Psalm 29: ‘The God of Glory Thunders’ by Rev Keith Innes

Rev Keith Innes

Psalm 29: ‘The God of Glory Thunders’

God’s glory dominates this Psalm (Psalm 29:1, 2, 3, 9). His ‘voice’ (verses 3-9) is a subsidiary theme.[1] The psalm falls naturally into three sections.

(I)  Verses 1-2 are a call to worship, to ascribe glory and strength to the LORD. The call is addressed not to humans, but to the ‘heavenly beings’, the divine council (see Psalm 89.7; 1 Kings 22:19; Job 1:6 and compare Ephesians 3:10).  The Bible recognises the existence of various spiritual powers but asserts that God’s power is supreme. The glory of this supreme God is to be acknowledged by worship ‘in holy splendour’ (2). An alternative translation is ‘in holy attire’ as in the Revised English Bible – possibly a reflection of the clothing worn for worship in the Temple at Jerusalem.

View through the author’s window on a stormy day

(II) Verses 3-9 powerfully evoke a vision of God’s glory as revealed in a thunderstorm. The thunder is envisaged as God’s ‘voice’. The associated lightning breaks trees – even the majestic cedars of Lebanon (5). The earth is shaken and the forests devastated. Thunder was seen generally in the ancient Near East as the domain of the gods. This psalm declares that thunder, though thought by some to be caused by other gods, is, in fact, a part of the whole world created and ruled over by the LORD. The forces of nature bear witness to God’s power and majesty.

‘Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made’ (Romans 1:20).

The conclusion of this main section of the psalm is in the final words of verse 9: ‘… in his temple all say, ‘Glory!’’. The word ‘all’ should be understood as including the ‘voices’ of all that God has made. Creation by its very existence bears witness to the glory of God. This ‘temple’ is God’s heavenly dwelling place which, in Old Testament thought, is ‘the prototype and otherworldly antitype’ of the Jerusalem temple.[2] In the New Testament the Church, as the community redeemed by Christ, is called ‘the temple of the living God’ (2 Corinthians 6:16). One of the chief purposes of this living temple is to acclaim God’s glory.

(III) In the final two verses, the psalmist’s response to the vision of God’s glory is to affirm faith in God’s sovereignty over the destructive power of the flood as ‘king for ever’ (10), and to request the LORD’s strength, and his blessing with the gift of ‘peace’ (shalom) (11). In the Old Testament the LORD, and not Baal or any other divine power, reigns. When we turn to the New Testament we find that Jesus is Lord and must be honoured and obeyed rather than Caesar. In our situation glory is to be ascribed to God, our Creator and Redeemer, and not to market forces, economic growth or any human power structures.

Four comments may be made:

(1) In the modern world we tend to view storms, earthquakes and floods as ‘natural disasters’ to be endured or overcome. This view is natural in view of the unimaginable and overwhelming scale of suffering that such events may cause. They are sometimes described as ‘apocalyptic’ or ‘biblical’ in scale. But in fact a holistic biblical view is more nuanced than we often recognize. Professor James L. Mays comments: ‘Our tendency is to see the world as a complex to be explained and exploited, to take the unnecessary step beyond science of reducing the world to the dimensions of our reason and needs.’[3]

(2) Humans are called to use their dominant position within the earth community with responsibility, humility and wisdom. God has given us the materials and ingenuity to live with such threatening phenomena. But what we see in human behaviour is too often injustice, greed and folly. The resources and technology needed to live reasonably safely in a potentially hazardous world are not shared justly. Overpopulation and gross inequality magnify the effects of all environmental problems. Indifference to the sufferings of others is sometimes observed, as well as sacrificial, caring and effective responses. The values of the Kingdom of God call us to love our neighbour as well as we love ourselves.

(3) Science reveals that the disruptive events in creation are in fact essential to the development of a world in which we can make our home. The geophysicist Professor Bob White reminds us that ‘Without a measure of natural global warming, without earthquakes, without volcanoes, without floods, the world would be sterile and humans could not live here.’[4]

(4) The LORD is sovereign over all creation, including even the flood. The same lesson is spelt out at greater length in the story of the Genesis Flood (Genesis 6 – 9) – a story that conveys a message of God’s judgment but also of his mercy freely offered. The same Hebrew word for ‘flood’ is used in both the Genesis passage and also Psalm 29.

This psalm is unique in its focus throughout on God’s glory shown in God’s creation. Reflecting on it could help Christians towards a greater awareness that the God revealed in Jesus Christ is also the God who owns and sustains our global home. It could also act as a powerful reminder of our calling to live responsibly and generously within the earthly home to which we belong.

Keith Innes

Keith Innes was in parish ministry from 1958 until his retirement in 1997. Since then he has studied and written on biblical eco-theology. His notes “God, the Earth and Humanity in the Book of Micah” and “British and American attitudes to nature” are available on the JRI Briefings page of this website

Photo: View through the author’s window on a stormy day

Notes:

[1] All Bible references are from the New Revised Standard Version, unless otherwise stated.

[2] Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 1-59. Tr. Hilton C. Oswald. 1993, Fortress Press. Page 350.

[3] James L Mays, Psalms. 1994, John Knox Press. Page 138.

[4] Robert S. White, Who is to Blame? Disasters, Nature and Acts of God. Monarch, 2014. Page 25.