George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 4

Psalm 104

1. Structure

This psalm is a series of variations on the theme: The fullness of the whole earth is His Glory (cp. Isa. 6:3, AV mg.). There is clear allusion throughout to the Days of Creation in Genesis 1:

Genesis 1         Psalm 104        

Gen. 1:2
The wind (ruach = the Spirit) of God
Day 1
Light = God’s “garment”
Night and day
The waters / the seas
Grass, herbs
Sun and moon
Sea creatures
Beasts of the field
The Fall of Man

A New Creation

Now, at last, God sees that all that He has created is permanently good (Gen. 1:31)

Since “Praise ye the Lord” (v. 35) almost certainly belongs at the beginning of Psalm 105, and not the end of Psalm 104, thus Psalm 104 — like its “twin” 103 — begins and ends with “Bless the Lord” (see Psalms Studies, Book #1, Introduction, Part 6).

2. Historical setting

This psalm has remarkable contacts with Isaiah 6 — the prophet’s vision when King Uzziah died:

Psalm 104
Isaiah 6
Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment
The Lord high and lifted up...his train filled the temple
The wings of the wind
Wings... fly
His ministers a flaming fire
The seraphim
The glory of God in all creation
“The fullness of the whole earth is His glory”
Thou hidest thy face
He covered his face
Thou takest away their breath; they die
In the year that king Uzziah died
Thou sendest forth thy spirit; they are created
A seraph with a live coal in his hand...touched my lips
The glory of the Lord
The earth is full of his glory
He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth
The posts of the door were moved
He toucheth the hills, and they smoke
The house was filled with smoke
I will sing praise unto the Lord
Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts
Let sinners be consumed out of the Land
The Land... utterly desolate

A great forsaking in the midst of the Land

Even though the LXX gives the author as “David”, there is no real authority for such an attribution. It seems more than reasonable to suppose that this is a psalm of Isaiah.

3. Details

Bless the Lord, O my soul. This perfectly appropriate beginning and ending to the psalm matches Psalm 103: Thanksgiving to God for His abundant longsuffering and lovingkindness is followed by further thanksgiving for the marvels of His Creation (and of His New Creation).
Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: Amos 4:13; Isa. 44:24; 45:7; Jer. 10:12.

Who stretcheth out the heavens like a curtain (Isa. 40:22). “Curtain” = yeriah, found 43 of 53 total times in Exod. 26 and 36 — regarding the curtains of the Mosaic tabernacle. The Holy of Holies, as the dwelling-place of God in the midst of His people, is spoken of as “heaven”: 2 Chron. 30:27 (note italics); 36:15; 1 Kings 8:27-33; Psa. 20:2,6; 11:4; 18:6; 26:8; Heb. 7:26.

Heaven, in the sense of the expanse of the firmament, is the impassable barrier between man and God (Exod. 24:10; Ezek. 1:26,28). The temple counterpart to this was the veil (Exod. 26:1; 36:8,13), seen by Isaiah the priest (Isa. 6:1).
Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters. This is either the mountains rooted under the ocean, or (more likely) the waters in the clouds (v. 13). As to the second possibility, note the parallelism with v. 3b, and see also the previous note. “Chambers” is the Hebrew aliyoth, or — singular — aliyah (s.w. v. 13), translated “pavilion” in the NEB — which signifies an upper room, often built on the roof as a retreat (Judg. 3:20-25; 1 Kings 17:19,23; 2 Kings 1:2; 4:10,11; 23:12; 1 Chron. 28:11; 2 Chron. 3:9; 9:4). It is thus a fitting symbol of heaven itself — God’s “retreat”, so to speak.

Who maketh the clouds his chariot (cp. Psa. 18:10,11; 97:2, notes). Notice the change of pronoun: it is not “Thy” (as in vv. 1,2,6,7, etc.), but “his” — that is, Christ’s cherubim chariot (cp. “his angels”, i.e., Christ’s, as in Heb. 1 repeatedly). This is the essential point in Heb. 1:7: that even the angels now belong to Christ!
Who maketh his angels spirits. That is, vehicles of the power of God (cp. Heb. 1:7,14), like the retinue of servants in the royal palace. Or, this could just as well read: Who makest the winds his messengers (as RSV and NEB; cp. Ezek. 37:9; Dan. 7:2; Rev. 7:1).

