By Fr. Justin Clemente. A meditation on Psalm 29, given Trinity Sunday to the People of New Creation Church (Anglican), June 12, 2022.
A Psalm…In a Thunderstorm!?
Have you ever been caught in a really bad thunderstorm? What was your first instinct? Probably to run and hide. But here, the psalmist writes a song about it!
Charles Spurgeon wrote this, “Just as the eighth Psalm is to be read by moonlight, when the stars are bright, as the nineteenth [Psalm] needs the rays of the rising sun to bring out its beauty, so this [psalm] can be best rehearsed beneath the black wing of tempest, by the glare of the lightning, or amid that dubious dusk which heralds the war of elements. The verses march to the tune of thunderbolts. God is everywhere conspicuous, and all the earth is hushed by the majesty of his presence.” (Spurgeon, Treasury of David)
That’s one of the great things about the Psalms. They train us how to speak to and speak about God. If I were to write a psalm, it would be a peaceful quiet morning on my back porch, with a cup of a coffee. Ah, that’s the psalm I want to sing! But, here, we’re confronted and comforted by the God whose voice and power are greater than even the storm. We confronted and comforted by the Living God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. That’s God we have come to worship and exalt today.
Trinitarian Glory in Heaven (Vs. 1-2)
The psalm begins in heaven and moves to earth. Like the Gloria in Excelsis we sang this morning, Psalm 29 calls the mighty ones of heaven to praise God. The call is to ascribe, ascribe and ascribe (v. 2 = give) worship and strength. What does that remind you of? How Trinitarian! The thrice-holy call of Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4 is matched here by the thrice-repeated call to ascribe to God the worship and praise that is his alone! On Trinity Sunday, we come, and call all, to celebrate with us, not so much what God has done, but simply who he is! Psalm 29 is pure praise. There is no additional exhortation in this psalm – just the call to see and know God for who he really is. In fact, God’s name, YHWH, is repeated eighteen times in these 10 verses.
This psalm highlights that humanity’s problem is that we do not know or worship God, and therefore do not know ourselves. And Trinity Sunday is not to be relegated to the dusty corners of theology. As Glen Scrivener says, the doctrine of the Trinity is Christianity for dummies – Christianity 101, in fact. It’s the first thing to understand. It is foundation for everything else we believe – learning to know the true and living God.
The God Who Speaks Louder Than the Storm (Vs. 3-8)
So the psalm begins in heaven, but it moves quickly to earth. V. 3: “It is the Lord that commands the waters; it is the glorious God that makes the thunder.” The psalmist appears to be watching a thunderstorm move from north to south over the land of Israel. From the waters of the Mediterranean Sea away to the desert in the south. The psalmist sees God’s power revealed in the thunderstorm, but also knows that God is over and infinitely more powerful than the storm itself.
In 2004, I can remember travelling down to my parent’s house after their (and my) home town of Port Charlotte took a direct hit from Hurricane Charlie. Brooke and I had never seen anything like the display of raw power we saw as we travelled southbound on highway 70. You got to a point where every Slash Pine Tree was mown down like blades of grass. The forest was stripped bare, just as verse 8 says.
But the psalmist knows a greater power. What is central in verses 3 to 8, is not the storm itself, but the voice of YHWH. Even this phrase in Hebrew, qôl Yᵊhōvâ, sounds like thunder. Beethoven has a piece in his Pastorale that he wrote to mimic the sound of a thunderstorm. Here the onomatopoeia of the voice of YHWH rumbles down through the psalm. In fact, the phrase, the qôl Yᵊhōvâ, appears seven times here. Biblically, that is the number of perfection and fullness. Put simply, in this psalm we are confronted by the God who wonderfully and powerfully speaks. His speaking is his doing. He speaks creation into existence. Most of all, he is so powerful and sovereign, that is able to give usthe word of the Scriptures and above all, the Word of his Incarnate Son. As Pastor Joseph Caryl says, “There is far more royal power in the thunder of the Word, than in the word of thunder.”
Do you know what the difference is between every other false god and the God of the Bible? Our God speaks. That’s one the sad things about the pluralism that’s so rampant in our day. “Many gods, many ways” we hear so many say. But if we buy that, we are being inoculated to hearing and responding to the word of the one true and living God: The Holy Trinity. He is not a god of our making – no, he speaks and makes himself known, and we are called to bring, as verse 2 says, the “holy worship” he deserves in and through Jesus Christ.
I suppose that’s the other connection to Trinity Sunday. In this psalm we’re confronted with the God who sovereignly reveals himself. He speaks for himself. He comes, for example, to Moses and says, “I AM that I AM.” If you’re looking to come here today and comprehend the Trinity, you’ll be disappointed. But we may apprehend it, and join the psalmist in worshipping, even if we cannot get our mind around the Trinity – indeed, we should expect not to, otherwise we are not talking about God. Put differently, the Trinity must not be for us a wall we slam our mind against, but rather an ocean we are invited to swim in. The psalmist is swimming – and adoring. “In his temple all cry, Glory!” (v. 8)
Peace in the Last: Knowing the God who sits over the storm (Vs. 9-10)
Haven’t you as a Christian experienced these verses? Haven’t you ever heard the blast of thunder and the white heat of lightning and yet felt safe? Awed, but safe? In verses 9-10, the storm passes, but God remains. The psalm ends, not with ruin, but with strength and peace. Why?
Verse 9 specifically mentions floodwaters. In the Old Testament, floodwaters are a sign both of judgment on sin and the chaos of evil. And for the Christian, we have already passed out of that judgment and chaos. We are safe in the harbor of Christ, and we do not fear the judgment that everyone must undergo before God. The words of the Gloria in Excelsis, which we sung earlier, match the journey of Psalm 29 exactly: “Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth.” Furthermore, Revelation 4 tells us that sin and evil in our world (even thunderstorms and hurricane – natural evil, the groaning of creation) will be fully and finally dealt with. Around God’s throne, the floodwaters are turned into a sea of glass, smooth as crystal (v. 6).
I’ll end here. We should always remember as we pray the Psalms that they speak of Christ and find fulfillment in him. The trust and faith of the psalmist, the trust and faith of the Christian, find fulfillment in the words of the fully human and fully divine lips of Jesus who also spoke to the storm and said, “Peace! Be still.” And the wind and the waves obeyed. (Mark 4:39)
Friend, that is why the Trinity matters, and that is the promise of Psalm 29. Amen.