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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 104

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


This “great hymn of creation,” as it has been aptly called, is an expansion of the first chapter of Genesis for practical and devotional ends. Like all Hebrew conceptions of nature, it makes no account of secondary laws, but brings the Creator directly before the mind as acting upon matter and organism, and bringing forth the varied purposes of his wisdom and goodness. There is no exact order of the “six days’ work” observed, but, viewing the works of creation as finished, the psalmist celebrates the wonderful providence of God as in continual manifestation throughout the vast realms of being. The psalm is exceedingly rich in fact and imagery, and variety and naturalness of scenery. Some parts seem almost an anticipation of modern geology, (as Psalms 104:6-9,) at the date of the latter part of the drift period, (which synchronizes with the historic date of the first chapter of Genesis,) and Psalms 104:29-30, of the order and succession of organic life upon our globe. The object of the psalm, as indicated in the first and closing verses, is to inspire praise and reverence to God, who is not only Creator, but the supreme, wise, and beneficent Ruler, and who, through nature, touches us at every point of our being. The last verse is an inference that a just, moral government, also, is over men. The substantial agreement of the first and last verses of this psalm with those of Psalms 103:0, together with the fact that in several manuscripts they are written as one, has led some to suppose it was a continuation of the latter, to which it forms a counterpart this treating of God’s works and sovereignty in nature, that in grace. The Hebrew gives no author or title, but the Greek Version assigns it “to David,” τω Δαυιδ .

Verse 1

1. Compare first clause with Psalms 104:35, and Psalms 103:1; Psalms 103:22.

Thou art very great It is fit to open an ode on creation and providence with an address to their ever blessed Author, and in these ascriptions of honour and majesty the poet not only strikes at once into the sublimest part of his theme, (as Psalms 104:31-32,) but shows an example of reverence and piety.

Verse 2

2. Who coverest thyself with light The text simply roads, “Who coverest with light,” there being nothing answering to “thyself” except the masculine form of the participle, while the object of the verb is left to be suggested by the connexion. Exley ( Commentary on Genesis) understands it of covering, or overspreading, the earth with “light,” being the first day’s work. Genesis 1:3-5. This gives a good sense, and certainly the psalmist already begins, in the second member of this verse, to speak of the acts of God in the six days’ work.

Stretchest out the heavens An allusion to the second day’s work, “Let there be a firmament,” etc.

Genesis 1:6-7. The action of this day’s work was upon the atmosphere, adapting it in a higher degree, as the pabulum of life, to plants and animals, and especially to the higher uses of man. The disordered state of the atmosphere prior to this was a prominent feature of the Hebrew cosmogony. In Job 38:9, the “cloud” and “thick darkness,” or the darkness of thick clouds, ( ערפל ,) is represented as “swaddling” the abyss. But the air now becomes pellucid, elastic, and animating.

Like a curtain The word means a hanging, or covering, of a flexible and tremulous substance, like a tent cloth, sometimes, the tent itself. Thus the sky, or expanse, seemed spread out like a tent covering. The present participial form of the verbs ( art covering, art stretching out, or spreading) teaches a present connexion of God with his universe, as if the acts of creation were still perpetuated in an all sustaining providence.

Verse 3

3. Layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters The idea of a celestial reservoir, or ocean, whether as a poetic image or a fact, is alluded to, grounded on Genesis 1:6-7. The region of the rain clouds is intended. See on Psalms 104:2. The figure is taken from architecture. To lay “the beams” is to frame them solidly together. Nehemiah 3:3; Nehemiah 3:6, “Chambers,” here, do not mean the supreme heavens, the blissful abode of God, but literally the upper rooms, (so Septuagint and Jerome,) that is, the upper regions of the atmosphere in general. The “beams” of these “chambers” seemed to rest upon the region of the rain clouds. From these same “chambers” God waters the hills. Psalms 104:13. Here, upon the clouds, he builds his superior, though not his supreme, apartments. From these regions proceed the more sensible tokens of God, as rain, hail, snow, lightning, and thunder; and they were looked upon with awe as the temporary abode of God, an idea which a tropical thunderstorm is well suited to suggest. See Psalms 18:11.