His ministers a flaming fire. Compare the Cherubim, with a flaming sword (or a sword of flame!), which turned every way to keep the way of the tree of life (Gen. 3:24).
Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever. Yet contrast v. 32: At God’s behest even the foundations of the earth may tremble! Also cp. Psa. 103:17 and 102:25-27: God’s “foundations” and God’s “mercies” are both everlasting! But, figuratively, those “foundations” will be removed when a “New Creation” is to be brought in. This coming in of a new world was prefigured by the Flood, which appears to be the point of vv. 6-9 (cp. Gen. 7:19; 8:1-3).
They go up by the mountains; they go down by the valleys. Who? What? This AV reading is meaningless. The RSV (cp. the RV margin) is more intelligible: The mountains rose, the valleys sank down. This was all part of the work of Day 2, but it was also a feature of the great Flood.
Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth. This is the rainbow covenant of Gen. 8:21,22:

“I will not again curse the ground any more for man’s sake: for the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.”

Never again will the waters cover the earth as they once did (Gen. 9:11; Isa. 54:9; Jer. 5:22; Prov. 8:27-29; Job 38:8-11).

The Deluge, though transient, was an important feature in the ongoing work of Creation; and it is a type (2 Pet. 3:4-13; Luke 17:26,27; Matt. 24:37-39) of the re-creation of the New World by Christ at his coming.
Beasts of the field are non-domesticated animals (Gen. 2:20), as distinct from the domestic cattle.

The wild asses are proverbial for their independence (Gen. 16:12; Job 39:5-8). Nevertheless, unknown to them, God provides for their thirst.
He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man; that he may bring forth food out of the earth. “Service” = “labour” (RV mg.). The Creation was designed both “to serve” man and “to be served by” man. Either rendering is possible, though the latter should probably be emphasized here (cp. v. 23). Thus: ‘No work, no food’ (2 Thes. 3:10; cp. Exod. 20:9). So it is also with the spiritual “food” of God’s Word.
Wine, oil, and bread. The vine (for wine), olive tree (for oil), and wheat and barley (for bread) figure as the major staples of life in Palestine. “The constant bracketing of these three products together shows how they dominated the agriculture of the country (Gen. 27:28,37; Deut. 7:13; 11:14; 12:17; 14:23; 18:4; 28:51; 33:28; 2 Kings 18:32; 2 Chron. 31:5; 32:28; Psa. 4:7; Isa. 36:17; Lam. 2:12; Hos. 2:5,8,22; Joel 1:10; Hag. 1:11)” (D. Baly, The Geography of the Bible, p. 84).

And wine that maketh glad the heart of man. This Creation reference to the vine and its produce surely vetoes the idea that wine was not known before the Flood (Gen. 9:20,21). It is plain that wine, far from being an evil, is — as this verse informs us — a good thing (cp. Gen. 14:18; Num. 15:5; Judg. 9:13; Eccl. 10:19; Prov. 31:6,7; John 2:10), when used in moderation (1 Tim. 5:23). But, like many of God’s blessings and gifts, it can become a curse when indulged in to excess (Prov. 20:1; 23:29-35; Eph. 5:18; 1 Pet. 4:3).
What a lovely picture of angels planting cedars in Lebanon! And (v. 21) providing young lions with their prey. And (v. 26) romping playfully with mighty sea-monsters (and the world empires which they represent?).
For a more comprehensive survey, see Job 38:39 — 39:30.
The conies are the hyraxes, small and shy rock-dwelling mammals (Prov. 30:26).
He appointed the moon for seasons. “Appointed” is the Hebrew asah, which is also translated “made” in Gen. 1:16: “And God made two great lights”. The moon, and the sun, were not created on the fourth day, but they were, at that time, appointed for signs. “Seasons” = moedim, a word which always refers to Hebrew religious festivals; the entire Jewish calendar is based on the moon.
Thou makest darkness. This is true, both literally and spiritually (Isa. 45:7).

And it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth. The Hebrew words for “night” and “howling of beasts” are closely related.
O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches. Everything in Creation is “Thy riches”, “Thy store”. Yet man treats the earth’s vast treasure troves as his own, to plunder and spoil at will, for short-term pleasure and profit.

