Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The Psalm of the Seven Thunders
The occasion of this Psalm is a thunderstorm; it is not, however, limited to the outward natural phenomena, but therein is perceived the self-attestation of the God of the redemptive history. Just as in the second part of Psa 19:1-14 the God of the revelation of salvation is called יהוה seven times in distinction from the God revealed in nature, so in this Psalm of thunders, קול ה is repeated seven times, so that it may be called the Psalm of the hepta' brontai' (Rev 10:3.). During the time of the second Temple, as the addition to the inscription by the lxx ἐξοδίου (ἐξόδου) σκηνῆς (= σκηνοπηγίας) seems to imply,
(Note: The שׁיר of the Temple liturgy of the Shemini Azereth is not stated in the Talmud (vid., Tosefoth to B. Succa 47a, where, according to Sofrim xix. 2 and a statement of the Jerusalem Talmud, Psa 6:1-10, or 12, it guessed at). We only know, that Psa 29:1-11 belongs to the Psalm-portions fore the intervening days of the feast of tabernacles, which are comprehended in the vox memorialis בהיהום (Succa 55a, cf. Rashi on Joma 3a), viz., Psa 29:1-11 ()ה; Psa 50:16 ()ו; Psa 94:16 ()מ; Psa 94:8 ()ב; Psa 81:7 ()ה; Psa 82:5 ()י. Besides this the treatise Sofrim xviii. 3 mentions Psa 29:1-11 as the Psalm for the festival of Pentecost and the tradition of the synagogue which prevails even at the present day recognises it only as a festival Psalm of the first day of Shabuoth Pentecost; the Psalm for Shemini Azereth is the 65th. The only confirmation of the statement of the lxx is to be found in the Sohar; for there (section )צ Psa 29:1-11 is referred to the pouring forth of the water on the seventh day of the feast of the tabernacles (Hosianna rabba), since it is said, that by means of the seven קולות (corresponding to the seven compassings of the altar) seven of the Sephiroth open the flood-gates of heaven.)
it was sung on the Shemini Azereth, the last day (ἐξόδιον, Lev 23:36) of the feast of tabernacles. Between two tetrastichs, in each of which the name יהוה occurs four times, lie three pentastichs, which, in their sevenfold קול ה, represent the peals of thunder which follow in rapid succession as the storm increases in its fury.
The opening strophe calls upon the celestial spirits to praise Jahve; for a revelation of divine glory is in preparation, which, in its first movements, they are accounted worthy to behold, for the roots of everything that takes place in this world are in the invisible world. It is not the mighty of the earth, who are called in Psa 82:6 בּני עליון, but the angels, who are elsewhere called בּני אלהים (e.g., Job 2:1), that are here, as in Psa 89:7, called בּני אלים. Since אלים never means God, like אלהים (so that it could be rendered sons of the deity), but gods, Exo 15:11, Dan. 9:36, the expression בּני אלים must be translated as a double plural from בּן־אל, after the analogy of בּתּי כלאים, Isa 42:22, from בּית כּלא (Ges. 108, 3), "sons of God," not "sons of gods." They, the God-begotten, i.e., created in the image of God, who form with God their Father as it were one family (vid., Genesis S. 1212), are here called upon to give unto God glory and might (the primary passage is Deu 32:3), i.e., to render back to Him cheerfully and joyously in a laudatory recognition, as it were by an echo, His glory and might, which are revealed and to be revealed in the created world, and to give unto Him the glory of His name, i.e., to praise His glorious name (Psa 72:19) according its deserts. הבוּ in all three instances has the accent on the ultima according to rule (cf. on the other hand, Job 6:22). הדרת קדשׁ is holy vestments, splendid festal attire, Ch2 20:21, cf. Psa 110:3.
(Note: The reading proposed in B. Berachoth 30b בּחרדּת (with holy trembling) has never been a various reading; nor has בּחצרת, after which the lxx renders it ἐν αὐλῇ ἁγίᾳ αὐτοῦ.)
A revelation of the power of God is near at hand. The heavenly spirits are to prepare themselves for it with all the outward display of which they are capable. If Psa 28:2 were a summons to the church on earth, or, as in Psa 96:9, to the dwellers upon the earth, then there ought to be some expression to indicate the change in the parties addressed; it is, therefore, in Psa 28:2 as in Psa 28:1, directed to the priests of the heavenly היכל. In the Apocalypse, also, the songs of praise and trumpeting of the angels precede the judgments of God.
