You are herePsalm 29 - A Hymn to the Lord of the Storm

Psalm 29 - A Hymn to the Lord of the Storm

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By jcarter - Posted on 08 March 2006

by Jeff Carter
Give Yahweh, o sons of God
Give Yahweh glory and praise,
Give Yahweh the glory due his name!
Bow down to Yahweh
In the splendor of holiness.

Give Yahweh, o sons of God
Give Yahweh glory and praise,
Give Yahweh the glory due his name!
Bow down to Yahweh
In the splendor of holiness.

The voice of Yahweh is upon the waters,
The God of glory rolls the thunder;
Yahweh is upon the mighty waters.
The voice of Yahweh is strength itself,
The voice of Yahweh is very splendor.
The voice of Yahweh shivers the cedars,
And Yahweh shivers the cedars of Lebanon;
The voice of Yahweh cleaves with shafts of fire.

He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
And Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of Yahweh convulses the desert,
Yahweh convulses the desert of Kadesh.
The voice of Yahweh convulses the terebinths,
And strips the forests bare;

While all in his temple – all of it,
All cry ‘Glory!’
Yahweh has sat enthroned since the flood
Yahweh is enthroned as King forever.
Yahweh will give his people victory,
Yahweh will bless his people with peace.
Psalm 30

The curious thing about this hymn to the Lord of the Storm is that it started out as a hymn to the Canaanite storm-god, Baal. The biblical writer found in this hymn many statements that were true – not of the pagan god Baal, but of the One True God -Yahweh, and so adapted the hymn to the praise of Yahweh. Missionaries often work this way – by finding the “hidden” gospel in the culture and folklore of the countries to which they are sent, and by using these to teach the truth of God to those who don’t yet know him. The Apostle Paul worked this way as well; he utilized an altar on Mars Hill dedicated to “an unknown god” to teach his audience about Yahweh, and the Son he sent to redeem mankind.

The hymn pictures a fierce storm blowing up from over the Mediterranean Sea and sweeping over the land. You can almost hear the crash of the thunder; see the flash of the lighting, and feel the sting of the driving rain. The ancients feared the thunderstorm, and sought to appease Baal, the god of the storm. They feared the crash of the thunder and the flash of the lightning because these were uncontrollable forces that threatened to undo them.

The ancients often thought of thunder as the voice of God. We might scoff at such an unscientific notion; we know that thunder is the shock wave produced as super heated air explosively expands and contracts in the wake of a lighting bolt, and that lighting is the discharge of electricity from the cloud to the ground. We might scoff at those in our past who believed thunder and lightning to be manifestations of the gods.

Yet even the biblical writers understood these natural phenomena to be (if not literally, than symbolically) to be manifestations of the presence of God. Repeatedly throughout the scriptures the voice of Yahweh is compared to the sound of thunder – at Mount Sinai, in the prophets, in the Psalms, and even in the New Testament. When Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, God spoke saying “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.” Some who heard it thought it was an angel speaking, others (those more skeptical and modernish, perhaps) dismissed it as “merely” thunder.

The sound of Yahweh’s voice could be heard thundering over the mighty waters – the biblical symbol of all that is chaotic. From the very beginning Yahweh’s voice was thundering out over the chaotic waters. When the world was nothing but a twisting, seething, foaming, crashing, expanse of chaotic waters, Yahweh spoke – thundering over the waters; calling the chaos into order and pronouncing it good.

The ancients feared the storm because it was an uncontrollable force. By offering sacrifices as an appeasement to the storm god, Baal they sought to control their world. Even today in our modern, skeptical lives we want to control our world but we can no more control the weather than the worshippers of Baal. We can’t even predict the weather with confidence or high degrees of certainty. We may understand the general patterns of moving fronts of hot or cold, moist or dry air… but we cannot control or predict it. There are too many variables, too many particles moving in too many different directions at different speeds. If we miss one little bit all of our predictions are invalidated. (The butterfly effect, “a butterfly flaps its wings in China and there’s a thunderstorm in New York…)

We may not be afraid of a thunderstorm anymore (though many rational people are still sometimes spooked by the crash of thunder and the flash of lightning) but we are still afraid of the uncontrollable. We want to be in control. We want to be the shapers of our destiny. We want to be the authors of our own lives. But, like the ancients, we cannot, and we are afraid.

The fear of a loss of control leads to all sorts of interpersonal violence and struggle. From the bully on the schoolyard to international conflicts and wars, people everywhere are attempting to control the world around them. “We fear the unknown and our lack of control. And it is this fear of the unknown that is at the heart of human violence. People who turn to violence nearly always do so with the assumption that they know how history should turn out. Violence is a tool humans use to ensure that their vision of the future will prevail over someone else’s.” (Choosing Against War: A Christian View John D. Roth, pg. 110)

We want to be the shapers of our lives, the masters of our destinies, the author of our own stories. But we can no more shape the events of our lives than we can control the weather. And for many of us this leads to a fear of the storm – the uncontrollable swirling and crashing around us.

