God’s glory for all to see
A look at Psalm 104
I had an uncle who lived at Katoomba, who was an avid bushwalker (hiker) in the Blue Mountains. When I was young, I made a bush walk near our house on a farm. It had a sign at the beginning and included a bridge across a hole I had dug in the ground. Maybe it’s not surprising that bushwalking (hiking) is one of my hobbies.
Many years ago, my uncle gave me a copy of a proposal for a nature reserve that listed all the plants and animals in the area. And years later some of my work with the state Government involved the preparation of Statements of Environmental Effects and the review of Environmental Impact Statements.
In 1970, one of the physics projects during my BSc studies was on nuclear fusion. I titled it “Power without pollution”. Little did I know that many people would be obsessed with that topic over 50 years later! Or that carbon dioxide would be considered to be an air pollutant! After all, my Ph. D was on air pollution and meteorology.
The psalms were songs used by the Israelites to praise God. Psalm 104 has been categorized as a nature psalm. These psalms praise the Lord as the creator and sustainer of the physical universe.
The key words in the NIV version of the psalm are “Lord” (11 times), “you” (15 times), “your” (7 times), He (10 times), and His (7 times). It’s all about God.
It begins and ends with “Praise the Lord, my soul” or “Let all that I am praise the Lord” (NLT). And the reason given for praising God is because He is a great Creator and Sustainer of everything.
God’s work is described in three time periods:
– The creation of the universe, which is described in Genesis 1-2 (v.2-5),
– The re-creation of the earth that occurred during the global flood that Noah endured (v.6-9), and
– The time since the flood (v.10-32).
In Psalm 104 the psalmist praises God as the ruler of the world who sustains all life. The main point is that God’s glory is shown in the physical world which He created and continues to sustain.
This psalm may have been written by David (1040 – 970 BC), because it opens and closes in the same way as Psalm 103, which is attributed to David.
The Israelites had been commanded not to worship foreign gods (Dt. 6:14; 1 Ki. 9:6-7). They were monotheistic, but the religions of ancient Canaan, and the nearby nations of Philistia, Phoenicia, Aram, Amon, Moab and Edom were polytheistic. For example, Baal was the storm god and Asherah was the fertility goddess.
That’s the religious context of this psalm.
1 Praise the Lord, my soul.
Lord my God, you are very great;
you are clothed with splendor and majesty. (NIV)
It’s a song of praise for God’s greatness and majesty. In this context, God’s glory can be seen in the physical world. As a song says, “The universe declares your [God’s] majesty”.
God’s power in creation
God’s power is shown in the creation of the heavens (v.2-4) and the earth (v.5)
2 “The Lord wraps Himself in light as with a garment;
He stretches out the heavens like a tent
3 and lays the beams of His upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds His chariot
and rides on the wings of the wind.
4 He makes winds His messengers,
flames of fire [lightning] His servants.” (NIV)
God is like royalty – there are six examples of God’s greatness and majesty here (v.2-4).
God’s regal attire.
God is pictured as being clothed in light, which could indicate His sinless perfection. Light was God’s first creation (Gen. 1:3). In the Old Testament, light is symbolic of life, blessing, guidance and instruction (Job 3:20; 30:26, Ps. 119:105, Prov. 6:23).
God’s regal tent. God is pictured as creating the cosmos like a person stretches out a tent. All the stars and galaxies were placed in position by God, they didn’t come from an explosion. The James Webb Space Telescope is revealing more detail of the universe than the Hubble Space Telescope could. Astronomers continue to make endless discoveries about the universe. They say that it’s billions of years old, because they don’t realize that God made in all and the laws that govern it in the 6 days of creation. Instead, these ages are calculated using untestable materialistic assumptions. Like the creation of humanity, the creation of the universe was a miracle, it wasn’t made by the laws of science. In the big bang model, astronomers have to invoke hypothetical entities like cosmic inflation, dark matter and dark energy, which have never been observed. It’s very speculative.
God’s regal chambers.
God is pictured as building a palace above the rain clouds. He lives above the clouds and the stars in the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2-4).
God’s regal chariot.
God is pictured as riding the clouds. He is the master of the sky.
