Psalm 29: There is a King Above the Chaos
What do you do when life is out of control? How do you react to random events or arbitrary happenings? If you are like me, an out of control life is not your favorite place to be. Yet, out of control defines much of life. You get to live with people who do what they choose to do, without even consulting you. I am currently laid off from my job. Something I have no control over, the economy, has caused my company to cut a large portion of its workforce. This is what puts the terror in terrorism, the threat of arbitrary violence randomly applied.
In Psalm 29, David models how we should react when life is out of control. His point, in short, is that when life is out of control, it is not out of control.
Psalm 29:1,2 Ascribe to Yahweh, you sons of the mighty, ascribe to Yahweh glory and strength. Ascribe to Yahweh the glory due to his name. Worship Yahweh in holy array. Quite often the Psalms either begin or end with the lesson to be taught. That is, either the first verses or the last verses give the point of the Psalm. In Psalm 29, the lesson is in verse 1 “Ascribe to the Lord … glory and strength”. Our lesson is that in our lives we ascribe or acknowledge that Yahweh has glory and strength. This is a confession of fact, not what is sometimes called “positive confession”. God has glory and strength and what we need to do in our out of control life is remind ourselves of this. When we are looking at our lives with worry and panic, it is our circumstances’ strength we confess. And it is our lack of strength we mourn. David reminds us to acknowledge that it is God who has glory and strength.
Verse 2 tells us, in the King James, to worship “in the beauty of holiness”. This can be taken in at least three ways. First, as the KJV has it, when we worship God we are to have the beauty of our (experiential or imputed) holiness. That is, you are to be holy yourself. I don’t believe this is what David is saying. I’m not saying that personal holiness is not important, but personal holiness is not in this Psalm but is imported.
The second way to take this phrase is as the NASB has it “worship God in Holy array”, that is when we worship God, the priests are called on to wear their best ceremonial garments or that we should. Another translation says “Worship God in festal clothes.” Again, I don’t see Temple (or Tabernacle) worship here. Though the Psalm was used in Temple worship (it was read on New Years Day), the actual setting of the Psalm was not in the Temple (in verse 9, the word “temple” also means “palace” and I believe the reference is to God’s palace or throne room), nor is Temple or ceremonies the sole place for worship in our lives. Worship takes place anywhere and everywhere where we acknowledge God’s glory and strength.
The third way to take this corresponds with the NIV. God is worship “in the splendor of his holiness”, that is at the display of God’s holiness. This fits the context of the Psalm as the next several verses describe just such a display. We ascribe Glory to God when we see his hand in the arbitrary.
Psalm 29:3-9 Yahweh’s voice is on the waters. The God of glory thunders, even Yahweh on many waters. Yahweh’s voice is powerful. Yahweh’s voice is full of majesty. The voice of Yahweh breaks the cedars. Yes, Yahweh breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon. He makes them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young, wild ox. Yahweh’s voice strikes with flashes of lightning. Yahweh’s voice shakes the wilderness. Yahweh shakes the wilderness of Kadesh. Yahweh’s voice makes the deer calve, and strips the forests bare. In his temple everything says, “Glory!” Having started the Psalm with the lesson that we are to ascribe to the Lord glory and strength, David now shows how this is done. One night, David was walking around his palace and he sees a thunderstorm blowing in off the Mediterranean sea (mighty waters v3) This storm came off the sea into the north (Lebanon v5) and blew its way through the land into the southern wilderness (Kadesh v8).
We have a different relationship with the weather than David’s time. Weather was out of their control and incredibly arbitrary. They had some rules of thumb through observation, but the exceptions were very common. Recall that Israel had a constant problem with Baal worship. Baal was the storm god. Israel’s pagan neighbors told them about the god of the storm and if you want a good crop you better please him.
Not that weather is any more under our control, but these days we have a better idea of what is coming. It’s to the point that if we decide to do something tomorrow, we feel it’s too short a notice to pray for good weather. We should have started praying five days ago when the system was forming in the Pacific Ocean.
Look, however, at what David does with the storm. There is a repeated phrase in his description, the voice of the Lord. Seven times David uses this phrase in his description of the storm (also note that vv 3,4 speak of the glory of the storm and vv5-9 speak of its strength) King David’s point is that the sovereign command of God is behind the storm. David looks at the chaotic scene and sees the sovereign in the storm. A King controls the chaos. This is the glory, this is the strength, which David ascribes to God.
Many Christians have stories like this, but I tell people of the time I moved from Texas to Ohio. As the day came to leave, something came up which delayed us for a day. When we got to Tennessee, we saw the debris from a big storm which had hit the state the day before when we would have been driving had we not been delayed. We could see many trees snapped off and lying next to the expressway. We were grateful that we had not been on that road that day, but we also have to acknowledge that God was just as in control of those who did not miss the storm, including the seven who died.
Psalm 29:10-11 Yahweh sat enthroned at the Flood. Yes, Yahweh sits as King forever. Yahweh will give strength to his people. Yahweh will bless his people with peace. The final two verses give the results of meditating on God’s sovereign control. Verse 10 gives us an historical perspective. When it says that God “sat enthroned at the flood” it may seem like a continuation of the storm imagery, first a storm then flooding but that is not what is going on here. The word translated “flood” is used twelve other times in the OT. Every other time is in Genesis 6-11 and refers to the flood during the time of Noah. God sat enthroned at The Flood, the world-wide catastrophic event. Talk about chaos, yet God was in control. Mentioning the flood offers three pictures. First is God as sovereign king; second, God as the Judge of evil; and third, God as a giver of mercy to His people.
The second part of verse ten takes to historical referent to its logical conclusion: God sits as King forever. Nothing will ever change that state of affairs. We may find ourselves despairing as we consider the strength of evil in this world, but we can be encouraged as we acknowledge God’s sovereign control.
Verse 10 shows that the meditation gives us stability in our thoughts, in verse 11, it gives us stability in our lives. The one is an historical perspective, this is a personal perspective. God is committed to his people and gives them strength and peace. Once again, this is not some positive confession. We truly have a source which the world does not know about.
David tells us to ascribe to the Lord strength, to acknowledge the sovereign strength by which he rules the universe. As a result, we will see the hand of The Father in the arbitrary and we will see he blesses us with strength and peace in the midst of chaos. Having started with “Glory to God in the highest”, this Psalm ends with “and on earth, peace to men.”