Now follows the description of the revelation of God's power, which is the ground of the summons, and is to be the subject-matter of their praise. The All-glorious One makes Himself heard in the language (Rev 10:3.) of the thunder, and reveals Himself in the storm. There are fifteen lines, which naturally arrange themselves into three five-line strophes. The chief matter with the poet, however, is the sevenfold קול ה. Although קול is sometimes used almost as an ejaculatory "Hark!" (Gen 4:10; Isa 52:8), this must not, with Ewald (286, f), be applied to the קול ה of the Psalm before us, the theme of which is the voice of God, who announced Himself from heaven - a voice which moves the world. The dull sounding קול serves not merely to denote the thunder of the storm, but even the thunder of the earthquake, the roar of the tempest, and in general, every low, dull, rumbling sound, by which God makes Himself audible to the world, and more especially from the wrathful side of His doxa. The waters in Psa 29:3 are not the lower waters. Then the question arises what are they? Were the waters of the Mediterranean intended, they would be more definitely denoted in such a vivid description. It is, however, far more appropriate to the commencement of this description to understand them to mean the mass of water gathered together in the thick, black storm-clouds (vid., Psa 18:12; Jer 10:13). The rumbling
(Note: The simple rendering of קול by "voice" has been retained in the text of the Psalm, as in the Authorised Version. The word, however, which Dr. Delitzsch uses is Gedrhn, the best English equivalent of which is a "rumbling." - Tr.)
of Jahve is, as the poet himself explains in Psa 29:3, the thunder produced on high by the אל הכּבוד (cf. מלך הכבוד, Psa 24:7.), which rolls over the sea of waters floating above the earth in the sky. Psa 29:4 and Psa 29:4, just like Psa 29:3 and Psa 29:3, are independent substantival clauses. The rumbling of Jahve is, issues forth, or passes by; ב with the abstract article as in Psa 77:14; Pro 24:5 (cf. Pro 8:8; Luk 4:32, ἐν ἰσχύΐ Rev 18:2), is the ב of the distinctive attribute. In Psa 29:3 the first peals of thunder are heard; in Psa 29:4 the storm is coming nearer, and the peals become stronger, and now it bursts forth with its full violence: Psa 29:5 describes this in a general form, and Psa 29:5 expresses by the fut. consec., as it were inferentially, that which is at present taking place: amidst the rolling of the thunder the descending lightning flashes rive the cedars of Lebanon (as is well-known, the lightning takes the outermost points). The suffix in Psa 29:6 does not refer proleptically to the mountains mentioned afterwards, but naturally to the cedars (Hengst., Hupf., Hitz.), which bend down before the storm and quickly rise up again. The skipping of Lebanon and Sirion, however, is not to be referred to the fact, that their wooded summits bend down and rise again, but, according to Psa 114:4, to their being shaken by the crash of the thunder-a feature in the picture which certainly does not rest upon what is actually true in nature, but figuratively describes the apparent quaking of the earth during a heavy thunderstorm. שריון, according to Deu 3:9, is the Sidonian name of Hermon, and therefore side by side with Lebanon it represents Anti-Lebanon. The word, according to the Masora, has ש sinistrum, and consequently is isriyown, wherefore Hitzig correctly derives it from Arab. srâ, fut. i., to gleam, sparkle, cf. the passage from an Arab poet at Psa 133:3. The lightning makes these mountains bound (Luther, lecken, i.e., according to his explanation: to spring, skip) like young antelopes. ראם,
(Note: On Arab. r'm vid., Seetzen's Reisen iii. 339 and also iv. 496.)
like βούβαλος, βούβαλις, is a generic name of the antelope, and of the buffalo that roams in herds through the forests beyond the Jordan even at the present day; for there are antelopes that resemble the buffalo and also (except in the formation of the head and the cloven hoofs) those that resemble the horse, the lxx renders: ὡς υἱὸς μονοκερώτων. Does this mean the unicorn Germ. one-horn depicted on Persian and African monuments? Is this unicorn distinct from the one horned antelope? Neither an unicorn nor an one horned antelope have been seen to the present day by any traveller. Both animals, and consequently also their relation to one another, are up to the present time still undefinable from a scientific point of view.
(Note: By ראם Ludolf in opposition to Bochart understands the rhinoceros; but this animal, belonging to the swine tribe, is certainly not meant, or even merely associated with it. Moreover, the rhinoceros Germ. nose-horn is called in Egypt charnin (from Arab. chrn = qrn), but the unicorn, charnit. "In the year 1862 the French archaeologist, M. Waddington, was with me in Damascus when an antiquary brought me an ancient vessel on which a number of animals were engraved, their names being written on their bellies. Among the well known animals there was also an unicorn, exactly like a zebra or a horse, but with a long horn standing out upon its forehead; on its body was the word Arab. chrnı̂t. M. Waddington wished to have the vessel and I gave it up to him; and he took it with him to Paris. We talked a good deal about this unicorn, and felt obliged to come to the conclusion that the form of the fabulous animal might have become known to the Arabs at the time of the crusades, when the English coat of arms came to Syria." - Wetzstein.)