God’s regal ride.
God is pictured as riding the wind. He is master of the storm.
God’s regal messengers.
God is pictured as master of all natural forces (like wind and lightning) and He uses them to enhance His glory or to perform His service.
It’s interesting to note that the items used in these descriptions portray a thunderstorm: clouds, wind, and lightning. God rules over the thunderstorm. As God also rules over the weather and the climate, we should not be afraid of these like some people are today.
Then v.5 describes the creation of the earth.
5 “He set the earth [or land] on its foundations;
it can never be moved.” (NIV)
This describes the creation of the “land”. The word can also mean “earth”, but the Israelites wouldn’t have had the concept of the earth as a sphere (Appendix A). It’s like on the third day of creation, “God called the dry ground ‘land’, and the gathered waters He called ’seas’” (Gen. 1:10). So they are talking about the land in distinction from the sky and seas, not the earth as a planet. It uses the image of strong foundations that can’t be moved to convey the idea of safety and security.
The message is that because of God’s power, the land is secure.
This security lasts until God’s final judgement (2 Pt. 3:6-10; Rev. 20:11) after which He creates a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1).
God’s power in the flood
The next passage is either describing creation or the flood or both. I think it’s more about the flood (Appendix B).
Covering the land (v.6)
6 You covered it [the land] with the watery depths [water] as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains. (NIV)
The only time that the land was covered with water above the mountains was during the flood in Noah’s day. He used a metaphor when he says that the covering was like a garment over the land.
Uncovering the land (v. 7-9)
7 At your rebuke they [the waters] fled;
at the sound of your thunder [voice] they took to flight.
8 The mountains rose, the valleys sank down
to the place that you appointed for them.
9 You set a boundary that they [the waters] may not pass,
so that they [the waters] might not again cover the earth. (ESV)
How is this covering of water removed? First it was by God’s command. God spoke (v.7). His rebuke sounded like thunder. Remember, Jesus rebuked the winds and waves on the sea of Galilee (Mk. 4:39).
Then the process used is described (v.8). There was mountain building and valley sinking. So, the waters rushed over the mountains as they rose to create plateaus like the Blue mountains. And the waters rushed from over the mountains into the valleys like the Grose valley in the Blue Mountains and the Grand Canyon in the USA and all the erosional sediments were washed offshore. These changes were due to the geologic forces of plate tectonics, which occurred more rapidly during the flood than they do today. During the recessive stage of the flood, the ocean basins deepened and the water receded from the continents.
The new topography imposed a boundary on the waters on earth (v.9). And this is to be a permanent boundary. In the case of creation, we know that the original sea level was not permanent – it increased in the days of Noah to inundate the land.
The only enduring sea level that wouldn’t cover the earth was established after the flood. In fact, God promised, to never again destroy the earth with water (Gen. 9:9-17). So this passage describes the flood, not the creation.
God’s abundant provision
Now we look at how God sustains His creation. There are three sections here: water sustains life, resources for human life, and homes for creatures.
Water sustains life (v.10-13)
10 He makes springs pour water into the ravines;
it flows between the mountains.
11 They give water to all the beasts [animals] of the field;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
12 The birds of the sky nest by the waters;
they sing among the branches.
13 He waters the mountains from His upper chambers;
the land is satisfied by the fruit of His work. (NIV)
God also provided fresh water for the earth, which flowed down mountain streams (v10). It waters animals and trees (v.11-12). Trees near waterways provide ideal nesting places for birds. The birds are contented, they “sing among the branches”. If God cares for the birds how much more will He care for us (Mt. 6:26).
The water comes from rainfall (v.13) and from springs (v.10). In Australia, water can also be obtained from underground aquifers. The water cycle sustains flora and fauna.
Water is essential for life. It makes up 60% of your bodyweight – it’s up to 75% for children. A person can survive without water for about three days. After that your organs begin to shut down.
Since February 2021, the latest Mars rover, Perseverance, has been looking for evidence of past life on Mars. They are seeking evidence of water and ice and organic material. There is erosional evidence that there were rivers, lakes, and seas on Mars in the past. But where did that water go?
