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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 104

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & PsalmsHengstenberg's Commentary


Psalms 104

In Psalms 104:1, after an exhortation from the Psalmist to his soul to praise God, we have the theme or the sum of this praise, the greatness of God as seen in his works. In ver. Psalms 104:2-34 we have the development of this theme, in the description of the works of God; first the light, and heaven, and earth, then the formation of the dry land, Psalms 104:6-9, after this the watering of the ground by the fountains, Psalms 104:10-12, of the mountains by the rain, for the nourishment of beasts and men, Psalms 104:13-17. From the mountains the Psalmist ascends by the means of the highest summits, which are still a place of habitation for living creatures, Psalms 104:18, to the sun and the moon, and to what these do on behalf of the creatures of God upon the earth, Psalms 104:19-23. From this he descends to the extreme depth, the sea, which conceals so many beasts in its bosom, and which by navigation is of such signal service even to the human race, Psalms 104:24-26. All creatures get their nourishment from God; they perish and come into existence according to his will, Psalms 104:27-30. In Psalms 104:31-34 we have the conclusion of the development of the thesis, and of the praise of God from his works. God is eternally glorified by his works, and the Psalmist will praise him. In Psalms 104:35 the result from the glory of God in his works is applied to the circumstances in which the Psalmist is placed; the dominion of the wicked upon earth can be only transitory, God shall annihilate these his enemies; the pledge of this is his omnipotent love as revealed in his works.

As regards formal arrangement, Psalms 104:1 and Psalms 104:35 are obviously the introductory and the concluding verses. In like manner we must consider the ( Psalms 104:18) 18th verse as standing out of the formal arrangement, a verse which cannot be immediately connected with the preceding section (that one being wholly taken up with the watering), and which forms the transition from the first to the second half. Each of the two halves divided by it has ten verses. The divisions into which these fall stand over against each other as antistrophes. In both a main strophe of four is separated from another of twelve verses. The signatures of the world and of the people of God are connected together in one Psalm, which deduces from what God does in the former, what he will do for the latter. In the first part, Psalms 104:2-5, the strophe of four verses is occupied with the fundamental relations in creation, the light and the formation of the heavens and the earth; in the second, Psalms 104:31-34, where it forms the conclusion, as it does then the beginning, it contains the praise of God on account of his works. The strophe of twelve verses is in the first part divided by the seven, which again falls into the four and the three, and the five, in the second part, by the five and the seven, which is again divided by the three and the four. The name Jehovah occurs in all ten times (including the Hallelujah), in the first part three and in the second seven times. The interchange of the address to Jehovah and of the discourse about him, runs throughout the whole Psalm, as it had been introduced in the first verse. The division of the strophes, generally speaking, follows this. Still there are exceptions: Psalms 104:13, Psalms 104:16, Psalms 104:20, Psalms 104:27-30, show that the Psalmist did not, in this respect, lay down for himself any definite rule, and that, in a manner somewhat arbitrary, wherever a break in the sense occurs, he makes a change.

From all this it appears that the arrangement here is peculiarly artificial, more so than we have as yet found to be the case in any other Psalm, so artificial (particularly in the antistrophe-relation of the sections of the two main divisions which was noticed by Köster), that many, such, namely, as will not take the trouble to reckon up with care will be angry at seeing it.

In fixing the object of the Psalm, most expositors follow Luther, who inscribes it as “a praise of God from the book of nature.” These are reasons which antecedently ought to put us on our guard against this view. The Psalmists of the Old Testament were very little fitted for mere “Psalms of nature.” They were too much involved in the conflicts of the contending church, too much moved by the sufferings and the joys of Sion, its fears and its hopes, to give themselves up, in the simplicity of childhood, to the mere impressions of nature. With such pure nature-psalms, also, they would have done little to benefit the church. Always placed in the middle position, between death and life, she needed stronger food. She sought every where an answer to the great question prompted by her heart, “Lord, how long;” and nature had no charms except in so far as meditating upon her could contribute to furnish an answer to a question which still fills the whole heart of all the members of the church.

The true object of the Psalm comes out when we put together the first and the last verses, which contain the quintessence of the whole: the intermediate verses are merely a development of the first. According to this view, the praise of God from nature is only the means: the object is to quicken in the church confidence in the final victory of the righteous over the wicked, of the church of God over the world, which, at the time when the Psalm was composed, had the upper hand. From comparing the following Psalm, which is intimately connected with the one now before us, it appears that “the sinners” and “the wicked” were at that time, in a peculiar manner, raging from without against the city of God, that the Psalmist, in a time of severe trouble, arising from the power of the heathen, sought consolation in reflecting upon the greatness of God in nature.

From these remarks it is evident that the descriptions of nature in our Psalm occupy the same place as those of Psalms 29, where the Psalmist describes the greatness of God in a thunderstorm, for the purpose of preparing for the church a shield against all painful cases.

