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Psalm 29

THE essential idea in this psalm is the same as in the twenty-eighth, to wit, that God is the strength of his people, but clothed in a different costume, the divine power being proved or exemplified by its exertion in the elements, and then applied, in the close, to the believer’s consolation. The Psalmist first invokes the heavenly host to celebrate their sovereign’s honour, ver. 1, 2. He then describes Jehovah’s voice as producing the most striking physical effects, ver. 3–9, and represents it as belonging to the same God who presided at the deluge, and who now protects and will continue to protect and bless his people, ver 10, 11. The superficial notion that this psalm is merely a description of a thunderstorm, or of Jehovah as the God of thunder, may be corrected by observing that the last verse gives the key-note of the whole composition.

1. A psalm by David. Give to Jehovah, ye sons of the mighty, give to Jehovah honor and strength. To give in such connections, is to recognize something as belonging to another, to ascribe it to him. The form of expression is derived from Deut. 32:3, and is found not only elsewhere in the Psalms (96:7, 8), but with a slight modification in the New Testament (Rev. 4:11, 5:12, 19:1, 1 Peter 5:11).—The word translated mighty is the plural form of one of the names (אֵל) which describe God as omnipotent. See above, on Ps. 5:5 (4), 7:12 (11), 10:11, 12, 16:1, 17:6 (5), 18:3, 31, 33, 48 (2, 30, 32, 47), 19:2 (1), 22:2 (1). The plural form may here arise from assimilation, both parts of the compound phrase being put into the plural, son of God, sons of Gods. Compare words of deceits, Ps. 35:20. But a much more probable solution is that אֵלִים is here used as אֱלֹהִים is elsewhere, by a kind of ellipsis for אֵל אֵלִים, Dan. 11:36, the God of Gods, or the Supreme God. Compare Deut. 10:17.—The sons of God are the beings intermediate between God and man, sometimes called angels, in reference to their office. The same application of the same phrase occurs in Ps. 89:7 (6).

2. Give to Jehovah the honor of his name; bow to Jehovah in beauty of holiness. The honor of his name is that belonging to it, due to it. His name is his manifested nature. See above, on Ps. 5:12 (11). The verb in the last clause strictly means, bow down or prostrate yourselves in worship.—The beauty of holiness is by many understood to mean holy or consecrated garments, such as were put on in the place of ordinary dress, as a token of reverence, by the priests when they approached unto the presence of Jehovah. See 2 Chron. 20:21. But neither here nor in Ps. 96:9, 110:3, is there any valid objection to the obvious but spiritual sense of ornament produced by or consisting in holiness, such decoration as became the peculiar people of Jehovah. Compare 1 Peter 3:3–5.

3. The voice of Jehovah on the waters! The God of glory thundered. The voice of Jehovah (was) on many waters. The invocation to the heavenly host in the two preceding verses is now justified by an appeal to one particular manifestation of God’s majesty, to wit, that afforded by the tempestuous strife of elements.—The first clause may be construed as an exclamation, or the substantive verb may be supplied, either in the past or present tense. The preterite form of the original does not relate to any specific point of past time, but merely shews that the phenomena described have been heretofore witnessed, and though grand are nothing new. Our present tense gives the sense correctly, but with a departure from the idiomatic form of the original.—The God of glory contains an allusion to ver. 1, 2. Compare Ps. 24:7–10.—On (or above) the waters, i.e. the clouds charged with rain. See above, on Ps. 18:12 (11), and compare Jer. 10:13.

4. The voice of Jehovah in power! The voice of Jehovah in majesty! The exclamations, as in ver. 3, may be converted into propositions by supplying either the past or present tense of the verb to be. ‘The voice of Jehovah is (or was) in power.’ In power, in majesty, i.e. invested with these attributes, a stronger expression than the corresponding adjectives strong and majestic, would be, and certainly more natural and consonant to usage than the construction which makes in a mere sign of that in which something else consists. It is, indeed, little short of nonsense to affirm that the voice of God consists in power, consists in majesty, whereas there is truth as well as beauty in describing it as clothed or invested with those qualities.

5. The voice of Jehovah (is) breaking cedars, and Jehovah has broken the cedars of Lebanon. In the powerful working of the elements the Psalmist hears the voice of God. That this expression always denotes thunder (Exod. 9:28) is a perfectly gratuitous assumption.—Cedars are mentioned as the loftiest forest trees, and those of Lebanon as the loftiest of the species. Between the verbs of the two clauses there is a twofold variation which appears to be significant. The first is the primitive verb which simply means to break; the other an intensive form, implying an extraordinary violence. See above, Ps. 3:8 (7). This distinction can be reproduced in English only by a change of verb (break and crush), or by some qualifying addition (break and break in pieces), But besides this variation, the first word is an active participle (breaking), and the second a finite tense denoting past time (broke or has broken), which together may indicate progression (it is breaking and now he has broken), or express the same idea, namely, that he habitually breaks, or has often broken, the cedars of Lebanon.

