On the first Saturday and Sunday of May, Nashville experienced an unprecedented storm where we received 1/4 of our annual rainfall in two days. The resultant floods were devastating for many and crippling to the economy. One only need to look at the pictures and videos present on the internet to understand that this was Middle Tennessee’s worst disaster since the Civil War. Our hearts, hands, prayers and money go out to those who are hurting during this time.
As I began to think about what Psalm I would open for my Woodmont Hills Family of God class on the second Sunday in May–yesterday, the week immediately following the storm–I chose Psalm 29. On the one hand it may seem a bit bold to think about this Psalm in the wake of such flood devastation and community lament, but on the other hand it is a Psalm that recognizes the “voice of the Lord” in the storm, the presence of God in the midst of the storm.
The Psalmist uses the phrase “voice of the Lord” seven times in the hymn of praise that is the center of the Psalm (vv. 3-9). This is not an insignificant number in the symbolic numerology of Israel. Completeness? Yes, probably. Yahweh controls everything? Yes, seemingly. God is present in his creation, even in the storm, seven days a week? Sounds good to me. God speaks through the creation, even the thunderstorm, even the torrential rains. The heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1) and so does the thunderstorm.
Israel watches the thunderstorm arise from the horizons of the Mediterrean Sea (v.3) and watches it break the cedars of Lebanon and cross over Mt. Hermon (Sirion) like a playful animal (v. 6). The cedars are not so strong as to resist the power of God nor is the highest mountain in Palestine too large to hinder the storm. Neither is the desert south of Israel in Kadesh too vast to tremble with the sound of Yahweh’s voice.
This point is even more significant when we recognize the polemic in the Psalm. Baal was the God of the storm in ancient Palestinian religion. Baal brought the rain, thunder and lightning. But Israel confesses that that they hear the voice of Yahweh in the storm, not Baal. Yahweh is the God of Palestine as well as the whole world. It is their God, their covenant God, who speaks, and Yahweh is committed to Israel in faithful love.
Israel does not fear the storm but they listen to the voice of God in it. Consequently, Israel worships. The hymn of praise is what Israel sings in the temple; it is the praise to which the Psalmist calls the assembly (vv.1-2). Israel worships amidst the sounds of thunder and the flashes of lightning.
I remember as a child that the thunderstorm was always a frightening event for me. It was not that I was afraid of the house collaspsing or death, but rather I was afraid that the Jesus was returning and my childhood conception of God somehow turned that hope into fear.
But for Israel the thunderstorm is assurance rather than fear. God’s voice in the thunderstorm announces his reign(though not only in thunderstorms, of course). God asserts his power and majesty. The glory of God is displayed in it. Israel trusts the God who comes to them in the thunderstorm.
The last two verses of the Psalm reflect this theme (vv.10-11). Israel confesses that God reigns, enthroned over the flood waters. The waters do not dethrone God but rather God reigns over the flood. And Israel does not fear but rests in God’s gracious care and intent. Yahweh will give Israel “strength” and bless it with “peace.”
Peace in the midst of the storm? Strength through the storm? This is Yahweh’s blessing. I have seen it on the faces and heard in the voices of those who have lost much and some everything. God was not absent in the storm but present in the storm to give strength and peace.
The constant torrential rains were amazing to witness. They were awe-inspiring though, at the same time, ominus. They were wondrous but also threatening. The thundestorm was powerful and majestic.
Whose voice spoke? How did we hear it? How do we respond?
With Israel, we confess that we hear the voice of Yahweh in the storm. With Israel, we hear that voice with awe and assurance. With Israel, we cry in our assemblies “Glory!” (v. 9).
Certainly, we lament the hurt and pain. We use our hands in service. We open our wallets to help.
And at the same time we cry “Glory!” in the assembly of God’s people.