Rock of Refuge, Part 1

By James Boice

Theme: Prayer for Help in Trouble

In this week’s lessons, we learn from this psalm how to deal with difficulties that come into our lives, knowing that God is our mighty refuge in whom alone we can trust.

Scripture: Psalm 31:1-24

Psalm 31 is longer than most of those immediately preceding it. Only Psalms 18 and 22 are longer. But Psalm 31 has this interesting distinction. As a psalm of trust growing out of an individual lament, “a magnificent psalm of confidence,” it has appealed to many biblical characters.

The phrase “terror on every side,” from verse 13, seems to have appealed to Jeremiah as a description of the dangers of his day, since he borrowed it no less than six times in his writings, sometimes picking up other echoes of the psalm along with it (Jer. 6:25; 20:3, 10; 46:5; 49:29; Lam. 2:22). In his prayer of repentance from inside the great fish, Jonah, the minor prophet, quoted the words “those who cling to worthless idols,” from verse 13 (Jonah 2:8). The author of Psalm 71, possibly David himself, quotes the opening verses of Psalm 31 as his opening. And, most striking of all, verse 5 of our psalm gave Jesus words for his last utterance from the cross: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

In spite of the apparent popularity of this psalm, it is a hard psalm to outline. In fact, no two writers agree on an outline. Some divide the psalm into three parts, some into two. But even among those who agree on the number of parts, there is no agreement about where the divisions come, and most even disagree about the flow of thought within the sections. In this study I want to follow the stanza divisions of the New International Version and outline them as follows.

I see two main parts to the psalm: 1) the body of the psalm (vv. 1-20); and 2) a brief concluding application (vv. 21-24). The body of the psalm is in five parts: 1) a prayer for help in trouble (vv. 1-5); 2) an expression of trust in God (vv. 6-8); 3) a lament (vv. 9-13); 4) a further expression of trust (vv. 14-18); and 5) praise to God for his help in the trouble (vv. 19, 20). As we will see in our study, these five parts move from an emotional peak to an emotional valley and then back to an emotional peak again. It is as if David is riding a wave from a crest to a trough and then back to a crest in closing.

The first five verses of this psalm are a prayer for help in trouble. But they are a confident prayer since they, like the other sections of the psalm, express a very strong trust in God.

These verses have a theme. It is that God is the psalmist’s “rock of refuge.” The phrase itself occurs in verse 2, but the two nouns are also repeated separately. “Refuge” is found in verses 1 and 4. “Rock” is used again in verse 3. In addition, the nearly synonymous term “fortress” is used twice (in vv. 2 and 3). This was a popular metaphor with David, being found in Psalms 18, 19, 28, 61, 62 and 71, for example. It unquestionably comes from the years when he was fleeing from King Saul and so often found safety in the high rocks of the Judean wilderness. On the plain, David’s warrior band was no match for the numerically superior and better equipped troops of his enemy. But he was safe if he fled to the mountains. In the same way, David saw God as his true “rock of refuge” when his later enemies encircled him and set traps for his soul.

Study Questions:

  1. How else has this psalm been used by others in the Bible?
  2. How does Dr. Boice outline this psalm?
  3. What is the image in David’s mind when he calls God his rock and refuge?

For Further Study: The book of Psalms has been a source of comfort and strength for the church throughout the centuries, aiding us in our prayers and praise, and teaching us what it means to really know God and how to please him. Dr. Boice’s clear and practical treatment of this great section of the Bible is available in paperback. Order your copy of this three-volume set, and take 25% off the regular price.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

A Litany of Uplifting Contrasts, Day 5

By James Boice

Theme: Personal Grief and Great Joy

From this week’s lessons we learn of God’s power and mercy to heal, and what we need to do in response.