Each peal of thunder is immediately followed by a flash of lightning; Jahve's thunder cleaveth flames of fire, i.e., forms (as it were λατομεῖ) the fire-matter of the storm-clouds into cloven flames of fire, into lightnings that pass swiftly along; in connection with which it must be remembered that קול ה denotes not merely the thunder as a phenomenon, but at the same time it denotes the omnipotence of God expressing itself therein. The brevity and threefold division of Psa 29:7 depicts the incessant, zigzag, quivering movement of the lightning (tela trisulca, ignes trisulci, in Ovid). From the northern mountains the storm sweeps on towards the south of Palestine into the Arabian desert, viz., as we are told in Psa 29:8 (cf. Psa 29:5, according to the schema of "parallelism by reservation"), the wilderness region of Kadesh (Kadesh Barnea), which, however we may define its position, must certainly have lain near the steep western slope of the mountains of Edom toward the Arabah. Jahve's thunder, viz., the thunderstorm, puts this desert in a state of whirl, inasmuch as it drives the sand (חול) before it in whirlwinds; and among the mountains it, viz., the strong lightning and thundering, makes the hinds to writhe, inasmuch as from fright they bring forth prematurely. both the Hiph. יהיל and the Pil. יחולל are used with a causative meaning (root חו, חי, to move in a circle, to encircle). The poet continues with ויּחשׂף, since he makes one effect of the storm to develope from another, merging as it were out of its chrysalis state. יערות is a poetical plural form; and חשׂף describes the effect of the storm which "shells" the woods, inasmuch as it beats down the branches of the trees, both the tops and the foliage. While Jahve thus reveals Himself from heaven upon the earth in all His irresistible power, בּהיכלו, in His heavenly palace (Psa 11:4; Psa 18:7), כּלּו (note how בהיכלו resolves this כלו out of itself), i.e., each of the beings therein, says: כבוד. That which the poet, in Psa 29:1, has called upon them to do, now takes place. Jahve receives back His glory, which is immanent in the universe, in the thousand-voiced echo of adoration.
Luther renders it: "The Lord sitteth to prepare a Flood," thus putting meaning into the unintelligible rendering of the Vulgate and lxx; and in fact a meaning that accords with the language - for ישׁב ל is most certainly intended to be understood after the analogy of ישׁב למשׁפט, Psa 122:5, cf. Psa 9:8 - just as much as with the context; for the poet has not thus far expressly referred to the torrents of rain, in which the storm empties itself. Engelhardt also (Lutherische Zeitschrift, 1861, 216f.), Kurtz (Bibel und Astronomie, S. 568, Aufl. 4), Riehm (Liter. - Blatt of the Allgem. Kirchen-Zeit., 1864, S. 110), and others understand by מבול the quasi-flood of the torrent of rain accompanying the lightning and thunder. But the word is not למבול, but למּבול, and המּבּוּל (Syr. momûl) occurs exclusively in Gen 6-11 as the name of the great Flood. Every tempest, however, calls to mind this judgment and its merciful issue, for it comes before us in sacred history as the first appearance of rain with lightning and thunder, and of the bow in the clouds speaking its message of peace (Genesis, S. 276). The retrospective reference to this event is also still further confirmed by the aorist ויּשׁב which follows the perfect ישׁב (Hofmann, Schriftbeweis i. 208). Jahve - says the poet - sat (upon His throne) at the Flood (to execute it), and sits (enthroned) in consequence thereof, or since that time, as this present revelation of Him in the tempest shows, as King for ever, inasmuch as He rules down here upon earth from His throne in the heavens (Psa 115:16) in wrath and in mercy, judging and dispensing blessing. Here upon earth He has a people, whom from above He endows with a share of His own might and blesses with peace, while the tempests of His wrath burst over their foes. How expressive is בּשּׁלום as the closing word of this particular Psalm! It spans the Psalm like a rain-bow. The opening of the Psalm shows us the heavens opened and the throne of God in the midst of the angelic songs of praise, and the close of the Psalm shows us, on earth, His people victorious and blessed with peace (בּ as in Gen 24:1
(Note: The Holy One, blessed be He-says the Mishna, Uksin iii. 12, with reference to this passage in the Psalms-has not found any other vessel (כלי) to hold the blessing specially allotted to Israel but peace.))
in the midst of Jahve's voice of anger, which shakes all things. Gloria in excelsis is its beginning, and pax in terris its conclusion.