Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This also purports to be a psalm of David, and it has every mark of being his production. It is designed to set forth the majesty and glory of God, especially as manifested in a thunderstorm, and was evidently composed in view of such an exhibition of His power and glory. It is one of the sublimest descriptions of a storm of thunder and lightning anywhere to be found. It is not possible to ascertain the particular occasion on which it was composed, nor is it necessary to do this in order to enter into the spirit and to appreciate the beauty of the psalm. Occasions occur in every country which furnish an illustration of the psalm; and its meaning can be appreciated by all.
The psalm has a universal applicability. It may be regarded as having been designed to show what feelings people should have in a violent storm, when the thunder rolls over sea and land, and when the lightnings flash along the sky; the effects which should be produced amidst such scenes; the influence of religion in keeping the mind from alarm - lifting up the soul in adoration of the great God - and inspiring confidence in One who has power to control elements so fearful. Amidst all the terrors of the tempest the mind of the psalmist was calm. The effect of it was to lead him to confide in the power of God, and to fill his soul with adoring views of him. We do not need to dread the fury of the elements when we know that they are under the absolute control of a Being of infinite goodness, truth, mercy, and love. If these fearful elements raged without control; if they were independent of God; if they were restrained by no laws; if the thunder rolled and the lightning played by mere caprice, or under the dominion of chance, well might we tremble.
The psalm properly consists of three parts:
I. The duty of ascribing praise and glory to God; of giving to him the glory due to his name; of worshipping him in the beauty of holiness, Psa 29:1-2.
II. The description of the storm, Psa 29:3-9. The thunder is seven times spoken of as "the voice of the Lord" (compare Rev 10:3, "And when he had cried, seven thunders uttered their voices"); and some special effect is referred to as resulting from the utterance of that voice. It is "upon the waters;" it is "powerful;" it is "full of majesty;" it "breaks the cedars;" it "divides the flames of fire;" it "shakes the wilderness;" it "makes the hinds to calve," and "discovereth the forests."
III. The impression that should be produced by the whole scene. The Lord presides over the floods; the Lord is King forever; the Lord is able to give strength to His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace, Psa 29:10-11. In "such" a God His people may put confidence; under the protection of One who can arm himself with such power, and who can control such elements, His people have nothing to fear; in contending with such a God - one who can sweep the earth with desolation - who can direct the playing lightnings where He pleases - who can cause His voice to echo over hills, and vales, and floods, over the sea and the land, producing dismay and consternation - His enemies can have nothing to hope.
Give unto the Lord - Ascribe unto Yahweh; or, recognize Him as entitled to what is here ascribed to Him. The word cannot be understood, as it is commonly with us, to denote the imparting to another, or granting to another what he does not now possess - for God is always in possession of what is here ascribed to Him.
O ye mighty - Margin, as in Hebrew, "ye sons of the mighty." The Hebrew word used here - אלים 'Êliym - is the plural form of one of the names of God - אל 'Êl. The word means properly "strong, mighty, a mighty one, a hero;" then, "strength, might, power;" and then it is applied to God as "the Mighty One," the Almighty. ("Gesenius.") In the plural form, the word means "mighty ones, heroes, gods:" Exo 15:11; Exo 18:11; Dan 11:36. The phrase "sons of the mighty" is used only here and in Psa 89:6. The allusion is undoubtedly to the angels as being in an eminent sense the sons of God, or of the mighty ones; and they are referred to here under that appellation as being themselves endowed with power or strength. Compare Psa 103:20, "Bless the Lord, ye his angels, that excel in strength;" margin: "mighty in strength." In view of the wonderful exhibitions of God's power in the storm - exhibitions far above the power of the most exalted of His creatures, the psalmist calls upon the angels, the most exalted of them, to acknowledge the existence of a power so much beyond their own.
Glory and strength - Majesty and might. Acknowledge Him as the God of glory; as endowed with power. That is, learn from the manifestations of the power evinced in the storm how great is the power and the glory of God.
Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name - Margin: "the honor of his name." The honor of His name is that which is due to it, or which properly belongs to it. The "name" is put here, as it often is, for God Himself; and the meaning is, "Ascribe to God the honor that is properly his due." This is a claim addressed to the angels; it is a claim certainly not less binding on people. It is practically a call upon all creatures in the universe to ascribe due honor to God.
