Psalms For Life
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Yahveh Elohim hear our prayers

Psalm 29

God of glory, power and peace

Even secularists have their idols, while longing to worship the God whose existence they deny. Here David poetically takes on all the gods of Canaan, declaring God alone to be worthy of worship.

 A David psalm.

1 Stand back, you oversized godlings!
Stand in awe before YHWH’s power and glory!
2 Acknowledge YHWH
as the unrivalled star of the show.
Bow low before YHWH’s holy splendor—
perfect mystery, matchless glory.

3 YHWH’s voice starts out low
rumbling over the sea’s wild roar
and crescendos in mind-numbing bursts of thunder.
The God of glory’s voice is so powerful
it drowns out the sea.
4 YHWH’s voice is commanding
magisterial.
5 YHWH’s voice
breaks the mighty cedars of Lebanon
turns them into matchstick wrecks!
6 YHWH’s voice
makes Lebanon’s majestic mountains
frolic like spring calves
Mt. Hermon wheel and gambol
like a wild ox!
7 Then YHWH’s voice strikes terror
in the liquid fire of a lightning bolt
8 that shakes the whole land
right down to the desert of Kadesh.
9 Finally, YHWH’s voice
sends the mighty oaks into a dance
so wild it strips them bare.
At this point
no one in YHWH’s cosmos-turned-temple
can hold back and the whole place resounds
with shouts of “Glory!”

10 YHWH sits enthroned
above the vanquished floodwaters.
He sits enthroned as king forever!
11 YHWH gives strength to his people.
YHWH blesses his people with peace.

Many Israelites found Baal worship’s heady mix of religion, sex—temple prostitution—and power appealing. Baal simultaneously wore three hats, as god of storms, fertility, and war. Canaanites imagined him with a lightning bolt for a spear and a voice that shook the earth. Here David uses Canaanite imagery and poetic devices to declare Baal a fraud—and all without even saying his name.

The psalm’s midsection pictures the storm of YHWH’s approach making landfall, overwhelming everything from majestic Mount Hermon in the north, to untameable Kadesh in the south. Also, the location of YHWH’s throne, over the waters, shows him—not Baal—to be creation’s undisputed Lord though the Canaanites had Ba’al subduing the waters. To underscore his point, David uses YHWH’s name repeatedly, with echo effect. Our only reasonable response is to join creation in crying “Glory!”

The term translated “godlings” (beni ’elim) is literally “sons of gods/God.” It can refer to mighty men, angelic or demonic beings or gods. Canaanites saw Baal as Lord of their pantheon of gods, which are addressed here rhetorically. Not that David believed in a multiplicity of gods. Rather, he simply addresses whatever evil beings the Canaanites worship—whether demonic or other created supernatural beings—and demands their submission to God.

Thus, the psalm begins in effect by ordering the whole pantheon of deposed Canaanite gods to join heaven’s court in bowing before YHWH. And if divine pretenders must bow, what about us mortals who seek whatever glory we can? We must yield our glory too, as the psalm implicitly calls us to do.

Being god of war, Baal supposedly made his followers into military killing machines. By contrast, the strength YHWH brings to earth quells our love of war, blessing his people with peace.

Jesus, though we now worship mainly money, sex, status, and power—poor substitutes for you–you’re the one we long to worship. Help me see your matchless majesty, bow adoring, and cry, “Glory!” Help me learn from you, who have promised rest of soul and peace. Amen.

Why YHWH?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH or YHVH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and sometimes transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Likewise, all modern translations either translate or transliterate it. Some other options for translating it are “the Eternal,” “the Almighty,” or “the Sovereign Lord.”

While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it seems to me more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. This roots it more firmly in the biblical story as the name God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Meaning “the self-existent One who answers to no one,” the name YHWH set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. I’ve chosen to transliterate only YHWH’s consonants since the earliest Hebrew manuscripts contain only consonants, the vowels being added much later. My aim in doing so is to honor God’s name and set it apart, as unique.

One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it out of reverence. (They read Adonai instead whenever they come to YHWH in the text.) I take the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard, who advocated pronouncing it as Yahveh (Yah·vay). He favored that over the standard Yahweh since the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish. It also makes it sound more robust, period.

Finding strength in the ancient psalms

May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.