Scripture: Psalm 30:1-12

The last set of uplifting contrasts is found in verses 11 and 12, but the wailing and sackcloth of those verses recall the time David has already described in verses 8-10. Wailing describes the words themselves, emphasizing the anguished tone of David’s utterance. Sackcloth describes the attitude in which his words were uttered, since sackcloth was the accepted attire of one who was demonstrating personal repentance from sin. These contrasts are: “wailing” versus “dancing” and “sackcloth” versus being “clothed with joy.”

There is one more important contrast, however. I wonder if you have seen it. It is in the very last verse, a contrast between “singing to God” (which means praising him openly) or “being silent.” It reminds us how silent many of us are in spite of having received many abundant blessings and deliverances from God.

Do you recall the hymn written by Charles Wesley in which we sing: “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise”? It is a pious thought but a vain one. For what would be the advantage of possessing a thousand tongues to sing God’s praise when the one tongue we do have is so silent? Jesus told us, “Out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). So if we are not speaking God’s praise, it is because our hearts are not full of him. Instead they are filled with the things of this world, things that will perish with the world and pass away. What a sad exchange: the things of this world for the glories of the eternal God.

I counsel you to fill your hearts and minds with God. Think about him for what he is in himself and for what he has done. And then, when your heart is overflowing with his praise, speak about him to others, as David is doing in this psalm. You will find two things. First, you will find that God delights in such praise and that you will be drawn to him even more than you are now. Second, you will find that God uses your praise to attract others and win them to faith, as a result of which you will have even more cause for rejoicing.

Study Questions:

  1. What contrasts are seen in the last two verses, and what do they mean?
  2. Review all the contrasts we have seen in this psalm. What do they teach us about God and our response to him?

Reflection: Are your heart and mind filled with the knowledge of God and his ways? Or are other things being given an improper place that are hindering your prayer life and silencing your praise?

For Further Study: To learn more about how the Lord lifts us up, download and listen for free to Donald Barnhouse’s message, “The Lord Is My Lifter-Upper.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

A Litany of Uplifting Contrasts, Day 4

By James Boice

Theme: The Psalmist’s Sin and His Repentance

From this week’s lessons we learn of God’s power and mercy to heal, and what we need to do in response.

Scripture: Psalm 30:1-12

Here is a rich set of contrasts: God’s “anger” versus God’s “favor”; “weeping” versus “rejoicing”; “night” versus “morning”; and “a moment” versus “a lifetime.” But here is a warning before we go on. It is true that for the people of God the sufferings of this life are minimized. And even if their miseries should be great here, for reasons known only to God, they are more than compensated for hereafter. This is not true for unbelievers. For them it is exactly the opposite. For those who go their own way now there may be many times of temporary rejoicing. The world has its pleasures. Even the very wicked may have an occasional moment of heaven here on earth. But their portion hereafter will be hell. Judgment will come, and it will be true to say that for them that the anger of the Lord will last, not only a lifetime but forever. The time to discover God’s favor through Jesus Christ is now, while it is still the day of God’s grace.

At first glance the psalm seems to take an unexpected turn at verse 6, for suddenly the writer is revealing a former sin of self-confidence or pride and is apparently linking it to his illness. He recalls the time God turned his face away from him because of that sin, how dismayed he was, and even the words he prayed as he sought mercy from the one he had offended: “What gain is there in my destruction, to my going down into the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness? Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me; O LORD, be my help.”

This not so surprising, however, when we remember the principle the psalmist has just explained. He has been speaking of the Lord’s anger lasting only for a moment and of his favor lasting a lifetime. The Lord’s anger presupposes the sin against which it is directed. So here David confesses that the sin that led to his sickness was that of saying, “I will never be shaken” (v. 6), forgetting that we are only secure when God upholds us. If there is a connection between Psalm 28 and the incident in which David sinned in numbering the people, as H. C. Leupold (and some others) have argued,5 the psalm is confessing that self-confidence is what lay behind the numbering. In other words, David had fallen into the trap of trusting in the numbers of his army rather than in the Lord. The contrasts here are: “feeling secure” versus being “dismayed” and enjoying God’s “favor” versus God “hiding his face.”

