Summary: See that you refuse not the One who speaks from heaven!
THE SONG OF THE THUNDERSTORM
Psalm 29 - “The voice of the LORD”
1. The thunderstorm
Storm clouds gather over the Mediterranean. The thunder rolls inland over the cedars of Lebanon, and lightning strikes strip the cedars bare. Even the mountains of the North seem to be shaken to their very foundations. The storm turns, travelling the whole length of Israel, and seems to shake the wilderness. The sand cannot remain still, and anything loose is driven like tumbleweed across the plain. The red deer calves early, and all creation stands in awe at the might of the storm.
The claps of thunder are not the sound of the mighty Thor of Norse mythology, who was said to be riding his chariot across the sky. Nor are they the voice of the Canaanites’ storm god Baal, who allegedly dwelt ‘in’ the storm (and if he was not there, he was on vacation - or maybe sleeping - cf. 1 Kings 18:27). Nor is this the beginning of yet another disaster movie, but a metaphor of the awesome might of the LORD, who sits “above” the storms of life (Psalm 29:10).
Repetition drives the momentum of the storm in this song. This is not the ‘repeat, ad lib, and fade’ of popular music, but a powerful push towards peace. Three times the “sons of God” (Hebrew), the ‘mighty ones’ or ‘heavenly beings’ are called to give - or “ascribe” - glory to the LORD (Psalm 29:1-2). Seven times the thunder claps are identified with “the voice of the LORD” (Psalm 29:3-9). “The LORD” is named four times in the closing verses (Psalm 29:10-11), reminding us that the Psalm is not about the storm, but about the LORD who sits above the storm. Nothing is outside His power.
2. Thunder from heaven
There was thunder at Sinai when the LORD appeared to Moses and the children of Israel (Exodus 20:18). On one occasion the LORD Himself - in rebuking His prophet - described His voice as thunder (Job 40:9). When the Father spoke of His glory in answer to Jesus’ prayer, some of the people said it thundered: others said it was an angel (John 12:27-29). More than once the Apostle John uses the motif of thunder in describing what he heard in heaven (Revelation 6:1; Revelation 14:2; Revelation 19:6).
3. “The voice of the LORD” is not confined to the thunderstorm
There was an earthquake at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion (Matthew 27:50-51), and the Talmud tells us that in that year the Sanhedrin was “banished” from its favoured site to a less favourable site within the Temple - perhaps, I suggest, on account of earthquake damage. (Yes, God does sometimes speak through temporal judgements!) There was another earthquake also at the resurrection of Jesus, whereby God spoke His final word on the finished work of Christ (Matthew 28:2).
Certainly the LORD sent fire from heaven to consume Elijah’s saturated sacrifice, and then sent an abundance of rain (1 Kings 18:38, 45). In the next scene, however, Elijah sought the LORD in the wind, earthquake and fire - but the LORD merely passed by. Only then did the prophet hear “the still small voice” (1 Kings 19:11-12).
Our psalm moves in the same direction: from “Glory to God in the highest” (Psalm 29:1) to “Peace to His people on earth” (Psalm 29:11). When the storm-tossed disciples - experienced seamen though they were - were in fear of their lives in the storm-tossed sea, Jesus arose and said, “Peace be still” (Mark 4:39). The Lord calms the storms of life, and gives us a peace which the world cannot give.
Peter, James and John heard an audible voice in the mountain of transfiguration, telling them to listen to Jesus (Mark 9:7). Paul also heard an audible voice: this time it was that of the risen Lord Jesus (Acts 9:3-7). We hear the voice of the LORD when we read the Bible, the Word of God.
We hear the voice of the Lord also in the whispers of the night. Before the lamp went out in God’s house, young Samuel laid himself down to sleep. Three times the LORD called him, and three times the boy ran to his master. The fourth time he answered according to the old priest’s instruction: “Speak, LORD; for your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:3-10).
We hear the voice of the LORD when we worship Him, and offer Him the praise and glory due to His name (Psalm 29:2). This is not horizontal worship, aimed at giving us a ‘buzz’ in His presence - but true worship, aimed at honouring God: offered in the name of Jesus, and through the Holy Spirit. In contrasting the worship of Sinai and that of the heavenly Jerusalem, one writer exhorts us: “See that you refuse not the One who speaks… from heaven” (Hebrews 12:25).