God’ creation, as viewed through the prism of Psalm 104

Dan T. Lioy's picture

Psalm 104:5–9, 24–30
Time: Date unknown, though possibly written sometime before the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.
Place: Judah 
 
Lesson Aim: To learn to appreciate God more through His creation. 
 
Introduction
 
Sir Robert Grant was acquainted with kings. His father was a member of the British Parliament and later became chairman of the East India Company. Following in his father’s footsteps, young Grant was elected to Parliament and then also became a director of the East India Company. In 1834, he was appointed governor of Bombay, and in that position, he became greatly loved. A medical college in India was named in his honor.
Late in his life, Grant wrote a hymn based on Psalm 104. The progression of titles for God in the last line of that hymn—“O Worship the King”—is interesting. We know God first as our Maker. Then, even before our conversion, He is our Defender. We know Him then as Redeemer, and finally, as we walk day by day with Him, we know Him as Friend
 
         I.       Bringing Order to Creation: Psalm 104:5–9
                  A.      Establishing the Earth: v. 5
 
When studying a psalm, it is important to recognize its literary form. This is because the most significant grouping of the sacred hymns in Scripture is by kind, not by author. Each type of psalm has a recognizable form and structure, though individual psalms may vary from the pattern. When the pattern of a psalm is recognized, outlining the poem, discerning its meaning, and synthesizing its message are greatly enhanced. 
For instance, some psalms are hymns of praise (Ps. 8), individual psalms of thanksgiving (Ps. 30), individual laments or petitions (Ps. 6), communal laments or petitions (Ps. 12), royal psalms (Ps. 2), and wisdom psalms (Ps. 37). Classifying the psalms is difficult because a number of them have several different characteristics. For example, some psalms begin with a lament or prayer, but transition to thanksgiving and praise (Ps. 22).
Psalm 104—along with Job 38 and Psalms 8 and 29—produces a magnificent poetic and musical commentary on the creation. Even the structure of the psalm draws praise in that it is modeled quite closely on the day–by–day creation events recorded in Genesis 1. Indeed, as the psalmist described in grandiose detail the daily acts of creation, he seemed to preach in glowing terms that what God created on each day is reason enough to praise Him. 
It’s clear that the psalmist used the various stages of creation as his starting points for praise. Yet, as he developed each creation-day theme, there is a constant anticipation for more, especially for the later days of the creation. While the psalmist closely followed the day-by-day creation events recorded in Genesis 1, he allowed himself some poetic license. For the most part, though, he kept to the structure set out in Genesis, as the following chart shows.
 
Day God Created . . .              Psalm 104:             Genesis 1:
 
1 Light                                   1–2                        3–5
2 The heavens and the waters    2–4                        6–8
3 Land and vegetation              5–18                      9–13
4 The sun, moon, and stars        19–23                     14–19
5 Fish and birds                       24–26                     20–23
6 Animals, people, 
   and food to sustain them                                     21–24, 27–30      24–31
 
The opening of Psalm 104 is a call by the singer for his soul—or whole being—to bless the Lord. Indeed, the entirety of the psalm is an invitation to worship the Creator. 
Bible scholars have noted that other creation-type hymns were in existence prior to the time when this psalm was written. Many of them, like the Egyptian Akhenaten’s “Hymn to the Sun,” depicted the making of night and day, the providing for beast and birds, and the life-and-death dependence upon the sun. Psalm 104, however, contrasts with this pagan hymn in that it makes a clear distinction between worshiping the sun and worshiping the Creator of the sun. In Psalm 104, all things point to the Creator, the one true God, who is to be both worshiped and praised. 
It is fitting that God’s people are summoned to offer praise to Him with every aspect of their being (v. 1). After all, concerning Him alone can it be said that the world is His regal attire. He robes Himself with it as a showcase of His splendor. Moreover, God used “light” (v. 2) as if it were a “garment” to cover Himself. The power of God is further seen in His ability to stretch out the starry skies like a tent curtain. 
The Lord also created and sustains His celestial abode, which verse 3 refers to as His “upper chambers.” The “waters” are another way of pointing to lofty rain clouds. The picture is one of the Lord laying out the “beams” of His heavenly palace in the sky. So awesome is the Creator, that He makes the “clouds his chariot,” and He rides along the “wings of the wind.”
In verse 4, we catch a further glimpse of God’s supreme power. The “winds” of a swirling storm are the Lord’s “messengers” (or “angels”) carrying out His purposes. Similarly, “flames of fire” produced by thunder are God’s ministers to attend to His every bidding (see 148:8). 
Like earthly monarchs, the Lord has a pavilion, a palace, a chariot, messengers, and courtiers. Yet, all these are of cosmic scale and of celestial nature. From the dawn of creation, the Lord established the continents on their “foundations” (104:5). In addition, there is nothing in the entire universe that can cause the land to be upended, for the all-powerful Creator will not allow it to happen. 
 