Resources for human life (v.14-15)
14 He makes grass grow for the cattle,
and plants [crops] for people to cultivate—
bringing forth food from the earth:
15 wine that gladdens human hearts,
[olive]oil to make their faces shine,
and bread that sustains their hearts. (NIV)
Then God’s provision for humanity is described. People are different to animals; they are farmers, not just gatherers (v.14, 28). Cattle are domesticated. God provides grass for the cattle, and they provide many resources to humanity. Farmers cultivate the land to grow grains (like wheat), vines (like grapes) and trees (like olives). From these crops people can create bread, wine and olive oil. These were basic products in the biblical period.
We see that God gives us what we need to survive, and He also gives us things to enjoy. Let’s receive our food with thanksgiving (1 Tim. 4:3-5).
Homes for creatures (v.16-18)
16 The trees of the Lord are well watered,
the cedars of Lebanon that He planted.
17 There the birds make their nests;
the stork has its home in the junipers.
18 The high mountains belong to the wild goats;
the crags are a refuge for the hyrax [or rock badger]. (NIV)
The annual precipitation on the mountains of Lebanon can be 1600mm (60”), so they are indeed “well-watered”. The hymn “All things bright and beautiful” says that God made “All creatures great and small”. But this psalm says that He made homes (or ecosystems) for them as well. It would be useless making these creatures on Mars, they wouldn’t survive!
All creatures have a habitat which is their home. For example, birds live in trees (v.16-17). Wild goats live in the high mountains and rock badgers live on the cliffs (v.18). God also provides ecosystems that are homes for His creatures.
Cycles in creation
Next, we are reminded of the cycles built into God’s creation. There are three sections here: God’s clocks, darkness, and daylight.
God’s clocks (v.19)
19 He made the moon to mark the seasons [months],
and the sun knows when to go down. (NIV)
Many ancient nations worshipped the sun and the moon. But we see here that they are not divine because they were made by the God who created the universe.
They are clocks that together with the earth’s orbit and rotation can be used to measure days, months and years. For the Jews, each month started with a new moon. Many Jewish celebrations were governed by the moon (e.g., Passover, Pentecost). The moon also determines the tide. The ocean rises and falls twice each day.
Our daily lives and the natural environment depend on the sun and the moon.
There is a similar passage in Genesis 1:
And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights—the greater light [sun] to govern the day and the lesser light [moon] to govern the night. (Gen. 1:14-16).
Darkness – (20-21)
20 You bring darkness, it becomes night,
and all the beasts of the forest prowl.
21 The lions roar for their prey
and seek their food from God. (NIV)
Next it mentions the diurnal cycle of nighttime and daytime. The night coolness can be a relief after a hot day and the day warmth can be a relief after a cold night. We work in the day and sleep at night. But many animals do the opposite. These nocturnal animals hunt for their food at night. This helped to protect people from wild animals. As the lions usually prowl at night, people could go about in safety during the daytime. So, people have a different cycle to the nocturnal animals.
22 The sun rises, and they [lions] steal away;
they return and lie down [sleep] in their dens.
23 Then people go out to their work,
to their labor until evening. (NIV)
Animals are generally afraid of people. When the sun rises, the lions go back to their dens.
When going on a bush walk in Australia you usually don’t see many animals because the nocturnal animals are asleep during the day. They are hidden out of sight.
Another protection for humanity was that God told Noah, “The fear and dread of you will fall on all the beasts of the earth, and on all the birds in the sky, on every creature that moves along the ground, and on all the fish in the sea; they are given into your hands” (Gen. 9:2).
Next, we are reminded that the earth is full of God’s creatures and that He provides food for them. There are four sections here: praise, marine life; the provision of food, and birth and death.
24 O Lord, what a variety of things you have made!
In wisdom you have made them all.
The earth is full of your creatures. (NLT)
God is to be praised for His creation. His creatures have a huge variety and diversity. And they populate the whole earth. Their design shows God’s wisdom.
Marine life (v.25-26)
25 There is the sea, vast and spacious,
teeming with creatures beyond number—
living things both large and small.
