God’s Glorious Voice

Psalm 29 summons us to see that the very thing that causes us to ask “where is God?” is the very sign of His presence. The very thing that makes us wonder if God is in control is the very thing which is demonstrating that He is in control.

Anson Kroeker on June 23, 2019
God’s Glorious Voice
June 23, 2019

God’s Glorious Voice

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Passage: Psalm 29
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I don’t know about you, but I love storms. A good, prairie thunderstorm, in the month of July, when the air has been thick and humid all day, and at some point in the afternoon you notice the dark clouds piling up on the horizon like ominous visitors. You hear a distant rumble and maybe see a flash or two in the distance.

And then it all goes quiet. The birds stop singing, and the air goes still.

And then the storm unleashes its fury on you. Sheets of rain, branch-breaking winds, window-shaking thunder. I just love the raw power on display.

Storms can also be scary though, right? I’ve been really close when lighting touched down, and it was absolutely terrifying. And I know that some people feel that terror whenever they hear thunder. They just don’t like storms. Or perhaps you farm, and your livelihood depends on what’s growing in the field. In that case, you’re probably not as enthusiastic about prairie thunderstorms as I am—especially when hail gets involved.

But I’ll admit, my love for storms leads me to be drawn to Psalm 29. Because Psalm 29 is a Psalm about a storm. A big, powerful, massive storm.

We hear the first rumblings of the storm in verse 3—“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord, over many waters” (Psalm 29:3). The perspective here is probably of someone looking out over the Mediterranean Sea, and there’s a storm thundering out there over the waters.

And that storm is headed for land. And it crashes into the coast just north of Israel in Lebanon, which we see in verse 5. “The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks the cedars of Lebanon” (Psalm 29:5). This isn’t just any storm, this is a tree-breaking storm.

And the ground itself shakes as the storm moves from Lebanon into northern Israel in verse 6. “Sirion” is another name for Mount Hermon, which was right in the north of Israel, and the mountain itself is skipping “like a young wild ox” (v. 6), which probably refers to the way the ground was shaking from thunder.

And then the storm rips right south through Israel, lighting up the sky with lightning, moving all the way to Kadesh in the south. “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” (Psalm 29:7–8).

Now, maybe you’re like me and you enjoy watching storms from the comfort of your water-proof home, but can you imagine what a storm like this must have felt like to the original audience of Psalm 29? People who didn’t have double-paned windows, people who lived in homes that could have sustained a lot of damage from a storm like this. People whose livelihood was almost entirely dependant upon agriculture and didn’t have insurance when a storm like this flattened their crops.

But there’s even more reasons why a storm like this would have been troublesome to God’s people. We know that Israel was surrounded by people who worshipped the Canaanite god Baal. And what we’ve discovered from recent years in archeology is that Baal was the weather god. They believed that Baal manifested his power in—you guessed it—thunderstorms.

And that’s really the background to Psalm 29 that we need to understand. In the religious environment that God’s people were surrounded by, the Canannites would have said the kinds of things that Psalm 29 says about Baal.

They would have looked out over the sea and said that Baal was the one thundering over the many waters. That he was the one breaking the cedars, that his voice was flashing forth flames of fire. This storm would have been evidence to them perhaps of Baal’s displeasure, but certainly his power. This storm would have been one big reason to worship Baal.

And we know from reading the Old Testament how tempting and appealing this whole system of Baal worship was to Israel. Everyone around them was worshipping Baal and seemed to be doing great as a result, and we know that Israel was constantly being pulled and tugged in that direction.

Worshipping Baal was so appealing and seemed like such a good idea.

So put yourself in the shoes of a faithful Israelite. You’ve said no to temptation. You’ve chosen to follow Yahweh, the Lord, the God of Israel. You’re believing His promises.

But then you hear the thunder. You see the storm coming. And you remember everything you’ve heard about Baal. You think about your Israelite neighbours who have decided to play it safe by worshipping both Yahweh and Baal.

Do you think, maybe just think, that at that first flash of thunder there might be a flash of doubt in your mind? What if this Baal stuff is true? What it that really is him out there, riding on the storm? And what if he’s mad at me, because I haven’t been worshipping him? What if he’s going to use this storm to wreck my house or flatten my crops?

The Voice of Yahweh

I hope you can see that in ancient Israel, a storm was a theological event. A time when the belief systems of Baal-worship and worship of the one true God would have come into sharp conflict.

And that’s why Psalm 29 was written. Because Psalm 29 takes up the theme of a storm and says no, that is not Baal up there. There is only one true God, and He is Israel’s God, and this storm is putting His power on display.

And instead of fearing Baal, this storm calls everyone—whether it’s the angels in verse 1 or the temple worshippers in verse 9—to worship Yahweh and ascribe glory to Him.

See, that’s why this Psalm uses God’s personal name so many times. Every time you see the word “Lord” with small caps, that’s showing you that it’s a translation of Yahweh, God’s personal name. And if you count, you’ll see that Psalm 29 uses God’s personal name eighteen times in its eleven verses. Just listen to the force of His name being used like that:

Ascribe to Yahweh, O heavenly beings,
      ascribe to Yahweh glory and strength.
Ascribe to Yahweh the glory due his name;
      worship Yahweh in the splendor of holiness.