Worship the Lord - This exhortation is made particularly in view of the manifestations of His power in the storm. The idea is, that one who is capable of putting forth such power as is displayed in a tempest, has a claim to adoration and praise.
In the beauty of holiness - Margin, "in his glorious sanctuary." The Hebrew phrase would properly mean "holy beauty." Some have supposed that it means "in holy adorning," or in such consecrated vestments as were worn by priests in the sacred services of the sanctuary, or when they came into the presence of Yahweh. So DeWette understands it. But the more probable interpretation is that which refers it to the state of the heart - the "internal" ornament - with which we should approach God - to a holy and pure state of mind - that beauty or appropriateness of the soul which consists in holiness or purity. Of this the external clothing of the priesthood was itself but an emblem, and this is that which God desires in those who approach Him in an act of worship. It may be added that there is no "beauty" like this; that there is no external comeliness, no charm of person or complexion, no adorning of costly robes, that can be compared with this. It is this which God seeks, and with this He will be pleased, whether under a less or more attractive external form; whether under rich and costly raiment, or under the plain and decent clothing of poverty.
The voice of the Lord - The voice of Yahweh. There can be no doubt that the expression here, which is seven times repeated in the psalm, "the voice of Jehovah," refers to thunder; and no one can fail to see the appropriateness of the expression. In heavy thunder it seems as if God spake. It comes from above. It fills us with awe. We know, indeed, that thunder as well as the other phenomena in the world, is produced by what are called "natural causes;" that there is no miracle in thunder; and that really God does not "speak" anymore in the thunder than he does in the sighing of the breeze or in the gurgling of the rivulet; but:
(a) He seems more impressively to speak to people in the thunder; and
(b) He may not improperly be regarded as speaking alike in the thunder, in the sighing of the breeze, and in the gurgling stream.
In each and all of these ways God is addressing men; in each and all there are lessons of great value conveyed, as if by His own voice, respecting His own existence and character. Those which are addressed to us particularly in thunder, pertain to His power, His majesty, His greatness; to our own weakness, feebleness, dependence; to the ease with which He could take us away, and to the importance of being prepared to stand before such a God. "Is upon the waters." The word "is" is supplied here by our translators in italics. The whole passage might be read as an exclamation: "The voice of Jehovah upon the waters!" It is the utterance of one who is overpowered by a sudden clap of thunder. The mind is awed. God seems to speak; His voice is heard rolling over the waters. The psalm was most likely composed in view of the sea or a lake - not improbably in view of the Mediterranean, when a storm was passing over it. A thunderstorm is sublime anywhere, in mountain scenery or upon the plains, upon the land or upon the ocean; but there are circumstances which give it special grandeur at sea, when the thunder seems to "roll" along with nothing to check or break it, and when the sublimity is increased by the solitude which reigns everywhere on the ocean.
The God of glory - The glorious God. See the notes at Psa 24:7-10.
The Lord is upon many waters - Yahweh Himself seems to be on the ocean. His voice is heard there, and He Himself appears to be there. The margin here is, "great waters." This would seem to imply that the psalm was composed in view of waters more extended than a lake or a river, and sustains the idea above expressed, that it was in view of the great waters which must have been so familiar to the mind of the sacred writer - the waters of the Mediterranean.
The voice of the Lord is powerful - Margin, as in Hebrew: "in power." That is, is mighty; or, has strength. Allusion may be made to what seems to be the effect of thunder in prostrating trees, or tearing off their limbs, or it may be merely to the loud sound of the thunder.
Is full of majesty - Margin, as in Hebrew, "in majesty." That is, it is grand, sublime, overpowering.
