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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Psalms 104

 

 

Verses 1-35

Psalm 104

1 Bless the Lord, O my soul.

O Lord my God, thou art very great;

Thou art clothed with honor and majesty:

2 Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment:

Who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain:

3 Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters:

Who maketh the clouds his chariot:

Who walketh upon the wings of the wind:

4 Who maketh his angels spirits;

His ministers a flaming fire.

5 Who laid the foundations of the earth,

That it should not be removed for ever.

6 Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment:

The waters stood above the mountains.

7 At thy rebuke they fled;

At the voice of thy thunder they hasted away.

8 They go by the mountains;

They go down by the valleys

Unto the place which thou hast founded for them.

9 Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over;

That they turn not again to cover the earth.

10 He sendeth the springs into the valleys,

Which run among the hills.

11 They give drink to every beast of the field:

The wild asses quench their thirst.

12 By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation,

Which sing among the branches.

13 He watereth the hills from his chambers:

The earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works.

14 He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle,

And herb for the service of man:

That he may bring forth food out of the earth;

15 And wine that maketh glad the heart of Prayer of Manasseh,

And oil to make his face to shine,

And bread which strengtheneth man’s heart.

16 The trees of the Lord are full of sap;

The cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted;

17 Where the birds make their nests:

As for the stork, the fir trees are her house.

18 The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats;

And the rocks for the conies.

19 He appointed the moon for seasons:

The sun knoweth his going down.

20 Thou makest darkness, and it is night:

Wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth.

21 The young lions roar after their prey,

And seek their meat from God.

22 The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together,

And lay them down in their dens.

23 Man goeth forth unto his work

And to his labour until the evening.

24 O Lord, how manifold are thy works;

In wisdom hast thou made them all:

The earth is full of thy riches.

25 So is this great and wide sea,

Wherein are things creeping innumerable,

Both small and great beasts.

26 There go the ships:

There is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein.

27 These wait all upon thee;

That thou mayest give them their meat in due season.

28 That thou givest them they gather:

Thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good.

29 Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled:

Thou takest away their breath; they die,

And return to their dust.

30 Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created:

And thou renewest the face of the earth.

31 The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever:

The Lord shall rejoice in his works.

32 He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth:

He toucheth the hills, and they smoke.

33 I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live:

I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.

34 My meditation of him shall be sweet:

I will be glad in the Lord.

35 Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth,

And let the wicked be no more.

Bless thou the Lord, O my soul.

Praise ye the Lord.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

Contents and Division. The subject of praise in this psalm is God’s working in the kingdom of nature, as that of the preceding was His working in the kingdom of grace. “The poet celebrates in his song the present continuance of the world ordained by God, having in mind His first creative work recorded in Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:3, and concludes with the desire that evil may be banished from this fair creation, which reveals universally, and in profusion, His power, Wisdom of Solomon, and goodness.” (Delitzsch). It is scarcely to be doubted that the Biblical account of the creation forms in general the guiding thread of this poem. The seven groups, it is true, in which the related thoughts areset forth and placed in their connection, do not correspond exactly to the seven days of the week of creation. But the progress, on the whole, is the same, and the several representations bear a striking resemblance in various expressions. It is impossible to limit this resemblance to the modes of conception presented in the first group, or to explain it as though the writer followed two independent authors, holding to the same tradition, or belonging to the same school, (De Wette). The differences are to be ascribed to the fact that the subject was viewed from different standpoints. There an account is given of the course of creation. Here a hymn is sung to the praise of the Creator and Lord of the world, based upon that account, and having in view the course of the world’s history. But we are not therefore to divide this hymn, so as to refer Psalm 104:6 ff. to the Deluge, and the whole psalm to the Providence of God the heavenly King, who will at last confirm His kingdom in its full power under the Messiah (Venema). Nor is the leading thought to be found in the first verse, and the object of the Psalm, the strengthening of the assurance of the Church that the righteous shall finally triumph over the wicked (Hengst.). The last verse has certainly “the earthy flavor of a special historical situation” (Hitzig), yet with such generality, that no inference can be deduced from it as to the time of composition. There is no trace of a feeling of joyfulness over the restoration of the Second Temple (Ruding, Ven.). The linguistic peculiarities point in the general to a late age. The poetic beauty has always been acknowledged and very frequently praised.

