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Psalm 29 Commentary

As I was preparing this Psalm 29 commentary the other evening I was watching a few video clips on YouTube from BBC Earth with my boys.

Psalm 29 Commentary
The Darwin’s Bark Spider

The first I wanted to mention is one which featured a spider the size of a thumbnail that can shoot a web out that’s 82 feet long. Look at your thumbnail. Then look at the ceiling in this room – which is probably about 8 feet high. Multiply that by 10 and then look at your thumbnail again.

That’s amazing! And then the way that spider makes its web over the small pond it lived by was just breathtaking.

I asked my boys – as I often do – “Who taught that spider to spin that web like that?” And of course the answer is that God put into that spider to be able to shoot out a web so much longer that her own body. And God taught that spider how to fashion her web like she does.

But do you know what they call that spider? It’s named “The Darwin’s Bark Spider.” Apparently named after the man whose 1859 book called On the Origin of Species sought to establish an alternative view to what I’ve just said – that God created everything.

Sinful man has a way of attributing to other entities what is rightfully God’s. Let me restate that – sinful man so often sees what God has done and denies the fact that God has done it. And instead we seek to attribute to other things – evolution in Darwin’s case – what is rightfully God’s work.

Psalm 29 Commentary
The Tusked Weta

There was another video clip we watched. This time it was about a creature called a tusked weta. These things are found in New Zealand. They basically look like large grasshoppers with long antennae and pincers on their heads.

Now, apparently pigs like to eat them. And so they will actually dive into a pond or creek to escape danger. They can last underwater for up to ten minutes.

It’s amazing. This tusked weta has been given that ability by God to escape harm.

But that’s not how BBC Earth interprets this kind of thing. No, they point to 85 million years as the reason that this creature can escape danger like he does.

Again, I’ll say that sinful man so often takes something that is clearly God’s doing and attributes it to some other reality. 85 million years of evolution in the case of the tusked weta.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Storms in 21st Century America

Let’s think about storms for a moment. We had a few this last week.

We’re going to see in our psalm for today that thunderstorms and all that goes along with them are described poetically as “The Voice of the Lord.”

The Lord makes storms happen. Yes, there are atmospheric conditions that lead to storms – but what is behind those conditions? What causes two air fronts to collide?

Well, our society would tell you that it’s “mother nature” or random chance that causes these conditions.

But the Lord is pretty clear in Scripture that he is the one who makes storms happen.

Again, we have sinful man attributing to other things – “mother nature” or random chance in the case of storms – what God alone is responsible for.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Storms About 1,000 Years Before Christ

But this isn’t just a modern problem.

Ancient Israel inherited their land from the Lord about 1,400 BC under the leadership of Joshua. But the Israelites never really conquered all of the land that God gave them. And so, they had pagan nations living in their midst that caused them all sorts of trouble.

One of those groups was known as the Canaanites. The Canaanites had a god they called Baal. And like the gods in numerous pagan religions – Baal was in charge of one thing in particular. He was supposedly the god of storms.

The Canaanites took what God should have been praised and worshiped for – storms – and attributed that atmospheric phenomenon to their false god Baal.

And an even greater problem was – that the Israelites among whom these Canaanites lived were tempted to worship that storm god in order to get rain on their crops and for their livestock.

Psalm 29 Commentary
The Importance

And so, that’s where Psalm 29 comes in. Let’s turn there if you haven’t.

Psalm 29 is a praise psalm in which the Lord is receiving praise for being the God of the storm.

David is urging his fellow-Israelites to stop attributing the power and benefits of storms to the false god Baal. Instead, he urges them to worship the Lord alone. And the big reason he gives for us worshiping the Lord in this psalm is his power over storms.

So, we could call this psalm Praise to God for His Power Over Storms.

It’s not Baal who has power over storms. It’s not even “mother nature” and it’s certainly not just random chance. No – storms are God’s doing. He has control over them and his awesome power and sovereignty are displayed through them.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Author

Now, if you look at the superscription of Psalm 29 you see that it says…

KJV Psalm 29:1 <A Psalm of David.>

So, the psalm asserts that David is its author. And so we have no reason to doubt that he wrote it.

And yet, let me give us even more reason to be assured that David wrote this psalm.

Look at verses 1 and 2 and let’s read them.

Give unto the LORD, O ye mighty, give unto the LORD glory and strength. 2 Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.