According to the general relation of the whole Psalm-poetry, and also of prophecy, to the books of Moses, it cannot but be, that the Psalmist, in the praise of God from nature, hung very closely upon the first book of Genesis. The description follows in general the succession of the several days of creation: the first and second, Psalms 104:2-5, the third, Psalms 104:6-18, the fourth, Psalms 104:19-23, the fifth, Psalms 104:24-26, and an allusion to the seventh in Psalms 104:31. The deviations are occasioned, not only by the difference between the poet and the historian, and by the circumstance that the Psalmist has before his eyes the creation perpetually prolonged in the preservation of the world, while the historian describes the act of creation merely in itself, but also by the fact that the Psalmist has proposed for himself not the general object to represent the greatness of God universally in nature, but the special object to set forth the greatness of God in the care which he takes of living beings. This affords an explanation of the circumstance, that in the succession of days no mention is made of the sixth which is occupied with the creation of these beings. The Psalmist has only this one object in view in all that he touches upon.

The “Praise the Lord, O my soul,” at the beginning and at the end of the Psalm, as also in Psalms 103, has given occasion to many expositors to take up the idea that the title “by David” applies also to this Psalm. But these reasons are of no force. The expression, “praise the Lord, O my soul,” may equally well be a borrowed one, and really bears the character of such, as it stands pretty loose, and the two Psalms have no such near connection as to lead us to view it as a bond of connection between them. That the position after Psalms 103 not only can, but must be explained by the later Psalmist appending it to that Psalm, and that the transposition of the Davidic Psalms from their natural place in the collection of David’s, Psalms is to be explained from the collector wishing to connect to these something similar in character from later times, will be made manifest in some remarks which have yet to be made. We have to urge against the assumption that David is the author, first that David is not named in the title as such—the existence of Davidic Psalms not externally marked as such out of that part of the collection which is specially set apart to them is very problematical, nay, must even be distinctly denied—second, the want of all near contact with the Davidic Psalms—a feature so very prominent in Psalms 101-103,—and, lastly, the hallelujah which never occurs in Psalms ascribed to David in the title, a problem worthy the attention of those who set the titles at nought.

The Psalm before us stands nearly related to the one which follows, to which again the Psalms 106 Psalm is appended. As the confident expectation of the destruction of the heathen power is here grounded upon the greatness of the works of God in nature, it is in like manner there founded upon the greatness of the works of God in history. It is from these two Psalms that we first find materials which enable us exactly to fix the object and authorship of this whole trilogy of Psalms annexed to a similar trilogy composed by David; while in the Psalm before us, in accordance with its introductory character, the allusions are all general.

Verse 1

Ver. 1. Praise, my soul, the Lord! O Lord my God thou art very great, majesty and glory hast thou put on. The two clauses of the verse may be considered as separated by a colon. The exhortation to praise God is immediately followed by the praise of God in its most general extent. The, “ My (Israel’s) God,” is an indication of the public character of the Psalm, of its reference to the relations of the church, as is more strongly marked at the close. The clause, “thou art very great,” denotes the nature of God; what follows leads a proof of the greatness of his nature, deduced from the glory of his works. On majesty and glory, comp. at Psalms 96:6. The לבש , to put on, occurs at Psalms 93:1, Isaiah 51:9. He put on these at creation; he makes it known in creation, which is continually prolonged in the preservation of the world. In the whole Psalm the discourse is not of what God is in himself, but of what he is in his creation. There lies at bottom a comparison of a glorious royal garment. As, and because, God has already put on this garment of glory and majesty in creation, he shall yet put it on also in redeeming and glorifying his church, comp. Psalms 93:1.

Verses 2-5

Ver. 2. He covers himself in light like to a garment, he spreads out the heaven like a curtain. Ver. 3. Who makes his upper chambers with water, makes of the clouds his chariot, who rides upon the wings of the wind. Ver. 4. He makes winds his angels and flaming fire his servants. Ver. 5. He founds the earth upon its sure foundation, it moves not always and eternally.

The passage is occupied with the works of the first and second days of creation. There lies at bottom the figure of an earthly king, with his glorious garment, his high tower, his magnificent chariot, his splendid retinue of servants. What such a one does shall be infinitely surpassed by the glory of the heavenly king. What, for example, is the garment of an earthly king, however much it may glitter with gold and precious stones, compared to the garment of light of the heavenly king! The “he covers himself,” in Psalms 104:2, is appended to “he has put on,” at the conclusion of Psalms 104:1. There the whole glory of God, unfolded in creation, appears as a garment which he has put on; here the figure of a garment is transferred to one particularly glorious part of the glory of creation, the light with the creation of which the whole work of creation began. The discourse is not here of the “inaccessible light “ in which God dwells, according to 1 Timothy 6:16; for we have here to do, as is evident from the second clause, only with the glory of God unfolded in creation; but of the light which daily shines upon us. We have before us, in a poetical form, “God said, let there be light and there was light.” The light created by God appears under the figure of a garment in which he clothes himself, because it makes him appear glorious, just as an earthly king is rendered glorious in appearance by his splendid dress. The participles denote the continued action: God, whose work of creation is prolonged in providence, clothes himself daily anew with light as with his garment, and spreads out the heaven like a curtain. The article at the garment, the covering, the waters in Psalms 104:3, stands generically. In the second clause the Psalmist turns to the work of the second day, Genesis 1:6-8. Like a curtain,—with the same ease, by his mere word, with which a man spreads out a tent-curtain, Isaiah 54:2. Isaiah 40:22 is parallel, “that stretchest out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in.”