6. And made them skip like a calf, Lebanon and Sirion like the young of the unicorns (antelopes or wild bulls). The pronoun in the first clause may refer to cedars, or by anticipation to Lebanon and Sirion. This last is the Sidonian name of Hermon (Deut. 3:9), the principal summit in the range of Anti-libanus, here mentioned simply as a parallel to Lebanon, without any special local reference. By a similar rhetorical specification, the natural vivacity of young animals is specially ascribed to a particular species, well known to the writer and his readers as remarkable for wildness and agility. See above, on Ps. 22:22 (21).

7. The voice of Jehovah (is) hewing flames (or with flames) of fire. The reference to lightning in this verse is universally admitted, some even seeing an allusion to the brief and sudden flash in the single clause of which the sentence is composed. Interpreters are not agreed, however, with respect to the specific image here presented. Some understand the act described to be that of cleaving or dividing, in allusion to the forked appearance of a flash of lightning; others that of hewing out, extracting flames; and others that of hewing with them, i.e. using them as weapons of warfare or instruments of vengeance. This last construction is a common one in Hebrew, and is favoured here by the analogy of Isa. 51:9, Hos. 6:5, where the same verb is applied to God’s penal judgments.—The voice of God must here mean his authority or order, as it could not be said without absurdity, that the thunder either hews the lightning, or hews with it.

8. The voice of Jehovah is about to shake the wilderness; Jehovah will shake wilderness of Kadesh. This is equivalent to saying that he can do so, the Hebrew verb having no distinct potential form. The verb translated shake is stronger, meaning properly to cause to tremble. Having spoken of God’s power as exerted on the mountains, he now says the same thing of the desert; and as the mountains which he specified were on the northern frontier, so the wilderness which he selects is that which bounded Palestine upon the south, the northern portion of the great Arabian desert, with which the Israelites had many strong associations, founded partly in their personal experience, but still more in their national history. See Deut. 1:19, 8:15, 32:10. It is in this point of view, and not simply as a plain, which it is not in its whole extent, that the wilderness of Kadesh is here added to Mount Lebanon.

9. The voice of Jehovah can make hinds bring forth, and strip forests; and in his temple, all of it says, Glory! The use of the futures is the same as in the foregoing verse. As if to shew that the divine control extends to things both small and great, the Psalmist passes suddenly from lofty mountains and vast deserts to the weakest animals, in whom the terror of his presence hastens the throes of parturition. See Job 39:1–3, and compare 1 Sam. 4:19. He then returns to more imposing natural phenomena, such as the stripping of the leaves and branches from whole forests by a mighty wind, which, no less than the thunder, is to be regarded as the voice of God.—The temple or palace mentioned in the last clause is not the temple at Jerusalem, nor any earthly structure, but heaven, or the whole frame of nature, considered as God’s royal residence. See above, on Ps. 5:8 (7). Throughout this palace, all of it, i.e. all its parts, its contents, or its inhabitants—with special reference, perhaps, to the angelic hosts invoked in ver. 1, who are then described as doing what he there invites them to do—not merely speaks of his glory, as the English version has it, but says “glory!” as their constant and involuntary exclamation. As to the true sense of the verb אָמַר, see above, on Ps. 4:5 (4).

10. Jehovah at the flood sat (enthroned), and Jehovah sits (as) King to eternity. There are only two ways in which this verse can be understood. It must either be explained as introducing a new trait in the description of a tempest, namely, that of a flood or inundation—or referred to the universal deluge, as the grandest instance of the natural changes which had been described. In favour of the latter explanation may be urged the intrinsic grandeur of the image which it calls up, its better agreement with the solemn declaration in the last clause, the peculiar fitness of a great historical example just in this place, and the invariable usage of הַמַּבּוּל to mean Noah’s flood. The sense of the whole verse may be thus expressed in paraphrase. The God whose voice now produces these effects is the God who sat enthroned upon the deluge, and this same God is still reigning over nature and the elements, and will be able to control them forever.

11. Jehovah strength to his people will give; Jehovah will bless his people (with) peace. This is the application of the whole psalm, clearly shewing that the description of external changes was not given for its own sake, or for mere poetical effect, but as a source of consolation and a ground of hope to true believers, who are here assured, in a pregnant summary of all that goes before, that the God who is thus visible and audible in nature, who presided at the flood and is to reign for ever, is pledged to exercise the power thus displayed for the protection and well-being of his people.

Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 125–128). Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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