Psalm 29 and the Voice of the LORD



According to Psalm 29:3, the voice of the LORD is on many waters and His voice thunders. The word translated voice is קוֹל, qowl, which also means thunder1. We know from the Revelation and other books that the voice of God is like thunder. For example, when God spoke to Moses on the Mountain, it sounded like thunder (Exodus 19:16).

In Psalm 29, we are given seven different characteristics of the voice of God. The psalmist illustrates those seven voices of God in Psalm 29:3-9:

Psalm 29:3, The voice of the LORD is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth: the LORD is upon many waters
Psalm 29:4, The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty
Psalm 29:5, The voice of the LORD breaketh the cedars; yea, the LORD breaketh the cedars of LebanonS
Psalm 29:7, The voice of the LORD divideth the flames of fire.
Psalm 29:8, The voice of the LORD shaketh the wilderness; the LORD shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh
Psalm 29:9, The voice of the LORD maketh the hinds to calve, and discovereth [uncovers or strips]2 the forests

The voice of God:
1. thunders upon the waters
2. is powerful
3. is full of majesty
4. breaks the cedars of Lebanon
5. divides the flames of fire (the lightning)
6. shakes the wilderness
7. makes the deer go into labor and strips the forest
—or (revocalized)—
7. twists the large trees, and strips the forests bare

The Hebrew spelling here rendered “deer or hind” is אילות, which is the same Hebrew word with different vowel points that means large trees: אַיָּלוֹת (ʾayyālôt, “deer”) vs. אֵילוֹת (ʾêlôt, “large trees”)3. Note the vowel points4.

Unfortunately, there were no vowel points in the Hebrew texts available for the Septuagint scholars to use in their translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. The word was simply, אילות, without the vowel points. That caused ambiguity in the Hebrew text, which presented a choice to the translators. They chose to render it ελαφους elafous, or deer. Another option would have been to render it ‘large trees,’ which was not chosen.

This Psalm uses the device of couplets in several verses. The Scriptures makes abundant use of couplets, specifically three types of couplets: contrastive, comparative couplets. This passage of Scripture uses comparative couplets and completive couplets in several places.

The first clause in the couplet is supposed to be in harmony with the second clause and the two clauses should complement and harmonize each other. In verse 9, as translated by the KJV and many other translations, the two clauses do not complement or harmonize one another.

For an example of comparative and completive couplets, the couplet in verse 5 is both comparative and completive. It states, “The voice of the LORD breaketh the cedars; yea, the LORD breaketh the cedars of Lebanon.”

In verse 5, the first clause, “The voice of the LORD breaketh the cedars,” is complemented by the second clause, “yea, the LORD breaketh the cedars of Lebanon.” The two clauses are comparable to one another. The second clause is like the first with some additional information that further explains the first clause. The clauses compare with one another—they are both about cedars, and the second clause completes the thought.

Verse 9 should follow the convention, but as it is translated it does not. In that verse, it does not make sense to say, “the voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth and strips the woodlands bare.” The two clauses do not match. They do not complement or harmonize one another. The two clauses are separate and independent thoughts. What does a deer giving birth have to do with the trees being stripped? It does not fit with “strips the woodlands bare.” That nullifies the poetic parallelism and comparative/completive couplets seen in the preceding verses of the passage.

What does make sense is, “The voice of the LORD twists the large trees and strips the woodlands bare.” Consequently, the poetic parallelism and comparative/completive couplet are preserved. The Septuagint (LXX) rendered אֵילוֹת (elot), large tree as ελαφους (elafous), deer in the Greek. The Hebrew word rendered ‘to calve’ literally means to twist, dance, distress, writhe, or travail.

Wycliffe, Tyndale, and Geneva followed the LXX convention of the deer giving birth, which was kept by the KJV and many other translations. Some newer translations render the words ‘deer’ as ‘large trees’ and ‘to calve’ as ‘twists’ which are more contextually correct.

  1. Strong, Vine, Brown-Driver-Briggs, Halot, Holladay, and others all indicate that the word can also mean thunder. We have a play on words here where God’s voice and thunder are synonymous.
  2. The Hebrew word rendered “dicovereth” in the KJV is, ויחשׂף, vayekhesoph, the qal imperfect 3rd person masculine singular inflection of חשׂף, chasaph, and is defined as “A primitive root; to strip off, that is, generally to make naked , to drain away or bail up, make bare, clean, discover, draw out, take, uncover.”
  3. In light of the parallelism (note “forests” in the next line) and v. 5, it is preferable to emend אַיָּלוֹת (ʾayyālôt, “deer”) to אֵילוֹת (ʾêlôt, “large trees”) understanding the latter as an alternate form of the usual plural form אַיָּלִים (ʾayyālîm). -The NET Bible Comment on Psalm 29:9.
  4.   Changing the vowel points revocalizes the words
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