Part of an ongoing series on selected psalms.
“Use more descriptive language,” I wrote on my writing student’s assignment. This middle-age man aspired to become a travel writer, and was pursuing that goal through a correspondence writing course I taught. But his prose was lifeless: “The town has a lovely lake with good fishing.” I challenged him to help the reader see, hear, smell and touch the scene through compelling description: “The tourist-friendly hamlet clutches the shore of a sapphire lake, its surface continuously pocked by hungry trout.” Well, you get the idea! In a similar way, Psalm 104 brings vibrancy to the Genesis account of creation. Psalm 103 praised God as Redeemer. Psalm 104 praises God as Creator. Both begin and end with “Praise the LORD, O my soul.” Though no author is cited for Psalm 104 (David is credited with 103), they form a pair that show scripture’s balance. Psalm 103’s message is God’s goodness in salvation, and the benefits we have as children of God. Psalm 104 is God’s greatness in the works of creation, bringing Him praise and pleasure. Verse 31 holds its key:May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
May the LORD rejoice in his works.
It’s easy to race through the Genesis order of creation and forget that all this brought God pleasure!
GENESIS RETOLD, WITH STYLE“And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light,” reports Genesis 1:3. But Psalm 104:2 says, “The LORD wraps himself in light as with a garment, he stretched out the heavens like a tent.” Psalm 104 brings vigor to the creation account while staying faithful to its historical pattern. Reading the passages side-by-side:
Day 1—Light—Genesis 1:3, Psalm 104:2a.
Day 2—“Firmament” and waters—Genesis 1:6, Psalm 104:2b-4.
Day 3—Land distinct from water—Genesis 1:9-10, Psalm 104:5-9, maybe 10-13; vegetation and trees—Genesis 1:11-13, Psalm 104:14-17.
Day 4—Sun, moon and stars—Genesis 1:14-19, Psalm 104:19-23.
Day 5—Sea and air creatures—Genesis 1:20-23, Psalm 104:17, 25-26.
Day 6—Animals and man—Genesis 1:24-28, Psalm 104:18, 21-24; plus provision of food in Genesis 1:29-31 and Psalm 104:27-28.
A few passages need some explanation:
He set the world on its foundations; it can never be moved. (Psalm 104:5)
The earth cannot be changed apart from God’s command. Yet the Bible teaches that someday, at the “Day of the Lord” (the judgment-end of time), “the heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (2 Peter 3:10). After that will come a new heaven and earth lasting forever: “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Isaiah 3:17). “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (Revelation 21:1).
He makes springs pour water into the ravines…He waters the mountains from his upper chambers. (Psalm 104: 10, 13)Water was very important to peoples of the mostly arid
He makes…plants for people to cultivate—bringing forth food from the earth: wine that gladdens human hearts, oil to make their faces shine, and bread that sustains their hearts. (vv. 14-15)This passage names the three life staples of near East peoples. Wine, diluted with water, provided hydration and must be understood in that historical context. The Bible condemns drunkenness (Proverbs 20:1), a frequent consequence with today’s high-alcohol-content wines. Olive oil, besides a food staple, protected faces from sunburn. Bread was the staple of all meals.
Then man goes out to his work, to his labor until evening (v. 23).After mentioning some nocturnal animals (forest beasts, lions), the psalmist shows that people normally work during the day. The point is that all creation has a rhythm of work and rest. More important, the ultimate provision for both animals and man comes from God:
|Local cherries--now in harvest|
These all look to you to give them their food at the proper time. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are satisfied with good things. (vv. 27-28).The phrase “gather it up” is reminiscent of manna, the “bread from heaven,” which appeared atop the wilderness soil six out of seven days of the week during the Exodus wanderings. In a bare land where no crops grew, God provided. But they had to work for it: stooping over to pick up the manna and then cooking it. God expects us to work.
BREATH AND DEATHVerses 29-30 take us right back to our dependence on God as creator. Without infusion of life from Him, we wouldn’t “be”: When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust. When you send your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground. The words “breath” and “Spirit” come from the same Hebrew word (rûah), taking us back to the creation of man: “And the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). When we quit breathing, we die, and our bodies disintegrate. But Psalm 104 reminds us that life is more than the hyphen between birth and death dates. We—yes, the people-creations given the breath of life—are part of why God rejoices in His creation (v. 31). But “sinners” who choose to live apart from God will vanish (v. 35).
PURPOSE AND PRAISEWe can get so absorbed in all the awesome “omni” attributes of God—omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence—that we forget that He has personality that expresses unfathomable joy in His creation. If I may say it, maybe it’s knee-slapping joy and excitement over what He created. A blast of God-power, and a zebra! A zinnia! A redwood! A butterfly! Another blast, a saguaro cactus. Imagine creation like an infinite Fourth of July fireworks, with never-ending power and delight. No wonder He rejoiced in his works (v. 31), along with all the heavenly beings who saw it happen!
For our part, there’s rejoicing, too. Even the greatest magnifications of microscope or telescope stun us with the variety and complexity of creation. The psalmist gives us our marching orders of praise:I will sing to the LORD all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD. (vv. 33-34)
The psalm ends:
Praise the LORD, O my soul.
Praise the LORD.
English translations don’t convey it, but that last “Praise the Lord” in Hebrew is “Hallelujah!”—the word’s first appearance in psalms. It’s a fabulous word to end on—or even to begin with, in our focused times of praising God!
Next: Psalm 107