Psalms 104:3 continues the description of the work of the second day. There lie at bottom, in the first clause, the words of Genesis 1:7: “God made the vaulted sky and divided between the waters which are under the vault and the waters which are above the vault.” The waters above are the materials with which, or out of which, the structure is reared. To construct out of the moveable waters a firm palace, the cloudy heaven, “firm as a molten glass,” Job 37:18, is a magnificent work of divine omnipotence. The citadel of cloud gets the name of the upper chamber of God, as being the upper part of the fabric of the world; the under one is the earth, “the under-lower” of Psalms 104:5. The translation is quite at fault which gives: “who builds above the waters his upper chamber,” who prepares for himself a habitation in that part of heaven which is uppermost, and furthest removed from mortal eye. The Psalm is occupied only with the unfolded glory of God with that which all see with their eyes, and which God does for the benefit of his creatures, and the concealed throne of God is not at all referred to; according to Psalms 104:13, the rain comes out of the upper chamber of God. The clouds appear as the chariot of God, because he drives them about at his pleasure, as a king his car. The wind, which is not at all mentioned in the history of the creation, is joined with the clouds in the third clause, because they both operate together in bad weather. This clause depends on Psalms 18:9, Who drives forward, &c.,—to whom, as to their governor, the winds are as obedient as horses are to an earthly king.

In Psalms 104:4 we have the glorious retinue of God’s servants, the wind and flaming fire as it descends from the clouds, the lightning, comp. Psalms 105:32. “For his messengers” stands first, according to the analogy of Genesis 6:14, “for cells make the vessel,” for the sake of the contrast to the chariot and the upper chamber of God. This departure from the usual arrangement has given occasion to the translation “he makes his angels winds and his servants flames of fire,”—a translation, however, to be set aside for the following reasons: we have here to do only with the visible glory of God in connection with Genesis 1, which throughout is occupied only with the material creation; we are here specially engaged with the work of the second day, to which the whole of the second half of Psalms 104:2-5 refers; material servants alone are suitable in connection with material garments, fortress, and chariot; and, finally, the parallel passages are against it, Psalms 105:32; Psalms 148:8, “(praise the Lord) fire and hail, snow and smoke, stormy wind who obey his word.” The citation, Hebrews 1:7, cannot lead to this false translation. Even according to our view the passage serves the object of the author. For it is a degradation of the messengers of God in a strict sense, those who by pre-eminence are so named, that the mere powers of nature should be associated with them and be called by their names,—the more so as an indirect reference to angels is clear from the relation to Psalms 103:20. The maxim, “known from company” applies even here. He who has such companions can in no wise be placed on a level with the Lord of glory. Even in Psalms 104:5 we still find ourselves within the range of the second day. It was not till after the work of that day was ended that the earth had a separate existence. What is here said of the earth corresponds to what was said of the heaven in the first clause of Psalms 104:3. As the upper part of the fabric of the world stands firm, though it has only water instead of beams, so is it with the lower, the earth is held as firm by the omnipotence of God, without a foundation, as if it had one; he has given to the earth, which is propped up by nothing, a firm existence, like a building which rests on a solid foundation. Psalms 24:2 is not to be compared; for the discourse there is of the earth in a limited sense, of the division of land and water; but Job 26:7, “he hangs the earth upon nothing;” comp. Psalms 104:8 there, “he binds together the water in his thick clouds, and the cloud is not rent under them,” with Psalms 104:3 here, and also Job 38:4-6.

Verses 6-18

Ver. 6-18,

Ver. 6. The flood thou coveredst above like to a garment, the waters stand upon the mountains. Ver. 7. Before thy rebuke they flee, before the voice of thy thunder they haste away. Ver. 8. They go up to the mountains, down to the valleys, to the place which thou hast founded for them. Ver. 9. A boundary thou didst set, they pass it not, they turn not again to cover the earth.

Ver. 19: He sends fountains in the valleys, they flow between the mountains. Ver. 11. All the beasts of the field drink them, the wild asses quench their thirst. Ver. 12. Over them dwell the birds of heaven, from the midst of the boughs they let their voices be heard.

Ver. 13. He watereth the hills out of his upper chambers, of the fruit of thy works the earth is satisfied. Ver. 14. He causes the grass to grow for the cattle and corn for the cultivation of man, to bring forth bread out of the earth. Ver. 15. And wine gladdens the heart of man to make his face to shine with oil, and bread strengthens man’s heart. Ver. 16. The trees of the Lord are saturated, the cedars of Lebanon which he has planted. Ver. 17. Where the birds build their nests, the stork he dwells on the cypresses.

Ver. 18. The high hills are for the chamois, the rocks a refuge for the jerboas.

