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Psalm 29

Often considered the oldest of the Psalms, this Psalm doesn’t exactly scream “Baptism of our Lord.” Don’t worry, it’s there. And we’ll get there. But we need to look at this Psalm for what it is. In an interview, director Francis Ford Coppola said that all of his films needed to be summarized with one idea. For “The Godfather” that one idea was inheritance. Were I to apply this same practice to Psalm 29 the one idea would be glory.

This Psalm is so clearly derivative, or as J. Clinton McMann states, polemical. [1] This Psalm in content and pattern resembles Canaanite songs of Baal. [2] The Psalmist uses the language and patters used by Canaanites but applies them to YHWH (used 18 times in this short Psalm). For example, the voice of Baal was said to be found in thunder. The Psalmist takes this Canaanite language and reapplies it to YHWH; giving glory to YHWH; not any other god. In fact, any other gods are to give YHWH glory. This Psalm doesn’t deny that there may be other divine beings and our translations try to make this pill easier to swallow. What the NRSV ambiguously calls “heavenly beings” is literally translated from Hebrew as “sons of gods,” beni elim.

This early poem may be directly pointed at the Baals of Canaan in order to say that glory is ascribed to YHWH alone. Even if there were these “sons of gods,” glory does not belong to them.

There is (at least) one other place where the Hebrew Scriptures are derivative or, dare I say, polemical. As nearly every undergraduate theology student learns in her first Old Testament course, the creation stories of Genesis 1 & 2 are written to counter other near eastern theologies; Egyptian, Babylonian and Canaanite. One of the most obvious points made in the creation stories is that there is one God; not many.

These polemicized passages make important points of connection for us on this Sunday in which we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord. Like Genesis 1 & 2, Psalm 29 may be seen as a Psalm pointing to creation. Beginning with ascribing praise, the Psalm quickly turns to the voice of Adonai over the waters; over might waters. Then at the end we see the Lord sitting over the flood. This word mabul appears only one other time in the Hebrew Bible; you guessed it, Noah! The story of Noah and the flood is a type of recreation for the Hebrew people.

Finally the Psalm ends with YHWH blessing his people with Shalom. Most often translated as “peace” Shalom carries with it so much more! Shalom is completion; it’s perfection; it’s prosperity. It is all that is good. Shalom is what was realized after creation: the chaos received order.

Like it’s polemic predecessor, Psalm 29 speaks of the glory attributed to YHWH as creator!

Psalm 29 also carrie with it symbols of theophany. Throughout both Old and New Testaments the elements described here are associated with God’s revealing Godself to humanity. Notably; the theophanies of Revelation which borrow (steal?) heavily from Hebrew Scriptures. Surrounded by language of creation we read of the voice of YHWH thundering, the voice of YHWH flashing; shaking the winderness, etc. Around the throne of God in Revelation 4:5 we read of “rumbling and peals of thunder” and “flashes of lightning.” In Genesis 18, God appears to Abraham near the oaks of Mamre; in Psalm 29 the voice of the Lord causes the oaks to whirl (verse 9). According to this Psalm, glory belongs to YHWH because he is the God who is manifest; who is revealed to us.

These are important to us on this Sunday; this Sunday where we remember Christ’s Baptism because at the Baptism of our Lord we have a theophanic story of (re)creation. As our Gospel tells us, and as Ben Cremer has pointed out, like initial creation and like the flood narrative; at the Baptism of our Lord the presence of Lord (the dove) hovers over the waters. The voice that spoke creation into being speaks over Christ.

God is absolutely and clearly present at Christ’s Baptism; theophany.