December 13, 2016
The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord, over many waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
The Psalms are songs. I’ve been taught that the Psalter – or the Book of Psalms – was the hymnbook of the Second Temple. That is, the temple that was reconstructed in Jerusalem in around 500 BC. The first temple – that built by King Solomon – was destroyed by the armies of the Babylonian Empire in about 586 BC. The era of the rebuilding of the temple is sometimes called “the restoration.” This time is chronicled in the Bible in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
Songs are not always poetry, but many of the psalms are poetic. This one, for example. Look at the high-flown imagery here. The “voice of the Lord” dividing the flames of fire; shaking the earth; causing the hinds (deer?) to give birth. I am ready to accept all of these allusions as literal truth. That is to say, it is no stretch for me to accept the idea that all of the mysterious processes at work in this world are finally the work of God. Whatever mysterious and complex processes there are at work in the body of the deer, it is finally at the command of God that all things come together as they do and, lo and behold, a new deer is born and a life enters the world, a life that was not there before. This is the understanding of the psalmist and it is far more rational than the notion that all of the complex order in the universe is simply random chance.
But let’s go on and consider these verses about the voice of God as poetry. What do they express on other than a literal level?
- God speaks.
- The God of the Bible is a God who is constantly communicating, constantly calling, constantly intervening. He is no quiet God. He is not unconcerned with the course of the world and with the men and women who live in it. He is not – as Pascal said – “the God of the philosophers.” He is not the God of the deists who believe that God created the universe and then sat back to watch it all unfold.
- God’s speech is effective. In this psalm we see vivid pictures of that. We see thunder and the shaking of the earth and the splitting of the great cedars. This is fine and important imagery that might help get the point across, but the idea of God’s speech being effective is elsewhere in the Bible, too.
- For instance, God spoke the universe into existence. He said, “Let there be light, and there was light.”
- And look how the Prophet and poet Isaiah was inspired to put it:
Isaiah 55:11Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV)
11 so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth:
it shall not return unto me void,
but it shall accomplish that which I please,
and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
We must go on to say, as says the scripture, that Jesus Christ is the living word of God:
English Standard Version
1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.
That is to say that it is through Jesus Christ that God speaks to men and women and it is through Jesus Christ and His Spirit that God acts in the world.