The work of the third day, the removal of the water from the earth, is painted by the Psalmist in Psalms 104:6-9 at great length, and with evident delight, because he sees in it an allegory, the removal from the land of the Lord of the floods of the heathen by which it had been overspread; comp. on the sea as the standing emblem of the heathen world, at Psalms 93

The suffix in כסיתו , Psalms 104:6, refers to the flood: the flood like a garment thou didst cover it, over the earth. It will not do to refer it to the earth, for ארץ does not occur in the preceding verses, and is everywhere feminine except in a few cases where it stands for the inhabitants of the earth. The future in the second half and in the following clauses is to be explained from the lively realization of the past. The mountains appear here, (as the work of the second day begins), as already in existence, and only covered by the floods, as they were on a later occasion by the deluge (Genesis 19, Genesis 20), by which the earth was brought back to its original condition.

The expression “the waters shall assemble in one place,” Genesis 1:9, appears in Psalms 104:7 as a rebuke of God, because God is the enemy of disorder, and because the water stood in an attitude of hostility to the realization of his purpose to manifest his glory on the earth. If we view the water as symbolical of heathen power hindering the realization of the purpose of God to bestow salvation on his people, the rebuke appears as still more suitable, compare Matthew 8:26. The thunder is called the word of God, because it is just as terrible as his word is. On חפז , to hasten for fear, at Psalms 31:22.

The clause, “they (the waters) go up to the mountains, down to the valleys, to the place (till they finally got to it) which thou hast founded for them,” Psalms 104:8, contains a graphic description of the effect of the divine rebuke and thunder: thrown into a state of tumultuous excitement the waters quickly again ascend the mountains, their high abode, from which the rebuke of God had brought them down, but unable to keep themselves there they go down to the valleys, until they find themselves in their proper situation, and enter into the place where God designs them to be,—a striking picture of the circumstances which occur when God designs to deliver his church from the power of its enemies. Even then the floods do not retire at once softly and quietly. They make repeatedly the attempt again to ascend the mountains; after that at least to obtain possession of the valleys; but at last they are compelled to be off entirely. The common translation is: up go the mountains, down go the valleys. But in this case the Neptunian origin of the mountains and valleys would be really indicated as the immediate consequence of the separation of the fluid from the dry; for a mode of expression as suited to the appearance which most adopt, can scarcely be extracted from the words: they came by and by however high or low in appearance. Against this interpretation we have Psalms 107:26, “they go up to heaven, down to the valleys,” whose שמים and תהומות are accusatives; the unquestionable reference of the second half of our verse to the waters, according to the fundamental passage in Genesis 1:9, “let the waters under heaven be assembled in one place;” and the circumstance that in Psalms 104:9 the water is the subject as it must also be in Psalms 104:8. It is not possible that the language here can refer to the origin of the mountains, as according to Psalms 104:6, they were already in existence. They existed also according to Genesis 1, before the work of the sixth day. To the third day belonged only the appearing of the dry land, not its formation; the work of that day consisted only in this, that, as at the deluge, the waters retired from the earth, “the dry land appeared.” The יסך stands here as in Psalms 104:5, Psalms 102:25, in the sense of to found: God, as the master-builder of the world, founded the sea (as he did heaven and earth), as the place of habitation for the waters and for the innumerable creatures in them, Psalms 104:25. Even this founding suits better for the sea than it does for the state of the hills and the valleys.

On Psalms 104:9, comp. Job 38:8-11. The exception of the deluge cannot break the rule; and comes into notice here, as according to Genesis 9:11, it cannot be repeated, all the less on this account, as the Psalmist is speaking of the present and future. Berleb.: “But if God had not set such boundaries, the earth would long ago have overwhelmed the church. Wherefore may the rebuke of thy spirit always scatter it more and more!”

To the description of the negative act there is here appended the positive one: in the exercise of his loving regard for his living creatures, God waters the dry land, as a type of his tender care over his church delivered from the power of its enemies. The creation of the vegetable world for the nourishment of men and beasts belongs, even in Genesis 1:11-12, still to the work of the third day; only, however, as is obvious from ch. Genesis 2:5, as regards its germ. Here we have brought forward what forms the condition of the development of this germ, and at all times the foundation of all vegetation on the earth. We have for the first time, in Psalms 104:10-12, the watering of the ground.

That the נחל , a brook, next a valley, through which a brook flows, stands in Psalms 104:10 in the latter sense, is evident from Psalms 104:13, where the mountains, which receive moisture from the upper waters, form the opposite of the valleys here spoken of. The fountains hence comprehend the brooks formed by them: as in Joel 4:18, “and a fountain shall proceed from the house of the Lord, and water the valley of Acacias”—a passage much more closely connected in reality with ours than can well be made to appear. Also in “they go” the fountains form the subject.

The beasts of the field, Psalms 104:11 (comp. on חיתו at Psalms 50:10) stand in opposition to domestic animals, the cattle of Psalms 104:14. On “they break their thirst,” comp. שבר , corn, because it breaks the hunger. [Note: It is in favour of this explanation that the corn bears this name in a particular manner in Genesis 42 ss., comp. especially 41:57, 42:1.]

