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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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Chapter 105
 
 
 
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PSALM 104

GOD'S GREATNESS AS SEEN IN THE CREATION

Taking his information from the book of Genesis, the psalmist here elaborates the greatness of God's works in the first five days of creation, this is the portion of the creation that concerns nature only, as distinguished from mankind.

Who authored the psalm is unknown, as is also the occasion of its being written. Barnes tells us that, "The LXX, the Latin, the Syriac and Arabic versions ascribe it to David, but do not cite any grounds for their doing so."F1 Dummelow concluded that, "It was written by the same author as Ps. 103."F2 However, he did not believe David was the author of either one. We believe that his remark supports the possibility that David was indeed the author of both.

Regarding the occasion, Rosenmuller and Hengstenberg suppose it was written in the times of the exile;F3 and Briggs thought the tone of it reflected the times of the Maccabees.F4 This writer can find nothing whatever in the psalm that definitely indicates either of those occasions; and we find full agreement with Barnes that, "It has nothing that would make it inappropriate at any time, or in any public service."F5

This writer never sees this psalm without remembering the unlearned man who got up to read it at church one Sunday, and being unable to decipher the Roman numerals in the big church Bible, gazed at the title, "Psalm CIV," for a moment, and then said, "We are now going to read `PESSELLAM SIV'"!

The paragraphing we shall follow is that of the five days of creation as spoken of in this psalm.

Ps. 104:1-5

THE FIRST DAY OF CREATION

Bless Jehovah, O my soul.

O Jehovah my God, thou art very great;

Thou art clothed with honor and majesty.

Who covereth thyself with light, as with a garment;

Who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain;

Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters;

Who maketh the clouds his chariot;

Who walketh upon the wings of the wind;

Who maketh winds his messengers;

Flames of fire his ministers;

Who laid the foundations of the earth,

That it should not be moved forever."

The focus of these lines is upon Gen. 1:1-5. The creation of light and the heavens and the earth are mentioned in that passage.


 
Verses 1-5
Bless Jehovah, O my soul. O Jehovah my God, thou art very great; Thou art clothed with honor and majesty: Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment; Who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain; Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters; Who maketh the clouds his chariot; Who walketh upon the wings of the wind; Who maketh winds his messengers; Flames of fire his ministers; Who laid the foundations of the earth, That it should not be moved for ever.
(Psalms 104:2). This is an appropriate line indeed, because the atmospheric heavens are indeed a protective tent or curtain shielding the earth from the destructive debris from outer space. A glance at the moon, which has no atmosphere, shows what the earth would have looked like without that protective mantle of the atmosphere.

The beams of his chambers in the waters
(Psalms 104:3). The `waters' here are those above the firmament, that is, the vaporous waters of the clouds mentioned in the same breath.

His chambers. his chariot ... walketh upon the wings of the wind
(Psalms 104:3). These poetic expressions of God's ubiquitousness and mobility are highly imaginative, but there is no ground whatever for criticizing them.

Who maketh winds his messengers and flames of fire his ministers
(Psalms 104:4). A marginal reading for winds is angels; Heb. 1:7 sheds light on what is meant here. And of the angels he saith, Who maketh his angels winds, and his ministers a flame of fire.

Who laid the foundations of the earth
(Psalms 104:5). It is not merely the creation of the earth but its stability and permanence which are stressed.

THE SECOND DAY OF CREATION

Thou coverest it with the deep as with a vesture;

The waters stood above the mountains.

At thy rebuke they fled;

At the voice of thy thunder they hasted away

(The mountains rose, the valleys sank down)

Unto the place which thou hadst founded for them.

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

That they turn not again to cover the earth."

The division of the waters from the waters, separated by the firmament, is recounted in Gen. 1:6-8


 
Verses 6-9
Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a vesture; The waters stood above the mountains. At thy rebuke they fled; At the voice of thy thunder they hasted away (The mountains rose, the valleys sank down) Unto the place which thou hadst founded for them. Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over; That they turn not again to cover the earth.
(Psalms 104:7). This simply means that the entire planet earth was completely submerged at first, the highest mountains being beneath the waves: This, of course, is exactly the truth. If all of the multiplied trillions of tons of water in its vaporous or gaseous state were suddenly released upon the earth, and if all the millions of cubic miles of the frozen waters of the polar ice-caps were suddenly melted, the entire world would again be completely submerged in the sea.

The highly-imaginative manner in which this information is stated here has a majesty and dignity about it that every man should appreciate. These words are certainly entitled to a better comment than that of Briggs who wrote: "God's thunder frightened the sea to the boundaries which God had assigned to it"!F6

THE THIRD DAY OF CREATION

He sendeth forth springs into the valleys;

They run among the mountains;

They give drink to every beast of the field;

The wild asses quench their thirst.

