Psalm 104 is a glorious poem praising God’s marvelous work of creation, and His constant ability to sustain the entire creation.
There is a feeling of joy that pulsates throughout the Psalm. The writer rejoices in the fact that our Creator has supplied all living things with everything they need. Psalm 145:14-15 reminds us that “the Lord upholdeth all that fall, and raiseth up all those who are bowed down. The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season. Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing.”
The first page of Robert Louis Stevenson’s book, A Child’s Garden of Verse, has these lines: “The world is full of a number of things; I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.” These words could be used as an appropriate title for the 104th Psalm.
The early part of Psalm 104 extols God’s glory in creation.
God is the one who created the starry curtain of the skies. Psalm 104:2-3 says, “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.”
Jehovah God is the One who hollowed out the ocean beds and caused the mountains to rise up. Psalm 104:5-9 tells us that He “laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever. Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away . . . [the waters] go down by the valleys unto the place which thou hast founded for them. Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth.”
The earth is made fruitful by its springs of water, and rain is pictured as coming from “the chamber of God.” Psalm 104:10-13 says, “He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills. They give drink to every beast of the field: the wild asses quench their thirst. By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation . . . He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works.”
The earth brings forth food bountifully (verses 14-15). Nature provides dwelling places for the animals and birds (verses 16-18). The alternation between night and day provides a rhythm of life for animals and human beings (verses 19-23). Some animals thrive in darkness (verse 20). Man’s labor is assumed to be done in daylight (verse 23).
The sun rises and becomes a source of light and life for the earth. If it were just a little hotter, it would scorch the globe. If it were a little bit colder, the arctic would march from the poles, and turn the earth into a giant block of ice.
Our lesson from the last twelve verses of Psalm 104 can be divided into three sections: the scope of God’s creation (104:24-26), the dependence of creation on God (104:27-30), and the glory of God’s creation (104:31-35).
1. The Scope of God’s Creation (Psalm 104:24-26)
The variety of God’s works is staggering. As the psalmist sang of the vastness of God’s creation, he broke into praise for God’s great wisdom. He says, in verse 24, “How manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all; the earth is full of thy riches.”
The stunning variety in creation includes the lights in the sky, and the beauties of the earth. It includes the land and the vegetation, the brooks and rivers, the invisible microscopic forms of life, the oceans and the sea creatures, the insects and the birds, the land animals, and the multitude of human beings.
God provides food to sustain all living things; He cares for each one with an amazing attention to detail. The Hebrew writers looked at the world with reverence, because it reflects the glory of the Creator. The point in verse 24 is this: if the number of creatures (and the variety of creation) is so exceedingly great, how immense must be the power and wisdom of Him who formed them all! “O Lord, how manifold are thy works; in wisdom hast thou made them all; the earth is full of thy riches!”
In verse 25, the writer speaks about the “great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great.” The mighty oceans are teeming with many kinds of life. The oceans cover about 71% of the earth’s surface. They help to control the earth’s climate. The oceans provide a means for carrying cargo from one continent to another. The oceans become a major source of food. More than 13,000 kinds of fish live in the seas—from the tiny “goby” (two-thirds of an inch long when full grown), to the huge whale (that reaches more than ninety feet in length).
Seaweed is another source of food, and it contains minerals like iodine, potassium, and a product called “algin” (used to make ice cream). Twenty-five percent of the world’s oil comes from wells dug into the ocean floor, and is retrieved by offshore drilling. The psalmist says that the oceans are teeming with innumerable living things “both small and great” (verse 25). The rich variety of the world’s oceans stands as a testimony to the enormity of God’s wisdom!
Verse 26 speaks of a large marine reptile called “leviathan.” The reference may be to dolphins, whales, crocodiles, or to some large sea creature that is now extinct. Leviathan, a mammoth creature, often understood to be a whale, finds the ocean his proper element. He feeds on the teeming life found in the ocean, and throws his huge bulk out of the water as if in play.
The first part of our lesson (verses 24-26) talks about the scope of God’s creation, including the innumerable creatures of the sea. The earth is full of God’s riches.
2. The Dependence of Creation on God (Psalm 104:27-30)
Every living thing is absolutely dependent on God for life, health, and vigor. The Lord provides sunshine, rain, and oxygen so that living things can continue to exist and thrive.
Verse 27 reminds us that all living organisms depend on God for their food. As He supplies it, they gather it in. He opens His hand and they are abundantly filled. The provision of food occurs at the right times and in the proper seasons.
A little boy from a non-Christian home was having lunch one day with one of my fellow ministers. He said, “Why do you pause for a blessing before you eat?” My preacher friend explained that we thank God for our food because it all comes from Him. The little fellow responded casually; “Oh,” he said, “We get our food from the store.”
Verse 28 assures us that God generously opens His hand to supply the inhabitants of earth with many good things. Clearly this is the work of a concerned heavenly Father—an awesome Creator and a bountiful Sustainer.
In verse 29 the writer describes what life is like when God hides His face. That is, when for a while, God withholds His generous care, life becomes almost nonexistent. For example, when God permits a severe drought, we soon become destitute. Sometimes during a period of dry weather, day after day passes, and the sun beats down on the parched grass and the dusty soil—and occasionally we see a hopeful sign in the late afternoon, but it vanishes before morning and still there is no rain. When the rain finally does come, we know that it is God who gives it. David, in a prayer of thanksgiving, exclaimed, “Thou, O God, didst send a plentiful rain” (Psalm 68:9). There is scarcely anything that illustrates more clearly the unceasing care of God for His people, than refreshing showers of rain (especially after a prolonged dry spell).