The birds of heaven of Psalms 104:12 are from Genesis 1:30; Genesis 2:19, where in like manner the birds of heaven stand in opposition to the beasts of the field, with whom they have this in common, that no one on earth cares for them. He who takes under his care the beasts of the field and the birds of heaven; will much more take care of his own people, comp. Matthew 6:26, which passage serves as a key to the one now before us.

In Psalms 104:13-17 the Psalmist proceeds to take up the subject of the care of God for the nourishment of his creatures by watering the dry land. As this takes place in lower situations by means of fountains, from which the wild beasts drink, and beside which the birds of heaven rear their habitations, so does it in the upper regions by rain, which makes the grass to grow for cattle, and corn and wine for men, and which waters even the trees where the birds build their nests. How should such a God not open the fountains of salvation for his own people, and pour down upon the thirsty the rain of grace!

The משקה in Psalms 104:13 corresponds to the ישקו in Psalms 104:11: “he gives drink even to the mountains.” This division of the watering occurs in Genesis 49:25, “with blessings of the heaven above, with blessings of the deep which resteth below.” The mountains are especially named because they are entirely assigned to the rain; comp. Deuteronomy 11:11, where it is said of Canaan: “a land of mountains and of valleys, it drinketh in water of the rain of heaven,” in opposition to Egypt which is watered by the Nile. Out of his upper chambers—comp. Psalms 104:3. The works of God are the heavens or the upper chambers, [Note: Ven.; “Allusion is manifestly made to these upper chambers constructed by God: ver. 3; and for this cause these are here called the works of God.”] ver. 2, 3, (comp. Psalms 104:24); and the fruit of these works is the rain; by this the earth is satisfied, richly watered with it.— In Psalms 104:14 we have the fruit which the earth thus watered bears for cattle and men. Instead of “for the cultivation of men,” many translate after Luther: “for the use of men ;” but the עבדה signifies always labour, service, (in this sense Psalms 104:23) never use, need, not even in Numbers 3:31, Numbers 3:36 the mere עשב is not enough—it belongs to cattle as food, Genesis 1:30, and needs an adjunct which corresponds to the “bearing seed” in Genesis 1:11, Genesis 1:29, and limits the expression to “ corn”; finally, the fundamental passages, Genesis 2:5, “ to labour the ground,” Genesis 3:23, Genesis 4:2, are in favour of the rendering “for the cultivation.” The last words “to bring forth,” for “that he may bring forth,” gives the object of the shooting of the corn: God in this way prepares for man his chief means of support, bread. Allusion is made to Genesis 1:12, “And the earth brought forth grass bearing seed;” comp. Job 28:5, “the earth out of which goes forth bread.”

In Psalms 104:15 the importance of bread for men is brought prominently forward—it imparts strength to the weak—after mention had been made of another blessing, which by means of the watering is imparted to men, viz., wine. And wine gladdens—viz., in consequence of the watering from the upper chambers of God. It is designedly that man in both clauses is termed אנוש , weak, frail, full of care, comp. the reference at Psalms 8. The Psalmist hereby intimates why God has provided for him these means of cheerfulness and strength, how lovingly God has had regard for him in adopting these means to his necessities. The צהל is to rejoice, in Hiph., to make to rejoice, to make joyful; comp. Proverbs 15:13, “a joyful heart makes a good countenance,” where also as here the article is poetically wanting. With oil—the oil of gladness, Psalms 45:7, Psalms 23:5, with which they were wont to anoint themselves on festive occasions before meals. The brightening on such occasions did not conic from the oil, with which they anointed themselves only as a sign, of the joy, but in spite of the misuse made of it, from the wine the noble gift of God, which made the sign a truthful one. The translation commonly given is: so that it makes his face shining as if it were anointed with oil. But this assumes without any ground that the צהל here is equivalent to צהר , more particularly so, as this verb never occurs in Hiph in the sense of to make to shine; there is moreover the fact that it was not the face that was ever anointed, but the head, comp. Psalms 23:5, Matthew 6:17, “anoint thy head, and wash thy face.” The small difference in the shade of meaning in צהל in the translation given above need occasion less difficulty, as the word was selected because of the reference of צהר to oil: the צהר does not cause the צהל but the wine (it is not the shining but the wine that brightens the face), Böttcher, Proben. p. 212, defends the translation of Luther: “and his face became beautiful with oil,” according to which oil as the third chief product of Canaan is named between the bread and the wine, which however here as in other passages are united together as one noble pair, Psalms 4:7, Genesis 14:18, Genesis 27:28. Against this, however, there is the להצהיל , according to which the words cannot possibly be construed as an independent clause; the contrast between the gladness and the strength, which alone justifies the renewed mention of the bread, is weakened; in the whole paragraph, Psalms 104:10-17, mention is made only of what appeases hunger and thirst, with which oil has nothing to do. The phrase, “to strengthen man’s heart,” is from Genesis 18:5.