But if we can recognize the voice of Yahweh thundering over the waters – speaking into the chaos of our lives – we will begin to recognize that he is calling that chaos into order, speaking his goodness into effect in our lives. To live in this way is to live humbly and with humility. We have to learn to yield our wills; we have to learn to surrender our desire to control to the one who speaks in the storm.

It may be that this surrender results in miraculous blessings – health, wealth, and the desires of our hearts. It may be that by yielding our control we find ourselves in a place of wonderful contentment. But it is also possible that we will find ourselves in a difficult and demanding situation. Either way, we learn to live humbly – sharing with Jesus in the agony of his execution, and in the triumph of his resurrection.

While all in his temple – all of it,
All cry ‘Glory!’
Yahweh has sat enthroned since the flood
Yahweh is enthroned as King forever.
Yahweh will give his people victory,
Yahweh will bless his people with peace.

Ed's picture

This psalm says that Lebanon skips like a calf. Do you believe it?

ooops, wrong thread...

ed

ed

Papa is especially fond of us

Paige's picture

Thanks for this, Jeff! I found some wonderful insights here, especially in regard to fear. I loved that quote from John Roth that you provided. This was a real blessing!

Paige

jcarter's picture

I'm so sorry...

That should be Psalm 29.
someone should begin flogging me immediately.
jeff

There is no life without prayer. Without prayer there is only madness and horror. - Vasilii Rozanov

jcarter's picture

a great big thank you to whomever corrected that for me. You're wonderful.
jc

There is no life without prayer. Without prayer there is only madness and horror. - Vasilii Rozanov

MiddleKnowledge's picture

But where would the grace be if we did that?

I've made bigger blunders than one lousy digit.

About your article. Very well written! I try to think along those lines when I am out enjoying creation. It is a fabulous "take" on how God's word works through God's creation and vice-versa. Very stimulating to meditative thought and contemplation.

You also hit on something I'm working on in my work, too. That biblical writers will sometimes "play off" pagan thought in order to demonstrate the superiority and truth of biblical monotheism.

Could you give me some source for your opening statements about how this passage relates to contemporary pagan thought-forms? I think you'll see why I ask in an upcoming segment on the Genesis creation account. I think some of the same things are going on there, too.

Thanks for your work, Jeff,

Tim Martin
www.truthinliving.org

jcarter's picture

" A hymn in which the sons of God are invited to acclaim the sovereignty of Yahweh, who manifests his power in a storm. The recognition that this psalm is a Yahwistic adaptation of an older Canaanite hymn to the storm-god Baal is due to H.L. Ginsberg, "A Phoenician Hymn in the Psalter," in Atti del XIX Congresso Internazionale delgi Orientalisti (Roma, 1935), pp.472-76. Ginsberg's observations of thirty years ago have been corroborated by teh subsequent discovery of tablets at Ras Shamra and by progress in the interpretation of these texts. Virtually every word in the psalm can now be duplicated in older Canaanite texts."

- from The Anchor Bible vol. 16: Pslams 1 - 50 by Mitchell Dahood, Doubleday, 1966, pg. 175.

a simple google search will also reveal a number of sites both for and against the idea that this is an adaptation of a baal hymn.

Some argue that a "similarity" does not mean that the psalm is derived from a baal hymn. but i think many of these arguments are working too hard under an incomplete idea of how God inspired biblical writers. After all, if it was okay for Paul to use the alter to the unknown God at Mars Hill, why would it be innappropriate for the psalmist to use a baal hymn a springboard for a "new and improved" hymn to the (true) Lord of the Storm?

i look forward to your next installment. jc.

There is no life without prayer. Without prayer there is only madness and horror. - Vasilii Rozanov

MiddleKnowledge's picture

Jeff,

Thanks for that. I will look into it more.

I'm in essential agreement with you, though I am not sure the issues are quite settled yet of the ultimate origins of some of these texts. I'd feel better after a couple hundred more years of digging and research.

I do very much appreciate your thoughts on how dynamic the inspiration of our Scriptures may be. In Western, scientific culture we tend to approach these questions "by logical dissection" which tends to lead reductionistic explanations. I think we often see things too narrowly.

As a preterist I was taught that the cultural context of biblical texts is very important to "get into the shoes" of the original audience. When I apply that same principle to what I am learning, the creation account and early chapters of Genesis look quite different than the way I was taught (just like Revelation looks quite different on the other side of the Bible). I hope to give an introduction to that issue in part 14 or 15 of my series. I'm still studying the issue quite hard right now.

Anyway, thanks for bringing this issue out in a practical and relevant application to common life,

Tim Martin
www.truthinliving.org

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