                  B.      Controlling the Chaotic Waters: vv. 6–9
 
Psalm 104:6 reveals that at one time the watery “deep” covered the land like a “garment.” According to Genesis 1, it was on the second day of creation that God made the sky by separating surface water from clouds. Also, it was at this time that the “waters” (Ps. 104:6) of the planet reached above the “mountains.” 
Furthermore, it wasn’t until the third day of creation that God separated dry ground and surface water, making land and seas. Then, the surface “waters” (v. 7) retreated at the sound of the Lord’s “rebuke.” Moreover, when His thunderous voice boomed, the oceans “took to flight.” This was also when God caused the “mountains” (v. 8) to rise up and the “valleys” to go “down” to the “place” He decreed.
Later in the Genesis account, we find a description of the Flood, an incident in which the Lord allowed the earth’s surface waters to inundate the planet (chaps. 6–8). Then, at the appointed time, God caused the waters to recede gradually (8:1–5). The Lord also pledged never again to allow the “waters . . . [to] become a flood to destroy all life” (9:15). 
As Psalm 104:9 relates, God has “set a boundary” for the surface waters that cannot be crossed. In turn, this prevents them from ever again covering the entire planet. The Lord not only protects every aspect of His creation, but also watches over, provides for, and sustains it. The Creator tends the earth as if it were a gigantic, complex garden. His desire is for this global ecosystem to flourish and thereby bring Him glory. 
The preceding truth is rooted deeply in the soil of the Genesis 1 creation account. In particular, it was on the third day that God brought land and seas as well as vegetation into existence. Then, on the sixth day, the Lord created animals and humans, both of which live on the land and eat vegetation.
Psalm 104:10–13 complement these truths. For example, verse 10 reveals that God causes the streams, which originate from the “springs,” to gush forth into the surrounding valleys. The cascading water, in turn, flows between the hills. This provides life-giving “water” (v. 11) for all the animals of the “field.” 
Consequently, the “wild donkeys” are able to satisfy their “thirst.” Also, “birds” (v. 12) nesting beside the streams partake of the “waters” and chirp contentedly among the thick foliage of the bushes. The latter, of course, exist because of the presence of the water God has provided.
Even the “mountains” (v. 13) do not escape the Lord’s notice. From the lofty “chambers” of His heavenly abode, God causes rain to fall from the sky onto the elevated regions. This enables all sorts of plant and animal life to thrive on the peaks and slopes of the highlands. In fact, because of the Lord’s deeds, the earth flourishes and is satisfied with unimaginable abundance.
 