The clouds his chariot The figure is changed, but fixes the location of the “chambers,” just noticed, and of the “heavens,” Psalms 104:2. See Isaiah 19:1. And thus when God would send rain, he is said to “bow the heavens” (clouds) and come down; a beautiful expression of a fact in nature. Psalms 18:9.

Wings of the wind See Psalms 18:10. The allusion in this verse, also, is to the work of the second day.

Verse 4

4. His angels spirits Some have reversed the order of the Hebrew words, and translated, “Who maketh the winds his messengers, and the flaming fire his ministers;” but the apostle (Hebrews 1:7) has decided the meaning, making “angels,” here, not a term of office but an order of celestial beings, so that the authorized English version is to be retained. A comparison is here, undoubtedly, to be understood, though the usual Hebrew particle is omitted by ellipsis. The sense would then be, “He maketh his angels as winds, and his messengers as lightning” two of the most powerful, subtle, and swift-moving forces known to the Hebrews, as emanating from the “chambers” where the God of nature, while operating upon nature, is supposed to have his seat. Psalms 104:3; Psalms 104:13. On flaming fire, ( lightnings,) see Psalms 78:48; Psalms 105:32

Verse 5

5. Laid the foundations of the earth Literally, founded the earth upon its foundations, a poetical figure for a firm placing of the “earth” in its proper sphere. See Psalms 119:89-91. Compare Job 26:7; Job 38:4; Job 38:6. Its place is fixed by an almighty fiat, not by chance, or evolutionary laws.

For ever Literally, for ever and ever.

Verse 6

6. Thou coveredst it with the deep The word “deep,” תהום , ( tehom,) means, agitated “deep,” “mass of raging waters,” flood. So Psalms 42:7. Compare Job 38:8, “Who shut up the sea… when it brake forth?” or, after it had broken forth. The language suits an unwonted, lawless condition of the waters of the ocean, answering to the geological theory of the drift period, immediately preceding the human or historic era. This description of the state of the earth prior to the first day’s work assumes the existence of land and water, and is against the notion of a chaos, the rudis indigestaque moles of Ovid. ( Metem., lib. 1:10.)

Mountains The existence of these before the “six days” of Moses is another important coincidence with modern science, and a total refutation of the heathen theory of a chaos, adopted by the old commentators.

Verse 7

7. At thy rebuke they fled There is a harshness in the words “rebuke,” voice of thy thunder, and in the terror implied in the terms “fled,” hasted away, as if they deemed that God was displeased at them, because, says Hengstenberg, “God is the enemy of disorder, and because the waters stood in an attitude of hostility to the realization of his purpose to manifest his glory on the earth.” This also favours the hypothesis that the condition of the earth’s surface was that of disorder and desolation, by reason of the undue prevalence of the waters of the ocean, which now give way to the present order of things. See the original fiat, Genesis 1:9, and Compare Psalms 106:9; Nahum 1:4; Psalms 18:15; Isaiah 50:2

Verse 8

8. Up by the mountains… down by the valleys A reference to the subsidence of the waters to the present bed of the ocean.

Unto the place which thou hast founded for them This shows that the deep cavity of the ocean, being a sunken area, “varying in depth from 1,000 feet or less, to probably 50,000 feet,” was not left to the blind operation of natural causes, but was a matter of divine forethought and design.

Verse 9

9. Thou hast set a bound This impassable boundary of the ocean was a perpetual wonder to the Hebrew mind as a mark of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; (Job 26:10; Job 38:10-11; Jeremiah 5:22;) and fitly so, for the area of the ocean, as compared with the dry land, is as eight to three, and the security of the dry land, with its inhabitants, is wholly due to the depression of the ocean bed and the corresponding elevation of the land above the ocean level. This elevation of the continents above the sea is estimated to average one thousand feet. If all the dry land above the present ocean level were cast into the ocean it would raise the water only about three hundred and seventy-five feet, and “it would take forty times this amount to fill the oceanic depressions.” Dana. How wonderfully, then, has God “shut up the sea,” and said, “Hitherto shall thou come, but no further.” Job 38:8; Job 38:11. The slow and local changes of the lines of sea shore, of which geology takes notice, is no contradiction of the text, for it is of the passing its boundary to again cover the earth that the text speaks.