The words “they are satisfied,” in Psalms 104:16, refer back to “the earth is satisfied. in Psalms 104:13: with the earth also the trees. The mountains of God are, in Psalms 36:6, the highest mountains, which proclaim in the loudest terms the creative power of God; the cedars of Lebanon are also, in Psalms 80:10, called, as being the kings of the trees, the cedars of God: in the fundamental passage, Numbers 24:6, “the spice trees which the Lord hath planted,” are trees of particularly powerful. growth, comp. Balaam, p. 145. According to this, “the trees of the Lord” here must also be those which, as, for example, the cedars of Lebanon, named in the second clause as individual specimens, loudly proclaim, by their being well supplied, the origin from which they have come: there is no reference whatever to any contrast between the trees here spoken of and such trees as have been planted by man.

Psalms 104:17 corresponds to Psalms 104:12. The rain is not less beneficial to the birds than are the fountains of water. Where,—in the trees upon the mountains, according to Psalms 104:12 and the second clause. The little birds and the stork, i.e., birds great and small.

It has been already observed in the introduction that Psalms 104:18 stands out of the connection, and is to be looked upon merely as a transition clause. The hills, the high ones I understand, stand instead of the high hills, in opposition to the hills generally, in Psalms 104:13, and in parallel to the high rocks. The מחסה is not to be supplied in the first clause, but serves only to show the force of the ל in that clause. On the second clause, comp. Proverbs 30:26. Shall not he who points out to the wild goat and the spring mouse their little abode, and leaves none of his creatures uncared for, undertake for his chosen ones? shall he leave any of them to perish? No; wherever they turn throughout the wide world, they everywhere see intimations of their own salvation. The birds on the trees, the wild beasts at the fountains, the mouse on the hills, everything cries out to them: be ye comforted, and of good courage, for are you not better than many sparrows? At the time when this Psalm was composed, it was worse with Israel than with the goat and the spring-mouse (comp. Matthew 8:20), they had no place of refuge, no spot upon the wide earth which they could call their own; comp. with the middle verse here the ( Psalms 105:23) 23d verse of Psalms 105.

Verses 9-30

Ver. 19. He made the moon to divide the time, the sun knows his going down. Ver. 20. Thou makest darkness and it is night, in it all the beasts of the forest are astir. Ver. 21. The lions roaring after their prey, and to seek from God their food. Ver. 22. The sun rises, they gather themselves together and lie down in their dens. Ver. 23. Man goes forth to his work and his labour till the evening.

Ver. 24. How manifold are thy works, O Lord, in wisdom hast thou made them all, the earth is full of thy goodnesses. Ver. 25. Here the sea, great and wide, where are moving things without number, beasts, small with great. Ver. 26. There go the ships, the leviathan whom thou hast formed that he should sport there.

Ver. 27. All this waits upon thee, that thou givest their meat in their time. Ver. 28. Thou givest them, they gather up, thou openest thy hand, they are satisfied with good. Ver. 29. Thou hidest thy countenance, they are terrified, thou collectest their breath, they fade and turn back to their dust. Ver. 30. Thou sendest out thy breath, they are created, thou renewest the appearance of the earth.

First, Psalms 104:19-23, by the distinction made by the sun and moon, the work of the fourth day, Genesis 1:14, ss., between day and night, God makes provision for the different portions of his creatures, the beasts of the forest to whom the night belongs, and man whose is the day. Shall he who bears such loving care for the lions forget Sion?— For appointed times, Psalms 104:19, (compare the מועד , point of time, Psalms 75:2, Psalms 102:13), that there may be such, that these may be marked by it, namely and particularly, the difference between day and night. It is clear from the second parallel clause, and from the expansion in Psalms 104:20-23, that this fundamental difference on which the others depend is here also brought particularly into view; comp. “to divide between day and night,” which in Genesis 1:14 precedes, “and to serve for signs and for seasons,” and “to divide the light and between the darkness” of Psalms 104:18. The moon is named before the sun as the proper time-divider, as the Hebrews began the day with the evening, and also because the Psalmist wished to conclude with the picture of the day. The sun knows his going down, so that it never remains in the heaven beyond its time, and thus destroys the division of time, and robs a part of God’s creatures of their maintenance. מבוא is not the act of coming but the place, Ezekiel 26:10, “the approaches to a conquered city;” מבוא שמש , the place where the sun goes down, Psalms 50:1, Psalms 113:3, in opposition to מזרח שמש , the place where he rises.

The two abbreviated futures in Psalms 104:20, are properly, “make thou darkness and it shall be as night,” instead of when thou makest darkness and it is. The condition in animated discourse is expressed as if it were a wish.

In Psalms 104:21 the translation is not “the lions roar,” but “the lions (rise) roaring after their prey and to seek,” compare Amos 8:12, “they run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord.” From God who is their proper provider, and who therefore prepares for them the night in which they may seek their nourishment, compare Job 38:39. If God thus cares for the wild beasts of the forest, and provides for the hungry lions their food, shall he permit his chosen people to perish in sorrow and misery? The roar of the lion should ring in their ears, “O ye of little faith.”

