If you desire to learn a people’s culture and to discover their view of God, you must listen attentively to their stories and their songs. The Psalms teach us that the people of Israel revered Yahweh as their covenant God.
Yahweh is the most important character not only in the Psalms but in the whole of the Bible. The psalms that are prayers petition him. And the praises extol his goodness. His character is communicated through his word, and his character ensures that his word will be kept. One could argue that God’s ultimate goal, the center of biblical theology, is the display of his character, seen most clearly when his justice serves as the backdrop for the demonstration of his stunning mercy, which he accomplishes when he shows his glory in salvation through judgment.”1
The Psalms, first and foremost, unveil the glorious character of the divine conductor: “Righteous are you, O LORD, and right are your rules” (Ps 119:137). These ancient songs of Israel describe who Yahweh is and what he has done in a myriad of ways: “On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate” (145:5). They praise the Lord God with exalted poetry and tremble before his earthshaking power: “Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the LORD on high is mighty!” (93:4).
The Psalms require us to come before God just as he is, not as we wish him to be. As Peterson explains, “Left to ourselves, we will pray to some god who speaks what we like hearing, or to the part of God we manage to understand. But what is critical is that we speak to the God who speaks to us, and to everything he speaks to us.
The Psalms train us in that conversation.”2 They govern our view of God with the revealed truth that transcends the way we feel. They remind us that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (111:10) and that we understand ourselves rightly only in the true knowledge of him.
Storms Command Us to Worship God (Ps 29:1–2)
Consider, for example, how Psalm 29 calls us to worship the Lord in the splendor of the storm:
“Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name;
As we study the Psalms, we must pay attention to the distinct names of God:
“The most prevalent designation of deity in the Psalms is ‘the LORD’ (Yahweh, a little less than 700 times; of which yeah, 43 times), followed by God (Elohim, 365 times; El, 77 times; Eloah, only in 50:23), the Lord (Adonai, 54 times), Most High (Elyon, 22 times), Most High (Shaddai, only in 68:14; 91:1), Lord Almighty (‘Lord of hosts,’ Yahweh Sabaoth, 15 times), and many other names and titles” (Willem A. VanGemeren, “Psalms,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gæbelein [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991], 5:15).
Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness” (vv. 1–2). In every storm, we clearly perceive the “invisible attributes” of “his eternal power and divine nature” (Rom 1:20), for “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps 19:1a). Likewise, the storms of life can direct our earthbound hearts to glory in the greatness of our eternal God (Rev 4:11).
Storms Unleash the Power of God’s Voice (vv. 3–4)
Storms also unleash the power of God’s voice through the phenomenon of thunder and lightning: “The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty” (Ps 29:3–4). God’s voice is like a mighty thunderstorm with winds of fury, pelting rain, and blinding flashes of jagged lightning. This thunder echoes forth the voice of God which can be heard throughout the Scriptures:
- In creation, God said, “Let there be . . . ” and “it was so . . . ” (Gen 1).
- In his written Word, he “breathed out” the words of life (2 Tim 3:16a).
- In his Son, the Word made flesh (Heb 1:1–2), God spoke with such authority as Jesus healed the sick and stilled the storms and cast out demons with his voice (Matt 9:8).
- In our salvation, the Father beckons lost sinners to himself through the gospel call of Jesus Christ (John 6:44).
Storms Expose Our God Replacements (vv. 5–9)
In Psalm 29, God’s storm then snaps the mighty cedars as if they were just toothpicks and makes the mountains skip away like baby calves. The Canaanites revered those mountains of Lebanon as the mighty palace of their gods and viewed those soaring cedars as the temple’s pillars. Yet Israel’s God could wield those thunderous weapons of Baal, the god of storm, to destroy such pagan temples. Thus, Yahweh declares himself the God who rules the sea and sky (vv. 3– 4), the mountains (vv. 5–6), and the desert plains (vv. 7–8). There are no bounds to Yahweh’s kingdom, for “in his temple all cry, ‘Glory!’” (v. 9).
The storms of life expose our faith in the counterfeit gods of our fallen world. Gods like Baal may promise fertility, Astarte the gift of love, and modern gurus the prospect of material success. Yet if we only trust in puny gods, we will have a puny faith. Therefore, we must place our trust in the God who rides above the storm and who even sends the storms. Let his voice be always louder than any thunder in our life and his glory more awe-inspiring than the lightning strike.