Psalm 104:1-2. Clothed ( Psalm 104:1), as in Job 11:10; Isaiah 51:9; Psalm 93:1. This expression, like the participle which follows in the next verse: veiling [E. V.: who coverest thyself], shows that there is here described, not the eternal glory of God’s being (Jude Psalm 104:25), nor the light that is inaccessible as God’s dwelling ( 1 Timothy 6:16), but the royal splendor and majestic glory that are reflected in the created universe ( Psalm 96:6). The heavens as a tent-curtain stretched out ( Isaiah 40:22; Isaiah 42:5; Isaiah 44:22; Isaiah 54:2), afford the conception of the רָקִיעַ, that Isaiah, hat is extended.

Psalm 104:3. The contradictory expressions, in which it is said that the upper rooms are framed with beams, and that the latter consist, of water, serve at once to show the error of any sensuous conception, and to represent the exaltation and immaterial nature of the heavenly King. [Alexander comments as follows: “The first word means, laying beams or rafters. The next phrase may either mean in or with water. The first is more obvious, the last more striking, as it represents a solid building made of a liquid or a fluid material. In the other case, the waters meant are those of the firmament, see Genesis 1:6-7; Psalm 18:12, where the clouds and the wings of the wind are also mentioned in the same connection.” The rendering in E. V. has not only the advantage of being the “more obvious,” it is also the only one consistent with the poetic taste of the author. Indeed Dr. Moll in his version of the Psalm, renders: “Who frameth His upper room in the waters,” but does not notice this translation in the exposition.—J. F. M.]. There can be no allusion to the custom of erecting chambers upon the flat roofs of dwelling-houses ( Amos 9:6; Jeremiah 22:13), as places of privacy and withdrawing-rooms, for God is not viewed as concealing Himself, but as manifesting His glory.

Psalm 104:4. The double accusative makes the true translation doubtful. According to the common construction we must render: He makes His messengers winds (Köster), and can then put angels in the place of messengers (Sept, Luther, Stier), as in Hebrews 1:7. But as there is no occasion to mention angels as heavenly ministers (Venema), in connection with the forces of nature, we are justified in approving the other construction, which is also admissible. [“Who maketh the winds His messengers,” as Dr Moll has it in his version.—J. F. M.].

Psalm 104:5-8. The Pillars [ Psalm 104:5. E. V.: foundation; see remarks on Psalm 97:2.–J. F. M.] of the earth are frequently mentioned as denoting, not literally, but by a poetic mode of expression, the stability of the earth as suspended freely in space ( Job 26:7). The description which follows shows that the idea of a Chaos was not then entertained (Comp. Buttmann, Mythologus, I. p128). The mountains are as old as the earth, and the waters which originally covered it. According to this declaration in Psalm 104:6, Psalm 104:8 a is to be taken as uttered parenthetically, (Ewald, Hupf, Del.), and not to be connected immediately with Psalm 104:8 b, (Hitzig and others). For though the rendering: the waters rose upon the mountains, sank into the valleys, agrees in sense with Psalm 107:26, (Chald, Hengst.) yet it is incompatible with the statement in Psalm 104:6, that the waters stood above the mountains. So also is the other explanation that the mountains and valleys, through upheavals and sinkings (Umbreit, Maurer, Hitzig), had adjusted themselves to the positions prepared for them by God. [Dr. Moll therefore renders Psalm 104:7-8 :

Before Thy rebuke they fled,

Before Thy voice of thunder they trembled away—

Mountains rose up, valleys sank down—

To the place, which thou didst establish for them.—J. F. M.].

Psalm 104:10-13. We are perhaps to understand by the brooks, the valleys, ravines or wadys in which they flow (Sept. and others), but this is not linguistically certain. The fruit of thy works, Psalm 104:13, is probably the rain, as produced by the clouds (Kimchi and most), or it may refer specially to the chambers which God has built for Himself, according to the translation: fruit of thy labor (Hupfeld). If plants are understood (Del.), then the earth must be used metonymically (Aben Ezra) for the dwellers on the earth, which can hardly be supposed, if we regard the preceding context.

