The Christian faith and the Christian church are glorious results of the Word of God. The voice of God thunders in creation and in the gospel, and then we thunder with His grace — the beauty of His holiness.
Summary of the Text
Psalm 29 has three parts. First, David issues the command to give glory unto the Lord. The command “give” comes three times: first to the “mighty ones” (literally: sons of the gods), then the command includes “strength,” and finally the command is given with a reason: it is due/owed to His name (Ps. 29:1-2). The psalmist then summarizes the command he is giving: “worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness” (Ps. 29:2).
The second part of the Psalm explains these elements of “might” and “strength” and “beauty” and “glory” all centering on the “voice of the Lord” as a fierce thunder storm (Ps 29:3-9). The word “voice” is actually used a number of times for thunder: in the seventh plague with the hail (Ex. 9:23), and later, when Israel was gathered at the base of Sinai there were “voices/ thunderings” (Ex. 19:16, cf. Rev. 4:5). The Psalmist begins by introducing the thunder storm “over the waters,” his “glory thunders,” His voice is “powerful,” and his voice is full of “beauty/majesty” (Ps. 29:3-4). God’s voice splits cedars in half (Ps. 29:5), and God makes the earth quake, causing it to leap like young oxen (Ps. 29:6). God’s voice also shoots out lightening on the earth (Ps. 29:7). God’s thunder is not limited to Lebanon, He also shakes the wilderness of Kadesh (Ps. 29:8). God’s storm makes the wild animals give birth in panic, and His voice is like a pressure washer that completely strips the forest bare (Ps. 29:9), like with the Red Sea (Ex. 15:8).
Finally, in what might feel like a lurch, the Psalmist describes the voice/storm of the Lord in the temple where everyone shouts “glory!” But when the tabernacle and temple were dedicated, they were filled with glory that made them unapproachable (Ex. 40:34-35, 1 Kgs. 8:11, cf.Rev. 11:19, 15:8). So this is not a lurch at all. On the one hand this is what God’s people do in response to the glory of God and His mighty Word, and on the other hand, the worship of God’s people is as much caused by the voice of the Lord as the rest of the storm. We are the storm. The Psalmist finishes His call to worship, remembering that God was the One who ruled over the Flood – the greatest storm in the history of the world, and He is the one who sits enthroned forever. He gives strength to His people, and therefore He is the one who blesses people with peace (Ps. 29:10-11).
Centrality of the Word
The center of this Psalm is the power of the Word of God. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth by the Word of His power when His Spirit-wind hovered over the waters (Gen. 1:1), and it is that same powerful Word that upholds all things (Heb. 1:3). His Word thundered at Sinai, but Hebrews says that He now thunders His word directly from Heaven “that the things which cannot be shaken may remain” (Heb. 12:25-27). What this indicates is the fact that God’s storm is not merely destructive, but it is also wonderfully creative, saving, and healing. This Word that created and sustains and thunders from Heaven became flesh and dwelt among us, and John says, “we beheld His glory” (Jn. 1). The center of that glory was the cross and resurrection, where the justice of God was completely satisfied and the mercy of God freely offered. It has pleased God for many centuries now for His Word to go forth in the mouths of men, preaching the gospel, proclaiming the justice and mercy of the cross, splitting the cedar hearts of rebellious men and stripping their arguments bare (Acts 2:37, Lk. 2:35). The Word is a two-edged sword going out of the mouth of Jesus (Rev. 19:15), through the mouths of His servants (Heb. 4:12), conquering sinners. And God’s people shout, “glory!”
Good Order: Liturgy & Government
Because we want the power of God’s Word, worship must be patterned after God’s clear word. To go off on our own in worship is to insist on impotence, but His voice is where the power and glory are. And His voice says, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:39, Col. 2:5). The word for order is “taxis” and was used to describe military formations in the ancient world, and this is why we should in principle be committed to a formal or liturgical worship. Casual or informal worship is not obedient worship (Heb. 12:28-29). The New Testament requires our worship to be a spiritual sacrifice of praise, and this too implies careful order. The Old Testament sacrifices were offered very carefully and often in a particular order: sin offering, ascension offering, and peace offering (Lev. 9:22, Num. 6:14-17, Ez. 45:17). We call this basic shape of worship Covenant Renewal Worship. But Paul’s concern is principally with clarity (1 Cor. 14). When the Word of God is clear and understandable, God’s Voice thunders with grace and truth.
The same word is also used to describe the “order” of the Levites (Lk. 1:8) and priesthood (Heb. 7:11-21). So our good order is also guarded by the Church through faithful church government. “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you” (Tit. 1:5, cf. 1 Tim. 3). If we want the glory of the Lord to fill our worship and thunder in our cities, we need godly, qualified men in office. While all of the qualifications for elder/deacon are important, perhaps the most neglected is the order and holiness in his home. “If a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination” (Tit. 1:6). “One who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?)” (1 Tim. 3:4-5). Related, God’s people honor and obey their elders (1 Tim. 5:17, Heb. 13:7, 17).
Finally, there is no storm of God’s glory where there is no discipline. Church discipline begins in every believer’s heart by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, through confession of sin and repentance (Lk. 6:41, Gal. 6:1). Most church discipline is informal and takes place in the day to day communion of the saints. Love that covers a multitude of sins is actually part of this: hot grace breaks cold, hard hearts. And never stop praying. But the Bible is also clear that some sins need to be confronted and rebuked. “Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him” (Lk. 17:3). You should ordinarily go to your brother in private, seeking to gain your brother (Mt. 18:15), and the principles of justice apply (2-3 witnesses, due process). Sometimes public sins may need to be publicly confronted (Gal. 2:14, 1 Tim. 5:20). A church that does not fight for holiness does not really love the beauty of holiness.
Conclusion: The Lord of Hosts
In the Exodus narrative the word “armies” is used five times, but the really striking thing is that it never applies to the Egyptians. It always applies to the children of Israel. So this is God’s way: He sees us as His armies, His hosts, and we fight by praising His name, feasting on His Word and at His table, by baptism, by confessing sin, forgiving one another, by building homes, working hard, feasting, and rejoicing in His glorious grace. By the grace and power of His word, He makes us (and remakes us) into the beautiful storm of His holiness.
Photo by Felix Mittermeier on Unsplash
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