Summary: The Baptism of our Lord Title: “Not everything in “secular,” culture needs to be rejected.” January 13, 2002
The Baptism of our Lord
Title: “Not everything in “secular,” culture needs to be rejected.”
January 13,2002 Psalm 29
The Voice of God in a Great Storm
A Psalm of David.
1 Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings,
ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. 2 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name;
worship the LORD in holy splendor.
3 The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD, over mighty waters.
4 The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.
5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
8 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness;
the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the LORD causes the oaks to whirl,
and strips the forest bare;
and in his temple all say, "Glory!"
10 The LORD sits enthroned over the flood;
the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.
11 May the LORD give strength to his people!
May the LORD bless his people with peace!
This psalm, one of the oldest in the Psalter, may have been borrowed from or written in imitation of a Canaanite hymn to Baal, the Canaanite god of thunderstorms. When the Israelites came into the Promised Land they found the Canaanites already there with their culture and mythology in place. They could not help but be affected by it, as it was superior to theirs at the time. In adapting to the new environment there was always the temptation to adapt too much and unconsciously. Syncretism is just that. It is going too far in accepting cultural beliefs and practices, considering everything culturally acceptable to be religiously permissible and blending belief and culture indiscriminately. The prophets frequently complained about this. The people easily succumbed to syncretistic tendencies and worshiped other gods to get their natural needs met. They easily saw Yahweh as the Lord of their very own history, who saved them from the slavery of Egypt and brought them to this new land. They did not so easily see him as the God of Nature. So, they worshipped nature or, more correctly, these gods of nature, in a kind of eclectic “salad” of sanctity.
Psalm 29 is an example of a good adaptation of culture to religion. This hymn to Baal or, at least, some hymnic thoughts about Baal was re-cast and applied to Yahweh as Lord, not only of the storm but of all creation and of all history. It is a successful blend of a Canaanite cultural masterpiece with authentic religious celebration. In itself, mythological and polytheistic, it is now adapted for the Israelite liturgy. It is not clear whether this Psalm influenced the way the Sinai theophany was described, with its thunder, lightning and earthquakes, or the other way around, but it is almost certain that the description of the Pentecost event in Acts 2 was influenced by this Psalm. In fact, in the Talmud, Psalm 29 is assigned for the end of the celebration of the Jewish Feast of Pentecost or Weeks, the wheat harvest, which later also commemorated the giving of the Law on Sinai. The LXX assigns it to the Feast of Tabernacles, the autumnal harvest of grapes and olives. Now, all that could be said of Baal is applied to Yahweh and then some.
This hymn uses repetition to makes its point. “Yahweh,” “voice,” and “glory” are repeated in staccato and drumlike fashion to produce the effect of climbing a staircase and repeating with each ascent or singing the notes of the scale ever louder. It avoids monotony by its movement from heaven to earth to heaven again, by describing the path of the storm and by resolving the “uproar” of the storm into a rainbow of peace. Yahweh appears; his glory radiates forth. His voice resounds; he makes heaven and earth quake. To him all powers on earth and in heaven must bow and serve.
The psalm has an easily discernible structure: in verses one and two, the invitation to praise Yahweh is given to the “heavenly beings;” verses three to nine, the power of Yahweh’s “voice” is praised; and verses ten to eleven, the reign of Yahweh is recognized as the source of human welfare.
In verse one, you heavenly beings: As used by Canaanites and other polytheistic cultures this term would refer to the pantheon of lesser gods, sitting in a council meeting, with the “most high god,” presiding. Though subordinate in some ways to the chief god, they would have some independent power. The details in mythology typically remain fuzzy and overlap. Myth is not consistently logical. It preserves mystery and prevents religion from becoming overly rational, analytical and rigid. These ”beings,” could be stars, the Romans believed that the stars were gods, angels, spirits that inhabit natural phenomena, etc. As used by the Hebrews, they would be ministering spirits, angels, who do God’s bidding. The point here is that the earthly, human assembly, aware that humans and human language are inadequate to praise God, call on the heavenly host to join them and enhance their inadequate praise. Catholics, Anglicans and Lutherans do this in the Preface of the Mass just before singing the refrain from Isaiah 6:3: Holy, holy, holy, etc. give to the Lord glory and might: Clearly “give,” means recognize and praise him for. Another translation is “ascribe to.” It means to “give God credit for having…” It acknowledges God’s supremacy over heaven, earth and all beings.