Posted on August 31st, 2009
Tonight’s psalm exhorts us to “Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.” “Splendor” by itself in the Bible means “beauty.” It can refer to radiant things seen in nature, a handsome man, or the luxuries of wealthy people. Proverbs 31 uses it to describe the ideal wife. It often describes the majesty of the king, and is used as a verb to describe beautiful clothing. This diversity of applications has led to two traditions in English Bible translations of the phrase in Ps. 29.2, “Splendor of holiness.” That phrase occurs four times in the OT. KJV: “Beauty of holiness”; RSV: “Holy array,” a reference to the sacred vestments worn by the priests.
Recent research in ancient texts [source: TWOT], however, suggests a third option: the awe that should be upon the worshipper when he is in the LORD’s presence. That would make the passage mean, more precisely, “Worship [prostrate] yourselves before the LORD when He appears in holiness.”
How did that apply in the time of the Jews? Look at the temple Solomon built for the LORD. He sought to reflect the LORD’s splendor: The finest wood and stone, overlaid with gold, and decorated with golden cherubim, with carved figures of palm trees and flowers – the LORD’s house depicted the splendor of God and and an earthly paradise.
But the call of this Psalm is not just to regard earthly beauty – but when one comes to the knowledge of the presence of YHWH, one falls down in worship, prostrate before the God who blesses His people with peace.
And what was it all for – this elaborate temple, the detailed requirements of sacrifice, the beautiful vestments and solemn chanting? Everything had at its center “the voice of the LORD.” Seven times in this Psalm that phrase thunders out: “The voice of the LORD,” Qol YHWH, Qol Adonai, “The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders.”
The LORD’s glory is like a looming storm; He thunders, and the waters are churned; He breathes out and a whirlwind snaps giant cedars like toothpicks; His lightning flashes and bolts of fire crash from the heavens. Prostrate yourself before the LORD of the storm, the Psalm calls. Worship Him, give glory to His name! The worship of Him is no game, it is no show designed to entertain you, amuse you. No chicken soup for the Hebrew soul is served here! The voice of the LORD thunders, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!”
In this life we have other storms as well. Betrayal and lies, trials and tears, sadness and loss, death and despair. The storms that send floodwaters up to our neck are gifts, though we can barely see them as such. They drive us to the LORD of the storm, whom we know to calm storms with a single word.
Above the flood the LORD sits enthroned, blessing His people with peace.
To us NT sons of God, the great blessing of peace has been revealed in the Christ, our Lord JESUS. So when He appears in His holiness at this altar, veiled beneath bread and wine, we kneel and worship, receiving our LORD as He comes to us in His holiness. At that very moment, the voice of the LORD announces His judgment: “Given and shed for you for the remission of sins. Depart in peace.”
Ascribe to the LORD, then, you sons of God, ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name!