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.
- Who are the “mighty ones” addressed in verse 1?
- 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.
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