Tehillim תְהִלִּים (Praises)
Psalm (Tehillah) 29
This psalm is related to the preceding psalm in which David vowed to thank Elohim for giving him might, ‘YHWH us my might and my shield…and from my songs I shall give Him thanks’ (28:7). Rashbam maintains that this magnificent psalm was composed to fulfill that vow. It also serves as an introduction to the following psalm which is dedicated to ‘The inauguration of the House [i.e. the Temple] to David.’
The words of this Psalm bear striking a resemblance to the songs which David sang as he transferred the Holy Ark from its temporary shelter in the house of Oved Edom to its permanent abode in Jerusalem. At that time he sang, “Ascribe to YHWH, O families of the peoples, Ascribe to YHWH glory and strength, Bring an offering and come before him; worship YHWH in the splendour of his holiness” (1 Chronicles 16:28-29). These words are almost an exact replica of the first two verses of this Psalm. This strongly implies that this Psalm was sung when the ark traveled to Jerusalem in preparation for the inauguration of the Temple (haMikra V’haMesora 5).
“…Prepare for YHWH…” [Lit. ‘Plan wisely’ for YHWH]
“…you sons of the powerful…” Targum renders this as ‘The groups of angels, the sons of the powerful.’ It is ministering angels who are called upon to give praise to Elohim. Likewise, the Sages say that the Patriarchs were powerful in their service to YHWH because they were ready to be slaughtered like animals for His Name. Particularly Isaac, who was ready to be sacrificed by his father Abraham (Midrash Shocker Tov).
Often the Patriarchs could have spoken back to Elohim audaciously, but they remained silent (Midrash Bereshis Rabba 56:10). Finally the Talmud (Megilla 17b) asks: ‘From where do we have an allusion upon which to base the first benediction of the Shemoneh Esrei (‘the service of the heart’) prayer, which is dedicated to the Patriarchs? From this Psalm which begins ‘Prepare for YHWH, you sons of the powerful.’
The Shemoneh Esrei prayer commences with, ‘You are mighty forever YHWH’ drawing directly from the direction in this verse, “…prepare for YHWH, honour and might.”
This verse tells us that we must be prepared to sanctify and glorify Elohim’s Name. The Divine Name is repeated eighteen times in this Psalm and therefore the Sages included eighteen benedictions or stages in the Shemoneh Esrei (Rashi).
* = This is an extra benediction because the prayer against apostates was added sometime later.
How do we know that the third benediction of the Shemoneh Ezrei (referring to sanctifying Elohim’s Name) is sound, because in the third phrase of Psalm 29 it says, “Prepare for YHWH the honour due His Name…”
This refers to the waters of the Reed Sea which were parted by Elohim’s voice (Rashi). It also refers to the mighty rain waters which are the source of all growth (Ibn Ezra).
This verse demonstrates how YHWH’s voice corresponds to the development of creation. ‘…the spirit [or breath] of Elohim hovered on the face of the water’ (Genesis 1:2).
According to Rashi and Midrash (Shemos Rabba 5:9, 29:1, 34:1) this describes Elohim’s revelation at Sinai when He taught Israel the Torah. If it had said, ‘the voice of YHWH is in its (full) strength,’ then the people would surely have perished, for they cannot withstand such force. Now that it says simply ‘in strength,’ it means that Elohim modulated His voice (and the intensity of the revelation) in accordance with the capacity of each individual: Old men according to their strength, young men according to theirs; women according to their strength and pregnant ones according to theirs. Suckling infants heard on their level and even Moshe himself heard according to his unique capacity.
But Elohim then said to Israel, ‘Just because you have heard many voices, do not be misled into thinking that there are many Elohim. Know that ‘I alone am YHWH your Elohim (Exodus 20:5). From here we learn that YHWH never overwhelms His creations with excessive demands; He considers their individual abilities in assigning them their individual missions.
On the third day of Creation the first tress sprang up, and so the voice of YHWH could now ‘break the cedars’ (Rashbam).