26 There the ships go to and fro,
and Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there. (NIV)
As an example of God’s wisdom, the ocean is vast and teems with wildlife, large and small. Ships sail on it and Leviathan was a mighty creature that played in the sea. Job said that Leviathan was the mightiest creature on earth (Job. 41:1-34). It’s called a monster of the sea. Maybe it was a giant crocodile known as Sarcosuchus, which grew up to 12 metres long and weighed up to 8 tonnes (twice as much as an elephant) (Cosner, 2013). It is mentioned three times in Scripture in a symbolic manner for powerful nations like Egypt (Job 3:8; Isa. 27:1; Ps. 74:14).
The provision of food (v.27-28)
27 All creatures look to you
to give them their food at the proper time.
28 When you give it to them,
they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
they are satisfied with good things. (NIV)
God provides food for all the animals. All animals are sustained by the environment in which they live. It’s a web of life in which the animals flourish.
Likewise, God provides our food as well (Mt. 6:25-33), so we shouldn’t worry.
Birth and death (v.29-30)
29 When you hide your face,
they [creatures] are terrified;
when you take away their breath,
they die and return to the dust.
30 When you send your Spirit,
they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground. (NIV)
God makes each creature to have a particular life cycle. The birth of a new creature is like a new creation. The young replace the elderly who die and decay into dust like Adam (Gen. 3:19). That’s one way nature is sustained.
God deserves our praise
There are four sections here: God’s delight in creation, creation’s delight in God, rebels who do not delight in God and a conclusion.
God’s delight in creation (v.31-32)
31 May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
may the Lord rejoice in His works—
32 He who looks at the earth, and it trembles,
who touches the mountains, and they smoke. (NIV)
The parallel arrangement of Hebrew poetry indicates that God delights in creation/nature because it shows His glory (Appendix C). Although God is invisible, He reveals Himself through the visible world He has made. Creation displays God’s glory. It’s separate from the Creator. Nature is not to be worshipped; it is a reminder of why we should worship God. For example, an earthquake or a volcano show God’s enormous power. But God is greater than creation – the earth trembles at His glance.
It’s like after 6 days of creation, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). He was pleased with His works.
Creation’s delight in God (v.33-34)
33 I will sing to the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to Him,
as I rejoice in the Lord. (NIV)
The psalmist is focusing on God‘s greatness and goodness as revealed in creation. The God of creation is worthy of our life-long praise. Will we praise God all our life? But praise and worship aren’t just singing, it’s also our thoughts. What we think about indicates what we truly value.
Psalm 104 is about how creation depends on God – what He has done in the past in creation and what He continues to do in sustenance.
Everyone enjoys the benefits of God, but few of us are thankful. The psalmist delights in his dependence on God.
Rebels in God’s world (v.35a)
35 But may sinners vanish from the earth
and the wicked be no more. (NIV)
Some people refuse to rejoice and rebel against the One who made them. They flaunt their independence from God, while being sustained by God!
In v.31 it says, “The Lord takes pleasure in all He has made!”. But He can’t take pleasure in sin. God totally abhors evil.
For example, in the time of Noah, “The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and He saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry He had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke His heart” (Gen. 6:5-6NLT). Similarly, in Romans 1, Paul addressed people who worship created things and ideas rather than the Creator. As a consequence, God allows their sin to run its destructive course.
The psalmist longs for the restoration of God’s original creation which wasn’t tainted by sin. He’s praying for the new creation. We know that in Jesus Christ, God has dealt decisively with the blight of sin, not by slaughtering sinners, but by redeeming them. But sinners who do not repent will be judged and banished at the second coming before God sets up His millennial kingdom.
Psalmist’s conclusion (v.35b)
Praise the Lord, my soul.
Praise the Lord! (NIV)
Let’s delight in God and all the expressions of His glory in our world.
Lessons for us
Let’s appreciate God’s power, which is evident in creation and in the flood. The land is secure. Although ancient flood waters sculpted our large-scale topography (like the Blue Mountains plateau, the Grose valley and the Grand Canyon) our oceans are bounded and secure no matter what you think of global warming. These are examples of God’s providence. He cares for and directs all things in the universe. It is not governed by the chance of atheism or the fate of idolatry.
