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Psalms Of Trembling

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In Psalm 97 we are informed that the Lord, the one who “reigns”, is in complete control of things on earth, including the earth itself. For example, even in the midst of a storm, it is God who controls the details in accordance with his will. Thus, “His lightning lights up the world; the earth sees and trembles” (Psalm 97:4).1 That the Lord is in control is clearly stated in Psalm 104 (e.g., vv. 31-32), a psalm largely devoted to His overseeing his creation. As Futato remarks, “Psalm 104 is the quintessential creation psalm. Other psalms confess that God is the creator … and some even have extended meditations on God’s creative work (see Pss. 8:3-8; 19:1-6; 74:12-17) but none can match the grandeur of Psalm 104.”2

Such oversight happens with the affairs on earth. Thus, in Psalm 18 we read that the psalmist cried to God (v. 6) and:

The earth trembled and quaked,
and the foundations of the mountains shook:
they trembled because he was angry (Ps. 18:7).

As an interesting sidelight it should be noted that Psalm 18:7-15 contains miraculous facts that took place during the exodus as seen in the events such as the trembling earth (cf. Jud. 4:4-5; Pss. 77:18; 104:24, and 114:3-5). Of interest also is Habakkuk 3:6:

He stood, and shook the earth;
he looked and made the nations tremble.

The ancient mountains crumbled
and the age-old hills collapsed.3

Having pled with people to ascribe special honor to the Lord (Ps. 96:7-8), a psalmist goes on to say:

Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness;
tremble before him, all the earth. (v. 9)

As Futato expresses it so well, “The nations of the world are called upon to recognize the Lord as their king, to recognize that he is the truly glorious and strong deity; to recognize that he is the deity who deserves to be glorified…to recognize that he is the one who maintains the stability that enables life to continue in this world (cf. Acts 14:16-17), and to recognize that he will ‘judge all peoples fairly’.”4

Another psalmist uses metaphoric language in urging:

Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the LORD,
at the presence of the God of Jacob

Who turned the rock into a pool
the hard rock into springs of water. (Ps. 114:7-8)

The psalm itself deals with Israel’s exodus from Egypt and then goes on to apply the psalmic principles to his people. “The powerful and marvelous of the God of Israel has not ceased. Though the epics of the Exodus and Conquest were long past, the psalmist purposefully uses the hymnic participle so as to declare the continuity of God’s mighty act.”5 So great is the Lord’s glory and spectacular acts, psalmists can urge people to tremble (cf. Ps. 99:1-3). As a sidelight, it can be noted that because the Lord is sovereign, even the rulers of earth need to tremble. So also David remarks:

Therefore, you kings, be wise;
be warned, you rulers of the earth.

Serve the LORD with fear
and rejoice with trembling (Ps. 2:10-11).

David then goes on to say

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry
and you be destroyed in your way,

For his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him (Ps. 2:12).

Psalm 2 is the first of many “messianic psalms”, that have their fulfillment in Christ. If rulers can be urged to “be wise” and believers can be assured that “Blessed are all who take refuge in him,” then may all of us bask in Christ’s wisdom and honor Christ Jesus in our lives and in our testimony.

In several psalms the psalmist complains of troubles and often mentions his fear and/or his trembling. Thus, in a Davidic psalm the author cries in despair saying:

My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death assail me.

Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me (Ps. 55:4-5).

Here the psalmist’s agony is seen. As Alexander remarks, “He is not merely involved in outward troubles but pained at heart.”6 So also Van Gemeren adds “He trembles within and without as he reflects on his present condition (cf. Job 21:6; Isa 21:4; Ezek 7:18)”7

In a far different setting, a psalmist notes that in God’s defense of his people the advancing enemy turned and fled in fear (Ps. 48:6). Such is a reminder of David’s praise of the Lord’s intervention on behalf of his people. (See Ps. 18:4-6). As we noted above, David then goes on to point to the accompanying details leading to God’s strong intervention (Ps. 18:7). It is quite possible, although not mentioned by the psalmist that verses 7-15 were included here from the account of Israel’s exodus from Egypt. Whatever the background, these words do testify to God’s intervention on behalf of his people. So great was the Lord’s help that the enemy came from its stronghold in great fear.

The great alphabetic Psalm 119 gives testimony to the Lord’s effect on the psalmist’s being;

My flesh trembles in fear of you;
I stand in awe of your laws. (Ps. 119:120).

Later in the same psalm, the psalmist points out that although

Rulers persecute me without cause …
my heart trembles at your word. (v. 161).

All the above texts provide assurance to the believers that no matter what problems are at hand, God is in control. May we, therefore, put our full trust in him and his desires, and in full dependence on him.

The Lord’s our Rock, in him we hide, A shelter in the time of storm;
Secure whatever ill betide, A shelter in the time of storm.
O Rock divine, O Refuge dear, A shelter in the time of storm.
Be thou our helper ever near, A shelter in the time of storm.8


1 All scripture references are from the NIV.

2 Mark D. Fuatato, “The Book of Psalms”, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, ed. Philip W. Comfort (Carol Stream, Il: Tyndale House, 2009), 7, 330.

3 Richard D. Patterson, “Wonders in the Heavens and on the Earth; Apocalyptic Imagery in the Old Testament.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 43/3, Sept. 2000, 389.  See also Richard D. Patterson, “Habakkuk”, in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Minor Prophets, ed. Philip W. Comfort (Carol Stream, Il; Tyndale House, 2008), 10, 429-30.

4 Futato, “Psalms” op. cit,, 310.

5 Willem A. Van Gemeren “Psalms”, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 5, 718.

6 Joseph A. Alexander, Commentary on Psalms, (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1991), 251.

7 Van Gemeren, “Psalms”, op. cit., 393.

8 Vernon J. Charlesworth; adapted by Ira D. Sanky, “A Shelter in the Time of Storm”.

Related Topics: Devotionals

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