That they turn not again to cover the earth This language supposes that the recent prevalence of the ocean was lawless, not its proper state not consistent with the ultimate designs of the Creator in regard to animal and vegetable life. This is the bearing of Psalms 104:7-9, and is a remarkable coincidence with geological statements. If ever geology shall reach a demonstration of the causes which have produced the phenomena of the post-tertiary formations, particularly of the drift and erratic block period, these verses, together with passages from the book of Job and the first chapter of Genesis, may receive a clearer explanation than can now be given. Where Scripture refers to objects or phenomena of nature, or of archaeology, the things themselves must be understood before the language can be fully interpreted. We wait the demonstrations of science.

Verse 10

10. He sendeth the springs into the valleys The poet here suspends his direct notice of the “six days’ work,” to speak of the works of providence.

After the ocean, it is fit that he should speak of springs in the mountains and hills, for these proceed from the ocean through evaporation and the containing and carrying power of the atmosphere. Of this hydraulic system of nature the Hebrews had knowledge. Ecclesiastes 1:7; Genesis 2:6; Amos 9:6. נהלים , ( nehaleem,) generally means rivers, but sometimes wadys, or valleys. It may here take either sense. “He sendeth,” refers the origin and uses of springs and fountains directly to the act of God, who “sendeth” the waters of the ocean to the elevated lands of the continents to create fountains, which he causeth to flow down and irrigate the valleys, or to empty into the larger streams.

Verse 11

11. Beast of the field A term for land animals in general.

Wild asses Here mentioned, perhaps, as specimens of animals inhabiting parched deserts, familiar with suffering from thirst, and hence extreme examples of divine care. For their habits, see Job 39:5-8; Isaiah 32:14

Verse 12

12. By them Literally, Above, or over, “them;” that is, over the banks of these streams, by which trees are nourished, the birds have their habitation, and give forth their voices.

Fowls of the heaven The phrase is opposed to “beasts of the earth.” Genesis 1:24; Genesis 1:26

Verse 13

13. Watereth the hills from his chambers See on Psalms 104:3; Psalms 104:10.

The earth is satisfied The earth being, literally, watered from his “chambers,” “is satisfied,” being stimulated to its highest power of productivity, (Psalms 65:8-13; Jeremiah 14:22,) and thus, also, the earth, metonymically, that is, its inhabitants, as animals and plants, all things of the earth which have life are supplied to satiety. So Psalms 104:14, and Psalms 145:16.

Fruit of thy works The context would require us to understand, by this, the result of God’s wise arrangements and adaptations in universal nature.

Verse 14

14. Grass… for the cattle… herb for… man From the more general providence of nature, (Psalms 104:10-13,) the poet now enters more particularly upon the provisions for animals and man. “Grass for the cattle,” improperly translated hay, (Proverbs 27:25; Isaiah 15:6,) and rendered leek in the English version of Numbers 11:5, probably from the radical idea of greenness, sufficiently defines itself. (Job 40:15.) But more probably the Egyptian clover ( helbeh) is intended, which, in its first and tender shoots, is universally eaten in Egypt as a salad, and, at a later stage, fed to the cattle. The “herb for the service,” or use “of man,” comprehends not only vegetables, but all breadstuffs and edibles. See Genesis 1:29; Genesis 3:18; Genesis 9:3.

That he may bring forth Whether the verb be construed as the act of man in tilling, or, more properly, of God in causing to grow, the idea conveyed is, the standing miracle by which man’s food comes “out of the earth.” See Job 28:5. The inorganic earthly particles are first manipulated into vegetable tissue and organism, and this into animal.