Let’s remember that God sustains all life. He provides water to sustain life, resources for human life, and homes (ecosystems) for creatures. So He provides water and food and fills the earth with flora, fauna and people. He also gives us things to enjoy. Let’s be thankful for God’s provision for us and all the other creatures on earth.
God also provides the sun and moon and the cycles associated with them. We have ocean tides each 6 hours, and days, months, seasons and years, which are essential for life on earth.
Let’s praise God for the variety of creatures He has made and that he continues to sustain!
And we rely on the rest of creation for the air we breathe, the food we eat and the resources we use. The wisdom of God’s design is amazing!
Note that God cares for both people and animals. He did not just create the world and go away and leave it up to evolution. He stayed with it, and He is still with it. Paul said, “He [God] Himself gives life and breath to everything, and He satisfies every need” (Acts 17:25NLT). And he said that God is not far from any one of us, “in Him [God] we live and move and exist” (Acts 17:28NLT). Apart from the Godhead, we can neither live, nor move, nor exist. Our entire existence depends wholly on God.
Why is Psalm 104 in the Bible? It reminded the Israelites of the relationship between the creator and the creation. They were different. Creation was not divine and not to be worshipped like other nations did. We need to be reminded as well. Creation requires a creator. It can’t create itself. And design requires a designer. It can’t design itself. And the laws of science require a creator. They can’t create themselves. And the laws of mathematics require a creator. They can’t create themselves.
Because the universe was created by a powerful God, it is more complicated than people think. For example, in astronomy I predict that some James Webb Telescope observations will contradict the big bang model. And in atmospheric science negative feedbacks will be discovered which invalidate current global warming models.
Unfortunately, the Israelites mixed pagan religions with their worship of the true God. That’s syncretism, where a person takes parts of different religions, cultures, or philosophies and combines them together. It combines beliefs and practices that can be inconsistent.
Religious syncretism (which involves adding to or taking away from scripture) is not compatible with true Christianity. It is heresy. Religious syncretism assumes that all religions offer truth, or that different religions present different paths to God. Don’t automatically accept the prevailing culture. Let’s be wise and discerning instead.
Psalm 104 praises God as the ruler of the earth who sustains all life. In contrast to the other planets in our solar system, the earth is fine-tuned to sustain life. God sustains the earth with water and food and fills it with flora, fauna and people. The main point is that God’s glory is shown in the physical world which He created and continues to sustain. It gives glimpses of His invisible “eternal power and divine nature” (Rom. 1:20). All parts of the universe declare God’s majesty.
Appendix A: the meaning of “erets”
The Hebrew word erets (Strongs #776) means “earth” or “land”. According to the Brown-Driver-Briggs lexicon of Hebrew words, in the Old Testament it can mean: the whole earth, its inhabitants, a region, its inhabitants, or ground (surface of ground). As there are several alternatives, the one chosen should largely depend on the context of the word.
Appendix B: Why v.6-9 are about the flood and not creation
The structural, grammatical and word study analyses point to the Flood as the historical event referred to by Psalm 104:6-9 rather than creation (Barrick, 2018).
v.9 God’s promise to “never again will they [the waters] cover the earth”
Does v. 6 refer to Gen. 1:2? Both use the noun mayim (Strongs #4325). But it is also used many times in Gen 6-9.
Do v. 7-8 poetically depict Gen. 1:9-10? No, because the next verse says, “You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth”. If the earth was flooded in Genesis 6-8, then v.6-8 can’t refer to Genesis 1.
Appendix C: The physical world shows God’s glory
Other passages in the Bible which indicate that the physical world displays God’s glory:
“The heavens declare the glory of God;
the skies proclaim the work of His hands.” (Ps. 19:1).
The “God of glory” is associated with a thunderstorm (Ps. 29:3).
The transformation of a desert by abundant water shows God’s glory (Isa. 35:2, 6-7).
Barrick W D, 2018, “Exegetical analysis of Psalm 104:8 and its possible implications for interpreting the geological record”, Proc. 8th International Conf. on Creationism, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, 95-102.
Cosner, L, 2013, “Leviathan – real or symbolic?“, J of Creation, 27, 3, 56-57.
Written, July 2022