Psalm 104:15. The connection of Psalm 104:15 b with what precedes, by ל with the infinitive, appears to describe a further effect of the wine, that it makes the face shine as with oil. But, apart from the circumstance that it is not the face, but the head which is anointed, we must translate מִן in its comparative construction literally: than oil; and thus oil would be mentioned in a way strange to the context. But oil, together with bread-corn and wine, is one of the chief products of the soil in Palestine, and is employed more than anything else to give flavor and richness to food. Most therefore assume rightly a looser connection of the sentence, as the same thing occurs often throughout the strophe. [Alexander: “And wine gladdens the heart of Prayer of Manasseh,—(so as) to make his face shine more than oil—and bread the heart of man sustains. The text of the English Bible makes oil a distinct item in the catalogue, and oil to make his face to shine. But this is an impossible construction of the Hebrew, in which the infinitive (to make shine) bears the same relation to what goes before as the infinitive (to bring forth) in the verse preceding, and is therefore expressive, not of a distinct cause and effect, but of a consequence resulting from the one just mentioned. The true construction is given in the margin in the English Bible, to make his face shine with oil, or, more than oil. To the first of these alternative translations it may be objected, that wine cannot make men’s faces shine with oil, unless there is allusion to the festive unctions of the ancients, which, however, were restricted to the head. The other therefore seems to be the true sense, in which oil is merely mentioned as a shining substance. The description of food as sustaining the heart is very ancient. See Genesis 18:5; Judges 19:8.”—J. F. M.].

Psalm 104:16-18. It is uncertain whether the expression: trees of Jehovah, Psalm 104:16, is intended to imply that they overtop all others, or that they grow wild as contrasted with those planted by men. The name חֲסִידָה ( Psalm 104:17) is applied to a bird with great wide-spreading wings, ( Zechariah 5:9), which builds its nest upon the lofty cypresses (according to others: firs), which has regular seasons of arriving and migrating ( Jeremiah 8:7), and belongs to the unclean birds ( Leviticus 11:19; Deuteronomy 14:18), and is perhaps mentioned in Job 38:13, along with the pelican. According to the etymology which is assumed, it may mean a bird of a curved neck, or of kind disposition, and is therefore supposed to be either the heron (Sept, Aquila, Symm, Theodotius), or the white dove-falcon (Chald, Kimchi), or the stork (Isaaki and most). יָעִל ( Psalm 104:18) cannot denote the stag (Sept.) nor the gazelle (Schegg),but (according to the etymology: the climber) the wild or the mountain goat ( Job 39:1; 1 Samuel 24:3). שָּׁפָּן that Isaiah, gnawer, is mentioned in Leviticus 11:5, as an unclean ruminant, and in Proverbs 30:26 as a sagacious animal living in flocks in the clefts of the rooks, and in Deuteronomy 14:7 is distinguished from the hare. The coney(Rabbins) is scarcely meant, even if it be true that the Phoenicians gave the name Spain to the Iberian peninsula from the number of these little animals that were found there, still less the rough and spiny hedge-hog (Sept, Vulg.). The leaping-hare or leaping-mouse, (Chald.) has more in its favor. But the rock-badger is most probably meant, which resembles the marmot, and is common on Lebanon and the districts about the Jordan. [The Hyrax Syriacus, See the article Coney in Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible. I cannot find any support for the explanation, gnawer, given above. The root is undoubtedly שּׁפּן, an obsolete form, but cognate in meaning with צפןto hide.—J. F. M.].

Psalm 104:19-26. For time-measuring [E. V.: seasons), literally: for appointed times, or: for sacred seasons ( Genesis 1:14; Leviticus 23:4; Sirach 43:7). Psalm 104:21-23 allude to Job 24:5; Job 37:8; Job 38:40. The riches in Psalm 104:24 are the sum of all that has been brought into being by the creative power of God. ( Genesis 14:19), The word is parallel to works before mentioned, and is therefore in sense=created things, yet this not simply as such, but as including also the accessory idea of divine ownership, by which they are indicated as all belonging to God and subject to His disposal. Hence the translation: property (Luther), which is not quite accurate, but throws light upon the word. The ancient translators also are divided between κτἰσις and κτῆσις. The singular is recommended by all the ancient versions, very many codices, and many good editions, among which are the latest of Heidenheim and Baer.—The leviathan is not the crocodile, as in Job 40, but, according to the etymology, a sea-monster of immense length. בֹּו does not mean in Psalm 104:26 : with it (Isaaki, Ewald, Hitzig), as in Job 40:29, but in it, Psalm 104:20 ( Job 40:20 f.).—The names applied to ships hani and ana in ancient Egyptian, are worthy of note, as compared with the Hebrew אֲנִי