The voice of Yahweh is over the waters;
      the God of glory thunders,
      Yahweh, over many waters.
The voice of Yahweh is powerful;
      the voice of Yahweh is full of majesty.

The voice of Yahweh breaks the cedars;
      Yahweh breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,
      and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of Yahweh flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of Yahweh shakes the wilderness;
      Yahweh shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of Yahweh makes the deer give birth
      and strips the forests bare,
      and in his temple all cry, “Glory!”

Yahweh sits enthroned over the flood;
      Yahweh sits enthroned as king forever.
May Yahweh give strength to his people!
      May Yahweh bless his people with peace! (Psalm 29:1–11)

Every time we see the phrase “the Lord” In this Psalm we should hear, “Yahweh, and not Baal.”  That’s how Psalm 29 would have sounded to its original hearers. It’s reminding them again and again and again that the power of this storm belongs to Yahweh, the one true God, and not to the false god Baal.

Our False Gods

So this is basically the big idea of Psalm 29. The power of the thunderstorm reveals the power of Yahweh, not Baal, and therefore when we encounter a storm like this we should worship this one true God.

What about you and me? Odds are, we’ve never been tempted to attribute the power of a thunderstorm to a Canaanite deity. Because we know so much better today, right? We know all about weather systems and meteorology. When we see a storm like this, we don’t talk about Baal. We just talk about “the weather.” Or “the forces of nature.”

The ancient Canaanites found an explanation for the storm in the false god Baal. We find an explanation for the storm in the false god Science. And just so you know, I’m not against science. But when we divorce science from the God who makes science possible, we create a false god no better than Baal.

And I want to suggest that we need Psalm 29 just as much as the ancient Israelites did. We need to be reminded that behind the forces of nature is the power of the one, true, and living God. And when you watch those videos on the Weather Channel or look out your window during a storm, you are seeing His power on display, and you must give Him the glory for what you see.

Fearing the Lord

But let’s press just a little bit further. Because I wonder if some of us might be uncomfortable with this. Uncomfortable with the idea of our God, the God we’ve been singing about this morning, being revealed in the fury of a destructive storm.

Don’t we tend to prefer descriptions of God which lean in the direction of soft and warm and gentle and comforting?

The ancient Canaanites didn’t have that issue. They had no problem with the idea of a strong and powerful and mighty and even terrifying god who was present in the power of the thunderstorm. They just preferred to invent their own.

And when Yahweh, the one true God, revealed Himself to Israel, He revealed Himself to them as one who is more strong and more powerful and more mighty and yes, even more terrifying than any of the false gods that they had invented on their own.

That was the point of the Ten Plagues against Egypt. The Egyptians worshipped the sun and the Nile, and as God made the Nile turn to blood or the sun go dark, He was showing that He was more powerful than the false gods Egypt had worshipped.

In Deuteronomy 32:39 the Lord said to Israel, “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.”

God is powerful. Frighteningly powerful. And I use that word “frightening” on purpose. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). And hear these words from the mouth of Jesus: “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” (Luke 12:4–5).

So for us modern Canadians, who might not be so comfortable with this, it’s really important for us to hear the message of Psalm 29. To remember that the voice of the Lord is powerful and full of majesty, shaking the wilderness and breaking the trees of the forest, and to ascribe to Him the glory due His name.

I got a taste of this power of God up close and personal when I was on a canoe trip up north of LaRonge about sixteen years ago. We were three days into the bush with a bunch of kids from the inner city, and the strongest storm the area had experienced in thirty years came through. And at the front of the storm was what they called a plow wind. I had never heard the phrase “plow wind” before, but I didn’t have to ask why they called it that, because it just flattened trees as if a giant plow was driving through the forest.

There’s nothing more terrifying than being out in the woods and seeing your tent lying flat because the wind snapped the fibreglass poles in half, and you’re watching these towering pine trees come toppling down all around you. Where do you run, when running from one falling tree might land you right in the path of the next one?

It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. And when I read Psalm 29, I understand that what I was experiencing in that situation was the power of God. The terrifying, thundering, power of God.

And we need to remember that this is our God. That the God of glory thunders, and that His voice breaks the cedars and makes the wilderness shake.

I wonder how many of our struggles with sin and temptation would vaporize if we were to remember the awesome power of God and learn to tremble before Him.

I wonder how many of our struggles with obeying and submitting to the Bible would vaporize if we were to remember the power of the God who inspired it. Just think about Psalm 29 next to 2 Timothy 3:16. “All Scripture is breathed out by God…” This book is breathed out by the same mouth that breaks the cedars and shakes the wilderness.

Think about that the next time you hear something in the Bible that you don’t like or don’t want to obey. Are you really going to stand in front of the thunderstorm and argue with the God whose voice knocks the trees down?

Hear the call of Psalm 29. Tremble before the Lord. Tremble before His powerful voice and His majestic word.

“But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2).

Fearing Nothing Else

Now there is a really important flip side to all this: if we are trembling before the Lord, then we’re not trembling before Baal. If we fear the Lord, then we’re not going to fear anything else, not even the storm itself, because we know who is behind the storm.

