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).
- Describe the movement of the storm through the psalm. What are the poetic elements which make this psalm “feel” like a thunderstorm?
- 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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