When was the last time you felt at one with nature? Did that experience give you pause for praise? Why or why not?
Vacation time will soon be here. A time for travel, a time for sightseeing. A time to unwind and appreciate God’s handiwork.
If you do visit a National Park or other natural wonder this summer, consider taking Psalm 104 along for some prayer time. The inspiration of what you see will dovetail with what you pray.
1 Bless YHWH, my soul.
YHWH, my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty.
2 He covers himself with light as with a garment.
He stretches out the heavens like a curtain.
3 He lays the beams of his rooms in the waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot.
He walks on the wings of the wind.
4 He makes his messengers winds;
his servants flames of fire.
World English Bible
Psalm 104 is a declaration of God’s awesome power. It’s beginning (104:1-4) and end (104:31-35) praise God for his powerful revelation. Notice the means of revelation not the content were praised; the “winds as messengers” and “fire as ministers,” the trembling of the earth and the fire on the mountain spoke to the experience on Mt. Sinai when the nation was formed. These demonstrations of power resulted in the Mosaic covenant and the Law. They also reflected the power YHWH had over creation; notice the image of the heavenly court placed over creation (i.e, “upon the waters”), not within the natural order (as the neighbors of Israel did). God used events of nature for his own ends. These were reasons to bless God throughout life.
5 He laid the foundations of the earth,
that it should not be moved forever.
6 You covered it with the deep as with a cloak.
The waters stood above the mountains.
7 At your rebuke they fled.
At the voice of your thunder they hurried away.
8 The mountains rose,
the valleys sank down,
to the place which you had assigned to them.
9 You have set a boundary that they may not pass over;
that they don’t turn again to cover the earth.
10 He sends forth springs into the valleys.
They run among the mountains.
11 They give drink to every animal of the field.
The wild donkeys quench their thirst.
12 The birds of the sky nest by them.
They sing among the branches.
13 He waters the mountains from his rooms.
The earth is filled with the fruit of your works.
14 He causes the grass to grow for the livestock,
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food out of the earth:
15 wine that makes glad the heart of man,
oil to make his face to shine,
and bread that strengthens man’s heart.
16 YHWH 's trees are well watered,
the cedars of Lebanon, which he has planted;
17 where the birds make their nests.
The stork makes its home in the fir trees.
18 The high mountains are for the wild goats.
The rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers.
104:5-18 presented a desert dweller’s notion of creative power. How did the Israelite author know YHWH was God? He controlled the water. After “fixing the earth to its foundations,” God separated and channeled the water with the pronouncement of his Word (the divine “roar” and “thunder” in 104:7); compare this verse with Genesis 1:1 when he separated the waters with his breathe (translated “mighty wind” in some texts). Whether on the mountain or down the creek, in the lake or down the river, in the bay or in the seas, the water would not move without approval from God. YHWH controlled water for the benefit of his creation. Animals would receive refreshment, humanity would enjoy the fruits of water flow. God’s control of water proved he had a place for every creature in nature.
19 He appointed the moon for seasons.
The sun knows when to set.
20 You make darkness, and it is night,
in which all the animals of the forest prowl.
21 The young lions roar after their prey,
and seek their food from God.
22 The sun rises, and they steal away,
and lay down in their dens.
23 Man goes forth to his work,
to his labor until the evening.
For the Israelite, God also controlled light and darkness. In 104:19-23, God controlled the rhythms of day and night, whether it be in the celestial cycles of the moon and the sun, or in the wake and sleeping patterns of the animal kingdom.
24 YHWH, how many are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all.
The earth is full of your riches.
25 There is the sea, great and wide,
in which are innumerable living things,
both small and large animals.
26 There the ships go,
and leviathan, whom you formed to play there.
27 These all wait for you,
that you may give them their food in due season.
28 You give to them; they gather.
You open your hand; they are satisfied with good.
29 You hide your face: they are troubled;
you take away their breath: they die, and return to the dust.
30 You send forth your Spirit: they are created.
You renew the face of the ground.
31 Let the glory of YHWH endure forever.
Let YHWH rejoice in his works.
32 He looks at the earth, and it trembles.
He touches the mountains, and they smoke.
33 I will sing to YHWH as long as I live.
I will sing praise to my God while I have any being.
34 Let your meditation be sweet to him.
I will rejoice in YHWH.
35 Let sinners be consumed out of the earth.
Let the wicked be no more.
Bless YHWH, my soul.
In all, God was to be praised for the order of creation (104:24-26). The author marveled at creation’s fullness; all things had a place to live and move. With God, there was blessing and life; without God, there was not only a lack, but a void (104:27-30). Like 104:7, 104:30 closely paralleled Genesis 1:1. God would sent his Spirit over the earth and renew it. In Christian eyes, this verse made the psalm perfect for the celebration of Pentecost when God sent his Spirit upon the Apostles and began the creation of a new people, the Church.
The power of God is awe-inspiring. As people who live in modern times, we might not be overwhelmed with the notion that God is God because he controls the flow of water or the cycles of light and dark. We can, however, marvel at the power of God in the billions of galaxies he created. Like the Israelite, we might feel small compared to the presence and power of nature that God created. And, like the Israelite, we view our God as a benevolent Creator. He orders all things for his glory and our welfare.
We are to praise God for his power and love.
Take time this week to consider you place in God’s creation. How has God blessed you with the plants and animals that surround you? How has God given you hope in the flow of day and night, or the cycle of seasons?