Self-confidence rather than God-confidence is a common failure among us, blessed as many of us have been with abundant wealth, enviable education and technical skills. As a people we think that we can get by on our hustle. As a church we think we can manage our affairs by secular skills and fund raising techniques without relying on God. As a nation we think we can survive on the strength of our military might and industrial production. What a shaking there will have to be! What calamities before we again humble ourselves under the hand of God and look to him to exalt us in his way and time!

Study Questions:

  1. In what ways do you see unbelievers experiencing temporary rejoicing, while also storing up eternal judgment?
  2. What turn does the psalm take in verse 6?

Application: In what areas of your life do you struggle with the temptation to exercise confidence in yourself instead of a righteous reliance upon the Lord?

5See footnote 3.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

A Litany of Uplifting Contrasts, Day 3

By James Boice

Theme: God’s Anger and God’s Favor

From this week’s lessons we learn of God’s power and mercy to heal, and what we need to do in response.

Scripture: Psalm 30:1-12

David knew that God’s anger would be short-lived, while his favor would continue. We know that this was no mere theory for David, because there is an incident from his later life in which he put his convictions regarding this aspect of God’s character into practice. Second Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21 tell how David decided to number the fighting men of Israel and sent Joab and the other commanders throughout the kingdom to do it, despite their protest that it was a vain request and would displease God. The act did displease God with the result that a man named Gad, David’s prophet at court, came to him with a choice of three judgments. He could experience three years of famine, three months of being swept away before his enemies, or three days of plague in the land, with the angel of the Lord ravaging every part of the kingdom. David chose the latter because, he said, “Let me fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men” (2 Sam. 24:14; par.).

David’s choice reflected the conviction we have seen in the psalm, and it proved to be a wise choice. For although the plague did fall on Israel and 70,000 men died the first day, when the angel of death came to Jerusalem and was about to attack it the Lord was grieved for the people and told the angel to withhold his hand and withdraw. So the plague was arrested.

The place the plague stopped was the threshing floor of Araunah which David then bought and appointed to be the future site of the temple and of the altar of burnt offering where atonement for sin by sacrifice should thereafter be made.3

 A moment ago I said that David is thinking of the character of God in our text and not merely of a balancing out of good and bad times with the weight being on the side of the good. He is thinking of God’s favor and disfavor. But it is also true, isn’t it, that God’s favor (forget his disfavor for a moment) also controls those otherwise simply good and bad experiences? We do experience hard times. They are part of life. But God is gracious in those things too, so that we generally experience far more of the good than the bad. Haven’t you found it to be so? Can’t you look back on your life as a Christian and confess that God has been very good to you, that he has kept the bad days to a minimum and multiplied the good? It is a rare Christian who cannot say that.

I acknowledge that some Christians do suffer a great deal, and sometimes their suffering is so intense it seems longer than it truly is. What do we say of such circumstances? In that case, we need to see our experiences not only in the light of this world but of eternity. Harry Ironside tells that when his father was dying he was suffering a great deal. A friend visited him and, leaning over, said, “John, you are suffering terribly, aren’t you?”

The father did not deny it. “I am suffering more than I thought it was possible for any one to suffer and still live,” he said. “But,” he added, “one sight of his blessed face will make up for it all.”4 That is the true Christian’s ultimate perspective. It is the faith that triumphs over everything.

Study Questions:

  1. Review the story in David’s life illustrating God’s anger and favor.
  2. Why did David choose the punishment he did?

Reflection: What are the evidences in your life that God’s blessings have outweighed the hardships?

3H. C. Leupold believes this incident actually lies behind Psalm 28 and was the occasion for it. According to his view, “the house” of the psalm’s title would be the future house of God or temple, soon to be built by Solomon, and the psalm would have been used for the first “dedication” of the site when the land was purchased. He lists a number of significant parallels between the two, concluding, “The psalm fits this historical situation as a glove fits the hand” (Exposition of the Psalms [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), pp. 251, 252.

