Lightning and thunder fascinate us. Frighten us too. For super-cells can do lots of damage.
David had lots of experience with storms. As a shepherd boy he would have watched his sheep through many a storm. While a fugitive running from King Saul he would have been hiding out in caved during many a wild storm. Also when he was a king, out in the field, fighting battles.
Did thunderstorms frighten David? No. Rather, he saw them as evidence of God’s majesty and glory. He realized they were not a threat but a reminder of God’s protection.
He expressed his thoughts in a Psalm. Here’s a translation of that Psalm that does justice to its Hebrew literary features:
A Davidic psalm.
1 Ascribe to Yahweh, you heavenly beings,
ascribe to Yahweh glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to Yahweh the glory due His name;
worship Yahweh in the splendor of His holiness.
3 The voice of the LORD is above the waters.
The God of glory thunders—
the LORD, above vast waters,
4 the voice of the LORD in power,
the voice of the LORD in splendor.
5 The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
the LORD shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon skip like a calf,
and Sirion, like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the LORD flashes flames of fire.
8 The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness;
the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth
and strips the woodlands bare.
In His temple all cry, “Glory!”
10 Yahweh sat enthroned at the flood;
Yahweh sits enthroned, King forever.
11 Yahweh gives His people strength;
Yahweh blesses His people with peace.
(Holman Christian Standard Bible, 2009)
When it comes to the Bible, there’s a tendency to look at what it tells, at the message. It means we often overlook the form, its beauty. Another time we’ll look at what the psalm says. Right now, let’s just admire its beauty.
Note how “Yahweh” is mentioned in the book-ends of this psalm: 4x in verses 1-2 and 4x in verses 10-11. It’s Yahweh first and Yahweh last.
Now count the number of times the phrase “voice of the LORD” is found in the verses 3-9. There’s seven of them: the Jewish number of fulness. By the way, the Hebrew word for “voice” has the same breadth of meaning as the English word “sound” or “noise”. A “voice of the LORD” is a thunder peal: the sound that God makes.
And while the thunder rolls continuously, a lightning flash is brief. That’s verse 7, just a single mention in a single line.
Also note the geography of this psalm. Storms out to sea – that’s west of Israel. Storms in Lebanon and Sirion – that’s north of Israel. Storms in the wilderness of Kadesh – that’s south of Israel. Storms in the woodlands – that’s east of Israel. David knew the land he governed well.
And the temple: that would be in the middle of Israel, in Jerusalem.
Verse 10 adds a fourth dimension. Yahweh sat enthroned at the flood: “the flood”, for the Hebrew here uses the term reserved for the Great Flood of Noah’s time. Yahweh sits enthroned forever. Neither the greatest flood nor the greatest period of time can unseat David’s God. He rules supreme.
That’s why all must give glory to God. That’s why the heavenly beings sing glory to God. And pray that God will bring peace to his people.
Hmm: The combination of verse 1 and 11 reminds me of another song. You too? Check Luke 2:13-14.