“The Lord gives strength to his people;
the Lord blesses his people with peace.” Psalm 29
IMHO, as we say in computer-ese, this is an unusual ending. I wouldn’t have expected it.
Without a doubt, surprise is one of the most significant weapons in a writer’s arsenal; without it, we’re dead. (I’m not really comfortable with those metaphors, so let’s move on.) Without it, we’re transparent. (That’s a little better.) Without it, we can bore the shine off a new car. (A little too folksy maybe.) Without surprise, we’re simply boring (and that’s the literal truth).
Writers play games with readers, always have. John Gardner used to say that a story should leave readers both delighted and slightly annoyed—delighted by the surprise, but slightly annoyed they didn’t figure it out themselves.
We’re at the end of Psalm 29 now, a good time to review. David begins with an exhortation to potentates to give God the glory for everything, a task made difficult by flowing robes, brass scepters, and crowns of gold.
Verses three through nine is a litany of fire and brimstone. It’s as if David is standing somewhere high above the land, watching a gang of thunderheads rip up the shuddering world. This is shock and awe, plain and simple. “You think you’re a big deal,” he says to the royal gang around him, “just watch this.”
The conclusion begins at verse ten, when David points at the rampage and places the Lord God almighty in a throne somewhere above. If you think you’ve got power, he advises, you’re deceived because the Lord sits enthroned over the flood, forever.
Oddly enough, this final verse suggests that David and his cohorts have not been watching from afar but may have been smack-dab in the middle of this super-cell. Now that it’s rumbling off into the distance and they’re picking up their lives, he promises them, strangely enough, strength and peace.
Shock and awe is where this started. “Ascribe” is a word that needs to be shouted over the tumult of the storm. Shock and awe has been the tone throughout because these muck-a-mucks he’s addressing need their knees buckled, and there’s nothing that does it well as natural disaster. This is a psalm of shock and awe.
And then, here at the end, as if out of nowhere, he makes those kings another offer altogether. Instead of shock and awe, David’s voice calms, he folds his hands in front of him, smiles sympathetically, and offers warm blankets and a place to sleep. Amazing ending.
There are holes in this poem; the whole story isn’t here. Something has happened that we haven’t seen. The high and mighty, it seems, have been humbled. They’ve been brought so low that David feels compelled to administer something wholly new, something that heals instead of hurts.
At the very end, Psalm 29 turns on a dime. Everything changes as the storm passes. There’s no more shock and awe. What’s left is the very heart of the gospel: the blessed, comforting gifts of strength and peace. Imagine that—peace, of all things, after all that super-cell destruction; peace after all that shock and awe.
Peace. Really, I think I should have thought of that.