Rashi comments that this refers to the high and mighty monarchs, the enemies of YHWH. At Sinai, Israel heard Elohim’s voice and lived. But the gentiles who heard, died. We also find that Elohim smashed the Philistine host with His voice: ‘And YHWH thundered at them with a great noise’ (1 Samuel 7:10). He also slew the Assyrian army with His voice, ‘From the voice of YHWH Assyria trembles’ (Isaiah 30:32).
Cedars refer to men who are clever and adept in all the ways of the world; skilled in all crafts and professions and business affairs. But they lack one thing, Torah knowledge. They are likened to the cedar. The cedar is tall and mighty, but it bears no fruit. So too, these men bear no fruit [they make no lasting contribution to posterity.]
The young calf is exceptionally light on its feet, constantly running and skipping (Radak).
The cedars and the mountains which came to witness and hear the giving of the Torah shook at that time (Rashi). [Specifically the prancing calf describes the cedars of the previous verse, and the young R’eimim describe the mountains.]
These mountains represent the mighty kings who will be disposed from their positions just as the calf always jumps from its place (Radak; Metzudas David).
This alludes to the fourth day of Creation when Elohim placed the fiery celestial luminaries in the sky (Rashbam).
When Elohim spoke at Sinai, each commandment came forth from His mouth as a flame in the shape of visible letters and words. These letters penetrated the stone Cubes of Sapphire (Tablets) and bored themselves through the centre of the stones right through to the other side. There were five commandments that penetrated each cube and the bored letters somehow could be read in the right direction on both sides (Rashi)
In the future, Elohim’s wrath will pour down upon His enemies like a bolt of fiery lightning which rends the air asunder (Radak).
Rashi comments that the word ‘convulses’ is like a woman in labour writhing in convulsions.
This ‘voice’ and the next one (v.9) describes the birth of animal life on the fifth day of creation (Rashbam).
Since the wilderness is flat and open, without visual obstructions, one can more readily observe the convulsions of the earth there (Radak).
Kadesh is one of the wildernesses of Sinai’s five names. It is also called Kadesh because Israel became ‘Kadosh’ (Holy) there.
The voice of YHWH in the thunder helps the hind to bring forth its young. The birth canal of the hind (female red deer) to bring forth its young. The birth canal of the hind is too narrow for its offspring to pass through, but thunder frightens the hind and arouses strong contractions which open the birth canal and propel its body outward.
Hirsch observes: ‘Even while it wreaks havoc upon forests, the storm [rains] causes the birth of much good. So too, the voice of YHWH brings to the world a renewed understanding of YHWH even while His voice is destroying all life which opposes His will.’
“…the hinds…” refers to the gentiles who now stand firm, just as the female hind, is exceptionally surefooted. Those who now stand firm in their arrogance are destined to be terrified and shaken (Rashi).
At the time of the great Flood in Noah’s days, Elohim sat alone on high (Rashi).
When Elohim is described as ‘sitting enthroned,’ it means that He is permanent and unchanged. Therefore, the Psalmist says, “YHWH sat at the Flood:’ despite the cataclysmic upheaval of the earth below, Elohim remained unchanged above (Rambam, Moreh 1:11).
When the Torah was given to Israel, Elohim’s mighty voice traveled around the earth and all the heathen kings were gripped with terror. They all burst forth in song in honour of Elohim as it says, In His Temple they all say ‘Glory.’ Afterwards, they gathered around the evil [prophet] Bilaam and asked, ‘What is the nature of the awesome roar which we heard? Perhaps Elohim is bringing another Flood upon Mankind?’ (‘Is YHWH to the Flood, returning?) ‘No,’ he replied. ‘Elohim already swore never to bring another flood upon the earth, ‘forever’ [YHWH is as king forever].
But they protested, ‘This oath only precludes a deluge of water but not one of fire! Bilaam retorted, ‘No!’ He has sworn never to destroy mankind again by any means. The tremendous roar you heard is the sound of the Torah being revealed. It is a precious treasure which Elohim safeguarded in His storehouse for 974 generations before creation then He gave it to Israel, His children.
Now He has revealed it to you. What will you do?