By them the birds of the heavens have their habitation;

They sing among the branches.

He watereth the mountains from his chambers:

The earth is filled with the fruit of thy works.

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.

And wine that maketh glad the heart of man,

And oil to make his face to shine,

And bread that strengtheneth man's heart.

The trees of Jehovah are filled with moisture,

The cedars of Lebanon which he hath planted;

Where the birds make their nests:

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

The high mountains are for the wild goats;

The rocks are a refuge for the conies."

The Genesis account of this third day of creation is in Gen. 1:9-13. The Genesis account relates the gathering of the waters into one place, the appearance of the dry land, the creation of grass, herbs, fruit-trees and vegetables; but the account here stresses a number of things not mentioned in Genesis.

The thought regards the thoroughness and completeness of God's provisions for all of his creatures upon the earth. We have often mentioned A. Crescy Morrison's book, "Man Does not Stand Alone," which specifically extols the adaptation of our earth to its human inhabitants. This psalm indicates that same perfect adaptation and adequacy of the earth, not merely for mankind, but for all of the creatures God made and placed upon it.

The cycle of earth's waters as they rise from the seas, fall upon the earth, and make their way back to the seas is the device by which the springs and streams of the mountains and valleys of earth provide life-sustaining water for a myriad of earthly creatures. As Dummelow said, "These things need not be analyzed in detail."F7

Briggs translated "fir-tree" (Psalms 104:17) as "cypress," and "conies" (Psalms 104:18) as "marmots."F8 "This animal lives in holes in the rocks, where it makes its nest and conceals its young, and to which it retires at the least alarm."F9

THE FOURTH DAY OF CREATION

He appointed the moon for seasons:

The sun knoweth his going down.

Thou makest darkness, and it is night,

Wherein all the beasts of the forest creep forth.

The young lions roar after their prey,

And seek their food from God.

The sun ariseth, they get them away,

And lay them down in their dens.

Man goeth forth unto his work

And to his labor until the evening."

In Gen. 1:14-19, is found the basis of what is written here. We shall mention one feature of the fourth day which is often overlooked. The sacred text states that, "God set them (the sun, moon and stars) in the firmament of heaven to give light upon the earth" (Genesis 1:17). Also they were thus set in order to produce the seasons. Significantly, it is not here stated that God created the sun, moon, stars and the earth; because that had already been accomplished in the very first day of creation. Then what was it that occurred on the fourth day? We believe that God Almighty moved the earth from some other location and established it in its present orbit around the sun with its axis inclined 23 degrees upon the plane of its orbit. Would such a maneuver indeed have "set the sun, moon and stars" in the earth's firmament? See my comments in Vol. I of my Pentateuchal series of commentaries (Genesis) regarding this "fourth day." Is there a better explanation of what is meant by this? If so, we have not encountered it.

In this discussion of the fourth day, as in the others, it is not the mere fact of creation that is stressed, but the results of what was created.

The day and the night provide dual opportunities. The young lions search for their prey at night and retire to their dens in the daytime. Man, on the other hand works in the daytime and retires to his place at night. God's creation provides the correct environment for all of the creatures God made to live upon earth.

THE FIFTH DAY OF CREATION

O Jehovah, how manifold are thy works!

In wisdom hast thou made them all:

The earth is full of thy riches.

Yonder is the sea, great and wide,

Wherein are things creeping innumerable,

Both small and great beasts.

There go the ships;

There is Leviathan, whom thou hast formed to play therein.

These wait all for thee,

That thou mayest give them their food in due season.

Thou givest unto them, they gather;

Thou openest thy hand, they are satisfied with good.

Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled;

Thou takest away their breath, they die,

And return to the dust.

Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created;

And thou renewest the face of the ground."

This is based upon Gen. 1:2-23; but here again, the psalmist speaks not so much of the actual creation, but of the existence of it in the myriad forms and manifestations of it at the present time.


 
Verses 24-30
O Jehovah, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: The earth is full of thy riches. Yonder is the sea, great and wide, Wherein are things creeping innumerable, Both small and great beasts. There go the ships; There is leviathan, whom thou hast formed to play therein. These wait all for thee, That thou mayest give them their food in due season. Thou givest unto them, they gather; Thou openest thy hand, they are satisfied with good. Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled; Thou takest away their breath, they die, And return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created; And thou renewest the face of the ground.
(Psalms 104:24). The uncounted millions of species in the animate creation include not merely the larger units of the creation, but innumerable beings that are almost infinitely small, not merely insects, and the tiniest creatures of the sea, as mentioned in this paragraph, but the sub-microscopic beings, All of this great host of creatures both great and small that God made are fitted into an ecological system so great and so complicated that no man has ever understood all of it.

