Holiness and Thunder: Psalm 29
There is little doubt that the inspiration for this glorious psalm was a monumental thunderstorm. In this inspired account we find a true and biblical description of glory, beauty, and holiness.
1Give unto the LORD, O ye mighty, give unto the LORD glory and strength. 2Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. 3The voice of the LORD is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the LORD is upon many waters. 4The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty. 5The voice of the LORD breaketh the cedars; yea, the LORD breaketh the cedars of Lebanon. 6He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn. 7The voice of the LORD divideth the flames of fire. 8The voice of the LORD shaketh the wilderness; the LORD shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh. 9The voice of the LORD maketh the hinds to calve, and discovereth the forests: and in his temple doth every one speak of his glory. 10The LORD sitteth upon the flood; yea, the LORD sitteth King for ever. 11The LORD will give strength unto his people; the LORD will bless his people with peace (Ps. 29:1-11)
The psalm divides readily into three sections. The first is the charge to render glory to the Lord (vv. 1-2). The word give is used three times in these two verses. The prologue to the psalm is nothing less than a call to worship. The main section of the psalm (vv. 3-10) is a description of the voice of the Lord, a phrase which is used seven times, and which is then fully described in the appearance and effects of the thunderstorm. We hear the storm first, approaching across the water, before it makes landfall (v. 3). His voice is filled with majesty (v. 4). This is what majesty is. The storm arrives and blows cedars apart with lightning (v. 5). Mountains dance in the strobed light (v. 6). The voice of the Lord forks the lightning (v. 7). The storm moves on to the wilderness area, and shakes the desert there (v. 8). The voice of the Lord terrifies the deer, and they drop their young early (v. 9). (An alternative translation has “makes the oaks tremble.”). In the temple, everyone there speaks of glory. After the storm, the rivers are torrential floods cascading down the mountainsides, and the Lord rides them (v. 10). When God gives strength to His people (and He does), this is the strength He shows (v. 11). When He brings peace (and He does), it is peace in the aftermath of this kind of storm.
Thinking we have escaped the superstitions of an earlier era, talking of high pressure areas and low pressure areas, as though this explained anything, we moderns appeal to natural laws. But this is not science; it is idolatry. John Calvin once said, “Philosophers think not that they have reasoned skillfully enough about inferior causes, unless they separate God very far from his works. It is a diabolical science, however, which fixes our contemplations on the works of nature, and turns them away from God.”
Natural law is nothing more than a shorthand way of describing “what God usually does.” A miracle is what He sometimes does. In Christ, all things hold together (Col. 1:17), and this is always, constantly true. God reveals Himself in the stars, in the oceans, and in the blackness of the thunderhead. Moses approached the thick darkness where God was (Ex. 20:21). The Ten Commandments were spoken from the thick darkness (Dt. 5:22). “Clouds and darkness are round about him: righteousness and judgment are the habitation of his throne” (Ps. 97:2).
The prologue to this psalm urges us three times to give glory to God. But giving glory is the result of His grace. It happens when He moves. We don’t control or manipulate Him in anything. All you Calvinists, please note: we cannot control Him by acknowledging that we cannot control Him. We must give glory to God; we must not be among those whose lips approach Him, but whose hearts are far from Him. Give glory! But the only way we may do this is through given glory. But not through saying “given glory.”
What is holiness? Point to the mountainous thunderhead approaching the shore. That is holiness. Holiness is not a pious smirk. Holiness is not fussiness. Holiness is not primness, hands folded on the lap. Far too many Christians have the same self-satisfied expression as the cat who sat in the bowl of fruit.
In the temple of the Lord, we all cry glory. But what do we know? Glory to the God who approaches in a mountainous tower of black water vapor. Glory to God for the lightning that incinerates the redwood and cedar. Glory to God for the mountains leaping in the strobe light. Glory to God for the torrential rivers afterwards, the river which God rides all the way down.
This is the God we worship. This is the God who divided the flame on Pentecost, just as He did here. This is the Word. The thunder of the Word is more powerful than the word of thunder. The word of thunder is a small picture, from which we may learn. But sadly, in the church today, too many Christians do not experience the power of the picture. Still less do they know the power of the gospel. They are either worldly, or they are legalistic. But those who know and love our holy God exult in the storm.
SHORT CATECHISM FOR LITTLE SAINTS
Have you ever seen a real thunderstorm?
How are men judged?
According to their deeds, whether those deeds are in Christ or not.
What is holiness like?
Holiness is a black thunderhead, destroying the forest.