Now, with that fresh in your mind, let me read for you 1 Chronicles 16:28-29.

Give unto the LORD, ye kindreds of the people, give unto the LORD glory and strength. 29 Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come before him: worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.

Now, the context of 1 Chronicles 16 is a psalm of praise that David wrote. That’s explicit in the text.

So, I think we’d have to agree that there is an uncanny similarity between David’s psalm in 1 Chronicles 16 and Psalm 29 here. It’s clear that David is the author of this psalm.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Call to Praise (vv 1-2)

So now, let’s examine the Call to Praise of Psalm 29. It’s found in verses 1 and 2.

Give unto the LORD, O ye mighty,
give unto the LORD glory and strength.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Give Unto the Lord

Now, we’re going to see that between verses 1 and 2 we have David urging a group of beings to give something unto the Lord.

Glory and strength in verse 1. And then glory once more in verse 2.

So, the question is, “How can anyone give glory and strength to the Lord?” Because – of course – the Lord is completely glorious and the epitome of strength. Can we add glory and strength to this all-powerful, all-glorious God?

And the answer is of course, no. We can’t – as it were – take some of our strength and our glory and give it to the Lord. It wouldn’t add anything to him.

What David is saying when he commands that these things be given to the Lord is that these attributes would be ascribed to the Lord. Associated with his character. When this group thinks of the Lord and considers him they need to consider this – that he is totally glorious and utterly powerful.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Ye Mighty

But who is commanded to ascribe glory and strength to the Lord?

It’s this group that’s identified as ye mighty. And I’m not sure why it’s translated that way. Because the Hebrew behind that phrase is actually bene elim – sons of God.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Heavenly Beings

Now, Psalm 89:7 is the only other place where this phrase is used. And in that psalm the parallel to these “sons of God” is “those in heaven.” It’s a group of beings in heaven.

So, David could be calling on beings in heaven to praise the Lord for his power over storms. Like the council that surrounded God in the beginning of the book of Job or other similar scenes we have in the Bible.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Canaanite gods and Baal Himself

But we should also note that apparently – in Canaanite mythology – the council of their supreme god – whose name was El – was referred to as the “sons of God” – the sons of El.

If that’s what David is thinking of here, then certainly Baal – the supposed storm god – would be included in those ranks. And so, David would be – as it were – calling on the so-called storm god to ascribe to the real God Yahweh who is the one who really has power over storms to ascribe glory and strength to him.

And I like that last possibility – that David is calling on the false god Baal to get real and ascribe to the real God what was so often ascribe to Baal himself.

And of course Baal didn’t exist. He was fake. And so, David is not saying these things expecting Baal to answer. He’s saying these things with the hope that his fellow-Israelites – who were so prone to idolatry and Baal-worship – that they would see the foolishness and worthlessness of Baal. And that they would turn to Yahweh alone.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Verse 2

See our Psalm 29 2 Commentary for more explanation of Psalm 29:2.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Catalog of Praiseworthy Attributes (vv 3-10)

And with that, David starts into the part of this praise psalm where he gives us a list of reasons to praise the Lord.

And what we see in Psalm 29 is that David wants us to focus on what he calls “the voice of the Lord.” He uses that phrase seven times in verses 3-10.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Chiasm

Now, before we get into the details, I want to show us that there’s some underlying structure to this part of the psalm.

In verses 3-10 we see something that we’ve noted before. It’s called chiasm. It’s where the first statement of a text matches the last statement in some way. And then the second statement of the text matches the second to last statement. And so on.

And sometimes you have an odd number of statements and so there’s one statement that kind of occupies a special middle place in the structure. And sometimes it seems like that middle place is of some importance.

So, here’s the structure:

Psalm 29 3-10 Chiasm
Psalm 29 3-10 Chiasm

Verses 3 and 10 speak of the Lord being upon waters or sitting upon a flood of waters.

Then verse 4 and the last line of verse 9 speak of God’s powerful glory and majesty.

Verse 5 then matches 9 and they both speak of the devastating power of the Lord’s voice on forests and the creatures that dwell in them.

Verses 6 and 8 speak of the visual effect of storms on the land as a whole.

And then right in the middle of this structure we have verse 7 where David speaks of the awesome reality of lightning that so often accompanies storms.

So, that’s the structure of verses 3 through 10.

Psalm 29 2 Commentary
Verse 3

Now, let’s study what this “voice of the Lord” is and why it should cause heavenly beings – and of course, us – to praise the Lord who has power over storms.