4H. A. Ironside, Studies on Book One of the Psalms (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 1952), p. 175.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

A Litany of Uplifting Contrasts, Day 2

By James Boice

Theme: Serious Sickness and Renewed Health

From this week’s lessons we learn of God’s power and mercy to heal, and what we need to do in response.

Scripture: Psalm 30:1-12

Verse 1 contains a very nice image for what happened, for when David says “you lifted me out of the depths” he chooses a verb which was used of drawing a bucket up out of a well. He is saying that it is as if God reached down and pulled him up out of death’s pit when, apart from God, there was no hope for him at all. The image introduces the first set of uplifting contrasts:

Lifted “up” versus “going down.”
God who “helped” versus enemies who gloated.”
Serious sickness versus renewed health.
Threat of the “grave” versus life.
Physical suffering versus praise and thankfulness to God.

Peter C. Craigie says rightly of this section, “The occasion for the present act of worship is not merely the assurance that God would answer, but the experience of actual healing because God had answered.”2

The important point, of course, is that God was responsible for the healing, which is why David is thanking him. It leads to this question: Do we adequately think of sickness and recovery in these terms? We live in a scientific age, which has had the bad effect of removing us from a sense of God’s presence and intervention in our lives. It makes us substitute secondary causes for the first Cause. We speak of “the miracles of modern medicine.” But strictly speaking, as thankful as we should be for medical knowledge, skills, personnel and resources, medicine is no “miracle.” It is a technology. The “miracle” in healing is God’s.

So when you are sick, pray. Ask God for healing. And when you are well again, remember that it is he who has healed you and thank him for it, as the psalmist does.

After expressing thanks to God for his healing the psalmist quite naturally turns to God’s people, whom he calls “you saints of his,” and asks them to join in praising God too. It would be right for David to have asked them merely to thank God that their king had been spared. But he does something much finer than that in this next section (vv. 4, 5). He asks them to praise God, not merely because God had been gracious to himself but because it is God’s nature to be gracious, which means that David was calling on the people to realize that this is how God had also been treating them.

To understand the principle David develops in this section we need to recognize that it is a spiritual statement regarding God’s character and not just a detached observation on life. Without the first half of verse 5, the second half might suggest the latter: Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

That could mean only, as we say, that “into each life a little rain must fall” or “every cloud has a silver lining” or “you’ve got to take the bad with the good” or “cheer up, things will get better.” But, of course, that is not the idea at all. It is true that there are good and bad things in life and that we do not always have to see a specific judgment or blessing of God in each one. But what David is talking about is God’s disfavor versus his favor, expressed in the experiences of life, and his conviction that the latter always outnumber and outweigh the former for God’s people.

The point is this. God is indeed displeased with sin and can never be indifferent to it. He judges sin with a holy anger, even in Christians. But for his people God’s judgments and anger are short-lived. They pass quickly. What remains is his favor, which lasts a lifetime.

Study Questions:

  1. What do we learn about God’s character from this psalm?
  2. It is easier than ever before to view physical recovery as the result of modern technology and medication. Do you tend to think of sickness and recovery as being in God’s hands? Why or why not?

Application: Do we remember to render thanks to God for his restoration and providential care over us? 

2Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), p. 253.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

A Litany of Uplifting Contrasts, Day 1

By James Boice

Theme: A Litany of Uplifting Contrasts

From this week’s lessons we learn of God’s power and mercy to heal, and what we need to do in response.

Scripture: Psalm 30:1-12

From time to time in these studies I have pointed out that there are various types of psalms—the scholars call them genres—and that it is often helpful to remember the type one is dealing with in a specific psalm. Psalm 30 is a thanksgiving psalm. However, it is related to a type of psalm known as a lament, since thanksgiving psalms are usually expressions of praise to God for having heard a lament. In this case, some of the words of the lament are preserved in verses 9 and 10. Thanksgiving psalms are also related to hymns, another genre, since the psalmist’s thanksgiving usually takes the form of sung praise.

