Psalm 29 attributes to the God of Israel what the Canaanites attributed to Baal–the divine majesty and power seen in the awesome sights and sounds and force of a thunderstorm. After the opening call to the great powers of creation to glorify the LORD (st. I), the main body of the psalm (st. 2-4) evokes the experience of thunderstorms in northern Canaan as they form over the Mediterranean ("the waters"), sweep across the Lebanon ranges, and spend themselves over the desert-like steppe to the east. Appropriately "the voice of the LORD," that is, thunder (in Baal mythology, the voice of Baal), sounds seven times in this psalm (vv. 3-9). Such displays of divine might may cause Baal worshipers to tremble, but true believers praise their God exuberantly, knowing that the LORD of the thunderstorm gives strength to his people and blesses them with peace (st. 5). Calvin Seerveld versified this psalm in 1983 for the Psalter Hymnal.
ARLES was composed by Charles H. Gabriel, a prolific composer of gospel hymn tunes; it has been associated with this psalm since the 1912 Psalter. Named after the French city, ARLES bears energetic, rhythmically precise accompaniment and four-part singing. For variety and contrast, sing the stanzas antiphonally, with men's voices on stanza 2 and treble voices on stanza 4.
Calvin Seerveld (b. 1930) was professor of aesthetics at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto from 1972 until he retired in 1995. Educated at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan; the University of Michigan; and the Free University of Amsterdam (Ph.D.), he also studied at Basel University in Switzerland, the University of Rome, and the University of Heidelberg. Seerveld began his career by teaching at Bellhaven College in Jackson, Mississippi (1958-1959), and at Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois (1959-1972). A fine Christian scholar, fluent in various biblical and modern languages, he is published widely in aesthetics, biblical studies, and philosophy. His books include Take Hold of God and Pull (1966), The Greatest Song: In Critique of Solomon (1967), For God's Sake, Run with Joy (1972), Rainbows for the Fallen World: Aesthetic Life and Artistic Task (1980), and On Being Human (1988). He credits the Dutch musician Ina Lohr for influencing his compositions of hymn tunes. Most of his Bible versifications and hymns were written for the Psalter Hymnal (1987), on whose revision committee he ably served.
For the first seventeen years of his life Charles Hutchinson Gabriel (b. Wilton, IA, 1856; d. Los Angeles, CA, 1932) lived on an Iowa farm, where friends and neighbors often gathered to sing. Gabriel accompanied them on the family reed organ he had taught himself to play. At the age of sixteen he began teaching singing in schools (following in his father's footsteps) and soon was acclaimed as a fine teacher and composer. He moved to California in 1887 and served as Sunday school music director at the Grace Methodist Church in San Francisco. After moving to Chicago in 1892, Gabriel edited numerous collections of anthems, cantatas, and a large number of songbooks for the Homer Rodeheaver, Hope, and E. O. Excell publishing companies. He composed hundreds of tunes and texts, at times using pseudonyms such as Charlotte G. Homer. The total number of his compositions is estimated at about seven thousand. Gabriel's gospel songs became widely circulated through the Billy Sunday-Homer Rodeheaver urban crusades.