Verse 15

15. And wine that maketh glad the heart of man The “wine,” here, יין , ( yayin,) is the same as was offered to God in the daily sacrifice, (Exodus 29:40-41,) the offering of first fruits, (Leviticus 23:13,) and on other occasions. Numbers 15:5; Numbers 15:7; Numbers 15:10. it was the same, also, as is mentioned 1 Samuel 25:37; 2 Samuel 13:28; Proverbs 23:20; Proverbs 23:30-31; Isaiah 5:11-12; Isaiah 5:22; Isaiah 28:1; Isaiah 28:7; Hosea 6:5, etc. The mention of “wine,” oil, and bread in the same connexion, the characteristic products of the country, (Deuteronomy 12:17; Jeremiah 31:12,) would indicate a blessing in some form, but the predicate, “maketh glad,” or merry, “the heart,” carries with it a significant admonition as to wine. See Ecclesiastes 10:19. The Hebrew of the text simply says, Wine will make the heart of man merry, stating it merely as a fact, without either approving or condemning its use. But the making “glad the heart of man,” may be affirmed of unfermented wine not less than fermented.

Verse 16

16. Trees of the Lord That is, Great trees, such as, in the vegetable kingdom, proclaim the greatness of the Lord, as the cedars of Lebanon. To the same effect, “Trees… which the Lord hath planted:” Numbers 24:6

Verse 17

17. Birds make their nests For which, as a subordinate reason, the “trees” (Psalms 104:16) were prepared.

Stork A large, wide-winged, (Zechariah 5:9,) migratory bird, of high flight, and noted for its

affection toward its young, its family life, and its sagacity in observing its time of passage. Jeremiah 8:7.

Fir trees Probably the Aleppo pine. “This tree fulfils all the conditions which a stork would require in nest building. It is lofty, and its boughs are sufficiently horizontal to form a platform for the nest, and strong enough to sustain it.” Wood.

Verse 18

18. Wild goats The name occurs but twice more in Scripture, (1 Samuel 24:2, Job 39:1,) and applies to the ibex, or steinbok, a species of wild goat well known in Europe; also in Arabia and the East. Its Hebrew name is derived from a word which signifies to climb, and is given for its marvellous surefootedness in the mountainous regions which it inhabits.

Conies The שׁפנים , ( shephanim,) are

not rabbits, but the Syrian hyrax. Rabbits are not found in Palestine, but the hyrax is an animal a little larger than the rabbit; having its habitation in the rocks. It was classed with the unclean animals. Leviticus 11:5; Deuteronomy 14:7. The text denotes its habit of burrowing in the rocks; and its exceeding coyness and sagacity are mentioned Proverbs 30:26

Verse 19

19. The psalmist passes to the fourth day’s work. Genesis 1:14.

The moon for seasons The day was determined by the apparent revolutions of the sun, the week, by the return of the sabbath, (Genesis 2:2; Exodus 20:11,) but the year, which was a division of time first suggested by summer and winter, and the regular returning fruits of the earth, was early reckoned by lunar months. The word “signs,” (Genesis 1:14,) is not to be understood of portents, but of division marks of time.

Sun knoweth his going down The time and place, as if he were endowed with knowledge. See Job 38:12. The allusion is to the exactness of the apparent motion of the sun, or the diurnal revolution of the earth. But this is only as a drop to the ocean compared with all the motions of the heavenly bodies and systems of worlds. So perfect are the works of God!

Verse 20

20. Night To Psalms 104:23 he restricts his note of time to day and night.

Creep Here used for the stealthy movement of beasts of prey.

Verse 21

21. Young lions The word denotes one in the vigour of life, as distinguished from the “old lion” which “perishes for lack of prey.” Job 4:11.

Roar Thus startling and bewildering their prey.

Seek their meat from God That is, in seeking their meat conformably to the laws of the nature which God gave them, they seem to ask him for food. Job 38:41

Verse 22

22. The sun ariseth The signal for the wild beasts to retire, and for man to go forth.

Verse 23

23. Goeth forth These words are more significant in the East than with us. There the universal custom of city or village life left, and still leaves, their fields often far from home. “The people of Ibel and Khiem, in Merj ‘ Aiyun, for example, have their best grain growing fields down in the ‘Ard Huleh, six or eight miles from their homes.” Thomson. The country referred to is in the plain north of Lake Merom. The dignity of man above the noblest of the wild beasts is here preserved. They seek their food by night, he by day; they “creep forth,” he “goeth forth;” they for prey, he “unto his work and to his labour.”

