A. J. MATTILL, Jr.
Psalm 29 is possibly the oldest psalm in the Bible. It is often regarded as “one of the literary masterpieces of the Psalter.”
(1) “Give unto the Lord, O ye mighty, give unto the Lord glory and strength. (2) Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. (3) The voice of the Lord is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the Lord is upon many waters. (4) The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty. (5) The voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars; yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon. (6) He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn. (7) The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire. (8) The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness; the Lord shaketh the widerness of Kadesh. (9) The voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to calve, and discoverth the forests: and in his temple doth every one speak of his glory. (10) The Lord sitteth upon the flood; yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever. (11) The Lord will give strength unto his people; the Lord will bless his people with peace—King James Version. Here we print the core of the psalm in italics (verses 3-9). Note that the phrase “the voice of the Lord” occurs seven times in the seven verses of the core. Hence the core has been called “The Song of Seven Thunders.”
Psalm 29 was probably suggested by a great thunderstorm sweeping over the full length of Palestine from Mount Hermon in the North to Kadesh Barnea in the South. Such furious storms terrorized man and beast, laying waste cities and fields.
Let us consider some of the problems of Psalm 29. Problem One. The Origin of Psalm 29. According to tradition, King David was the author of this psalm. But since 1929 several hundred clay tablets from the fourteenth century BC/BCE were found in northern Canaan. One of these writings is a Phoenician hymn composed in honor of their storm god Baal. This hymn is so similar to our Psalm 29 that some scholars are convinced that a Hebrew psalmist adapted the Phoenician hymn by substituting the name “Yahweh” for “Baal.” Thunder, which to the Canaanites was the voice of the storm god Baal, becomes for the Hebrews the voice of the storm god Yahweh. In other words, Baal, not Yahweh, should get the credit for Psalm 29. See my The Seven Mighty Blows to Traditional Beliefs, 1995, p. 64. Published by the Flatwoods Free Press, 750 Lum Fife Road, Gordo, AL 35466-3357.
Now fast forward to a Roman Catholic periodical, God’s Word Today, October 2003, p.27, which finds “a consensus” that Psalm 29 “was originally a Canaanite psalm in which Baal, not Yahweh, was the god who was praised … The qualities of the Phoenician storm god Baal have been applied to Yahweh.”
What a shock it would be to multitudes of Christians who “claim to stand on the Bible,” to find that Psalm 29 is in fact a psalm of Baal! Could a psalm of Baal have been inspired by Yahweh? On some occasions, worshipers of Baal burned their young, innocent children as sacrifices to Baal (Jeremiah 19:5). Who wants to be associated with a god like that? Why not remove Psalm 29 from the Bible and blame this psalm on Baal instead of Yahweh?
Problem Two. Anthropomorphism (attributing a human form or personality to a God or animal or object). Here was see the psalmist making his God in his own image, that is, like the psalmist, his God has a voice to communicate with other creatures. But the voice of the psalmist’s God is unique, for the God’s voice is thunder or the claps of thunder or the peals of thunder. When you hear thunder, do you hear God speaking?
Problem Three. The Suffering Caused by the Terror and Turbulence of Nature. See 29:7 for the fury of thunder with its accompanying lightning falling on the earth like the mighty blows of an axe. Read again the terror of thunder text (Psalm 29:1-11) and visualize the harsh realities depicted in this psalm: boisterous energy, destruction, fiery flames, fury, gusts, lightning, might, reckless power, storm, suffering, terror, thunder, turbulence, violence, and wind. “Only God knows” how many plants, animals, and people have been injured and killed by lightning splitting cedars, gales twisting oaks, and floods deluging the plains. Yet everyone in God’s temple shouts “Glory!” (29:9) at such overwhelming power. “The temple is filled with shouts of praise” (King James Version).
Some of us who try to practice “reverence for life” find such a callous attitude appalling rather than appealing. It looks as if the Baal/God of Psalm 29 couldn’t care less about reverence for life.