Psalm 29: The voice of justice

The voice of God is a constant and powerful theme in this psalm — thundering over the mighty waters, shaking the wilderness, breaking cedars or flashing forth in flames. True of any era, but the present pattern of wild weather as a result of climate change comes immediately to mind.

The psalmist (said to be David) assures us that through all the elemental turbulence of life, the divine spirit reigns supreme. Equally relevant in any era but splashed with stronger colours for these times, the psalmist prays for strength and peace.

Voices are distinctive. A familiar voice from someone out of sight is usually easy to recognise and identify. There is no need to analyse the pattern of frequencies, the combination of harmonics, or the different degrees of resonance. The subconscious sifts. The psalms, poetic and mystical though they may be, are full of voices. The fact that we do not always immediately identify them may be something to do with familiarity but also because they are indeed poetical and mystical, not physical or spoken. In the business of daily life we seldom pull up short and say: ‘That’s a heavenly voice speaking.’

These days, voices frequently heard are those of political arrogance, religious friction, the rich getting richer, vigorous and exclusive nationalism and faint calls for assistance to the suppressed. While such evidence seems to support the ‘God is dead’ theory, much of it is the bad news, unbalanced if not fake, served up by commercial interests to a readership hungry for the sensational.

Where is the voice of God in all this? At the personal, local and community level, optimism and inspiration are still alive, as many readers will attest. The psalmist, said to be David in this Psalm 29, is in no doubt that a sovereign creator, a dominant eternal divine influence, reigns supreme and glorious across the world. In the previous psalm, David lamented the press of wickedness that we hear about abundantly today. Here, however, God’s powerful voice speaks through a vibrant, energetic, beautiful environment.

John Greenleaf Whittier‘s prayer “Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire, O still, small voice of calm” suggests the need to be attuned to the environment — natural, social and cultural, as well as the flow of our internal thoughts. Then, the psalmist seeks more than just hearing. The final verse of Psalm 29 is a prayer:

May God give strength to the people! May God bless them with peace!


This concluding prayer for peace suggests a familiar and beautifully harmonised Taizé chant as the antiphon: “Dona nobis pacem cordium, give to us peace in our hearts”. Sing it twice as a refrain.

This song appears in Together in Song as 713, but with words drawn from several Bible verses other than Psalm 29. So the words from 29 can be added in a couple of different ways:

  • With a little careful pointing, the text of this psalm falls into place to the same chords and basic tune of Jacques Berthier’s nice refrain. The engaging SATB harmony is worth spending time to rehearse with at least three and preferably four voices.
  • With some further juggling, the text might be paraphrased to fit the verse tune in TiS against the ostinato as suggested. This would be effective presented by a soloist acting as story-teller. Song sheet attached: >>>
The ‘medius’ (alto) voice in Thomas Ravenscroft’s The Whole Booke of Psalmes, published in 1621. Following a common practice in early music, the tune is in the tenor voice, with a cantus part providing upper harmony. The psalm opens with a call to rulers to observe divine guidance towards rightful ways.

Here are some other modern refrains:

  • Everett in TEP also homes in on this same very relevant prayer for peace for the modern world, in a  lilting refrain over one of his typically inventive chord progressions, Ab Bm Db Fm Eb Db
  • A lively song in PFAS 29B, by Lorenzo Florian 1985, is one of those attractive Spanish tunes with good plain harmony, including a few surprise chords, and a little swing.
  • PFAS 29D has a choice of two short refrains and verses to a tone.
  • A more conservative (and less inclusive) text with double tone and refrain (Willcock) is to be found in TiS 17.
Incipit to ‘Salvasti me’, Psalm 29 by Ignatio Donati; Primo libro di Motetti a voce sola, Venetia 1634

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