Psalm 29

Psalm 29 is interesting primarily because it revolves around the speech-act. We’ve been talking a bit about the act of speech in the last few psalms (13, 28), and this one draws out the speech-act in the context of the story of Creation.

The stanza structure looks something like this:

  1. Glorify God, you angels
  2. God’s voice thunders over the waters
  3. God’s voice shakes nations
  4. God’s voice is fire and quake
  5. God’s voice is wind
  6. The Lord is sovereign and rules over Israel

Notice even here the association between God’s voice and the forces of nature: the earthquake, the fearsome wind, the fire. It’s all very primal, fundamental elements of the world – and also very scary elements. Earthquakes are scary enough to us today and we understand what’s going on with them. In terms of destabilizing, literally earth-shattering events, the earthquake perhaps stands head and shoulders above the rest. And that’s what the voice of God is compared to:

The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness

The other striking element in the psalm is that of water. God isn’t said to be like water though – He’s above it.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
The God of glory thunders,
The Lord, over mighty waters.

To me, this harks back to the Creation story – specifically the opening verses of the Bible:

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

Perhaps the writer refers to these primeval waters. It’s the most fundamental statement of God’s power and authority: He is the Creator whose voice is over the waters.

In discussions of Genesis, a contentious point is sometimes raised about the relationship between God and the waters. Essentially, we are never explicitly told that God created the formless void. In the beginning, comma, when God created the heavens and the earth, comma, the earth was (already?) a formless void, and darkness covered the face of the deep. Did God create the darkness? We’re not told. We’re just told that it was there when God started His work.

If the formless void already existed, the argument goes, then God really was more of a shaper. What He created was order and meaning – we could say He ordered the universe, rather than creating it ex nihilo.

Regardless of whether God created or ordered, He did so through the speech-act:

Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

In the beginning was the Word. For now, let’s say that God ordered and shaped the formless void, rather than creating it Himself. Let’s say that the act of speech was an act of organisation, the imposition of divine will and order. Within the structure of the psalm, the act of speech is initially demanded of the angels:

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.

God speaks, and the world is brought into being. It is shaped and ordered and given form and sense and stability. The psalmist insists that the heavenly beings, the created beings, must speak again in reply:

Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name;
Worship the Lord in holy splendor.

The speech-act is cyclic: God speaks, and creation comes into being; creation speaks in return to praise God in His nature. As that which upholds and gives shape to the world, the voice of God is described in terms of the fundamental forces of nature:

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars…
The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire…
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness…
The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
And strips the forest bare…

The response to God’s voice?

And in His temple all say, “Glory!”

Again, the psalm draws its own function into the content. The psalm is a psalm of praise, and it records the praise of those in the temple while simultaneously urging others on to further worship:

Worship the Lord in holy splendor.

All of this affirms the position of God as sovereign:

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood

Where there was chaos and formless void, the Lord now sits enthroned. The flood, the waters of the deep – they remain, but they are kept in check by the word of the Lord. He orders the waters, and thus He is God. He is enthroned above the waters, enthroned eternal in the ongoing speech-act of creation. When we respond with speech of our own, we echo and acknowledge the fabric of our being. The speech-act itself is therefore an act of praise, as it affirms the original speech-act that constitutes our being. We are spoken; we speak; our speech is predicated on His.

 

 

Psalm 29

Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name:
Worship the Lord in holy splendor.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
The God of glory thunders,
The Lord, over mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.

The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
The Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
And Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
The Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl,
And strips the forest bare;
And in His temple all say, ‘Glory!’

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
The Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
May the Lord give strength to His people!
May the Lord bless His people with peace!

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