Summary: This sermon’s aim is to lead the audience both to tremble and to exult at God, especially at his Voice (whenever & however heard), and above all at Christ Jesus, the Voice of God.
THE VOICE OF THE LORD
Text: Psalm 29
One of our favorite hymns is, “How Great Thou Art.” In it we sing about some of the sublime features of God’s creation. We sing of worlds, of stars, and of rolling thunder; of woods and forest glades and the sweet singing of birds; of lofty mountains grandeur, of the sound of the brook and the feel of gentle breezes. We praise and adore God because of the greatness of God implied in these things.
The theme of this hymn is a biblical theme. There is a theme in scripture, that the natural world displays the majesty and glory of the spiritual God who created it.
For example, one Psalm speaks of how the heavens, with sun and stars, “declare the glory of God.” Our text this morning is another example. It too sees the majesty of God in his natural works, and cries, “How Great Thou Art!”
But the phenomenon of nature that our text observes is very specific. Like the other Psalm mediated on sun and sky, this Psalm focuses on the Storm -- the “rolling thunder” of the beloved hymn.
Seven times the Psalm speaks of “the voice of the Lord.” “The voice of the Lord,” however, is plainly referring to thunder. The Psalmist hears the voice of his God in the thunder and lightning of a mighty storm.
This is not the only place in the Old Testament where thunder is called “the voice of the Lord.” In Exodus 9:28, where Pharoah says, “Enough of God’s thunder and hail,” what is translated “God’s thunder” literally says, “Voices of God.” “No more Voices of God!” Pharoah says. And Job 37:3-4 speaks of how God lets loose his lightning across the earth, and that, “after it, his voice roars, he thunders with his majestic voice.”
In truth, it was not uncommon for the ancient ear to hear God’s voice in the thunder. The common belief in times past, was that God was the direct cause of thunder and lightning. This has been true of all peoples and all religions. The Canaanites, who lived among the children of Israel, saw the work of Baal in the storm. The Greeks believed that Zeus hurled the thunderbolts, and the ancient Germans heard the hammer of Thor when the thunder pounded.
But these facts take nothing away from the power of this Psalm. The Psalmist is well-aware of how the heathen view the storm. So he takes the storm away from their gods, and gives it back to the One who truly made it. It is not Baal or Jupiter or Thor, but it is the voice of Yahweh the Lord of Israel, the one and only God, that sounds forth in the storm.
In our day we do not tend to see any natural event as directly caused by God. We emphasize the natural causes of things. We theorize on the rushing of hotter air up and colder air down, and the resulting violent frictions between the water droplets they carry. We hypothesize electrical charges produced and massed together, like two poles of a giant battery, and the great spark, miles long, that flies between these charges. It is a spark of some millions of volts, powerful enough to explode the air in between. The flash of this spark, we explain, is the lightning, and sound of this explosion is the thunder.
Yes, there may be a natural explanation, but let us not conclude that, therefore, God is explained away. Some people draw the conclusion that to understand the workings of nature is to rule God out. It is better, however, to see the dual cause of these things -- the natural causes, but also the spiritual, divine cause, which is the ultimate cause explaining how things began and how they continue to exist. God remains the ultimate cause of all things.
So it is not a question of seeing either the work of God, or the work of nature in the thunder and lighting. It is not a question of either-or, but of both-and. Even with our more complicated, scientific views of things, we can see God in the natural world, -- perhaps (I believe) even better than before.
So then, even in our modern, scientific age, we can perceive the God of Israel in the thunder and lightning of the storm. We can do as our Psalmist did. We can hear the thunder and think of God.
This scripture, our text, moves us to hear God’s voice in the thunder. If we will do that, we will be able to appreciate something about God that tends to be de-emphasized in popular religion. We will appreciate the majesty of God -- or, as the Psalm says, God’s Glory.
When we speak of the majesty of God, we mean the greatness of God. We mean the yawning gulf that lies between his greatness and our smallness. The voice of a human compared with the voice of thunder, gives us an illustration of the difference between human beings and their Creator.