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Psalm 29 and the Storm of War II

August 2, 2006

Psalm 29 uses imagery associated with Baal worship that would be familiar to those who lived in Canaan before the children of Israel entered. From what I understand of Baal worship it could be a pretty stressful, anxiety-inducing faith. Each year in the spring adherents would gather on the shores of the Mediterranean and observe the thunderstorms whose dark clouds would dirty the horizon. The distant sound of thunder was to them like the tumult of war, the lightning flashes, the weapons of an angry, powerful God.

They noticed that sometimes after these storms the spring rains would come ashore, soften up the ground so they could sink a plough and scatter their seeds, which would usually mean a harvest eventually and food to feed the family. Sometimes the rains wouldn’t come and they would go hungry. The Canaanites reasoned that there was indeed a war going on, and the war god who wielded the lightning bolts was battling with the god of the sea who was reluctant to yield up his waters. When the Storm Baal won, the rains came; when the sea god won, they didn’t. Each spring this cycle worked its way out. Each year they returned worried and tense, offering prayers and sacrifices. This year’s rains and harvest would be enjoyed for the time, but the same thing must be endured next spring.

The Psalmist introduces us to the God behind the storm; the God who made the sea and the lightning. Crucially for the writer here was a God who sits enthroned over the waters FOREVER. There was no need to return year after year and do battle. There was no contingency, no fear or uncertainty, here was a God who could offer peace.

In the Old Testament, the sea is almost always the symbol of fear and chaos and destruction. All that threatened to overwhelm the settled life was symbolised in the sea and the flood. The poet tells his readers that God sits enthroned over all the forces that threaten to overwhelm and destroy. He gives strength to endure and peace to sustain.

But there is more again.

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From → Psalms

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