Storms Warn Us Against God’s Judgment (v. 10)
Psalm 29 reminds us that even when the storm clouds threaten, God is still in charge: “The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever” (v. 10). Even when God floods the earth, he’s still in charge (Gen 6–8). Even when our lives seemingly fall apart in a fallen world, he’s still in charge. He’s never getting off that throne as both our King and Judge. The rising floodwaters of earthly storms recall God’s judgment in the past and point us forward to the final reckoning.
This promise encourages all of us who trust our King to one day make things right. Yet those who turn from God will face his wrath. For earthly storms depict how God has come to either save or judge. In the final reckoning, he will either judge our sin as paid for on the cross or as needing to be paid by us (Rom 6:23a). As King, he calls us to repent, to praise him for our salvation, and to proclaim this good news to a world in need of Christ (v. 23b).
Storms Anticipate God’s Future Blessings (v. 11)
Lastly, our God also promises to bless his people with both strength and peace: “May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!” (Ps 29:11). Life’s storms might leave us helpless, but God upholds our strength. He sends the rain which anticipates the sprouting of new life. He ushers in a peaceful calm as Christ, the Prince of Peace, absolves your case before the Judge. Christ’s perfect life, his sacrificial death, and his victorious resurrection display God’s power poured out on all who trust him. So, as we contemplate life’s storms, “to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Eph 1:21).3
The Psalms teach us to appreciate the leading of our divine conductor, but they also counsel our wayward souls as they instruct us to skillfully care for others. The Psalms show us how to serve as instruments in God’s hands. He has composed a beautiful song for each of us to play in harmony. Paul Tripp explains:
You and I were not hardwired to make our way through this fallen world on our own. We were meant to exist with eyes filled with the beauty of [God’s] presence and hearts at rest in the lap of his goodness. This is what I love about the Psalms. They put difficulty and hope together in the tension of hardship and grace that is the life of everyone this side of eternity. It is not hard to recognize the environment of the Psalms. The Psalms live in your city, on your street, in your family. The Psalms tell your story. It is a story of hope and disappointment, of need and provision, of fear and mystery, of struggle and rest, and of God’s boundless love and amazing grace. People in the Psalms get angry, grow afraid, cry out in confusion, survive opposition, hope for better days, hurt one another, run from God, trust in God, make foolish choices, ask for forgiveness, and grow wiser and stronger. They are people just like you and me.4
Psalm 8 reveals this role we serve as human instruments in our Redeemer’s hands. The psalm begins and ends with the repeated declaration of worship: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (vv. 1, 9). It then continues forth with joyful praise for our glorious purpose before the God who made us.
God’s Grandeur Keeps Us Small (Ps 8:1–4)
David opens by proclaiming the personal name of God, “O Yahweh, our Lord and master” (v. 1a). He exults in God’s awe-inspiring power as Creator whose glory climbs higher than the heavens. For though none can adequately worship the God of heaven and earth, we are still called to make the effort. God’s grandeur then reminds us of our smallness. As David marvels, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (v. 3).
Every night, the entire sky is filled ablaze with glory, yet our God has created those heavens merely by the word of his mouth and the work of his fingers (Gen 1:3, 14–15). Consider also the constancy of the sun and the moon which God has set in constant motion since creation (vv. 16–19; Ps 19:4–6). Every day the sun rises and every night the moon takes its place—a cycle which has been true every single day of our lives and which will still be true for generations after we’re gone (Eccl 1:4).
Man seems microscopic beside our infinite Creator, yet God also granted us great significance when he made us in his image (Gen 1:26–27). Although simple specks of dust, we are still God’s specks and an integral part of his plan. In fact, God’s Son himself was clothed in dust when he “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Phil 2:7). Thus, the most astounding truth is not that we are made of the same stuff as the stars, but that God chose to be made of the same stuff as us. When David wonders breathlessly, “What is man?” he actually exclaims, “What a God! How amazing it is that the Almighty God would be mindful of us—that he thinks about us—that he cares for us—that he seeks us when we are lost!” The infinite God once chose to dwell with finite man.
