Echoes and foreshadowings.
by Dave Skipper
The articles in this series (The Ultimate Noisician) serve as preliminary sketches of my interpretation of the Bible’s treatment of noise. My aim is to elucidate the fascinating interplay between contemplating noise through the lens of Scripture (the Bible) and meditating on Scripture through the lens of noise.
In this article I wrap up this sub-series on Psalm 29.
Having looked briefly at Psalm 29 in the previous three articles (Voice of Noise 1/4, Voice of Noise 2/4, Voice of Noise 3/4), I thought it would be interesting to paraphrase it in my own words, imagining it as a noise performance by God that we have the privilege of witnessing. In so doing I completely obliterate the gentle phrasing and tight structure of the psalm proper, but I hope I manage to convey something of the creativity and viscerality of God’s “voice of noise” that the psalm evokes.
Before the poem, though, I make some observations on various fascinating connections between Psalm 29 and a number of key Bible themes. I believe these connections give an extra layer of depth to appreciating the full force of the psalm, and therefore I hope that these final comments (although more theological than ‘noisological’ in nature) will help to make my poem more effective.
Now here is Psalm 29 here one final time as a refresher:
A psalm of David.
1 Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings,
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
2 Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name;
worship the Lord in the splendour [or beauty or majesty] of his holiness.
3 The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
4 The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
5 The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars;
the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon.
6 He makes Lebanon leap like a calf,
Sirion like a young wild ox.
7 The voice of the Lord strikes
with flashes of lightning.
8 The voice of the Lord shakes the desert;
the Lord shakes the Desert of Kadesh.
9 The voice of the Lord twists the oaks
and strips the forests bare.
And in his temple all cry, ‘Glory!’
10 The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
the Lord is enthroned as King for ever.
11 The Lord gives strength to his people;
the Lord blesses his people with peace.
More than ‘just’ a stand-alone poetic description, Psalm 29 is rooted in Old Testament Jewish faith and history, replete with allusions to some of the key events and themes that are strewn throughout the Old Testament. Here follows a very brief overview of some of these allusions, in chronological order.
- Echoes of the Creation Week
“The voice of the Lord is over the waters.” (Psalm 29:3)
“The Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (Genesis 1:2)
[Note that the Spirit of God, or God the Holy Spirit,or just the Holy Spirit, is often specifically associated in the Bible with the both the presence and the communication of God with his people.]
“The voice of the Lord…” (Psalm 29:3,4,5,7,8,9)
[God’s voice of power is mentioned seven times in the psalm.]
“And (or then) God said…” (Genesis 1:3,6,9,11,14,20,24,26)
[God’s powerful word created the heavens and the earth in the Creation Week (six days of creating followed by one day of rest).]
“The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning.” (Psalm 29:7)
[The structural centrepiece of the psalm.]
“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3)
[The first and foundational creative word of God, the raw material for lightning, and a reflector/descriptor of God’s nature and glory.]
“The Lord blesses his people with peace.” (Psalm 29:11)
[The resting-point of the psalm, at the very end after the storm’s activity is past]
“Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” (Genesis 2:1-3)
[Upon completing his creative works God rests from that work and establishes the pattern of rest for mankind and all that entails (peace, wholeness, dependence on God and communion with God).]
Note also that Psalm 29 refers to all seven creational categories of Genesis 1:
- Heavenly beings (Ps 29:1) → Sun/moon/stars (Gen 1:14-18)
- Waters (Ps 29:3) → Waters (Gen 1:6,10),
- Trees (Ps 29:5,9) → Plants/trees (Gen 1:11-12)
- Animals (Ps 29:6,9) → Creatures in sea/sky/land (Gen 1:20-25)
- Land/mountains/deserts (Ps 29:6,8) → Land (Gen 1:9-10)
- Lightning (Ps 29:7) → Light (Gen 1:3-5)
- His people (Ps 29:11) → Mankind (Gen 1:26-27)
An interesting study would be to compare and analyse the different structuring of Psalm 29’s sevens and Genesis 1’s sevens. If nothing else, we can say that the elements of the Creation account are echoed and reformed and restructured into new forms (‘new creations’) in the poetry and thrust of Psalm 29 – and that this restructuring and development of the creation is the artist’s mandate everywhere.
- Other Echoes
The floodwaters of Psalm 29 don’t just echo but quite possible directly reference the Great Flood of Noah’s day in Genesis 6-9. The waters were not only an act of judgment against the wickedness of mankind upon the earth, but also at the same time the means of salvation and rescue for Noah and his family and the animals who God determined to preserve. In other words, the flood signifies the restoration of peace on earth and peace between man and God, the same peace which Psalm 29 finally announces.
