 2017, Richard Niell Donovan