By Sam E. Stone
During the next two months we will study highlights from the book of Genesis. Today’s lesson provides a helpful introduction to the creation account (Genesis 1). It leads the reader to praise God for his unimaginable greatness and goodness, shown when he made the world. The psalm has been described as “a poetical commentary upon the first chapter of Genesis.” It ranks with Job 38, 39, Psalm 8, 19, 29, and Habakkuk 3.
This beautiful hymn praises God for the wonders of creation. The content parallels the creation account in Genesis 1. Some Bible students see an allusion to God’s work on each successive day in Psalm 104: first day (vv. 2-5), second (vv. 6-9), third (vv. 10-18), fourth (vv. 19-23), fifth (vv. 24-30).
The psalm begins and ends by acknowledging the power and goodness of the Creator. This is no tribute to “Mother Nature,” but to God who made everything that exists. James E. Smith declares, “No more beautiful ode to creation has ever been written. The writer of this psalm is anonymous, but it is probably David. The psalm pairs beautifully with the previous one. Here the stress is laid on the testimony of creation to the greatness of Yahweh.”
The psalm begins and ends with the challenge, “Praise the Lord, O my soul” (compare Psalm 103). The psalmist says God wraps himself in light. He stretches out the heavens like a tent. When creating the earth, God set it on its foundations. This illustration compares the earth to a solid, secure building (see Job 38:4). God, of course, did not need to use a literal foundation. He is the Master Builder (Genesis 1:2). As easily as a man might put up a tent, so God created the heavens. From them, he gives rain to the earth (Psalm 33:7). The clouds are his chariot, the winds his messengers, the flames of fire his servants. The Lord needed but to say the word and the water took to flight. He is in absolute control of everything that has been made. Even water must respect the boundaries God has set (compare Genesis 9:11-15).
The psalmist moves from God’s creating power to his sustaining power (vv. 10-23). This final portion of today’s printed text calls on everyone to recognize and honor God for what he has done and is doing throughout the world. The psalmist points out that, in wisdom, God made everything that exists. “By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; by his knowledge the deeps were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew” (Proverbs 3:19, 20). Interestingly, all life in the universe—human, animal, bird, or aquatic—is covered both by the Lord’s knowledge and his control. Jesus himself alluded to this fact while on earth (Matthew 10:23).
When speaking of creatures of the sea, the psalmist mentions
Leviathan. This creature is mentioned more than once in Scripture (see Job 41; Isaiah 27:1) but is not easily identified. Some Bible scholars believe Leviathan is a crocodile, while others identify it with some type of serpent (see Psalm 74:14). The obvious lesson is to see that this fearsome monster (Job 3:8) is “merely God’s harmless pet playing in the ocean” (John H. Stek).
All of the creatures in the world depend on God for their food (Psalm 104:27). The same God provides every good and perfect gift to mankind as well (James 1:17). He is the source of all blessings for all of his creation. H. C. Leupold writes, “The world over living creatures are continually looking to heaven for food . . . In a measure that surpasses our comprehension God gives them what they need. Luther once remarked that the Lord must have a large kitchen.”
The Lord holds the power of life and death in his hand. He is the all-powerful Creator and Sustainer of life for humans and animals alike. When God recalls the breath of life from a creature, that creature will die. His Spirit is sent forth, however, to replenish the earth with new life. Let all of his creation praise God!
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.