The exact same theme is in action in the Exodus, the Israelite nation’s escape from Egyptian slavery (see Exodus 13-15). This is again an episode of salvation realises through water: the Israelites safely pass through the parted Red Sea on dry land, while the chasing Egyptian army is drowned by the waters closing back over them. This magnificent event is a constant staple in the Bible writers’ reference points for remembering God’s salvation of his people.
Thus Psalm 29 strongly echoes the theme of surviving the destructive power of the storm of God’s wrath, although this judgement aspect is never explicitly mentioned in this psalm. Other attributes of God are primarily in view here, as I have described in the other articles of this sub-series.
The next major defining event in Israel’s history is the giving of the law, including the famous Ten Commandments, to Moses on Mount Sinai (see especially Exodus 19-20). Psalm 29 describes a shaking mountain (Sirion) and thunder and lightning, all coupled with God’s voice. This would have been a clear reminder to the psalm’s original readers/listeners of the events at Mount Sinai: all the exact same elements are present in Exodus 19:16-19.
[side note: I will be doing future studies on the noise aspects of each of these archetypal events: Creation, Flood, Exodus, Mount Sinai. I could also mention here how the Bible associates wind and breath, water, fire, mountains, deserts, and so on with a variety of recurring themes, but these will present themselves more naturally in the course of future articles on passages which open up each of these more directly. Some of these will be in the Elemental Noises series, for example.]
I mentioned in Voice of Noise 1/4 that all of the Bible is Christocentric – it all points to Jesus. How does Psalm 29 do this? Here are a few examples of how:
“Ascribe to the Lord glory…” (Psalm 29:1)
Jesus is “crowned with glory and honour.” (Hebrews 2:9)
“Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name.” (Psalm 29:2)
“Therefore God exalted him [Jesus] to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:9)
“The voice of Lord is over the waters.” (Psalm 29:3)
“As soon as Jesus was baptised, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’” (Matthew 3:16-17)
[Many Christian commentators through the ages have viewed the whole of Psalm 29 as referencing Jesus’ baptism, when he was publicly identified and endorsed the Son of God by the audible voice of God the Father. Note also yet again that God the Holy Spirit is over the waters, completing the Trinitarian presence.]
“The voice of the Lord is powerful.” (Psalm 29:4)
“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Hebrews 1:3)
“The voice of the Lord strikes with flashes of lightning.” (Psalm 29:7)
“For the Son of Man in his day will be like the lightning, which flashes and lights up the sky from one end to the other.” (Luke 17:24)
“The Lord is enthroned as King forever.” (Psalm 29:10)
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18)
“The Lord blesses his people with peace.” (Psalm 29:11)
“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1)
All this begs the question of what exactly is the identity of Jesus in Psalm 29. Is he the Thunderer? Or is he rather The Voice itself, the Living Word of God?
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
(from the Bible – John 1:1-5,14)
Have you noticed that the central section of Psalm 29 (verses 3-9, the noise-making section) is comprised of seven parts (each of which is made up of parallel couplets – another common feature of Jewish poetry), and that “the voice of the Lord” (identified as or with thunder) is referenced seven times?
Seven is one of the Bible’s most important numbers that crops up again and again. The picture that is built up around the number seven is one of completeness, fulness, perfection. It is uniquely God’s number. This is not to say that it has magical properties like a charm, and nor does it mean that we should find special importance and meaning in any and every occurrence of the number seven in everyday life and in the world around us. It is a literary device, but it is grounded in God’s revelation of himself and so is not random or irrelevant.
Anyway, there is a fascinating passage in the final book of the Bible, Revelation that is surely a nod to Psalm 29. Unravelling the context and meaning of the book of Revelation requires a whole other article series – maybe one day! But the key to understanding Revelation is in the full title of the book: The Revelation of Jesus Christ. The book is about Jesus in his divine glory and Kingship. So for now I will just leave this passage here without further comment:
“Then I saw another mighty angel coming down from heaven. He was robed in a cloud, with a rainbow above his head; his face was like the sun, and his legs were like fiery pillars. He was holding a little scroll, which lay open in his hand. He planted his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land, and he gave a loud shout like the roar of a lion. When he shouted, the voices of the seven thunders spoke. And when the seven thunders spoke, I was about to write; but I heard a voice from heaven say, ‘Seal up what the seven thunders have said and do not write it down.’”