Just think about that. Yes, a powerful thunderstorm like this would be terrifying and would cause the people to shake in their boots. But just think about how comforting it would be for the people to recognize that it is Yahweh, not Baal, behind that storm.

That it is not some petty god who is coming to get me. Behind this storm is “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exodus 34:6).

And I would way rather have that Lord, and not a petty, grumpy Baal, coming after me. Because I know that while the Lord is not tame, He is good, as C.S. Lewis reminded us. He is merciful in His fury. And in the midst of the storm He knows who His children are.

That’s a really important idea that actually comes in to Psalm 29 in verse 10. “The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever” (Psalm 29:10).

That word for “flood” is a Hebrew word that is only ever used to refer to the global flood in the book of Genesis—when the wicked were destroyed by the power of God, but when Noah and His family were saved by the mercy of God.

That is the God whose power is on display in the storm. The God who knows His people. The God who knows the difference between the righteous and the wicked. And the God who sovereignly oversees the path of each lightning bolt to accomplish exactly what He wants to accomplish.

I’ve seen this mercy of God in the midst of the storm. I told you the story of the plow wind on the canoe trip, flattening tents and knocking over trees.

That storm came in right after we had sent up camp for the night. We’d taken all of our supplies and food out of the canoes and set them out in an open area. We used big plastic totes and we had all of our stuff laid out in a straight line. And on top we set a cheap guitar we brought along, and then on top of the guitar was our first aid kit.

As soon as the storm was over we went to find our stuff, and we were assuming it was going to be scattered everywhere. And there we were, three days into the bush with all these 11- and 12-year old kids, and we were braced for the worst.

And what we found took our breath away. What must have been one of the very first trees to fall over had fallen in a perfect line directly on top of our gear. I can show you a picture on my phone later if you’d like. It was remarkable.

And that tree held all of our food and supplies in place throughout the storm. We didn’t loose a thing. I thought that surely the guitar was going to be smashed to pieces from the weight of this tree, but it didn’t have a scratch. The first aid kit, right on top, had just a small crack in the lid. That’s it.

God sits enthroned as king over the flood. He was directing every tree that fell. Sovereign over the storm. Watching over us in it.

Not sparing us from every discomfort. My tent was still flat and my sleeping bag was soaked through, and I didn’t sleep a single wink that night.

But it was ok. I had such peace in my heart. Because I had seen the voice of the Lord strip the forest bare, and our hearts had cried “Glory!” and we knew that we were safe in His hands.

What Are Your Storms?

I know that I have a bit of a unique story here, a story about a literal storm and the mercy of God in the midst of it.

But on the other hand, I know that my story isn’t all that unique. Because each one of you has had all different kinds of storms in your life. Some of you are in the middle of a storm today.

And we can be honest here this morning: when these storms began to gather, do we not tend to respond the way that many of the ancient Israelites might have responded when the literal storm began thundering over the sea and moving inland?

Don’t we so quickly think that God is absent, and we feel like we’re all alone in the face of a wild power, and maybe all of my friends who don’t trust in God and just try to take care of themselves are on to something?

I can think of some people I’ve known who got the call that the lump was cancer, or walked out of the prenatal appointment just weeks away from the delivery date with news that they can’t find a heartbeat, or got suddenly fired from their supposedly stable jobs, or had their spouse walk out on them.

And time and time again I see people panicking as if God did not exist.

And friends, Psalm 29 summons us to see that the Lord is the king of the storm. The very thing that causes you to ask “where is God?” is the very sign of His presence. The very thing that makes you wonder if God is in control is the thing which is demonstrating that He is in control.

When you believe this, it doesn’t mean that the storm is not a storm. But it does change everything when you know whose storm it is.

Once again, I think about my own story. It was the very year of that canoe trip when the storm of my mom’s cancer slammed into the shoreline of our life.

And over the next five years we found such comfort, over and over again, from knowing that this storm was God’s storm. He was sovereign over every cell in my mom’s body. He “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11)—including cancer. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good” (Romans 8:28) - including cancer.

And time and time again we experienced the mercy of God in the midst of the storm. He didn’t leave us alone in there to figure it out on our own. He was with us.

And that’s why I love how Psalm 29 concludes. After this majestic view of a powerful God, the earth shaking, the forests breaking apart, the temple full of worshippers crying “glory!”, the king reigning over the flood, we hear these words in verse 11:

“May the Lord give strength to his people! May the Lord bless his people with peace!” (Psalm 29:11).

This is a prayer for God to take care of His people. Not by removing every storm from them, but by supplying them with strength and peace in the storm.

So what’s your storm this morning? What are the dark clouds on the horizon making your knees knock, making you fear that God is absent and you’re all alone here?

Will you hear the words of Psalm 29 and its reminder that this storm is God’s storm? That He is king over the flood? That He is able to supply you with strength and peace?

“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).

We’re about to sing “It is Well With My Soul” together. Because we know who our God is, because we know about the bloody cross and the empty grave and the returning king, it can be well with our souls, whatever the storm is.

Let’s turn to Him as our source of strength and peace today.