“He makes Lebanon skip like a calf, Sirion like a young wild ox.” Psalm 29
What David the poet says in this line of scripture is not a problem. What he means, is; unless, of course, it’s a metaphor, in which case all bets are off because he’s merely flashing his poetic license.
No lightning, no thunderstorm—no matter how mammoth—ever made mountains skip, at least that I know of. In summer especially, the eastern edge of the Rockies, in Colorado at least, is festooned with storms as often as it isn’t. They gather like groupies, then dump rain or hail or snow, late afternoon, all over the foothills. But no storm that I know of ever made Pike’s Peak shuffle its feet—or skip, for that matter. Nope.
Volcanoes forever alter the shape of some of the world’s most impressive mountains. When they blow, nothing remains the same. But David isn’t talking volcano here. The line has an antic tone, created by the kiddishness of the animals and their darling skipping. We don’t have to unpack much in this verse to note the joy—the mountains dancing along to the melodies of the voice of the Lord, like my own granddaughter might.
Or how about this, from old TV westerns: some tough hombre pulls out a revolver and gets some poor sucker to dance as he peppers the dust with lead around the guy’s feet. Is that anywhere near to what David is seeing here? The Lord God almighty unloading bolts of lightning from some heavenly six-gun?
Cute, but I don’t think so. David knew nothing about Wyatt Earp?
Seems to me that there’s just too much cartoon in this line. It just doesn’t match up all that comfortably with the shock and awe of the surrounding verses. Mountains dancing like calves in spring? It’s mud-luscious, really, isn’t it? It’s darling. It’s as if David pulled a punch all of a sudden. After snarling away with some prophetic finger-pointing aimed at the earth’s big wigs, warning them about God’s divine power and authority, just for a moment he got sidetracked with a fleeting vision of something out of Walt Disney: mountains skipping. An antic verse in the very heart of one terrifying Jeremiad.
A flaw in the poem? Dumb question, really. David wasn’t thinking about taking home a Pulitzer. He’s got an aesthetic sense, but in lots of other Psalms he doesn’t let his sense of proportion get in the way of his enthusiasm. Psalm 23, you remember, has some delightfully mixed metaphors. Creating the perfect poem isn’t what he’s up to. Praising God in a way that turns the heads of the high-and-mighty is.
So what exactly does he mean? Read in context, the psalm praises God’s mighty hand, a hand that shivers timbers and raises cane all through the natural world. But, think about this—it also makes the mountains skip like antic calves. The voice of the Lord sometimes shakes us into giggles, leaves us speechless, even sets us to slapping our knees.
On the day after Easter, my cousin-in-law died, his body a victim of the chemicals doctors were using, purposefully, to try to rid him of cancer that otherwise would have taken him. Two weeks ago, he felt tired, went in for a check-up. Now he’s gone.
This morning, this little verse, what seems almost a mistake in a psalm of dire warning, seems the right bromide for our mutual grief. God’s voice makes mountains skip along like my granddaughter on the sidewalk out front of our house. Like a calf. Really.
I don’t blame Him for what happened. Cancer isn’t His fault. Death isn’t His design.
Still, this morning me and a ton of others need just that kind of antic God, some smiling someone to make the mountains skip.