Creation, however, was merely the work of God’s fingers, while salvation was the work of his arm (Isa 52:10; see 53:1; 59:16; Ps 77:15). So, if we are humbled by our smallness as we peer into wonders like the Grand Canyon and the vastness of outer space, then we are surely overwhelmed by wave after wave of gospel truth: “I am justified and adopted. I am freed from sin and empowered to righteous living. I have been promised a glorious inheritance!” In God’s Word, we find these words of life. In the gospel, we find salvation. There may be moments in our lives when we feel absolutely worthless, yet the key is not trying harder or working longer to achieve a sense of self-worth. The way of the cross is to go down before going up—to be humbled before we are exalted (Jas 4:10). Psalm 8 reminds us that we are nothing. We are far beneath the heavens and less numerous than the stars. We are not constant like the sun or the moon. We are tiny in comparison to our Creator God. His grandeur keeps us small (vv. 1–4), yet his grace reveals our significance (vv. 5–9).
God’s Grace Reveals Our Significance (vv. 5–9)
The Christian view of man is much different than the world’s, for we received a portion of God’s glory when he appointed us to care for his creation (Gen 1:28). Yet one-by-one, beginning with Adam, we usurped our Creator’s authority and spoke with prideful boasting as we tried to take his place (e.g., Dan 4:30). We became glory thieves who forgot our role in God’s good world and failed to rule in the ways of our Creator. We behaved worse than beasts and wound up doing what animals had never dreamed of.
Therefore, in the fullness of time, God sent a Savior—his own beloved Son (see Gal 4:4). When the first Adam failed, God sent Another (see Rom 5:12–21). When man ruled poorly, God sent a better King. Thus, the man, Christ Jesus, became “for a little while lower than the angels” (see Heb 2:6–9). He suffered for our sins and died upon a cross before his Father crowned him with glory and honor and put all things under his subjection (see Eph 1:22; 1 Cor 15:27). Jesus did what we could not. Therefore, Psalm 8 has been ultimately fulfilled in Christ, the Son of David, who leads the sons and daughters of the Lord to share in heaven’s glory (Matt 21:15–16).
David then concludes Psalm 8 in the same way he began: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (v. 9). God’s glory in all the earth can make us small and his glory in salvation makes us even smaller. We marvel that a sovereign God would appoint us to rule with him. Yet Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, has triumphed where we failed. He has restored us to our rightful place. Therefore, let us rest upon this wondrous truth: “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” The Psalms lead human instruments to understand our role within the divine conductor’s hands. For this reason, we read the Psalms devotionally to be reminded of our God.
The psalms can and should be a part of the constant practice of the presence of God. Regularly read from beginning to end, they lead us again and again to consider aspects of life and of God’s will that we might not otherwise choose to remember or confront—let alone to embody in our living. Memorized in chunks the psalms can provide ready response to the pressing realities of our days. When I have wakened in a panic in the darkness of the early morning hours—submerged in fear, self-pity, or self-doubt—the psalms have often provided the assurance that my anxieties are known by God, who enlightens my dark places. So, I encourage you to make the psalms your constant companion. Keep a copy at hand, and keep their words in your mind and heart and on your lips as you meet the challenges of your days and nights.5
For Devotional Reading:
Keller, Timothy. The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Daily Devotions in the Psalms. New York: Viking Press, 2015. Motyer, Alec. Psalms by the Day: A New Devotional Translation. Fearn, Ross-shire: Christian Focus, 2016. Sugimura, Tom. Soul Care in the Psalms: Projects for Growth from Psalms 1–24. Las Vegas, NV: Amazon, 2021. Travers, Michael E. Encountering God in the Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2003.
Tripp, Paul David. A Shelter in the Time of Storm: Meditations on God and Trouble. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2009.
Varner, William. Awake O Harp: A Devotional Commentary on the Psalms. The Woodlands, TX: Kress Biblical Publications, 2012.
Wax, Trevin. Psalms in 30 Days. Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2021.
Tom Sugimura pastors New Life Church in Woodland Hills, CA. He trains church planters, international pastors, and biblical counselors. He has also authored two books, Hope for New Dads and God’s Answers to Life’s Most Difficult Questions. He and his wife, Amanda, are busy raising four rambunctious children.