We’ve been working our way through the Psalms, first on Wednesday evenings and now on these special online services on Sundays.
Some of the psalms are wisdom psalms: they’re about living your life in accordance with God’s word. For instance, Psalm 1 is a wisdom psalm, because it speaks of the one who delights in the law of the Lord and who meditates on it day and night. Other psalms are psalms of lament, where the psalmist is crying out to the Lord for help in the midst of trouble. Think of Psalm 4 which begins with the words:
Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God.
Then there are penitential psalms, where the psalmist confesses his sin before the Lord. Think of psalm 51:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!
There are psalms of Zion, which are songs about Jerusalem and about travelling to Jerusalem to worship the Lord. So, think of Psalm 122:
I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD!’ Our feet have been standing within your gates, O Jerusalem!
There are enthronement psalms which make clear that the Lord Almighty in enthroned in heaven and he rules over all that he has made. Psalm 47 is an enthronement psalm:
Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy! For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth.
And there are royal psalms which focus on God’s Anointed King who was appointed by God to rule over his people. For instance, there’s Psalm 2, where the Lord Almighty says to the rebellious nations:
I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.
And then there are psalms of praise where the psalmist praises the Lord for his greatness and goodness. And Psalm 29 is a psalm of praise; and that’s the psalm we’re studying today.
The psalm can be divided into three parts. Verses 1 and 2 are a call to praise the Lord for his glory and strength. Verses 3 to 9 focus on God’s voice and how he sends thunder and lightning on the earth. And verses 10 and 11 are the conclusion. So, let’s study the passage together. It would be good if you get your Bible and open it in front of you so you can follow along at home.
Verses 1 and 2
The psalmist begins by saying:
Ascribe to the Lord, O mighty ones,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name;
worship the Lord in the splendour of holiness.
When he says ‘ascribe to the Lord glory and strength’ the psalmist means: give God the praise he deserves for his glory and strength. Give him the praise that is fitting because he’s such a glorious and powerful God. And the Lord is glorious and powerful, isn’t he? As another psalm says: the heavens declare the glory of God and the skies proclaim the work of his hands. So, day after day the heavens above speak to us; and they say to the whole world that God is great, because he made all things. And the one who made all things is clearly powerful. In fact, he is infinitely powerful so that nothing is too hard or difficult for him. There’s nothing he cannot do.
So, the psalmist is saying: Give the Lord the praise he deserves, because he is glorious and strong; he is great and mighty. But who is the psalmist addressing? The NIV refers in verse 1 to ‘mighty ones’. The ESV translates the Hebrew words differently. It refers to ‘heavenly beings’. But the Hebrew words which David wrote ought to be translated ‘sons of God’. So, David is saying in verse 1:
Ascribe to the Lord, O sons of God,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
So, who are the ‘sons of God’? Well, the same expression appears in Job 1 verse 6 where it says that one day the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord. In Job 1, the sons of God are angelic beings who gathered in the presence of the Lord. Presumably they’re called ‘sons of God’ because they derive their being from God. But if the sons of God are angels, then that means the psalmist in Psalm 29 is addressing the angels in heaven. He’s calling on them to give the Lord the praise he deserves for his glory and strength. He’s calling on them to worship the Lord. And he adds at the end of verse 2:
worship the Lord in the splendour of holiness.
Some commentators suggest the expression ‘splendour of holiness’ should be translated ‘holy attire’ or ‘holy garments’. So, the psalmist might be saying: worship the Lord in holy garments. In that case, we’re to think of the special clothes the priests would wear in Old Testament times. They couldn’t come into the tabernacle or temple wearing any old clothes. They had to wear the special clothes which the Lord commanded them to wear, which made clear that they had been set apart from everyone else to serve the Lord in his temple. And so, if the psalmist is referring in verse 2 to ‘holy attire’ or ‘holy garments’, he means these angelic beings have been set apart by the Lord to worship him.
