Psalm 29 offers not the slightest hint as to its historical circumstances. We are told only that it is a Psalm of David. Its message, however, is clear: Yahweh stands supreme over lesser gods.
David writes, “Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendour of holiness.” The Hebrew phrase translated “heavenly beings” is used in the Old Testament exclusively to speak of false gods (Exodus 15:11; Job 41:25; Psalm 89:6). David calls those gods to bow in allegiance to the true God, and calls worshippers of false gods to bring their gods into subjection to him.
If it seems strange that a Jewish hymnal would address false gods, it is only because we misunderstand the Old Testament. While the biblical writers make it clear that there is only one, true God, it is equally clear that Yahweh’s people struggled with allegiance to the one God (see Exodus 32:4, 8; 1 Kings 12:28; Jeremiah 2:28; 11:13; Nahum 1:14). Idolatry was rife in Israel. David called the people and their gods to recognise the supremacy of the true God and to bring their gods into subjection to him—to make them bow.
David offers two proofs that Yahweh stands above other gods.
First, Yahweh speaks. The psalm references Yahweh’s voice seven times. Yahweh stands apart from other gods because he communicates. The gods that the people were tempted to worship could not communicate (see Psalm 135:15–18) but Yahweh speaks. When he does speak, it is often frightening. God’s voice in this Psalm is loud and threatening. As James Johnston says, “The God we serve is not a tame God, a god we can lead around on a leash. He is not a puny God.”
Second, Yahweh is sovereign. The gods are constructions of human hands, but Yahweh “sits enthroned as king forever.” In fact, he “sits enthroned over the flood” (v. 10). This is a direct challenge to pagan gods. Pagan nations ascribed the power of storms and floods to their gods. Baal, for example, was worshipped as the storm god, who sent rain and, therefore, fertility. David’s point is that, actually, Yahweh controls storms and floods. The gods are powerless before him.
In pagan thought, the gods sent rain and, when they lost control, flooding was the result. Yahweh, however, “sits enthroned over the flood.” The word here translated “flood” is used elsewhere only to speak of Noah’s flood, and never of localised floods. Even in the most devastating flood in history, Yahweh remained enthroned. He remains calmly seated, even when the world seems to be falling apart.
Here, then, is the challenge: Will you make your gods bow before Yahweh? He is supreme. We must all recognise and submit to his supremacy. Everybody is religious because everyone has something of ultimate concern. The call here is to make your ultimate bow to Yahweh’s ultimate glory.
Some are ultimately concerned about fulfilling their own sensual desires, but lasting satisfaction cannot be found there (Ecclesiastes 1:8). Some are tempted to make the pursuit of wealth their ultimate concern, but that also will not satisfy (Ecclesiastes 5:10). Some are ultimately concerned with a stable family life or good health, but David calls us to make those things of ultimate concern bow to Yahweh, even when his ultimate concern is not ours.
Our idols become our idols because of what they offer, but our false gods can ultimately only offer what is fleeting. Only Yahweh can fully and finally satisfy. Recognising that will lead us to worship him in the splendour of holiness (v. 2).
Let’s work hard together to make our gods bow before the supremacy of the only true God.