The Voice that Splits the Cedars and Opens the Graves

The Voice that Splits the Cedars and Opens the Graves

The Voice that Splits the Cedars and Opens the Graves. 

“… the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty sea. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic. The voice of the Lord splits the mighty cedars; the voice of the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon…” (Psalm 29:3-5).

Psalm 29 is a dramatic poem describing a powerful thunderstorm, and explores the power of God over creation, and thus the power of God over the affairs of mankind and His glory in the world. Hebrew poets usually imagined that thunder was God’s voice made audible. The English equivalent to the Hebrew word for His “voice” is “rumbling.”

The Orthodox priest Father Patrick Henry Reardon, in his book Christ in the Psalms, helps to set the stage for this psalm. “The setting of this tempest is a giant cedar forest, whose overarching branches assume the contours of a vaulted temple, and through this lofty forest the booming voice of God comes pounding and roaring with a terrifying majesty, accompanied by the swishing of the wind and rain, while flashing bolts of lightning split the very trunks of the towering trees.” Clearly, Psalm 29 is intended to reveal God’s glory through this storm.

Hebrew scholar Reardon also makes the fascinating point that one should hear the psalm read out loud in the original Hebrew. Evidently, Ps. 29 actually sounds like a thunderstorm. The word for voice, qol, mimics the sound of thunder when spoken with the intended guttural voice. The expression “qol Adonai,” the voice of the Lord, even sounds like a repeated thunder roll. Since that particular phrase is repeated throughout the psalm seven times, one gets the impression the psalm is dominated by the soundtrack of continued thunder. Also, the word for glory, “kavod,” is repeated a number of times in the psalm, and has a guttural sound that can easily be understood as the sound of thunder.

Since the cedar tree, particularly the Cedars of Lebanon, have been a symbol in Scripture for strength, for loftiness, for longevity, God’s power is seen as so impressive that it can even shatter the proud “king of the trees,” as the cedars were known in biblical times. God has the power to bring even the great ones, haughty and proud, to their knees. God has the ability to bring the arrogant down to size.

God’s voice, the voice from another dimension that can only be described in human terms and not defined, are indeed described in many different ways in Scripture. God’s power is implied in every description.

To the Israelites at the foot of Mt. Sinai, God’s voice was terrifying. “We will die if we hear the voice of the Lord our God any longer… You speak to us, Moses, and we will listen. But don’t let God speak directly to us, or we will surely die!” (Deut. 5:25; Ex.To Ezekiel,  20:19);

To Daniel, the voice of the Lord sounded like a multitude, like the roar of a huge crowd. (Dan. 10:6);

To Ezekiel, God’s voice sounded like floodwaters, a rushing waterfall, or the mighty ocean. (Ezek. 43:2);

To Elijah, the voice of the Lord came to him in a whisper, a sound of gentle stillness, a light murmuring, as if God was gently exhaling His breath of life and encouragement onto Elijah. (1 Kings 9:12);

To Moses, the voice of the Lord must have sounded like his next-door neighbor, understandable and practically human. “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend.” (Ex. 33:11). “Moses spoke, and the voice of God answered him.” (Ex. 19:19).

In the Gospels, there were three times God spoke audibly. This phenomenon has become known as the Threefold Witness of the Father… God spoke words of affection and affirmation at the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:7; He spoke much the same at the Transfiguration of Jesus  in Matthew 17:5; and there was a brief but intimate exchange between Jesus and the Father in John 12:28-30: “‘Jesus said, ‘Father, bring glory to your name!’ A voice came down from heaven and said, ‘I have already brought glory to my name, and I will glorify it again!’ The crowd standing by who heard this said that it was a clap of thunder; others said that it was an angel that was speaking. Jesus answered, ‘It was not for my sake that this voice came, but for yours.” 

As we think about the voice of the Lord, we naturally start to wonder about the voice of Jesus, God in human flesh. What did His voice actually sound like? Was it pretty much like every other man’s voice? Anything distinctive about it? Nobody in the Gospels ever mentions anything about the physical features of Jesus, the tenor of His voice, His height and weight, the color of His hair or His eyes. We just don’t really know anything about the physical Jesus, the Man we worship. Perhaps the most important aspects of Christ’s voice is that the sheep of His fold are familiar with His voice, they are able to recognize it without fail, and they will follow their Good Shepherd anywhere (John 10). We also know, as Jesus told Pilate, that “Everyone who loves the truth hears my voice.” (John 18:37). We know that Jesus somehow contained the voice of the Lord to the extent that any human can. He was certainly skilled at using His voice to meet the demands of every situation. He could speak tenderly with children, loudly to the crowds, authoritatively with the demons, forcefully to the moneychangers, lovingly to a humiliated Peter on the beach, forgivingly to the prostitutes and adulteress, judgmentally to the religious establishment, and with life-giving power to the dead Lazarus. Don’t we all long to hear the actual voice of Jesus when we see him again at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb?

But before that heavenly Feast when we get to hang out with the Patriarchs and saints and the Lord Himself, we know that the whole world will hear Christ’s voice at the Last Day. He has the authority and power to somehow make his voice understandable to all the humans who ever lived. “Don’t be surprised! Indeed, the time is coming when all the dead in their graves will hear the voice of God’s Son, and they will all rise again.” (John 5:28-29).