 3 The voice of the LORD is upon the waters:
the God of glory thundereth:
the LORD is upon many waters.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Tracking the Storm

Now, I believe that there is a progression here where the Lord’s voice starts on the Mediterranean Sea and then moves into Israel. So, watch for that as we go along.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Glory

So, David describes the Lord as the God of glory. This is the third time we’ve come across that word glory in this psalm. And we’ll see it once more in verse 9.

But the point is that this God who is so uniquely excellent adds this attribute to all the others – that thunder is described as his voice.

Thunder in a storm is not the work of Baal. It’s not the directionless and random occurrence of climatic situations. The Lord is behind it. He sends the rain. He withholds the rain. Thunder doesn’t just happen – He thunders.

And just because storms might seem random to us doesn’t mean that there is no planning or forethought to it. Just because we don’t understand God’s reason for things doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have a reason for them.

He has power over the storm.

And what’s interesting is that there was a time in Jesus’ earthly ministry where the Father spoke to him and some of the people actually confused it as – what? As thunder.

Psalm 29 2 Commentary
Verse 4

Well, let’s continue reading of the Lord’s powerful glorious voice in verse 4.

4 The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.

Now, these are two different words that are fairly similar to others we’ve seen so far.

We’ve seen the themes of God being powerful and majestic or glorious already in this psalm. And so, David just adds a few more synonyms here to give us a broader picture of God’s powerful glory – especially as revealed in storms.

Maybe you didn’t feel this way last week when storms were rolling through our area. We need to start training ourselves to think of God’s glory and power when these things come around every so often.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Verse 5

To understand better the fifth verse of this psalm, read our Psalm 29 5 Message article.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Verse 6

To understand better the sixth verse of this psalm (and especially what David means when he talks about “unicorns,” read our Psalm 29 6 Unicorn article.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Verse 7

Alright, then we get to verse 7 where David speaks of lightning accompanying this storm.

 7 The voice of the LORD divideth the flames of fire.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Divideth

The word divideth means to cut or cut out. Like you would divide wood by cutting it.

David is describing lightning as if it’s cutting the skies with fire. That’s a very picturesque way of describing it. As if fire is cutting the sky up for that brief moment in which the lightning flashes.

And it’s the Lord’s voice that causes this to happen.

I don’t think this means that David is stating that thunder precedes lightning. In fact, just the opposite is the case.

But what David is saying is that the voice of the Lord in the storm uses lightning to achieve the effects that he’s been speaking of – breaking down trees and shaking the earth, etc.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Verse 8

And the storm continues its path in verse 8.

8 The voice of the LORD shaketh the wilderness;
the LORD shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Wilderness

So now the storm is in the wilderness – further east of Lebanon. This would be a rocky dry area. Not the lush unsettled forest that we Americans think of as a wilderness.

And I know I mention that often, but I think we probably need reminders of that fact frequently because it’s just so foreign to us – that a wilderness would be a desert rather than a forest.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Kadesh

And this wilderness is somewhere around a place called Kadesh. Apparently this is not the Kadesh that is in the south but rather in the north – north of Damascus in Syria.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Shaketh

So, I think we have a better understanding of the location in view. But what about the effect that the Lord’s voice has? How can David say that a storm shaketh the land. Because when I think of land shaking I think of an earthquake – not a thunderstorm.

Well, I think what he has in view is this. Imagine a storm rolling into the area. It’s suddenly dark. You can’t see much. But then the lightning strikes. And maybe it’s one of those strikes where it kind of pulsates a few times for a few seconds.

And during that time, the landscape is illumined with bright light. And as you look at the surroundings – hills, trees, and the like – doesn’t it kind of look like it’s shaking? Moving back and forth rapidly? Kind of a strobe effect.

I think that’s what David has in mind when he says that the land is shaking here in verse 8 – and skipping back in verse 6. It looks like it’s shaking and skipping.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Verse 9

To understand better the ninth verse of this psalm, read our Psalm 29 9 Commentary.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Verse 10

To understand better the tenth verse of this psalm, read our Psalm 29 10 Commentary.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Concluding Praise (v 11)

To understand better the eleventh verse of this psalm, read our Psalm 29 11 Commentary.

Psalm 29 Commentary
Final Thought

So, whether it’s clear and sunny outside or dark and stormy, let’s fear and worship and praise the Lord who has power over the storm.

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