Verse 24

24. In wisdom hast thou made them all And he that fails to see and confess it has his character given Psalms 14:1

Verse 25

25. This great and wide sea “The words,” says Delitzsch, “properly signify that sea, yonder sea.” In speaking of it the psalmist advances to the fifth day’s work, (Genesis 1:20-22,) and views it as a world of living creatures, and as a path of commerce.

Creeping Moving or gliding.

Beasts Living creatures.

Verse 26

26. There go the ships The Phoenicians, with whom the Hebrews were well acquainted at this time, were the masters of commerce throughout the world.

Leviathan The whale, or sea monster. See on Psalms 74:14.

To play To sport; an indication of the ease and happiness of the inhabitants of the great deep. Applied also to land animals, Job 40:20. The whale is said to have inhabited the Mediterranean in primitive times; but the word applies to any monster of the waters.

Verse 27

27. These wait all upon thee Here is the moral of all these beautiful allusions to living creatures. God feeds them. They wait on God as if their eyes were fixed on him in expectation of being fed, as the Hebrew denotes. See Job 38:41; Psalms 145:15; Psalms 147:9.

In due season Literally, In his time. The idea is that they, having no stores laid up, but seeking food only when impelled by hunger, are yet so supplied with means of sustentation, and endowed with instincts and prehensive appliances for discovering and securing their appropriate food, that to the eye of reason they discover and declare the wisdom and beneficence of the Creator, in thus providing for them. Compare Matthew 6:26

Verse 29

29. Thou takest away their breath Compare Job 34:14; Psalms 146:4. Death is by a natural law of the Creator, by which he taketh back, or gathers to himself, as the word means, the “breath” which he gave.

Verse 30

30. Thou sendest forth thy spirit The Hebrew word rendered “spirit” is the same as “breath” in the preceding verse. The allusion is to Genesis 1:2, where the Spirit of God appears as the forming and quickening energy. See, also, Genesis 2:7; Job 33:4. But these apply pre-eminently to man.

Renewest… face of the earth The force of the language in Psalms 104:29-30, would more fitly describe the succession of species than the generation and succession of individuals of a species, and every geologist will feel the force of the description thus applied. It is not by evolution of species, but by succession of species, that God develops his progressive plan.

Verse 31

31. The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever This is proposed as the end of all his works, (Psalms 104:2; Psalms 104:24,) and the moral of this graphic and beautiful review. The second member of the verse is of the same import.

The Lord shall rejoice in his works With him is no great, no small. All alike come before him for special notice and care, and the beneficent ends and wise methods which characterize all his acts meet his ineffable complacence. “For his pleasure (that which he delights in) they are and were created.” Revelation 4:11. Sin only has disturbed this “sublime order,” and called forth his displeasure; and the millennium of the universe shall be realized when, by redemption, the harmony is restored. Then “all thy works shall praise thee, O Jehovah, and thy saints shall bless thee.” Psalms 145:10

Verse 34

34. I will be glad in the Lord The original of the word rendered “glad” is the same as that translated “rejoice,” in Psalms 104:31. The one the joy of the Creator in his works, the other that of the creature in the Creator. “Between these two there exists a reciprocal relation, as between the sabbath of the creature in God and the sabbath of God in the creature.” Delitzsch.

Verse 35

35. Let the sinners be consumed Or, The sinners shall be consumed. These are not only the enemies of God, but of mankind. They are at war with the harmony of nature and well being of society, by opposing the purposes of God. Sin exists only in personal actors, and to pray against sin is to pray against the sinner only as such.

Praise ye the Lord Hebrew, Hallelujah. This is the first occurrence of this word in the Bible, and it is noticeable that it follows from a true insight into the works of God, the triumph of Jehovah, the downfall of the wicked, and the harmony of God and man. See Exodus 15:1; Revelation 19:1-8. In this psalm we have an example of a pious soul made exultant with holy joy and praise st the contemplation of the economy of God in nature, and the true relation of the Creator to all his works. Let it rebuke the selfishness of that religion which rejoices only in blessings personally received and enjoyed, without lively sympathy with God in all living things. “The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein.” Psalms 111:2.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 104". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/psalms-104.html. 1874-1909.
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