They are assembled, Psalms 104:12 from the dispersion spoken of in Psalms 104:20-21. God causes for the sake of men the day to follow the night, in which they may go forth to their labour, and work for their maintenance; he will, therefore, on behalf of those who can pray to “our Father,” cause the day of salvation to follow the night of trouble during the whole course of history, and in the most glorious manner at the end of time. Berleb.: “When Jesus Christ went into a state of humiliation, then roaring lions, bears, and foxes, came out of their holes, and fell fiercely upon him, Acts 4:27. And a similar lot still befalls his church, even at this time, and did so throughout the long night under Antichrist. But on the morning of the seventh day the sun shall rise in his strength, and shall shine throughout the whole day, when no wicked beast shall dare to look out.”

In Psalms 104:24-26, after an introduction which directs attention afresh to the point of view from which the whole description is to be looked at, to the sun namely and to the moon as the highest point in the creation, where the omnipotent love of God is made manifest, there follows the sea as the deepest. In the Mosaic history of the creation the formation of the fishes and the birds belongs to the fifth day. As the business of the Psalmist is not to treat of the formation of the creatures, but only of the care which God takes of them, and as he had already handled the care taken of birds, there hence suitably follows the preparation of the sea for marine animals, and also for man, who by means of it obtains the advantages arising from navigation and trade.— The מה רבו in Psalms 104:24, is not “how great,”—that is מה גדלו , Psalms 92:6—but “how many are,” compare Psalms 3:2. The קנין is not a creature, but as always a possession, compare Psalms 105:31. Throughout the whole Psalm the discourse is not of the riches of the creatures of God, but of the riches of his arrangements on their behalf, so that each of them finds his sphere of existence and his means of support: thy possessions—in which thou investest thy creatures, and by means of which thou maintainest them. Also by the works of God we are not to understand his creatures, but the arrangements made for them, not the sea-animals, for example, but the sea itself. In consequence of the numerous works of God, which are made according to the necessities of his various creatures, the earth is full of his good things by which he supports his creatures. How should Sion alone starve in the midst of all these riches of her God? How should he who cares for the beasts of the sea, great and small, not care for her? According to Köster, our verse should come after Psalms 104:26, and be appended to Psalms 104:27: the כלם there manifestly points back to our verse. We are, however, by this proposal strikingly reminded of the fable of the acorn. Psalms 104:24 and Psalms 104:27 do not at all suit well together, as the language of the former of these verses does not apply to creatures.

This the sea, Psalms 104:25 (the Psalmist takes this case as an instance), is equivalent to, here as one of the many works which thou hast made in wisdom, the sea. Wide, both hands, for on both hands, both sides. The רמש , of sea-animals, used only here, is taken from הרמשת , Genesis 1:21, comp. Psalms 69:34, “Assuredly the species of the sea-animals are of the most varied kinds, the smallest and the largest are among them.”

The mention of the ships in Psalms 104:26 points to what the sea does for man (comp. Genesis 49:13); while the leviathan, presenting the appearance of a ship, represents the animals. The masculine יהלכון is to be explained from the personification of the ships as active wanderers (comp. Genesis 4:7), as we speak of a quick sailor. At the second clause, we are not to comp. Job 40:29, but Job 40:20: “And all beasts of the field sport there.” The translation, “whom thou hast made to sport with him,” suits well for Jarchi, but not for our day. According to the design of the Psalmist, notice is taken only of what the sea does for the leviathan, who feels himself when there to be in his element.

In Psalms 104:27-30, all creatures obtain from God their food in their seasons; he will, therefore, give also to his starving church her daily food; they perish and begin life again according to his will; he renews, after it has been destroyed, the appearance of the earth, his church, therefore, which even now experiences his death-bringing power, shall also in due season experience his life-giving power, and the comforting word, “Behold I make all things new.”

The suffix in כלם Psalms 104:27 most interpreters would refer only to the sea-animals. But the expression “Thou renewest the face of the earth,” in Psalms 104:30, alone is sufficient to refute this. It applies to everything named in the preceding verses, including also men; comp. Psalms 104:14-15, Psalms 104:23; and also Psalms 104:26, where “there go the ships” refers also to men. The conjunct reference to men appears particularly clear, from the fundamental and parallel passages in the following verses, comp. particularly Job 34:14-15. Had the strophes been originally separated by an outward mark, the temptation to apply the כלם only to what immediately precedes would been much less. Psalms 147:9 is really parallel to our verse. On “at their time” comp, Psalms 1:3, Psalms 145:15.— In Psalms 104:28, the very rare word top לקט , not to gather together generally, but to gather up, to pick up from the earth, shows that there lies at bottom a reference to the manna, in connection with which this is the word of constant occurrence, Exodus 16:4-5, Exodus 16:16. This reference intimates that all nourishment is bread from heaven, Psalms 105:40, in accordance with Deuteronomy 8:3, according to which the Lord gave manna to the Israelites, for the purpose of impressing upon them this great truth.

