A Meditation on Psalm 29
Ascribe to the Lord, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.
The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth
and strips the forests bare,
and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord sits enthroned as king forever.
The Lord gives strength to his people!
The Lord blesses his people with peace!
The song contained in Psalm 29 is a popular one in the Hebrew Scriptures. The themes and many of the phrases of this psalm are shared with Psalm 96. We can hear echoes and direct quotations from both psalms in 1 Chr 16.28-34, a song which David commanded Asaph to sing before the Lord. We see at least one of the sentiments of the song reaching all the way to the time of Jehoshaphat in 2 Chr 20.21: “And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy attire [literally “the splendor of holiness”], as they went before the army, and say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.’” That phrase, “the splendor of holiness,” is exceedingly rare; it only appears here, in Psalms 29 and 96, in Asaph’s song in 1 Chr 16, and once in the Proverbs. Clearly, the song contained in our psalm resonated with Israel for centuries.
It’s not hard to see why. Psalm 29 uses vivid images to show us the Lord as Creator. “The voice of the Lord is over the waters” recalls the opening scene of Genesis 1: “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” The rest of the psalm continues this theme. “The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars.” “The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness.” “The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth.” The Lord orders and directs all of Creation, and the psalm presents this truth in clear, abiding images.
The psalm is also entirely upbeat, which is uncommon in the first book of the psalms. We are used to psalms like 3 (“O Lord, how many are my foes!”), 5 (“Give ear to my words, O Lord; consider my groaning”), 6 (“O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger”), 10 (“Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?”), or 22 (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). Psalm 29 is full of triumph and praise. The only hint of an enemy is “He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,” and the only hint of judgment is “The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.” In their context, neither of these lines invites us to meditate on enemy or judgment but instead on the glory and strength of our God.
Perhaps one thing that explains Psalm 29’s longevity is that it is a perfect psalm for memorizing. The Hebrew love of repetition is on full display here. “Ascribe” and “waters” are repeated a couple of times each. “Glory” is repeated four times. “The voice of the Lord” is repeated seven times—a significant number. More than anything, the name of the Lord is repeated—eighteen times! It appears on practically every line of the psalm.
The constant repetition of the Lord’s name is the best reason to memorize this psalm. Reciting the psalm invariably focuses your mind on the Lord, because you say His name eighteen times. You confess the Lord’s glory and meditate on His praise. You are reminded that “the Lord sits enthroned as king forever” over His creation, and thus all is well.
Psalm 29 reminds us that the psalms are meant to be used in our private worship and in our worship together. They are not dead poems consigned to history or to the page. We already make the psalms a regular part of our worship together as a church. Consider joining the ranks of Asaph and his brothers by memorizing and reciting this psalm from time to time.