Give unto the LORD, O ye mighty, give unto the LORD glory and strength.
Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.
The voice of the LORD is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the LORD is upon many waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
The voice of the LORD breaketh the cedars; yea, the LORD breaketh the cedars of Lebanon.
He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young ox.
The voice of the LORD kindleth the flames of fire.
The voice of the LORD shaketh the wilderness; the LORD shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the LORD maketh the hinds to calve, and strippeth the forests bare: and in his temple doth every one speak of his glory.
The LORD sitteth upon the flood; yea, the LORD sitteth King for ever.
The LORD will give strength unto his people; the LORD will bless his people with peace.
David wrote some of the most powerful descriptions of God’s glory. Only Habakkuk chapter 3 and Jonah chapter 2 come close to the theophanies of David. (Theophany: a description of a visible manifestation of God.) A longtime friend of mine asked me to write about the above psalm. How could I refuse? This is one of the finest descriptions of God’s power in all of scripture.
Ascribe Unto the Lord
David begins not with a description of God but a command to us to give God the glory. In fact, the first verse commands the “mighty” to acknowledge one superior even to them. These mighty ones may be the rulers of men, or the heroes of men. David’s own elite corps was known as the “mighty men.” One translation (by the Jewish Publication Society) goes so far as to call the “mighty” in this verse divine beings. Whether gods, demons, or men, it is still true that God is higher than the highest, and deserving of praise from high and low alike.
The sweet psalmist uses three words/phrases here for attributes we are to ascribe to God. The first is glory. It may be also called honor or majesty. The God above all gods and King above all kings is worthy of all honor. Verse two emphasizes that this glory is merely his due. There is no other who is worthy of honor. No king of earth is more majestic. Even the sun, in all its glory, is a mere shadow to the glory of God. “The sun and moon stood still in their habitation.” (Hab 3:11)
The second word is strength. Not for nothing is God frequently called the Almighty. Combine the power of Jack LaLanne, Governor Schwartzenegger, Charles Atlas, and Hulk Hogan in their primes and you have a strand of a cobweb compared to the might of God. “And the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders.” (Deut 26:8) Who else is so great that he can take his people away from the most powerful nation in the world?
The final phrase is “beauty of holiness.” The beauty described here is the garment of royalty. Although I was a mere baby when Queen Elizabeth II had her coronation, and thus did not see it, I have seen pictures of her regalia. If the wife of a President Elect were to dress like that she would be accused of extravagance. Yet God is dressed in even greater magnificence. He is dressed in holiness. His clothing is the opposite of that in “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” Holiness is real, and beautiful. God is truly dressed in splendor. But like in that story, there are some who can’t see the obvious. David says that we must acknowledge God’s holiness.
The Voice of the Lord
The next section of the psalm describes God by his voice. When you can’t recognize a person because you can’t see his face, you can certainly recognize someone you know by his voice. Just ask any mother to find her child among several speaking in the next aisle of a store. So those who know God can recognize him by his voice. And what a voice!
God’s voice is like Niagara Falls. That landmark is known for its thunderous noise. Yet God is louder than the falls. His voice is so much greater than the waters that he can control them with it. “And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so.” (Gen 1:6-7) A day later he also separates the water from the land. “Who shut up the sea with doors, when it broke forth, … and said, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further and here shall thy proud waves be stayed?” (Job 38:8,11) Legend says Persian King Xerxes ordered the tide to stop. Legend further says that he was unsuccessful. Yet God is strong enough to keep the tide in its place.
God’s voice has power, certainly. But that power is coupled with majesty. God is no mere creator. Yes, the power of his word is great. Combined with majesty, it is overwhelming. His voice demands that we listen, and obey.
In Siberia there is a crater. The best guess is that it is the result of the largest meteor strike ever to hit the earth. Around that crater there is evidence of fallen trees. Each tree for miles in the radius of the circle centered on the crater is laying with its top pointing away from the center. This was no small event. Some even believe it changed the orbit of the earth. One meteor strike was able to fell thousands upon thousands of trees. In Palestine there was no tree more noted than the cedar of Lebanon. It still appears on the flag of that country. Tall, perfectly straight, and strong, the cedars were used for masts of ships, and were the core of Solomon’s Temple. God doesn’t even have to say a complete word and the cedars of Lebanon will fall. Not only is God more powerful than mighty waters. He is more powerful than a speeding meteor.
Have you ever seen a hypnotist’s show? One of the standard tricks is that he will take a volunteer from the audience, hypnotize him, and make him bark like a dog or quack like a duck. He will make him walk around the stage flapping his arms like a chicken. (Of course, I have seen DJs at a party do that just by playing “The Chicken Dance.”) It can be pretty amazing when a hypnotist does this to one person. David says that God does this with whole governments. He makes Lebanon and Syria jump around like young calves. In David’s day, these were two of the greatest powers in the world. A couple of hundred years later, Ben-Hadad of Syria would be a serious threat to the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.
And Benhadad the king of Syria gathered all his host together: and there were thirty and two kings with him, and horses, and chariots: and he went up and besieged Samaria, and warred against it. (1 Kings 20:1)
Syria was a power to be reckoned with. An alliance with thirty-two kings makes for one powerful government. Yet just a few verses later we read, “And the king of Israel went out, and smote the horses and chariots, and slew the Syrians with a great slaughter.” (1 Kings 20:21) This was God’s doing, because he could make Syria jump around like a young ox. The Syrians underestimated God, and suffered for it. May we never make the same mistake with a God that controls governments like puppets.
The voice of the Lord can bring fire. In 1 Kings 18 Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal. The one who could set up a sacrifice and fire come out of heaven and consume it would be considered the prophet of the true God. Needless to say, Elijah won. God sent his fire to consume not just the sacrifice, but also the altar and the water that had been poured on it. The same God who speaks in the waters consumes with fire.
David now addresses God’s voice shaking the wilderness and Kadesh. While many scholars think he is talking about Kadesh-bar-Nea in the south of Israel, the context would indicate that he is probably referring to the city of Kadesh in southern Syria. This was the site of a significant, though inconclusive, battle between the Hittites and Ramesses II of Egypt. Just as this part of Syria had been shaken by two great armies, so Syria could again be shaken by God. This is the same God who causes animals to give birth and the seasons to change. God’s voice alone, even without all his other attributes, is enough to make people praise him.
The Throne of the Lord
I have heard of thrones covered in gold. I have heard of thrones made entirely of elephant ivory. I have heard of velvet thrones. This is the first place I know that tells of a throne made of water. God sits as king forever on the flood.
While it may be unusual to set up a throne on the flood, it seems appropriate for God. After all, this is a being described as riding on the wind (Ps 104:3). David has already said that he has the voice of many waters. We have seen that he commands the waters. What would be wrong with sitting on them?
I think David may here be referring back to Genesis as well. Heaven is the throne of God. When he divided the waters on the second day of creation, heaven was above the waters. So the throne of God is above the waters, as David says here.
Psalm 29 describes God’s glory, his powerful voice, and his unusual throne. David ends with hope for man. This is a mighty God, the Almighty. Still, he loves his people. We can count on that strength to aid us. God is powerful, but he cares for his people. He gives us strength, and with it he gives us peace.