However, the expression ‘splendour of holiness’ could refer to God’s holy appearance. Remember Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6 and how he tells us that he saw into heaven, into God’s throne room, but he did not dare look at the Lord, but only saw the train of his robe, which filled the temple. And the angels around God’s throne covered their faces, because they too did not dare to look at the Lord. And the angels cried out:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty.
And so, the psalmist could be referring in verse 2 to the holiness of the Lord.
That’s the call to worship at the beginning of the psalm. The psalmist is calling on the angels in heaven to worship the Lord who is glorious and powerful and holy.
Verses 3 to 9
And God’s glory and power is displayed in the way he sends thunder and lightning on the earth. And that’s what verses 3 to 9 are about, because he’s describing a thunder storm. We can perhaps imagine the psalmist, looking out across the sky, and he sees the thunder clouds coming and he hears the thunder and he sees the lightning and he feels the power of the storm and it makes him think of the glory and power of the Lord.
Now, in these seven verses, the phrase ‘the voice of the Lord’ appears seven times. So, the voice of the Lord is over the waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful. The voice of the Lord is majestic. The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars. The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning. The voice of the Lord shakes the desert. The voice of the Lord twists the oaks. And he’s referring to the voice of the Lord again and again and again, because the Lord is the one who controls the storm and the thunder and the lightning by his mighty word. God’s word, his voice, is powerful. When we speak, very often nothing happens. But when God speaks, what he says always happens. His word, his voice, is powerful. And as the psalmist looks out at this thunder storm, he’s thinking about how the Lord his God is the one who controls the thunder and the lightning. The Lord displays his glory and his strength by sending this storm on the earth.
We can imagine the psalmist in verses 3 and 4, looking out over the sea. Probably he’s referring to the Mediterranean Sea. And the psalmist can see the thunder clouds approaching. And the power of the thunder storm speaks to the psalmist of the glory of God and of his powerful and majestic voice. And by means of his word, he commands the clouds and the wind and the thunder and the lightning to do his bidding.
And then in verse 5 the psalmist describes the effect of the storm as it break mighty cedar trees into pieces. He refers to Lebanon and Sirion. Those are two mountains: Mount Lebanon and Mount Sirion, which was also known as Mount Hermon. And the psalmist compares these mighty mountains to a calf and a young ox which are skipping. In other words, he describing how these mighty mountains appear to shake because of the storm which is raging over them. And then, he tells us how the voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning. So, while the storm thunders, bolts of lightning flash in the sky. And perhaps the lightning is striking the cedar trees and making them split apart; or perhaps it’s the force of the wind which is making them break apart. But, in any case, the force of the storm speaks to the psalmist of the power of God’s voice.
Mount Lebanon and Mount Hermon were located to the north of the land of Israel in territory belonging to the Canaanites. And the Canaanites worshipped Baal, whom they regarded as the god who controlled the weather and who had power over lightning and wind and rain. But here’s the psalmist; and it’s as if he’s saying that Baal is not the one who causes the lightning to strike; and Baal is not the one who causes the wind and the rain; and Baal is not the one who causes mountains to shake. No, the Lord is the one who does all of this, because the Lord is the one whose voice is powerful and he thunders over all the world.
And then, when we get to verses 8 and 9, it’s as if the storm has rolled on, away from the mountains. And the psalmist tells us how the storm shakes the desert; and it twists the oaks and strips the forest bare. Well, we all know the devastation a storm can cause. After a storm, when I’m walking my dog through the forest park behind the manse, I’ll see trees which have been knocked down by the wind and which are now blocking the path in front of me. Mighty trees are knocked to the ground as if they were nothing. We often see the devastating power of a storm; and the psalmist attributes the power of the storm to the voice of the Lord, because the Lord controls all of this.