The latter part of Psalm 104:29 says that for all living things, the breath of life which God imparts is eventually taken away. And when God removes that breath, we die and “return to dust.” Death is caused by an act of God, and when our time for death arrives, we will die. Even a little sparrow does not fall to the ground without our heavenly Father’s notice (Matthew 10:29). The breath (or spirit) of every living thing depends on God’s Spirit.
In verse 30, the psalmist explains that when death strikes down one generation, a new one is raised up to take its place. When living things die, it is as if God were hiding His face (verse 29), but at the same time that these fall and return to dust, God sends forth His Spirit, and repopulates the earth with what seems like a new and fresh creation.
We see this activity of God every time new plant life comes up in the spring; we see it when tiny animals are born (a little lamb or a young horse); we see it among humans when a little baby is born, prompting our hearts to rejoice. God is active not only in creation, but also in preservation and restoration. Our heavenly Father is constantly sustaining the creation. Verse 30 says, “Thou renewest the face of the earth.”
3. The Glory of God’s Creation (Psalm 104:31-35)
The last section of the 104th Psalm continues the adoration of God’s glory in the creation. We mentioned earlier about the creatures of the sea, “small and great” (verse 25). One blue whale, for example, is longer than three dump trucks, heavier than one hundred mid-sized automobiles, and has a heart the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. Each whale consumes about four tons of food a day (three million calories). Even a baby blue whale drinks about one hundred gallons of milk every 24 hours. When the blue whale comes to the surface, it takes in the largest breath of air of any living thing on the planet.
The psalmist says (in the last clause of verse 31) that the Lord “shall rejoice in his works.” Not only should our hearts be gladdened when we behold the works of God in creation, but God himself delights in exercising so much wisdom and power!
In fact, in verse 32, the writer reminds us that God is so powerful that one glance at the earth causes it to tremble, or to quake in fear. With a mere glance, the Lord God Jehovah can make the earth quake and volcanoes erupt!
The Psalm concludes on a note of thankful joy, like the songs of the birds in the spring time. The heart of the psalmist expresses joy in a song of praise to God. Daily blessings require daily praises. God never ceases to give, and we should never cease to thank Him for all His gifts. Great is His faithfulness and great should be our gratitude.
Verses 33-35 use several expressions to say that surely our Creator God is worthy of all praise. When you think of the countless living things in the sea, the vast hordes of animals and insects, and the more than six billion human beings on earth—and the stupendous task of providing food for all, surely our God is wise and powerful and compassionate, and deserves all the honor we can give Him “as long as we live” (verse 33). Our meditation on Him should be “sweet” (verse 34). God is pleased when people delight in Him and in the works that He has made.
In verse 35 the psalmist longs for the day when the wicked will be removed from the earth, and the curse of sin will be eliminated forever. In this age, we pray that sinners will be converted, but every time we pray the words “Thy kingdom come,” the prayer of the psalmist is included in our petition; for when Jesus comes to reign, He will destroy multitudes who gather themselves against Him (Revelation 19:11-21).
The 104th Psalm is a hymn of praise to God not only for His wonderful works, but also for the way by which He sustains everything that He made. Without His sustaining hand, life would be impossible. And so the Psalm ends in the same way that it starts — “Bless thou the Lord, O my soul” (verse 35b).
The last four words (“Praise ye the Lord”) are (in the Hebrew), “Hallelu-Yah.” This is the first time the word appears in the book of Psalms, but it appears frequently in the remaining psalms. “Hallelujah” simply means “Praise Jehovah God.”
Praise is usually stimulated by awe. If we can explain and reason out the facts we see around us, we are less likely to praise God. When we see or hear something that causes us to exclaim “How can that all be!”—then “praise” is a natural response.
We conclude the lesson on Psalm 104 with some facts about the vastness of the universe which God created.
The distance, for example, from the earth to the sun is 93 million miles. And if you were able to journey to the sun, traveling at the speed of 200 miles an hour (day and night, summer and winter), without stopping, it would take 106 years to make the round trip.
The sun is huge—more than a million times as big as the earth. It is 865,000 miles across at the center. If the earth were as large as the sun, and everything on the earth were as large in proportion—a man six feet tall on earth, on the sun would be one-eighth of a mile high; his arm from shoulder to fingertip would be 260 feet in length; his eyes would be nine feet in diameter, and his nose would be fourteen feet long!
The sun is a huge ball of hot gas. The sun’s great prominences flash 300,000 miles out into space. Think about these questions: How does the sun keep up a temperature of 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit day after day and year after year—producing a heat that blinds and blisters even at 93 million miles? How does it generate its heat? Who keeps shoveling coal into this furnace? Why doesn’t it burn out and cool off?
The poet Addison says, “The unwearied sun from day to day, does his Creator’s power display; and publishes to every land, the work of a great Almighty Hand.”
We remember too that the heavenly bodies are spinning their way through the skies at amazing speeds. Right now, all of us are moving at the dizzy speed of 66,000 mph in our journey around the sun. By this time next year, if the Lord tarries, we will have traveled more than 583 million miles—all without a creak in the machinery, and the ride will have been so smooth that most of us will be totally unaware that we have taken the journey.
The earth circles the sun every 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes and 48 seconds—and this pattern has been so accurate that it has not varied one single second throughout the past one thousand years. Abraham Lincoln used to say, “I can understand how a man can look down at the earth and be an infidel, but I could never understand how a person can look up at the night sky and say ‘There is no God.'”
Truly we must say with the psalmist of old: “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; and his greatness is unsearchable” (Psalm 145:3).
The same God who made the vast universe is the God who is in absolute control of the events in life. The Apostle Peter says (in 1 Peter 5:6-7) that all of us should “humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon him, for he careth for you.” Praise ye the Lord!