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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 104

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verse 1

1. Prologue 104:1a

The unnamed psalmist exhorted himself to bless God. The reasons he should do so follow.

Verses 1-4

The writer pictured God creating the heavens. Splendor and majesty clothe God in the sense that they manifest Him as clothing makes a statement about the person who wears it. Light is good because it brings life and blessing. When God created light He communicated part of His nature to His creation (Genesis 1:3-5). God created the sky as a tent above man’s head.

"As a camper readily pitches his tent somewhere, so God without exertion prepared the earth for habitation." [Note: VanGemeren, p. 658.]

The writer pictured God building a loft for Himself beyond the water above, namely, above the clouds. Riding on the clouds and wind symbolize God’s majestic authority (cf. Psalms 68:4). Psalms 104:4 is a poetic description of the angels (cf. Hebrews 1:7). Angels do His bidding as wind and fire carry out the will of God on earth.

Verses 1-23

2. Praise for the creation 104:1b-23

Verses 1-35

Psalms 104

This psalm of descriptive praise is quite similar to Psalms 103. Both begin and end with similar calls to bless God. However, God’s dealing with people is the subject of praise in Psalms 103, whereas His creation and sustenance of the world are the theme of Psalms 104.

"The structure of the psalm is modelled [sic] fairly closely on that of Genesis 1, taking the stages of creation as starting-points for praise. But as each theme is developed it tends to anticipate the later scenes of the creation drama, so that the days described in Genesis overlap and mingle here. . . . One of our finest hymns, Sir Robert Grant’s ’O worship the King’, takes its origin from this psalm, deriving its metre (but little else) from William Kethe’s 16th-century paraphrase, ’My soul, praise the Lord’ (the Old 104th)." [Note: Kidner, Psalms 73-150, p. 368.]

Verses 5-9

The psalmist described God creating the earth and then covering it with a blanket, as one would cover a new-born infant. He pictured the earth as though it were a building and stressed the stability of what God had made. He did not mean that the earth has literal foundations and is flat. God proceeded to separate the waters on the earth from those above the earth (Psalms 104:6-7; cf. Genesis 1:6-8). Then he separated the dry ground from the waters on the earth (Psalms 104:8-9; cf. Genesis 1:9-13). The seas are humanly unmanageable, but God set their boundaries and prohibited the waters from crossing them. The frequent references to God controlling water in this psalm demonstrate His sovereignty over all that is difficult to manage in creation.

Verses 10-18

God also caused springs to gush forth in the valleys so that the animal world could find water and drink. In other words, God provided graciously for His creatures’ needs. The song of the birds appears to be a song of praise to God for His provision (Psalms 104:12 b). God causes the vegetable world to produce for the benefit of His creatures as well. Clearly man’s ability to grow food depends on God’s more basic provisions. Wine makes people feel good, olive oil makes them look good, and food enables them to produce good things of all kinds. All of God’s provisions are for our welfare. He desires to bless humankind. He even provides for the welfare of trees, birds, and insignificant animals. God has indeed made the earth a remarkable habitat for humanity.

"Baal was supposedly the source of life’s staples, bread (Ugar. lhm), wine (yn), and oil (smn). In direct contradiction to this, the psalmists asserted that the Lord softens the earth with showers (Psalms 65:10) and brings forth ’food [Heb. lehem] from the earth; wine [yayin] that gladdens the heart of man, oil [semen] to make his face shine, and bread [lehem] that sustains his heart’ (Psalms 104:14-15)." [Note: Chisholm, "A Theology . . .," p. 261.]

Verses 19-23

God’s creation of daytime and nighttime were also provisions for God’s creatures, especially humankind (cf. Genesis 1:14-17).

Verses 24-30

The psalmist broke out in praise to Yahweh for His wisdom in creating as He did. He also acknowledged that all things God created belonged to Him. This even included the sea with all its hidden treasures. Leviathan probably refers to a large sea animal (cf. Job 41). [Note: A. Ross, p. 869; Roy B. Zuck, Job, p. 180.] In the ancient Near East it symbolized chaotic evil. [Note: Marvin H. Pope, Job, pp. 329-31. For an extensive study of the motif, see John Day, God’s Conflict with the Dragon and the Sea: Echoes of Canaanite Myth in the Old Testament.] This whole psalm is a polemic against the Canaanite gods who supposedly controlled the earth and the sea.

"Rather than being viewed as forces that oppose God, the sea and its creatures, including Leviathan, are presented as prime examples of God’s creative skill (Psalms 104:24-26)." [Note: Chisholm, "A Theology . . .," p. 259.]

Psalms 104:27-30 describe how dependent all of God’s creatures are on Him for their lives. He supplies or withholds food. They live or die. The writer viewed God as creating new creatures whenever they come to life. This is the work of His Spirit (cf. Genesis 1:2). God is responsible for the birth of all animal life forms, indeed of all life forms. Whereas the Son of God is the agent of creation (Colossians 1:16), the Spirit provides life. For this reason God often described the Spirit as His breath (Genesis 2:7). The translators have rendered the Hebrew word ruach "breath," "spirit," "air," and "wind," depending on the context.

Verses 24-32

3. Praise of the Creator 104:24-32

Verses 31-32

The psalmist prayed that God’s glory would continue forever since He wields such powerful control over creation. He also wanted God to rejoice in His great works of creation. Only a touch or even a look from God makes creation respond violently.

Verses 33-35

4. Proper responses 104:33-35a

The psalmist vowed to praise God with his mouth and with his mind because of God’s creative and sustaining sovereignty. He also prayed that wicked sinners would perish from the earth. They are out of harmony with all of creation that responds submissively to the Creator’s commands.

"The psalmist is not vindictive in his prayer against the wicked but longs for a world fully established and maintained by the Lord, without outside interference." [Note: VanGemeren, p. 664.]

Verse 35

5. Epilogue 104:35b

The psalm concludes as it began, with the psalmist reminding himself to bless the Lord by praising Him. "Praise the Lord" translates the Hebrew haleluyah. The translators often simply transliterated this Hebrew expression as "hallelujah." There are 23 occurrences of this term in the psalms, and this is the first (cf. Psalms 105:45; Psalms 106:1; Psalms 106:48; Psalms 112:1; Psalms 113:1; Psalms 113:9; Psalms 115:18; Psalms 116:19; Psalms 117:2; Psalms 135:1; Psalms 135:3; Psalms 135:21; Psalms 146:1; Psalms 146:10; Psalms 147:1; Psalms 147:20; Psalms 148:1; Psalms 148:14; Psalms 149:1; Psalms 149:9; Psalms 150:1; Psalms 150:6). The only four occurrences of "hallelujah" in the New Testament are in Revelation 19:1; Revelation 19:3-4; Revelation 19:6, the context being the second coming of Christ.

This psalm is an exposition of Genesis 1. It stresses the sovereignty of Yahweh over all creation. All creatures should honor God and submit to Him because He is the source and sustainer of life.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Psalms 104". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/psalms-104.html. 2012.
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