The title of this psalm identifies it as being “for the dedication of the temple” (actually, “for the house”). This does not help us understand it very much, although there has been a great deal of speculation as to what “house” might refer to.1

What is helpful is to realize that it is a psalm of thanksgiving for deliverance from a great sickness, which becomes evident as we read through it. Sometimes language like this occurs in less explicit psalms, and we have found ourselves asking whether the psalm is talking about real sickness or sickness which is somehow symbolic. We wonder whether it is referring to spiritual sickness, depression or even danger from enemies. There is no such question here. David had been sick enough to die. But God had rescued him, bringing him up from what he describes as “the depths,” “the grave” or “the pit.” Now, having been rescued, he not only himself praises God but also calls on others of the Lord’s people to join him on the ground that his experience is common to God’s saints. This leads to the best known and most frequently quoted verse of the psalm, verse 5: “For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.”

From a literary point of view, the most striking feature of the psalm is its remarkable sets of contrasts, which is also probably the most helpful way to approach it. I highlight the four main ones in this study, but each of these contains further contrasts as elaborations of the central idea. I count more than a dozen in all.

When we were studying Psalm 28 I pointed out that, although David speaks of “the pit” in that psalm, meaning Sheol or the abode of the dead, he does not say that he has fallen into it. On the contrary, he pictured himself as tottering on the edge, crying out for help before he falls and is gone forever. In this psalm David says he had already fallen into the depths or grave, though he is careful not to use the word “pit” (or Sheol) as something into which he has fallen, since that would imply that he had died. What he is saying is that he had fallen into what was apparently his final illness and that he was on the very brink of death. We speak of a man being so old or so sick that he has one foot in the grave. But David is saying that he was so sick that his enemies had actually, in their minds at least, laid him out in his coffin. It is from this that God delivered him.

Study Questions:

  1. What type of psalm is this? Why is David thankful?
  2. What is the psalm’s most striking feature?
  3. What is “the pit”? Why does David omit that word in this psalm when describing his situation?

Reflection: Are your own experiences of lament followed by praise?

1The chief possibilities are: 1) the temple, which is how the Revised Standard Version translated the word (the chief difficulty being that the first temple had not yet been constructed); and 2) David’s own house, that is, his palace. This is the first time since Psalm 18 that a title has linked a psalm to a specific historical event or function.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

The Lord, the Lord Almighty, Part 5

By James Boice

Theme: Peace on Earth

This week’s lessons teach us how and why to praise God, and what will happen for us as we do.

Scripture: Psalm 29:1-11

Elijah’s experience of God’s presence in the gentle whisper is what it is like as we come to the end of Psalm 29. The storm has passed by, and what remains is God himself, as peaceful and as much in control of all things as he has always been. Yet here are two more points.

First, God is said to sit “enthroned over the flood” (v. 10). That is a natural thing to say in this final stanza, for the normal aftermath of a storm of this scope would be localized flooding as the rains deposited on the slopes coursed down the hillsides and filled the valley bottoms. It was just such flooding Jesus was thinking of when he described the falling rains, rising streams and destruction of the house of the man who built on sand without an adequate foundation (Matt. 7:26, 27).

Yet there may be more to the idea of a flood than this. This is because Psalm 29:10 is the only place in the Old Testament where this word for “flood” occurs except for the classic flood narrative of Genesis 6-9. It is as if the word should occur in our English translations as “Deluge” or “The Flood.” Every Jew would know the flood story. So the use of this word for “flood” would immediately remind them of that great judgment and would associate the storm that has just been described with it. In fact, the tenses of verse 10 seem to call for this association, since the word “sits” is actually “sat” (past tense), and the contrast is between the Genesis Flood as a past event over which God presided and the storm as a present experience. The verse probably means: “The LORD sat enthroned over the Genesis Flood, continues to be enthroned and will be enthroned forever.”