Breaketh the cedars - The thunder prostrates the lofty trees of the forest. The psalmist speaks as things appeared, attributing, as was natural, and as was commonly done, that to the thunder which was really produced by the lightning. It, is now fully known that the effect here referred to is not produced by thunder, but by the rapid passage of the electric fluid as it passes from the cloud to the earth. that power is so great as to rive the oak or the cedar; to twist off their limbs; to prostrate their lofty trunks to the ground. The psalmist speaks of thunder as accomplishing this, in the same way that the sacred writers and all men, even scientific men, commonly speak, as when we say, the sun rises and sets - the stars rise and set, etc. People who would undertake in all cases to speak with scientific accuracy, or in the strict language of science, would be unintelligible to the mass of mankind; perhaps on most subjects they would soon cease to speak at all - since they themselves would be in utter doubt as to what is scientific accuracy. People who require that a revelation from God should always use language of strict scientific precision, really require that a revelation should anticipate by hundreds or thousands of years the discoveries of science, and use language which, when the revelation was given, would be unintelligible to the mass of mankind; nay, which would be always unintelligible to a large portion of the race - since people ordinarily, however much the exact truths of science may be diffused, do not learn to use such exactness of speech. As long as men have occasion to speak on the subject at all they will probably continue to say that the sun rises and sets; that the grass grows; and that water runs.
Breaketh the cedars of Lebanon - "Cedars are mentioned as the loftiest forest trees, and those of Lebanon as the loftiest of their species." - "Prof. Alexander." The cedars of Lebanon are often referred to in the Scriptures as remarkable for their size and grandeur: Kg1 4:33; Kg1 5:6; Psa 92:12; Ezr 3:7.
He maketh them also to skip like a calf - That is, the cedars of Lebanon. Compare Psa 114:4, "The mountains skipped like rams, and the little hills like lambs." Psa 68:16, "why leap ye, ye high hills?" The meaning is plain. The lightning tore off the large branches, and uprooted the loftiest trees, so that they seemed to play and dance like calves in their gambols. Nothing could be more strikingly descriptive of "power."
Lebanon and Sirion - Sirion was the name by which Mount Hermon was known among the Sidonians: Deu 3:9, "Which Hermon the Sidonians call Sirion." It is a part of the great range of Anti-libanus.
Like a young unicorn - On the meaning of the word used here, see the notes at Psa 22:21. The illustration would be the same if any young wild animal were referred to.
Divideth the flames of fire - Margin, "cutteth out." The Hebrew word - חצב châtsab - means properly "to cut, to hew, to hew out;" as, for example, stones. The allusion here is undoubtedly to lightning; and the image is either that it seems to be cut out, or cut into tongues and streaks - or, more probably, that the "clouds" seem to be cut or hewed so as to make openings or paths for the lightning. The eye is evidently fixed on the clouds, and on the sudden flash of lightning, as if the clouds had been "cleaved" or "opened" for the passage of it. The idea of the psalmist is that the "voice of the Lord," or the thunder, seems to cleave or open the clouds for the flames of fire to play amidst the tempest. Of course this language, as well as that which has been already noticed Psa 29:5, must be taken as denoting what "appears" to the eye, and not as a scientific statement of the reality in the case. The rolling thunder not only shakes the cedars, and makes the lofty trees on Lebanon and Sirion skip like a calf or a young unicorn, but it rends asunder or cleaves the clouds, and cuts out paths for the flames of fire.
Shaketh the wilderness - Causes it to shake or to tremble. The word used here means properly to dance; to be whirled or twisted upon anything; to twist - as with pain - or, to writhe; and then, to tremble, to quake. The forests are made to tremble or quake in the fierceness of the storm - referring still to what the thunder seems to do.
The wilderness of Kadesh - As in referring Psa 29:5-6 to the effect of the storm on lofty trees, the psalmist had given poetic beauty to the description by "specifying" Lebanon and Sirion, so he here refers, for the same purpose, to a particular forest as illustrating the power of the tempest - to wit, the forest or wilderness of "Kadesh." This wilderness or forest was on the southeastern border of the promised land, toward Edom; and it is memorable as having been the place where the Israelites twice encamped with a view of entering Palestine from that point, but from where they were twice driven back again - the first time in pursuance of the sentence that they should wander forty years in the wilderness - and the second time, from the refusal of the king of Edom to allow them to pass through his territories. It was from Kadesh that the spies entered Palestine. See Num 13:17, Num 13:26; Num 14:40-45; Num 21:1-3; Deu 1:41-46; Jdg 1:7. Kadesh was on the northern border of Edom, and not far from Mount Hor. See Robinson's Biblical Researches in Palestine, vol. ii. pp. 582, 610, 662; Kitto, Cyclo-Bib. in the article, "Kadesh;" and the Pictorial Bible on Num 20:1. There seems to have been nothing special in regard to this wilderness which led the author of the psalm to select it for his illustration, except that it was well known and commonly spoken of, and that it would thus suggest an image that would be familiar to the Israelites.
The voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to calve - The deer. The object of the psalmist here is to show the effects of the storm in producing consternation, especially on the weak and timid animals of the forest. The effect here adverted to is that of fear or consternation in bringing on the throes of parturition. Compare Job 39:1, Job 39:3. No one can doubt that the effect here described may occur in the violence of a tempest; and perhaps no image could more vividly describe the terrors of the storm than the consternation thus produced. The margin here is, "to be in pain." The Hebrew means "to bring forth," referring to the pains of parturition.
And discovereth the forests - The word used here means "to strip off, to uncover;" and, as used here, it means to strip off the leaves of the forest; to make the trees bare - referring to an effect which is often produced by a violent storm.
And in his temple doth every one speak of his glory - Margin, "every whit of it uttereth," etc. The word here rendered "temple" does not refer in this place to the tabernacle, or to the temple at Jerusalem, but rather "to the world itself," considered as the residence or dwelling-place of God. Perhaps the true translation would be, "And in his temple everything says, Glory!" That is, in the dwelling-place of God - the world of nature - the sky, the earth, the forests, the waters, everything in the storm, echoes "glory, glory!" All these things declare the glory of God; all these wonders - the voice of God upon the waters; the thunder; the crash of the trees upon the hills; the shaking of the wilderness; the universal consternation; the leaves stripped from the trees and flying in every direction - all proclaim the majesty and glory of Yahweh.
The Lord sitteth upon the flood - God is enthroned upon the flood, or presides over it. The obvious meaning is, that God is enthroned upon the storm, or presides over that which produces such consternation. It is not undirected; it is not the result of chance or fate; it is not produced by mere physical laws; it is not without restraint - without a ruler - for Yahweh presides over all, and all this may be regarded as his throne. Compare the notes at Psa 18:7-11. See also Psa 97:2. The word used here is commonly applied to the deluge in the time of Noah, but there would be an obvious unfitness in supposing here that the mind of the psalmist referred to that, or that the course of thought would be directed to that, and it is most natural, therefore, to suppose that the reference is to the floods above - the vast reservoirs of waters in the clouds, pouring down, amidst the fury of the tempest, floods of rain upon the earth.
The Lord sitteth King for ever - This is an appropriate close of the entire description; this is a thought which tends to make the mind calm and confiding when the winds howl and the thunder rolls; this accords with the leading purpose of the psalm - the call upon the sons of the mighty Psa 29:1 to ascribe strength and glory to God. From all the terrors of the storm; from all that is fearful, on the waters, in the forests, on the hills, when it would seem as if everything would be swept away - the mind turns calmly to the thought that God is enthroned upon the clouds; that He presides over all that produces this widespread alarm and commotion, and that He will reign forever and ever.
The Lord will give strength unto his people - This is a practical application of the sentiments of the psalm, or a conclusion which is fairly to be derived from the main thought in the psalm. The idea is, that the God who presides over the tempest and the storm, the God who has such power, and can produce such effects, is abundantly able to uphold His people, and to defend them. In other words, the application of such amazing power will be to protect His people, and to save them from danger. When we look on the rolling clouds in the tempest, when we hear the roaring of the thunder, and see the flashing of the lightning, when we hear the oak crash on the hills, and see the waves piled mountains high, if we feel that God presides over all, and that He controls all this with infinite ease, assuredly we have no occasion to doubt that He can protect us; no reason to fear that His strength cannot support us.
The Lord will bless his people with peace - They have nothing to fear in the tempest and storm; nothing to fear from anything. He will bless them with peace in the tempest; He will bless them with peace through that power by which He controls the tempest. Let them, therefore, not fear in the storm, however fiercely it may rage; let them not be afraid in any of the troubles and trials of life. in the storm, and in those troubles and trials, he can make the mind calm; beyond those storms and those troubles he can give them eternal peace in a world where no "angry tempest blows."