(H) A psalm of David.
(1) Ascribe to Yahweh, O sons of God,
ascribe to Yahweh glory and strength.
(2) Ascribe to Yahweh the glory (due) his name.
Worship Yahweh in the beauty of holiness.
(3) The voice of Yahweh is over the waters.
The God of glory thunders, Yahweh (thunders)
over many waters.
(4) The voice of Yahweh is powerful.
The voice of Yahweh is majestic.
(5) The voice of Yahweh breaks the cedars.
Yahweh shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
(6) He makes Lebanon skip like a young calf
and Sirion like a young wild ox.
One important reason for the composition of the psalms was to provide Israel with liturgical resources for congregational worship in the tabernacle or temple. Psalm 29 is probably a sanctuary hymn, written in antiphonal style (“antiphon” literally means “voice against” or “responding”). This means that the worship leader or a choir of Levites would voice the first line of each verse to which another choir or the entire congregation would respond with the second line to complete the thought. That is why today’s translation is structured the way it is.
David begins with a three-fold repetition of the command, “Ascribe to Yahweh,” making it clear that his purpose in writing the psalm was to give Israel a means of offering worthy worship to Yahweh. The other obvious repetition is the phrase, “the voice of Yahweh,” used four times in this segment and seven times altogether in the psalm. By describing God’s speaking as a powerful storm with lightening strikes and deafening claps of thunder, David metaphorically suggests that this is one way we can begin to understand his power and majesty.
Several interpretive questions in this psalm have challenged scholars over the centuries. In this segment, we find three:
- Who are the “sons of God,” angelic or human beings (vs. 1)? This question will be addressed in the application.
- How should we understand the phrase, “in the beauty of holiness” (vs. 2)? Does this refer to the beauty belonging to God or to his worshipers clothed either in priestly raiment or the “garments of salvation?” If we understand this as referring to the worshippers, we might translate this phrase, “Worship Yahweh in holy array.” However, it seems preferable to have the English translation reflect the ambiguity of the original, allowing for both meanings. This issue will also be addressed in the application.
- Where is “Sirion?” The answer is found in Deuteronomy 3:9 which tells us that Sirion is another name for Mt. Hermon which, at 2,814 meters or 9,230 feet, stands as Israel’s tallest peak and is located on Israel’s border with Lebanon. “Sirion” was probably not the ancient name for the modern nation of Syria. Instead, it may have been derived from the name of the ancient nation of Assyria.
I. Calling all to worship Yahweh whose name is glorious (1 & 2)
II. Comparing Yahweh’s voice to the roar of a thunderstorm (3-6)
Yahweh, whose name is glorious and whose voice is overwhelmingly powerful, is worthy of our worship.
Consider the command, “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” As indicated above, this could refer either to the beauty of God’s holiness or the beauty we are expected to display when we enter into his presence. There is also a third possibility that the psalmist had both ideas in mind. Sometimes, when we encounter an ambiguous phrase like this, both meanings are intended. Think of it this way: God in his holiness is beautiful beyond our ability to imagine or describe. Both Isaiah and Ezekiel in the Old Testament and the Apostle John in the New Testament attempted the impossible task of describing the throne room of God in its awesome majesty and glory. Not until we are capable of seeing God in our resurrection bodies will we grasp how utterly beautiful he is.
Whenever we come into God’s presence, we must not enter casually or thoughtlessly. We should be properly arrayed and well prepared for such a moment. In ancient Israel, the priests serving in the sanctuary were commanded to wear special garments and were given specific instructions regarding how they should behave in the sanctuary. Isaiah reveals the provision God makes for us so that we are dressed properly: “I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God, for he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels“ (Is. 61:10). Picking up on this thought, Jesus in one of his parables spoke about the need for wedding guests to be clothed in proper attire (Mt. 22:11-13). How then should we understand the phrase, “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness?” Our attire when worshiping a God who is glorious beyond compare must, in some sense, reflect his glorious majesty. How can we possibly accomplish that? Paul helps us when he instructs us, “Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 13:14). Only when we are “in Christ” and adorned with the Savior’s righteousness are we prepared to come into the presence of a holy God.
Edward Mote in his well known Gospel hymn, The Solid Rock, used this thought as the basis of his last stanza: “When he shall come with trumpet sound, / O may I then in him be found, / dressed in his righteousness alone, / faultless to stand before the throne.” This understanding enables us finally to answer the first of the three questions mentioned above: “Who are the sons of God?” John’s Gospel tells us regarding the Son, “Yet, to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (Jn. 1:12). When we are redeemed by Christ, we become God’s sons and daughters by faith. To us, his eternal family, has been given the awesome responsibility and unparalleled privilege of ascribing to God the glory that his matchless person deserves.