This is what I referred to above when I said that the last stanza speaks of the voice of God in judgment explicitly. It is telling us that a final storm of judgment is coming and warning people to get ready for it, using the thunderstorm as a powerful image. The only ones who will be ready for that judgment are God’s people, to whom the Lord “gives strength” and “blesses … with peace” (v. 11). Today we know that this peace is only to be found when we are in Christ, since he bore the storm of God’s judgment in our place.

This brings us to a point with which to end. Do you remember the words of the angels to the shepherds at the midnight announcement of the birth of Jesus in Luke 2:14? The words were: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

This is the very pattern of Psalm 29, as Franz Delitzsch noted more than a hundred years ago. It begins with the angels singing praise to God in heaven: Gloria in excelsis. And it ends with the blessing et in terra pax, peace to those on whom his favor rests.6

Study Questions:

  1. How might the word “flood” in verse 10 be understood?
  2. What imagery is used to describe God’s judgment?
  3. What does the Lord do for his people in this psalm?

Application: How can you incorporate the themes of praise from this psalm into your own prayers?

6Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Psalms, trans. by Francis Bolton, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), p. 373. Revised German edition 1867.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

The Lord, the Lord Almighty, Part 4

By James Boice

Theme: The Voice of God

This week’s lessons teach us how and why to praise God, and what will happen for us as we do.

Scripture: Psalm 29:1-11

In looking back over this description of the storm, we notice that its chief feature is “the voice of the LORD,” a phrase that occurs seven times. This is not to be overlooked, because it indicates that, although David is describing the majesty of God as it is revealed in a storm, what he is chiefly concerned with is the power of God’s voice. And not just thunder. The thunder is only a poetic image for a reality which is infinitely beyond it.

This is an important biblical theme. We think of the power of the voice of God in creation, for instance. The Bible begins with God speaking, and as a result of his voice the created order springs into being. God said, “Let there be …,” and it was so.

There is also the power of the voice of God as he calls in grace to draw sinners to himself. Spurgeon liked this application and linked it to each phase of the storm’s description. He read about the voice of God breaking the mighty cedars of Lebanon and wrote, “The gospel of Jesus has… dominion over the most inaccessible of mortals, and when the Lord sends the word, it breaks hearts far stouter than the cedars.” He read about the storm’s effect on the mountains and wrote, “The glorious gospel of the blessed God has more than equal power over the rocky obduracy and mountainous pride of man.” He read about the lightning and observed that “flames of fire attend the voice of God in the gospel, illuminating and melting the hearts of men; by these he consumes our lusts and kindles in us a holy flame of ever-inspiring love and devotion.” He observed the progression of the storm to the desert and noted, “Low lying plains must hear the voice of God as well as lofty mountains; the poor as well as the mighty must acknowledge the glory of the Lord.”5

We may also think of the power of the voice of God in judgment. This is probably explicit in the psalm’s final stanza, as we will see.

In the final two verses the storm has passed but God remains as the enthroned King of the universe. The earth may have been shaken as well as the people who live on it, but God is not shaken. He remains as calmly in control as ever, and there is peace for those who are his.

The tone of these final verses reminds us of God’s appearance to Elijah after he had fled into the desert out of fear of Ahab and Jezebel who had threatened to kill him. Elijah was emotionally drained and exhausted. But God told him, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Elijah did, sheltering himself in a cave. The story continues: “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard the gentle whisper he pulled his cloak over his face and went out from the cave where he had been hiding and met with God” (1 Kings 19:11-13).

Study Questions:

  1. What is the chief feature of David’s description of the storm?
  2. From the lesson, list and describe the three areas where we see this feature displayed?

Reflection: Is there anyone in your family, or perhaps a friend, who is not a Christian? Pray for the voice of the Lord to awaken them to faith. How will you seek to be the channel through whom the Holy Spirit may work?

Key Point: In the final two verses the storm has passed but God remains as the enthroned King of the universe. The earth may have been shaken as well as the people who live on it, but God is not shaken. He remains as calmly in control as ever, and there is peace for those who are his.