God’s wisdom is demonstrated in Creation (Prov. 8:22-24; 3:19; Psa. 136:5), so as to reflect His glory (Num. 14:21; Prov. 16:4)) and His immutable purpose (Isa. 45:18; John 1:1-3). God’s power in Creation is proof of the availability of that same power to save faithful men and women (Psa. 147:3,4).
Things creeping innumerable. It is strange that these denizens of the ocean should be mentioned, but not fish.
There go the ships. In a psalm celebrating the marvels of God’s handiwork and the wisdom of all His creative work, why should there be this one solitary phrase about what man contrives? In view of the context (vv. 25, 26b, “Leviathan”), should not this be read as a poetic allusion to the great creatures often seen on the surface of the ocean — the whales, porpoises, and sharks? And these are usually seen in “schools”, hence the plural here. This would be in line with Gen. 1:21.
These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season. That thou givest them they gather; thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good. Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust. “These” seems to indicate that this passage has reference to the lower creation described above. But if the connection between “Thou hidest thy face” and Isa. 6:2 (as in Par. 2 above) is accepted, then it is especially Man whose breath is taken away so that he dies and returns to the dust (Gen. 3:19: the condemnation in Eden; cp. Psa. 103:14). In other words, a magnificent creation is brought to nought through human disobedience. But then, what a contrast in v. 30!
That thou givest them they gather. Nine times this is said of the manna in Exodus 16.
Thou takest away their breath (ruach, s.w. vv. 3,4), they die, and return to their dust: Psa. 103:14-16.
Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth. God’s all-pervading Spirit-power, sustaining everything in His creation: Gen. 2:7; Job 12:10; 33:4; 34:14; 37:10; Psa. 33:6; 139:7; Eccl. 12:7. But especially in the New Creation (see next paragraph).

4. Messianic reference

Everything in this psalm may be read afresh with reference to Jesus Christ, empowered by the Father as the Creator of God’s “New Creation” in him (see all the references, Psa. 102:18).

Thou art clothed with honour and majesty, and with light as with a garment. It is not possible to read this link with the Transfiguration as coincidental (Matt. 17:2; Luke 9:29; 2 Pet. 1:16,17). The Glory of God is to be seen in the Glory of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18; 4:6).
Following the AV mg. (and Delitzsch and Briggs), this verse describes only two products: (1) wine that maketh glad the heart of man, “to make his shine as with oil”; and (2) bread which strengtheneth man’s heart. Thus this verse gives the two great gifts — bread and wine — by which we remember and celebrate our fellowship with the Father through His Son. Each Sunday the bread and wine are the means of memorializing the strength and joy of our new life in Christ.
That thou mayest give them their meat in due season (Psa. 145:16). This is cited by Christ in Matt. 24:45 and Luke 12:42: The faithful and wise servant, who has been appointed ruler over the household of his Lord is doing the work of God when he provides for the (New) Creation their food (both physical and spiritual?) day by day. (For the physical food, see Acts 6:2-6; for the spiritual “food”, see everywhere in the New Testament!)
Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created. Or “re-created”! This is the New Creation of men and women new-born by faith in Christ (Psa. 102:18, references; John 20:22).

And thou renewest the face of the earth. A Paradise restored, thus harmonizing with the interpretation above. However, “earth” is not eretz, but adamah: the ground, or the dust. The culminating work of the (New) Creation is the renewal of the “face of adam — man”! And so this harmonizes with the next verse even more so...
The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever: the Lord shall rejoice in his works. Not until the earth and its human inhabitants are redeemed can their Maker really rejoice in what He has made. Only then will it all be “very good” in anything approaching the sense originally intended (Gen. 1:31). Here (as in Psa. 145:9,10; Psa. 102:22; Eph. 2:10), His “works” means redeemed men and women. Note the Covenant Name here, inappropriate to the natural creation, and positively demanding the kind of reference now being suggested. “Endure for ever” is surely decisive.
He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth: he toucheth the hills, and they smoke. Earthquake and volcanic eruption play their parts in the massive cataclysm which must follow its course before the New Creation can be fully established (cp. Zech. 14:4; Matt. 24:7,8 — where “the beginning of sorrows” means the beginning of labor leading up to the birth).
I will sing unto the Lord. And no wonder, with such a prospect in store!

As long as I live is now divested of any ominous overtones. Here is the original Paradise restored, along with the tree of life. So “as long as I live” = for ever!
My meditation of him shall be sweet. In the Old Testament, the word for “meditation” is always associated with talk (Psa. 105:2, s.w.) — either to God (prayer, praise) or to one’s fellows (witness, fellowship). And again, no wonder!
Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, for they are the only blot on an otherwise perfect Creation. Glory to God will be realized in its fullness only when all sin in eradicated (Mic. 7:19; cp. Psa. 37:10-20,38; 145:20; Mal. 4:1,2; Matt. 3:12; 13:40).

Praise ye the Lord actually belongs to the beginning of Psalm 105 (see Par. 1 above, and “The Hallelujah Psalms”, Book #1, Introduction, Part 6); but indeed it is certainly fitting here.
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