Psalm 104:30. It is not the Holy Spirit that is referred to (Geier, J. H. Mich.), nor the resurrection (the Rabbins), nor the future renovation of the universe (Stier), nor the type and security of a perpetual renewing and finally perfect regeneration of the Church (Hengst.). It is the breath of God that is spoken of, which is the breath of life to all creatures ( Genesis 2:7; Genesis 3:19; Job 33:4; Job 34:14 : Ecclesiastes 12:7; Psalm 144:4). It is for the same reason that Jehovah is called the God of the spirits of all flesh ( Numbers 16:22; Numbers 27:16; Hebrews 12:9). The perpetual renewing of created life in the mutations of time and races is alluded to.

Psalm 104:35. Hallelujah. A cry of devotion found only in the Psalter, really consisting of two words (praise Jehovah) which, however, occur only in Psalm 135:3, and are designated unicum by the Masora. The usual mode of writing according to the Masora (comp. Baer, Psalterium, p132) is הַלְּלוּיָהּ, but in the passage before us, where it occurs for the first time, the final letter s written not הּ but ח, that Isaiah, instead of the sign Mappik there is Raphe. Even in the Talmud the learned dispute whether the two words should be united or separated. If they are to be united, we must suppose the final syllable to have been considered not as a real name of God, but as an addition for the purpose of giving emphasis to the call for praise (Geiger, Urschrift, p275). [Comp. a similar instance in Psalm 118:5. Delitzsch cites an observation in the Talmud, that this first hallelujah is coupled significantly with the prospect of the destruction of the wicked.—J. F. M.].

DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL

1. The wonders which are exhibited to us in the heavens, and upon earth, and among our race, are all the work of God, and are, on the one hand, to serve as a manifestation of His glory, and on the other, to be the occasion of our admiring gratitude, adoring praise, and of the believing and obedient surrender of ourselves to Him. For the whole creation is formed to be a mirror of His glory, and all creatures are the objects of His care and witnesses to His power, Wisdom of Solomon, and goodness. But man is the only one of them all who can gain a knowledge of this, and give to God the glory which such knowledge demands.

2. What God has created He will also preserve. And therefore does He daily and richly provide for all creatures, and give to them according to their nature and needs, as long as they continue to exist by His will, and by the power of His creative breath. They all enjoy their existence, perform their different parts, and act as it was intended they should. But man alone, among all creatures, in distinction from the involuntary instruments of the Almighty, has a real daily work. He has a definite part to play in life, and can recognize it. And in undertaking it, he becomes a servant of God, does what he should do, and finds enjoyment in God, His works, and His service, and thus gives to his life in time an eternal significance.

3. The order of nature, the gradation of created being, the whole contents of the created universe, afford to men much to meditate upon and to be grateful for. And when they recognize in them God’s working and His disposing power, they are taught by the contemplation of His works many things which lead them beyond the sphere of the visible and sensible to another world. But even the light, by which the dividing of the elements began, and through which we are enabled to become acquainted with and understand the creation, is only the royal mantle of the Divine glory, the shining garment by which we come to know the Invisible, but which veils the Eternal from the eyes of mortals.

4. If any one has a sincere and lively joy in God’s works and, still more, in God Himself, he will also keep near his heart the thought that God can always take delight in the world which He has formed, as He took delight in its creation. But this feeling is disturbed by the reflection that everything in the world is not in accordance with God’s will and to His satisfaction. This justifies the wish that the wicked may disappear. For they not only interfere with the joy and work of God and His servants, but also contradict the design of the creation, and imperil the duration of the order of the world.

HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL

The glory of God in the vastness, beauty, and order of His works.—For the light, through which God makes Himself known, there is needed an eye to observe and a mind to interpret it.—All things must be disposed according to God’s will, but man must be a willing servant of the Highest, as he is the crown of creation.—As we live and continue in being only by the breath and will of God, so must we also work for Him and for His cause, and take delight in Him and His works.—God does not merely preserve the world which He has created: He governs it also, and therefore the wicked cannot endure before Him.—We are permitted to delight ourselves in the works of God, and enjoy His gifts, but only so that both should be well-pleasing to Him.—If we are at the head of the orders of created beings, we should also take the lead in God’s service.—The earth is full of the goodness and possessions of the Lord; it is our part to thank Him for this, and to use according to His will what He has bestowed.

Starke: It is to be lamented that the book of Nature is so little read and still less understood.—When faith lives and glows in the heart, nothing but praise to God flows from it.—To praise God for His own sake, because He is such a great and glorious God, is surely something greater than to praise Him only because of the benefits which He has conferred upon us.—The real pillar and foundation on which the world stands is the Omnipotence of God.—If God preserves that which is great, can and will He not also preserve thee, O thou of little faith?—If the earth stands by the almighty word of God without visible support ( Hebrews 1:3), why should my faith demand visible pillars for its foundation? Why should it not ground itself surely upon the gracious word of truth?—The depth of the waters may well suggest to us the depth of our sins, and the great depth also of God’s compassion.—He who can place bounds to the raging sea, can still also all the waters and waves of affliction, yes, even check the burning sea of hell.—If meat and drink daily renew the vigor of thy life, let them also strengthen thee in the resolution to live to the glory of the Lord.—The wisdom and goodness of God are His comforting attributes, of which all creatures preach to men for the confirmation of their faith.—If the transitory earth is so full of the good things of God, what will we have when we come to the land of the living?—Fish, great and small, sport and play in their element, but as soon as they are brought out of it, they languish and die. Mark, O soul! what thy element Isaiah, if thou wouldst live joyful and blessed.—Creatures devoid of reason do not know who feeds them, but God knows their wants and their desires, and gives to them richly.—The chief design of the world’s creation was the glory of God. Let this be our highest aim in all our actions.—If God takes pleasure in His works, beware lest thou misuse any of His creatures for the purposes of sin against Him; and as thou art His noblest creature, aspire to be not displeasing to Him, but well-pleasing in Christ.—The desires and thoughts of all believers should ever be directed to the lessening of the number of the ungodly and to their conversion.

Menzel: We can give to God nothing but adoration and praise, that He may have the glory. For all we have is His before He gives it.—Renschel: God has created it by His power, His wisdom has assigned its order, His goodness has in it remembered us. Blessed is he who lays that to heart, who ascribes praise and glory to God.—Arndt: God acts like a wise father who calls his child to himself. He does not rest with calling us to Himself with such kind and gracious words as the prophets and apostles speak to us. He gives, yea, showers down upon us many good gifts in nature.—Tholuck: Food can come to all creatures from no other hand than that from which came their life.—Diedrich: He who has created all these things for us, and upholds them so mightily day by day, must have something good besides in store for us. He will give us yet to praise and adore Him without sin and with an overflowing heart.—Taube: The greatness of the Creator and Preserver of the world, in the manifestation of His omnipotence, Wisdom of Solomon, and goodness, in the greatest as well as in the least of His works, must be joyfully celebrated by human tongues that are formed for His praise, though a sigh must be uttered over the false notes of sin, which disturb the harmony of the order of creation.

[Matt. Henry: The roaring of the young lions, like the cry of the ravens is interpreted. Doth God put this construction upon the language of mere nature, and shall He not much more interpret favorably the language of grace in His own people, though it be weak and broken groaning which cannot be uttered?—There is the work of every day, which is to be done in its day, which man must apply to every morning; for the lights are set up for us to work by and not to play by; and which he must stick to till evening; it will be time enough to rest when the night comes, when no man can work.

Bishop Horne: Let the unruly and disobedient reflect upon the terrors of His power and the terrors of His vengeance, who with a look can shake the earth, and with a touch can fire the mountains, as when He once descended upon Sinai.

Scott: The less we can comprehend the manner in which the Creator retains the earth in its course and the seasons in their order, the more we should admire and adore His power, Wisdom of Solomon, and goodness.

Hengstenberg: In consequence of the numerous works of God which are made according to the necessities of His various creatures, the earth is full of the good things by which He supports them. How should Zion alone starve in the midst of these riches of her God?—J. F. M.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 104:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/psalms-104.html. 1857-84.

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