(from the Bible – Revelation 10:1-4)
Ok, here is my poem now…
Psalm 29 Paraphrase
Give a great cheer for the Ultimate Noisician
Anticipation is high, every breath is held
Noise legends, noise lovers alike must revere him
The power and wonder of his noise unparalleled
He deserves his reputation and any plaudits he gets
The purity and brilliance of his art is clear
All who hear him feel humbled and speechless
But wait – he looks up… the start is here!
A voice of thunder: he bellows, he roars
Rumbling and crackling, piercing the air
The crescendo of noise, the alarming bombardment
What a way to commence! All stop and stare
Not a drizzle but a torrent
Not a splash but a deluge
Not a drop but a flood in this place
Now this is true noise, no messing around
Our doubts disappear without trace
His voice unabated still thunders and thunders
Commandeering the waves: every trough, every peak
His voice is dynamic and fresh, ever awesome
Commanding our praise, yes he is unique!
An amalgam of frequencies too crammed to decipher
Earth-shattering, ear-shattering, pitchless tones
Ripping to shreds and exploding wildly
Depths of sub-bass unplumbed, unknown
And this is just his voice, nothing else!
His shout devastatingly loud and intense
Wonderful, masterful, frightening, wild
Astoundingly clear, gut-wrenchingly dense
Pillars and beams, those trunks of our buildings
Split asunder by the sheer vocal power
Adding cacophonous layers of clatter
Each hour a second, each second an hour
The floor leaps for joy and us listeners with it
Uncontrollable shaking below
Startled, delighted, terrified, quaking
No escape from our Maker’s noise show
The thrill of the danger, fearing the worst
In convulsions of space-time I am totally immersed
Everything shakes, will walls or ceiling fall first?
Bodies vibrate, ribcages threaten to burst
Yet he controls the whole place with a gleam in his eyes,
While dizzy with wonder we lurch and we sway
The ostensible chaos isn’t quite what it seems
Transfixed on his face – we can’t look away
Now comes the climax, the zenith, the apex
Amidst this noise orchestration zone
Fire that spits, fire that splits,
Flames plummet fast, black overthrown
A split-second of silence heralds the shift
We’re reminded he’s separate and pure
No confusion, disorder, futility, death
His nature and motives are flawless and more
No time to stop, the flash comes and goes
His thunder crescendos with momentum renewed
New heights and new depths, more shocking than ever –
With his voice razor-sharp the actual lightning he hewed!
The maelstrom of noise makes particles whirl
Swirling eddies of air, vapour, dust
Tornado of timbres, a sonic cyclone
Hairs bristle and sway in the gust
A whirlwind of waveforms in the wilderness
A groundbreaking, ground-shaking din
Not a dry eye now in this wasteland of noise
As a baptism is unleashed without and within
Twisting the sounds into more complex forms
We’re through the other side now but not slowing down
Shivers down spines, tingles on skin
Progression of noise textures spiralling round
Astonishing soundscapes from all corners fly
Revealing treasures we’d never have found
We gaze at the master, his eyes catch ours back
Too much to take in, we drop to the ground
Glorious glory – the words timelessly come
As if from each atom in space
Weighty atmosphere, tension in the air,
Majestic infinity emanates from his face
Over the torrent of engulfing soundwaves
Over the flood of noise
Over the crushing and raging and pressure
The Ultimate Noisician’s calm poise
He is the King, the true King of Noise
He sits on his self-made throne
Eternal, infinite, unbounded rule.
All noise-makers and noises his own
He owns me too and I love to be his
For the mystery deepens still more:
He gives me his strength, more strength than a tempest
His voice my guide in the noise of the storm
Yes I’m always safe in the eye of his storm
Peace, such peace! As the noise subsides
He gave me wild visions beyond my weak dreams
Now he fills me with peace that abides
I am ready to rest, I take a deep breath
The exhilaration still fresh in my mind
I gave my attention, then he gave me himself
My feebleness left far behind.
(If you enjoyed this poem, you can read more of my poems here.)
God doesn’t perform: everything he does is for real. Nevertheless, his works in creation, providence, and redemption are replete with artistry, craftsmanship, and precise yet flamboyant orchestration. It follows that we should find plenty of inspiration for our own creativity in the works and world and words of God.
The climax of Psalm 29 is the temple cry of, “Glory!” The ultimate response to the Ultimate Noisician should be one of worship – the worship of the heart in adoration, gratitude, and holy fear that works itself out in everyday life and thought, including (but never limited to) the creativity of engaging in noise music or any other artform.
Psalm 29 gives one small snapshot of God’s noisicianship. Taken on its own we can’t get a sufficiently balanced or fully nuanced understanding of his voice or his character; therefore subsequent articles in this series will look at a range of very different Bible passages, each with their own exciting dimensions of noise to explore!
He who has ears to hear, let him hear!