And then suddenly, suddenly, the psalmist turns our attention to the temple. Presumably he means the true temple, the heavenly temple, where the angels have gathered before the Lord. And the psalmist calls on the angels once again to worship the Lord and to declare his glory. The storm that the psalmist has been describing testifies to the glory of God’s might and power. He alone is infinitely and eternally and unchangeably powerful.
Verses 10 and 11
After the call to worship in verses 1 and 2, the psalmist describes this thunder storm which spoke to him about the power of God’s voice. And the Lord who is glorious and powerful deserves our praise and worship.
And so, we come to the end of the psalm: verses 10 and 11. And the psalmist says that the Lord sits enthroned over the flood; and the Lord is enthroned as King for ever. When he refers to ‘the flood’, he probably referring to the flood in the days of Noah. And we can see the connection, can’t we? He’s just been describing how God sent this thunder storm which destroyed a forest; and it makes him think of the time when God sent the rain to destroy, not just a forest, but the whole world. Both events — the flood in the days of Noah and this thunder storm which he’s been describing — make clear that the Lord rules and reigns over the world as the Mighty King. He has the power and the authority to control the thunder and lightning and the wind and the rain. He controls all things.
But look at verse 11 now. This great King — who is glorious and strong; and whose voice is powerful and majestic; and who can do all things — this great King gives strength to his people. So, he uses his great power and might, not to destroy his people, but to help his people. He uses his great power on behalf of his people. And he blesses his people by giving them peace. So, he’s been describing this storm, this thunder storm which has made mountains shake and which has knocked down trees and forests. But this mighty God gives his people peace. The rest of the world is terrified, because of the power of God, but the Lord gives his people peace.
That’s a message we all need to hear at this time, isn’t it? The whole world is frightened. Not because of a storm, but because of the coronavirus. But here’s the psalmist with a message to comfort God’s people, because here’s the psalmist telling us that God gives strength to his people and he blesses his people with peace.
You need strength from the Lord, don’t you? Strength to endure the isolation. Strength to endure the separation from loved ones and friends. Strength to cope with being shut in. Strength to cope with all of this life’s troubles and trials? And you need peace, don’t you? Peace and safety and reassurance that all is well. Well, the Lord gives strength to his people and he blesses his people with peace.
And that’s wonderful, isn’t it? It’s wonderful to know that and it’s what we all need to hear and believe. But do you know what’s even more wonderful? What could be more wonderful than that? Well, I’ll tell you what’s even more wonderful than that. What’s even more wonderful is that you don’t deserve strength from the Lord and you don’t deserve peace from the Lord, and yet he is willing and able to give you strength and peace.
You don’t deserve it, because you’re a sinner and every day you sin against the Lord in thought and word and deed. As I was praying earlier, your heart is like a house of horrors, full of sinful thoughts and desires and inclinations. So, even at home, when we’re stuck in the house, we still find ways to sin against the Lord, because we’re sinners. And because we’re sinners, we all deserve to be condemned by God and destroyed by him. We don’t deserve his strength. We don’t deserve his peace. We don’t deserve his help. We deserve his judgment.
So, how can we expect strength and peace from the Lord? How can we expect good from him when what we really deserve is condemnation. Well, we can expect good from the Lord because of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only Saviour of the world. He came into the world as one of us in order to take the blame for all that we have done wrong. He suffered and died on the cross, suffering in our place the wrath of God which we deserve for our sins. And because he took the blame for us, because he suffered in our place the wrath of God, all who trust in him receive forgiveness from God.
And that’s why you need to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. You need to trust in him, because he’s the only Saviour of the world; and whoever trusts in him as the only Saviour, is reconciled to God. And that means God is no longer your enemy who will use his mighty power to destroy you. No, he will use his mighty power to help you. He’ll give you the strength you need each day. He’ll bless you with peace. And because he gives us the strength and peace we need, then we can join our voices with the angels in heaven to declare to one another that the Lord is glorious and strong. Ascribe to the Lord, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Give him the praise he deserves because there is none like him.