For Further Study: For a more detailed study of God as the Creator, download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “God the Creator.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

5C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1b, Psalms 27-57 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), pp. 31, 32.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

The Lord, the Lord Almighty, Part 3

By James Boice

Theme: The Passing of the Storm

This week’s lessons teach us how and why to praise God, and what will happen for us as we do.

Scripture: Psalm 29:1-11

The second stanza of the psalm (vv. 3-9) contains the description of the storm. What a description it is! It is hard to read it without thinking of great storms one has witnessed.

One summer, when my family was young, my wife and I and our children were privileged to spend nearly two months at a chalet partway around the southern edge of Lake Brienz, not far from Interlaken, Switzerland. We were fairly high up the mountainside, so we had a wonderful view over most of Lake Brienz and could even see the edge of Interlaken to our left. The second of the two lakes that meet at Interlaken, the Thunersee, was beyond the city further down the valley.

One August afternoon we saw a storm come up the valley from the east. It was unlike anything we had seen before. We were mesmerized by it. It was dark and glowering and was preceded by sheets of driving rain and hail. Yet we were in bright sunshine. We watched the storm from our balcony, not understanding how strong it was until suddenly it reached us, blowing things about, pelting us with hail and then a fierce rain. We barely made it indoors where in safety we watched it pass on up Lake Brienz. The next day we learned how terrible it had been. It had done great damage in Interlaken, among other things uprooting some of the massive trees that for centuries had surrounded and adorned the central park.

That is the kind of experience the central part of Psalm 29 describes, a storm arising over the Mediterranean Sea to the north, sweeping down the entire length of Canaan, and then disappearing out over the desert to the south. Some interpreters divide the middle stanza into three parts to mark each of those movements.

Verses 3 and 4 seem to portray the storm as it gathers power out over the Mediterranean Sea, before coming ashore in full fury, though this is not certain. I take the phrases “over the waters” and “over the mighty waters” to refer to the Mediterranean, but the words can also refer to the water collected in the atmosphere in the dark thunderclouds of the storm soon to fall as rain. “Water” is used this way in Genesis 1, where God creates an “expanse,” later called “sky,” to separate water from water, that is, the water in the atmosphere from the collected water of the rivers, lakes and seas. Whatever the meaning, the emphasis is on the “voice of the LORD,” the thunder, which is “over the waters” and is heard by the psalmist on land.

In verses 5-7 the storm strikes, moving down from Lebanon. The place name Lebanon is used twice, once in verse 5 and again in verse 6, and verse 6 also mentions Sirion, which is an ancient Sidonian name for Mount Hermon. These verses describe the damage done to the great cedars of Lebanon, which were the very symbol of strength in the ancient Mediterranean world and yet are as nothing before the storm and the voice of God which accompanies it. The storm is so fierce it seems to make even the mountains tremble. Verse 7 describes the flashing of the lightning which, quite accurately, is linked to the voice of the Lord or thunder.

Finally, in verses 8 and 9 the storm passes away over the southern Desert of Kadesh, where the people had spent some time during the wilderness journey under Moses, but not before it “twists the oaks and strips the forests bare.” What are the people who have witnessed the storm doing? They are in the temple praising God. David says with an economy of words and to great effect, “And in his temple all cry, “Glory” (v. 9)! This could refer to the praise of the angels taking place in heaven, which the psalmist has solicited in the opening stanza. But without some specific indication that this is what he intends or is thinking, it is most natural to think of the temple as the literal temple in Jerusalem and thus to think of those who are crying, “Glory!” as human beings. If this is the right meaning, then the praise already begun in heaven (in vv. 1, 2) is echoed by the people of God who have seen his glory in the storm (v. 9).

Study Questions:

  1. Describe the movement of the storm through the psalm. What are the poetic elements which make this psalm “feel” like a thunderstorm?
  2. Why is the imagery of “the great cedars of Lebanon” used here?