There is the utmost diversity in the animate creation. One reference here suggests that Leviathan (the whale) was made to play in the sea, which is exactly what that creature does throughout his whole life. The Zebra with his stripes, the giraffe with his long neck, the elephant with his long nose, the monkey with his long tail, etc. All of these illustrate the unlimited diversity of the animate creation.

Although the inanimate world of flowers, trees, shrubs, grasses, etc., is not mentioned here, that portion of God's creation is truly as wonderful as any of the rest of it.

The big surprise of this psalm is the fact that after detailed attention to the first five days of creation, there comes no mention whatever of the sixth day, and of God's creation of mankind. The apparent purpose of the psalm found such a reference totally unnecessary.

The design is apparently to stimulate men to appreciate God's overruling providence in the marvelous way he has arranged in the world of nature to care for and feed the myriad creatures of the earth. Apparently Jesus had the same purpose in mind when he spoke of the sparrow, declaring that, "Not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father" (Matthew 10:29), "and not one of them is forgotten in the sight of God" (Luke 12:6).

The deductions that Jesus made from such statements are also important. "Are ye not of more value than many sparrows?" "The very hairs of your head are numbered" Is there really anything that the child of God should worry about?

PRAISE AND GLORY TO GOD FOREVER

Let the glory of Jehovah endure forever;

Let Jehovah rejoice in his works:

Who looketh on the earth, and it trembleth;

He toucheth the mountains, and they smoke.

I will sing unto Jehovah as long as I live:

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

Let my meditation be sweet unto him:

I will rejoice in Jehovah.

Let sinners be consumed out of the earth.

And let the wicked be no more,

Bless Jehovah, O my soul.

Praise ye Jehovah."


 
Verses 31-35
Let the glory of Jehovah endure for ever; Let Jehovah rejoice in his works: Who looketh on the earth, and it trembleth; He toucheth the mountains, and they smoke. I will sing unto Jehovah as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have any being. Let thy meditation be sweet unto him: I will rejoice in Jehovah. Let sinners be consumed out of the earth. And let the wicked be no more. Bless Jehovah, O my soul. Praise ye Jehovah.
(Psalms 104:32). These are obvious references to earthquakes and volcanos; and the fact that men have some small scientific understanding of such things does not take away the fact that they are nevertheless God's doings. As a matter of fact, all of the great disturbances of man's peace and prosperity on earth such as earthquakes, volcanos, floods, tornadoes, cyclones, hurricanes, droughts, climatic changes, untimely freezes, etc., etc., are, in all probability, merely the heavenly extension of God's curse upon the earth for Adam's sake (Genesis 3:18-19). God is surely the first cause of all such things, the design of which is clear enough. God simply does not intend that rebellious and sinful men should be able to make themselves too comfortable on earth. Such disasters as those mentioned, and others, are designed to prevent that.

Regarding that primeval curse upon the earth in Gen. 3:18-19, a proper interpretation of the "Trumpets" of Revelation (chapter 8) shows that God is still providentially monitoring the earth and conditions therein as a judgment upon sinful men.

I will sing. I will sing ... I will rejoice ..…
(Psalms 104:33-34). These words carry the pledge of the psalmist of his undying love of Jehovah and of his intention to sing and shout his praises as long as he has life and breath. By implication, it is also his prayer that all who hear his words will join him in so doing.

THE IMPRECATION Let sinners be consumed out of the earth. And let the wicked be no more
(Psalms 104:35). Some love to find fault with an imprecation of this kind; but inasmuch as such a wish is absolutely in harmony with the will of God, being in fact exactly what God has promised to do in the Second Advent, we shall allow it to stand without any comment of our own about how superior the Christian attitude is to such a cruel wish as this.

It is our opinion that Christians should accept into their theology the principle that God totally abhors evil, and that upon the occasion appointed by his own eternal will, he will cast evil out of this universe; and that is exactly what the psalmist prayed for in these lines.


Footnotes for Psalms 104
1: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1987 reprint of the 1878 edition), Vol. III, p. 80.
2: J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 369.
3: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1987 reprint of the 1878 edition), op. cit., p. 81.
4: International Critical Commentary, Vol. II, p. 329.
5: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, a 1987 reprint of the 1878 edition), op. cit., p. 81. <6> International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 329.
7: J. R. Dummelow's Commentary, p. 368.
8: International Critical Commentary, op. cit., p. 335,
9: Ibid.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalm 104". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=ps&chapter=104>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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