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Psalm 29

I am a professor. Welcome to Canaanite Religion 101. Today’s class is an overview of two Canaanite gods, Baal and Yam. The name Baal is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament, but not the name Yam. The name Baal means ‘lord’ or ‘owner.’ He was the god of fertility and rain. He was called the thunder god. Near Eastern artists drew lightning bolts as weapons in his hand. His worshipers recognized thunder as his voice.[i] Imagine how popular he was with farmers whose livelihood depended on the fertility of their livestock and crops. And water, in the form of rain, was equally important to both the cattle and crops.

Yam was the sea god. Regard him as a chaotic “god of mighty waters.”[ii] He controlled the destructive force of the rivers and seas which often killed the cattle and ruined the crops. Yam decided Baal should become his slave and sent that message to Baal. Baal attacked the messengers and then attacked and defeated Yam. This allowed Baal to control the waters of the earth. He did this in a positive way sending rain and dew for the benefit of the farmers.[iii] When the new Israel immigrants arrived in the Promised Land and began to farm, they asked their Canaanite neighbors how to be successful farmers. It should not surprise us that the answer was, “Worship Baal!”

With that overview, we are ready to study Psalm 29.

Oh, one other thing (profs often pursue tangents). We are so dependent on weather forecasting that we have a weather app on our cell phone which generally forecasts the weather for the next nine days. Imagine living in the time of the psalmist. What you knew about the weather was based on looking outdoors at the sky. Our weather apps give us a satellite view of any region of the world. The author of Psalm 29, possibly King David, could only see his world out to the horizon. Yet the sweep of this psalm reveals the complete geographic understanding the author had of his nation. This makes great sense. David had fled, hidden, and fought all over his nation.

Back to Psalm 29.

A monstrously powerful thunderstorm had ripped through Israel. David was awestruck by its power. His awe turned its focus from the storm to the Creator of the earth and its weather. David began to write. He is so overwhelmed by what he is experiencing he feels that human praise is not adequate, so he reaches out to “heavenly beings.” He feels all of creation must be involved in praising God (v 1). The psalmists often called the Lord’s people to praise and worship the Lord. David choses to include all created beings in worship.

David pictures the storm first building over the Mediterranean sea (v 2). It makes landfall in Lebanon at Israel’s northern border (v 5). It splits cedars and the mountains rock as it turns to head south down the entire length of Israel (vv 5-6). The thunderstorm “shakes the wilderness of Kadesh” at the southern border of Israel. (v 8). This is where Moses and the Israelites camped while sending the spies into the Promised Land.