Reflection: Make a list of various natural phenomena or observations of creation. What does each one teach about the Lord?


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

The Lord, the Lord Almighty, Part 2

By James Boice

Theme: Glory in the Highest

This week’s lessons teach us how and why to praise God, and what will happen for us as we do.

Scripture: Psalm 29:1-11

We might think that a poem this narrowly focused would be dull, but the psalm avoids dullness by two forms of motion. One is the passing of the storm which is described as sweeping over the entire country from north to south (vv. 3-9). The other is the movement from heaven where the psalm begins (vv. 1, 2) to earth where it ends (vv. 10, 11). The more I study it, the less surprised I am that Harry Ironside called Psalm 29 probably the finest poem in the Bible and “one of the loveliest poems I have ever seen.2

If you do not have a poetic spirit, you never appreciate this psalm. For this is not a poem to be critically analyzed, above all not in a scientific frame of mind. If you keep telling yourself that the voice of God is not in thunder, that thunder is only the clashing of differently charged electronic particles, you will miss it all. To appreciate this psalm we have to get out in the fields, watch the majesty of some ferocious storm and recall that God is in the storm, directing it, as he is in all other natural and historical phenomena.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon had a great poetic soul, and here is what he advised:

Just as the eighth psalm is to be read by moonlight, when the stars are bright, as the nineteenth needs the rays of the rising sun to bring out its beauty, so this can be best rehearsed beneath the black wing of tempest, by the glare of the lightning, or amid that dubious dusk which heralds the war of elements. The verses march to the tune of thunderbolts. God is everywhere conspicuous, and all the earth is hushed by the majesty of his presence.3

The commentators tell us that in the early church this psalm was often read to children or to members of a congregation during storms.

The psalm opens with a two-verse introduction in which heavenly beings or angels are called upon to praise God.4 This will seem strange to us if we are approaching the psalm in a rationalistic rather than a poetic frame of mind, for, of course, praising God is what the angels of God are employed in doing constantly. Strictly speaking, it is human beings, not angels, who need to be urged to praise God, and for a mere human being to do the urging only seems to make the situation more bizarre.

Why does David call on the angels, then? As soon as we think of this poetically the reason is obvious. It is because he feels that his praise and that of other mere human beings is not adequate. David is overwhelmed with the majesty of God revealed in the storm he has witnessed and is now going to describe, and he feels that he needs help to praise God properly. To praise God adequately the entire created order must join in, and even then sufficient praise will be lacking.

David’s appeal to the angels does indicate something significant about worship, however, something we must keep in mind. (The angels already know it.) It describes the praise of God as consisting of two things: 1) ascribing glory to him, that is, acknowledging his supreme worth with our minds; and 2) worshiping or bowing down to him (the Hebrew word means to bow down), which means a subordination of our wills to his. The two belong together, and each is essential. So what the angels do naturally, we also must learn to do if the glory of God is to make its proper impact upon us and we are to worship him properly.

Study Questions:

  1. Who are the “mighty ones” addressed in verse 1?
  2. Why does David urge them to praise God?

Application: What does it mean to ascribe glory to God, and also to worship him? What does this look like on Sundays? What does this look like during the rest of the week?

2H. A. Ironside, Studies on Book One of the Psalms (New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 1952), p. 171.
3C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1b, Psalms 27-57 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 29.
4The phrase which the New International Version translates “O mighty ones” is an unusual one, occurring in the psalms only here and in Psalm 89:6. The Hebrew phrase beni `elim literally means “sons of gods.” On the surface this might suggest an inferior rank of gods, that is, “sons of the gods.” But this idea is so out of place in Hebrew theology that it needs to be abandoned. Actually the phrase is very similar to the more common words beni `elohim (“sons of God”), which refer to angels (cf. Job 1:6; 2:1; 28:7), and this is the meaning it seems to have in Psalm 89:6. The strange double plural may be only an unusual plural form, or it may be a way of heightening the term to include many, many angels. The latter explanation seems to fit well here.


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.