The story goes that “William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army was once told that certain kinds of music were too much ‘of the world’ to be used in evangelistic meetings, he replied, ‘Not allowed to sing that tune or this tune? Indeed! Secular music, do you say? Belongs to the devil, does it? Well, if it did, I would plunder him of it. Every note and every strain and every harmony is divine and belongs to us.’
At another time Booth discovered that a popular Christian chorus of the day took it’s tune from a music-hall ditty, ‘Champagne Charlie is My Name.’ His response? ‘That settles it. Why should the devil have all the best tunes?’” (https://storiesforpreaching.com/why-should-the-devil-have-all-the-good-music/)
So, you might ask, what has this got to do with Psalm 29? Well, read this unique psalm again and I will explain.
1 Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. 2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters. 4 The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic. 5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon. 6 He makes Lebanon leap like a calf, Sirion [Mt Herman] like a young wild ox. 7 The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning. 8 The voice of the Lord shakes the desert; the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh. 9 The voice of the Lord twists the oaks[c] and strips the forests bare. And in his temple all cry, “Glory!”
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever. 11 The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.
This psalm, according to Brueggemann, “is an enthronement psalm.” In fact, he then suggests that “it is the scholarly consensus that this is an older Canaanite psalm taken by Israel, wherein only the name of the deity has been changed.” (see references # 2)
Kidner mentions that “early Canaanite poetry was similar” and adds the possibility that maybe “David was building the psalm out of an ancient fragment.” (see references # 29)
Longman gives even more explanation. He comments that “Many of the features of this psalm bear resemblance to Ugaritic [Canaanite] poetry…Some scholars have even concluded that Psalm 29 is an original Canaanite hymn in which the Israelite hymn writer has simply substituted the name Yahweh for Baal [known as ‘the storm god’, one of the most important of the numerous gods worshiped by the Canaanite community]. Perhaps this view is correct; otherwise, the composer has constructed the poem intentionally using…Canaanite devices and imagery.”
Longman then asks a good question: “But for what purpose?” He then answers: “The best explanation is that the Hebrew poet is stating that it is Yahweh, and not Baal, who is the power of the storm. In other words, the purpose would be polemical [an argument in defence of a truth] or apologetic [an argument to prove a truth], appealing to those Israelites who were tempted to worship Baal…” (see references # 30)
Broyles adds: “It appears that the Hebrew liturgists sang of Yahweh’s kingship in a way immediately understandable to all ancients, especially the Canaanite neighbours.” (see references # 4)
Interesting background information, but just how can we apply these things to ourselves in the 21st Century?
Firstly, without compromising the truth, Christians of all ages have endeavoured, and rightly so, to express the good news of Jesus in ways that are understandable to their audiences. Whether this be in music (consider the massive change in Christian music over the last 50 years), or in the use of the media (literature, radio, movies, the internet, satellite TV, mobile phone Apps, etc), or in learning other languages and cultural norms to proclaim Christ cross-culturally in a relevant way.
Secondly, we, in the age we live in, need to understand the truths of this psalm, that our God is King of his creation and not mankind or any other so-called god. Brueggemann asks: “If Psalm 29 opposes Baal worship, what would constitute Baalism in contemporary culture? Taking a clue from the creation imagery…one suggestion would be the prevailing view that nature is a part of life to be explained and exploited for human desires, as something to be reduced to the control of human reason for the benefit of humans. The view underlies [todays] militant consumerism…That view sees humans as the centre of life, as those who dictate and control the path of life. The praise of God in Psalm 29 rejects that view and proclaims that it is the living God who is Lord of all creation and life. And so God is universally to be praised.” (see references # 39)
So, we need to acknowledge, as does the psalmist here, that
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord is enthroned as King forever. Only then will we experience the truth that
11 The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace.
Thank you, Father, that you are enthroned as King over your creation forever. In the midst of the philosophy of our age which seeks to diminish this truth, keep us faithful to you and your revealed word in the Bible. Enable us to proclaim in culturally relevant ways the good news of Jesus’ incarnation, life, death and resurrection. Amen.