         II.      Affirming the Scope of Creation: Psalm 104:24–26
                  A.      The Earth: v. 24
 
As the poet sang about the glory of the Lord’s creation, he exclaimed at “how many are [God’s] works” (Ps. 104:24). Whether it is the lights in the sky, the heavens and the waters, the land and vegetation, the sun, moon, and stars, the fish and birds, or the animals, people, and food to sustain them, the Lord in His wisdom made them all. This sentiment reflects the mindset of the Hebrew wisdom writers. They looked at the world with reverence because it reflected the Creator’s glory.
Psalm 8 is a good example of this way of thinking. David extolled God for His enormous skill, care, and precision in giving shape to the world and populating it with plant and animal life. The one who made the heavens, moon, and stars (v. 3) also crowned humankind with glory and honor (v. 5). The Lord gave men and women dominion over His wonderful works. He graciously put them in charge of His expansive and marvelous creation (v. 6), which includes tame and wild animals (v. 7), birds, and sea creatures (v. 8). 
These truths remind us how important it is for us to consider God’s power and wisdom in the universe He created. The earth is built upon the Lord’s foundations, and He guarantees its permanence. Though one day the present heavens and the earth will be destroyed (2 Pet. 3:10), God will create new heavens and a new earth that will last forever (Isa. 65:17; Rev. 21:1). The same power that upholds the world also provides a firm foundation for believers. Such a great God is worthy of devotion and praise from His people (Ps. 8:9).
 
                  B.      The Sea: vv. 25–26
 
As noted earlier, the Creation account of Genesis 1 forms the theological backdrop for Psalm 104. During the first three days of God’s creative activity, He brought order out of the original formlessness specified in Genesis 1:2. He created light where there had been only darkness and filled what had been empty with the first signs of life. During the final three days of His creative activity, the Lord established and filled the earth with all forms of life, including fish in the sea, birds in the air, and animals on the dry ground. 
In Psalm 104:25–26, the poet focused on the immense seas with their many forms of aquatic life. The rich variety of the world’s oceans stood as a testimony to the enormity of God’s wisdom. The Lord’s wisdom is especially evident in humans. People have abilities and aptitudes that far exceed those of other creatures. For instance, humankind has made abundant use of the world’s seas. Also, people and nations have built all kinds of maritime vessels to travel over the oceans. 
Furthermore, the psalmist noted the presence of “leviathan, which you formed to frolic there” (v. 26). This is likely the same creature mentioned in Job. Chapter 41 describes the leviathan as a huge creature that lived near the sea. It was so fierce that no one could capture, subdue, or stand against it. Its hide was impervious to spears and harpoons. Its back was covered with scales in the shape of shields. Its mouth was ringed with fearsome teeth. It breathed fire from its mouth and smoke from its nostrils. 
This leviathan is possibly the same creature ancient Near Eastern mythology called a dragon, a fearsome beast that both awed and humbled those who came in contact with it. The writer of Job and the composer of Psalm 104 both treat the leviathan as real. Yet, whereas in Job this entity is an object of terror, Psalm 104 pictures it as a harmless creature that romp in the sea (v. 26). Most likely, it was an actual marine animal created by God, perhaps akin to some type of whale.

 
 
 
         III.    Recognizing Creation’s Dependence on God: Psalm 104:27–30
                  A.      For Food: vv. 27–28
 
Increasingly, people in the global North are embracing a belief called pantheism. This theory teaches that everything is God. He is called the universal Absolute, the Force, and the Power. This belief has led to radical views concerning the environment, animal life, and animal rights. 
Another popular theological system is panentheism. It teaches that all is in God, somewhat as if God were the ocean and we were fish. Supposedly, the universe is God’s body, but God’s awareness or personality is greater than the sum of all the parts of the universe. 
To say the least, popular views such as these are shallow and insipid. If we are honest with ourselves, we would admit there is a great source of comfort in the knowledge that God, though independent from His creation, exhibits a personal care over and concern for it. He is also genuinely interested in our everyday activities. That is why we can turn to Him in prayer on a daily basis, especially when circumstances become unusually difficult.
The writer of Psalm 104 affirmed the preceding view when he noted that every creature is dependent on God for life, health, and vigor. The Lord provides sunshine, rain, and oxygen so that the creatures He so wondrously created might continue to exist and thrive. His benevolent provision of food occurs at the right times and in the proper seasons (v. 27). 
God graciously enables people to plant crops and harvest an ample supply of food from them. He generously opens His hand to supply the inhabitants of the earth with other good things (such as minerals, precious metals, building materials, and so forth) for their benefit (v. 28). Clearly, this is not the work of random impersonal, mechanical forces, but rather the provision of our heavenly Father. This awesome Creator and bountiful Sustainer is worthy of unending praise.
 
