Psalm 77:20[19] and theophanies

Daniel Wagner dan.wagner at
Mon Mar 26 11:46:37 EST 2001

----- Original Message ----- 
From: George Athas <gathas at>
To: Biblical Hebrew <b-hebrew at>
Sent: Monday, March 26, 2001 2:45 AM
Subject: Re: Psalm 77:20[19]

> Dan,
> The Psalm describes a theophany - an appearance of God. Theophanies are usually described
> with such images where nature reacts in all sorts of wierd and wonderful ways to the
> divine appearance.

Yes, this is clear in the preceding context.

> I don't think the Psalmist intended any moral to be taken from the
> images of the theophany, other than the power and authority of the deity over the
> elements. 

Can not this theophany also communicate something mysterious and incomprehensible about the ways of God? I agree that power/authority over nature is part of it. But why limit it there? It seems to me that the vision of Ezekiel 1 (the wheels, etc.) also indicates something mysterious and incomprehensible about the divine workings, how they face different ways and go different directions all at the same time. I realize that example is apocalyptic, but something similar seems to be applicable here when He says, "Your footprints cannot be known/traced." It does not seem to point to nature's reaction or to divine power, per se.

Perhaps you are correct, but what is your basis for not allowing incomprehensibility or mysteriousness as something that can be intended to communicate by a theophany?

> Compare other such theophanies as Exodus 19, Habakkuk 3, Psalms 29 & 97, Amos
> 1:2 -- just to name a few.

I'll agree that most of these focus on divine power over the elements, but Psalm 97:2 does have a "moral" aspect intended (_CEDEQ_ and _MISHPAT_), and perhaps something mysterious also in that God is hidden behind the scenes: "Clouds and thick darkness surround Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne."

Another related question: Does a theophany necessarily intend to communicate "images where nature reacts in all sorts of weird and wonderful ways to the > divine appearance" as you said, or can it intend to be poetic descriptions of some literal phenomenon in nature, such as various types of storms, a flood, perhaps a volcano or earthquake, etc. For example, Psalm 29 is describing a very literal storm which moves in over the coast, lightning and thunder, oaks twisted in the wind, etc. (standard interpretation, perhaps also a contra-Baal polemic). Exodus 19, etc., might also intend to reflect some literal event in nature.

Thanks for your input.

Dan Wagner

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> (Sydney, Australia)
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