In Psalms 104:29, the hiding of the countenance denotes the withdrawal of God’s compassionate care. On “they are terrified,” comp. at Psalms 90:7. On “Thou assemblest their breath or spirit,” (not thou takest away) comp. Job 34:14-15, “If he would regard him, he would gather to him his spirit and breath: all flesh would die at once, and man would return to the dust.” According to the doctrine of Scripture, all life, not only what is immaterial and spiritual, but also what is physical, is from God, the fountain of life, the God of the spirits of all flesh, Numbers 16:22, Numbers 27:16, Hebrews 12:9; comp. Genesis 1:2, Genesis 2:7, Ecclesiastes 12:7, “The spirit returns to God who gave it.” The abbreviated future is to be explained, as in Psalms 104:20, properly gather in instead of if thou gather in. The יגועו alludes to the mighty confirmation given to the position here expressed by the deluge, comp. Genesis 7:21-22: “All flesh died that moved upon the earth, bird, and cattle, and wild beast, . . . and every man: every thing in whose nostrils was the breath of life . . . died.” The expression “return to their dust” depends on Genesis 3:19, “until thou return to the dust from which thou wast taken, for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return,”

They are created, they as the whole, or the whole classes of creatures, are again called into being, comp. the ברא in Psalms 102:18. The face of the earth (from Genesis 7:4, “I destroy every living thing from the face of the earth,” Genesis 7:6-7) is renewed, viz. by this reproduction of living creatures, but, at the same time, by the removal of every other desolation. The period after the flood furnishes us with the most visible picture of such a renewal, as it exists after every ruinous catastrophe, and in a certain measure each spring. These renewals of the earth furnish a type and a pledge of the renewal of the condition of the church, until the final perfect regeneration, Matthew 19:28.

Verses 31-34

Ver. 32. Let the glory of the Lord be eternal, let the Lord rejoice in his works. Ver. 32. He looks upon the earth, it shakes; he touches the mountains, they smoke. Ver. 33. I will sing to the Lord so long as I live, I will play to my God while I have a being. Ver. 34. May my meditation be acceptable to him, I will rejoice in the Lord.

The “may it be, may he rejoice,” in Psalms 104:31, has at bottom, “it shall be; he shall rejoice,” and hence merely intimates that this being and rejoicing are agreeable to the wishes of the Psalmist: the Lord is and shall be eternally glorified by his works, and shall have cause to rejoice, as it is said he did after creation was finished, Genesis 1:31, to which allusion is here made, “And God saw every thing which he had made, and behold it was very good.” The language does not apply to the acknowledgment of the glory of God, but to the real existence of that glory. The works of God, Psalms 104:13, Psalms 104:24, Psalms 19:1, can only be what had been praised in the preceding verses; and therefore are not animals and men, but everything which he has created for them, and by which he manifests his care over them, the heavens, the sun, the moon, the earth, the fountains, &c. As the nature of God is eternally glorified by these works, so also—this is the concealed back-ground, this the conclusion of faith—shall it be by his work of deliverance.

In Psalms 104:32 we have the basis of the confidence expressed in Psalms 104:31, the omnipotence of God, according to which he can easily prevent every deterioration of the creature from its original condition. Should the earth presume to depart from the course of its destination, a single look of the Almighty is sufficient to bring it back to trembling obedience; should the mountains refuse to render their service, the Lord requires only to touch them, in order to humble them. And if the earth and the mountains cannot frustrate the design which the Lord had in creating them, the world and its kingdoms (comp. on the mountains as symbols of kingdoms, Psalms 68:15) cannot frustrate the purposes of redemption. The mountains smoke,—with fire, the wrath of the Lord which kindles their foundation; Deuteronomy 32:22, Exodus 19:18, “And Sinai smoked wholly because the Lord descended upon it in fire . . . . and the whole mountains shook exceedingly,” (the first clause).

In the second pair of verses in the conclusion, we have as growing out of the eternity of the glory of God in his works, the determination of the Psalmist, and of the church in whose name he speaks, to praise the Lord, and by this praise to conquer “all care, anguish, and pain.” The expression, “in my life,” in Psalms 104:33, is not “my whole life through,” (comp. at Psalms 63:4), but in harmony with the second clause, “so long as have I yet to live, ere death shut my lips for his praise, the night cometh when I can no more praise,” comp. Psalms 6:5, Psalms 88:10, Psalms 115:17-18, Psalms 30:9.—”My meditation shall be acceptable to him,” Psalms 104:34, according to the connection, the parallel and Psalms 105:2, is equivalent to, “I will meditate on his wonders to his pleasure,” “I will bring to him the acceptable offering of my meditation.” I will rejoice in the Lord—he rejoices in his works, Psalms 104:31, and we will rejoice in them because of their glory.

Verse 35

Ver. 35. Sinners shall end from the earth, and the wicked shall no more be. Praise my soul the Lord, Halleluja! The fundamental passage is Numbers 14:35: “the whole company of the wicked who are assembled against me shall come to an end in the wilderness and shall die there.” The fate which in a former age befell the wicked company of the Israelites in the wilderness, shall be repeated upon the heathen company which had assembled against the Lord and his church: this hope the Psalmist entertains from having considered the glory of God in his works. The words, “sinners shall end,” &c., here form the counterpart to “the sons of thy servants shall abide,” &c., at the close of Psalms 102.

Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 104". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-104.html.
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