Thursday, March 12, 2009

Psalm 29

Psalm 29 (NET) reads:

A psalm of David.

Acknowledge the LORD, you supernatural beings,
acknowledge the LORD's majesty and power!

2 Acknowledge the majesty of the LORD's reputation!
Worship the LORD in holy attire!

3 The LORD's shout is heard over the water;
the majestic God thunders,
the LORD appears over the surging water.

4 The LORD's shout is powerful,
the LORD's shout is majestic.

5 The LORD's shout breaks the cedars,
the LORD shatters the cedars of Lebanon.

6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf
and Sirion like a young ox.

7 The LORD's shout strikes with flaming fire.

8 The LORD's shout shakes the wilderness,
the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

9 The LORD's shout bends the large trees
and strips the leaves from the forests.
Everyone in his temple says, "Majestic!"

10 The LORD sits enthroned over the engulfing waters,
the LORD sits enthroned as the eternal king.

11 The LORD gives his people strength;
the LORD grants his people security.

The phrase in verse 1 translated "supernatural beings" by the NET is the Hebrew bene elohim--literally "sons of god" or "sons of the gods." The ESV renders it "heavenly beings," the NIV "mighty ones," and the RSV "heavenly beings." The English versions consistently interpret the phrase as supernatural or heavenly creatures--perhaps angels or pagan "gods."

Whatever David meant by this phrase, he urges the supernatural beings to acknowledge and worship YHWH. He is God of the gods.

David then goes on to describe YHWH's power--His voice cracks trees in half and scares the nations so that they jump like young calves and oxen. The only proper response to His power is to cry "Majestic!"

Finally, David brings it home and reminds Israel that it is this God who gives them strength (i.e. military power as in 1 Sam 2:10) and security (Hebrew shalom).

Again, the psalmist has quite a different worldview than most moderns. He seems to be saying to the people, "Don't worry about such-and-such a nation. If they invade us, YHWH is going to smoke them with the power of his voice." The theology was practical. It helped people sleep at night.

However, 3,000 years later we question David's promises. Sometimes, evil people prosper and the righteous are snuffed out. Sometimes God doesn't give strength or security to His people. Even God's own Son cried out from the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

So, what do we do with psalms like this? A lot of people like to spiritualize them. They say "The Lord is my strength and security," but they mean it in kind of a pop-psychology positive thinking sense--"Even when my life sucks, I can still be strong and at peace mentally." That may well be true, but that is not what the psalmist had in mind when he wrote these words thousands of years ago.

As you can probably tell, I am not a fan of spiritualizing OT language like this. I don't think the words mean that we can be at peace mentally even when we are getting beat down physically. I don't think we can paraphrase this psalm, "The Lord allows me to be delusional about my life circumstances."

Now, I am not denying that God gives us peace of mind. But I think we read "peace of mind" into "peace" way too much in the Bible. I think the ancients were looking for literal peace and literal strength and literal protection. So, how do we reconcile that with our experiences, when we don't see peace and strength and protection? Do we punt and say, "well, the Bible is just talking about peace of mind"?

No. We remember that we still serve a God that can break trees with His voice, and that the story isn't over yet. God has promised to one day make all wrongs right and to wipe away every tear. We can't forget that this is our hope.

"Father, we confess that You are majestic. We cry out with the 'heavenly ones,' 'Majesty!' Forgive us for doubting your ability to save. Forgive us for forgetting your promises. You are enthroned as eternal king, and Your reign will be one of justice and peace. We pray that as we await Your reign, that we may be agents of righteousness, mercy, and peace in Your earth. Amen."

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