By James Boice
Theme: An Extraordinary Poem
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
I do not know of any book of the Bible that requires more knowledge, more experience of life and more skill of interpretation to understand it well than the book of Psalms. It is because the psalms are so diverse. They cover the vast range of biblical theology and the full scope of human experience from doubt to faith, suffering to jubilation, defeat to victory—and they do so in an amazing variety of poetic forms. The psalms are so deep, so diverse, so challenging that I do not believe anyone can ever really master them. Moreover, as soon as the student begins to get hold of one type of psalm and thinks he understands it, he is suddenly confronted with another that is entirely different.
That is what happens as we come to Psalm 29. This psalm is unlike any we have seen before. To begin with, it consists entirely of praise to God. Other psalms praise God, of course. But almost all mix praise with something else, such as appeals to God to help the psalmist or applications from the greatness of God to how we should live now. This psalm has no other elements. It is pure praise. It does not call upon us to do anything, because the psalm is itself doing the only thing it is concerned about. It is praising God.1
Second, the psalm is pure poetry. To be sure, all psalms are poetry. That is what a psalm is. But this psalm reaches new poetic heights. You will recall that the chief elements in Hebrew poetry are repetition or parallelism. We have seen these to some degree in every psalm thus far. This entire psalm is built upon them.
The most striking example of repetition is the name of the LORD, Jehovah. The poem only has eleven verses, but “the LORD” (or Jehovah) occurs eighteen times, in some parts of the poem appearing in every line (vv. 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 10, 11). In the middle portion (vv. 3-9) the name is found in the phrase “the voice of the LORD,” and this occurs seven times.
The poem’s parallelism is equally pronounced. It begins with three parallel appeals to the angels to give glory to God, followed by a fourth line that says the same thing though in slightly different words (vv. 1, 2): “Ascribe to the LORD, O mighty ones, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.”
The middle portion (vv. 3-9) describes a thunderstorm in which the constant repetition of
words evokes the echoing of the thunder. In verse 3 the ideas of the first two lines (the voice of God being “over the waters” and God thundering) are combined in the third: “the LORD thunders over the mighty waters.” All the other verses of the middle section are simple parallels in which the second line repeats the idea of the first, usually intensifying it, except for verse 7 which appropriately breaks the pattern with two short lines describing flashes of lightning, and verse 9 which has an additional sentence added on.
The final section (vv. 10, 11) returns to simple parallelism with two couplets in which “the LORD” occurs four times and the words “enthroned” and “his people” twice: “The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD is enthroned as King forever. The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace.”
- What features mark this psalm off from the others we have studied thus far?
- How are repetition and parallelism used in this psalm?
- Review the outline of the psalm.
1The closest psalm parallels are Psalms 8 and 19, but even they have some additional elements. The best parallels are the Song of Moses (Exod. 15) and the Song of Deborah (Judges 5), but they are not as concentrated in their praise as Psalm 29.
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