                  B.      For Renewal: vv. 29–30
 
In Psalm 104:29, the writer described what life was like when the Lord hid His face, or withheld His gracious care. When God allowed severe drought or devastating storms to occur, humans were “terrified.” This means more than being upset. People were overwhelmed by these disastrous events. Eventually, they turned to their Creator and implored Him to bring them relief from their calamity. 
From the above observations we recognize that both death and life are in the hands of almighty God. The breath of life that the Lord graciously imparts to every person is eventually taken away by Him. When it is removed, people die and “return to the dust.” This is a sobering reminder of how mortal people are and how utterly dependent they are on the Creator and Sustainer of the entire universe.
God is not only the master of death, but He is also the one who creates life. The psalmist depicted the Lord as breathing the spirit of life into every creature, which implies that all entities are brought into existence by His supreme act (v. 30). He also sustains life. If it were not for the nurturing hand of the Lord, all living things would wither and die. With each passing season and each successive generation, He renews the “face of the earth.” None of this happens haphazardly or in its own strength, but it is the result of God’s gracious intervention.
As the poet considered the marvelous works of God’s creation, he expressed his desire that the Lord’s glory would “endure forever” (v. 31). God’s guardianship of everything He made would bring Him eternal honor and splendor. 
Just as the Lord took great delight in the things He originally created (Gen. 1:31), the psalmist prayed that God would continue to enjoy and rejoice in everything He made. The poet noted that God is so powerful that one direct glance at the earth causes it to tremble, or quake, in fear (Ps. 104:32). Likewise, He is so awesome that one slight touch of some grand hill or lofty mountain causes it to spew out smoke. 
These preceding observations serve as a reminder of God’s infinite majesty and His unmatched ability to blot out whatever He graciously brings into existence. We are also reminded that God did not have to make the world and all the life within it. He was not lonely, bored, or in need of a challenge. He created all things because of His great love. 
Likewise, the Lord sustains life on earth so that all creatures might be the recipients of His benevolent care. He especially wants people to take notice of His abundant provisions and timely help. As they reflect on all the marvelous things the Lord does for them, they should be filled with awe and be eager to give Him praise.

 
 
 
Key takeaways
 
I originally wrote these words a few autumn seasons ago. Just outside my window was the beautiful fall countryside. The circus of autumn was in full swing, and the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings of the season flagrantly reminded me to worship and praise our loving Creator!
 
1. OPEN YOUR EYES! Look for those things that will remind you to focus on the creativity, goodness, and wisdom of our caring heavenly Father. Take a fresh look at the people and animals and insects and plants around you. Your God made them all! Worship and praise Him!
 
2. OPEN YOUR EARS! Listen for those things that will remind you to focus on the creativity, goodness, and wisdom of our caring heavenly Father. Listen like you never have before for the sounds of nature—a gentle breeze through the leaves, a gurgling stream, or even a baby’s laughter. Your God made them all! Worship and praise Him!
 
3. OPEN YOUR NOSE! Sniff out those things that will remind you to focus on the creativity, goodness, and wisdom of our caring heavenly Father. Stick your nose in a rose; breath in deeply over a sprig of mint; or take a whiff of a freshly mown lawn. Your God made them all! Worship and praise Him!
 
4. OPEN YOUR MOUTH! Seek out and taste those things that will remind you to focus on the creativity, goodness, and wisdom of our caring heavenly Father. Unless you are eating something artificially flavored, your God made not only the flavors, but your taste buds as well! Worship and praise Him!
 
5. OPEN YOUR HANDS! Touch and feel those things that will remind you to focus on the creativity, goodness, and wisdom of our caring heavenly Father. Feel the petals of a flower, the fur of a bunny, or the bark of a tree. Your God made them all! Worship and praise Him!

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