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Deeper Commentary


Psa 104:1

Bless Yahweh, my soul. Yahweh, my God, You are very great. You are clothed with honour and majesty-
This translation misses the fact that the Hebrew here is full of verbs and not adjectives; the reference is to a series of actions, rather than a state. Yahweh is seen as having done something which makes Him very great, creating majesty and honour for Himself through an action. It could be that the psalmist has in view the envisaged restoration of God's Kingdom on earth at the time of the restoration; which would explain the references in some verses to a time of present oppression at the hands of the Gentiles. The psalmist looks ahead to this day as if it has happened. This didn't happen then as planned, but has been rescheduled and reapplied to the last day.

Psa 104:2

He covers Himself with light as with a garment, He stretches out the heavens like a curtain-
"The heavens" at times refer to the temple or sanctuary, which perhaps is why the idea of a curtain is used, recalling the various curtains of the tabernacle. The reference may be to the hope that God would reestablish the sanctuary, and appear clothed as it were in the light of the shekinah glory over the ark. This idea of God as a figure shrouded in light is used by Ezekiel in describing the visions of cherubic glory. That cherubic system, with the form of a Divine "man" above them, was envisaged as returning to Zion.

Psa 104:3

He lays the beams of His rooms in the waters, He makes the clouds His chariot, He walks on the wings of the wind-
This continues the allusion to the cherubim (see on :2). The idea may be that the reestablishment and rebuilding of the Kingdom would begin "in the waters" in that the beams, the people, were to be prepared whilst in exile amongst the waters of the Gentiles. "Room" or "chambers" is the word used of the rebuilding of Zion in Neh. 3:31,32, and of the envisaged rebuilding of the temple in Ez. 40:49; 41:7. But the Jews didn't build as required in Ez. 40-48; they precluded the help of the Angel cherubim, upon whom God was eager to ride forth for them.


Psa 104:4 He makes His Angels winds; His servants flames of fire-
As noted on Ps. 102 and Ps. 103, the reference to the Angels is to encourage Judah that the vast Angel cherubim system alluded to in :2,3 was ready and eager to go forth for God's people.  The allusion is to the statement of God's greatness at the end of Job, a book of encouragement to the exiles (see on Job 1:1): "Canst thou send lightnings (Angels) that they may go and say unto thee, Here we are (Septuagint: 'We do Thy pleasure?')" (Job 38:35). In the Hezekiah context, the reference could be to how the Angel which destroyed the Assyrians did so using fire (see on Ps. 46:9). We note that the Angels are God's servants; there is never any hint in the Bible that the "Angels" [as in supernatural beings] are divided into groups of wicked and righteous. Ps. 83:14; 97:3 speak of God as "flames of fire" burning up Israel's enemies. He was ready and able, through the Angel cherubim, to overcome all opposition to a restored Kingdom of God in Israel. But despite this, most of the exiles preferred to remain in Babylon. Just as many today likewise turn down the opportunity to be part of God's Kingdom.

Psa 104:5

He laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be moved forever-
I suggested on :1 that this is a reference to the envisaged restoration. God was not going to allow the eretz promised to Abraham to be moved, ultimately; even though its people had temporarily been moved into exile. LXX gives the sense: "Who establishes the earth on her sure foundation". The reference is not to God's creation of the planet, but to His reestablishment of the Kingdom of God in the earth / land of Israel.

Psa 104:6

You covered it with the deep sea as with a cloak. The waters stood above the mountains-
Ps. 104:5-9 describes “the earth” as being covered with the deep, and “the waters stood above the mountains”- clearly alluding to the flood. Yet these mountains are those which are “a refuge for the wild goats… conies” (Ps. 104:18 RV). These sound like the mountains of Israel / the Middle East rather than any other part of the world.
The idea is that during the exile, the land was as it were covered with the flood; but would reemerge into a wonderful new age. Isaiah likewise speaks of how God would consider the years in exile as "the waters of Noah" (Is. 54:9), and would never be repeated once the Kingdom was reestablished.

Psa 104:7

At Your rebuke they fled, at the voice of Your thunder they hurried away-
The same phrase used of the fleeing away of the waters of the Red Sea at the theophany which occurred then; see on Ps. 77:17. The waters are spoken of as living entities because they represented the heathen nations opposing Israel at the time; and this miracle was just as possible for God's people at the time of Hezekiah and later, the exiles.

Psa 104:8

The mountains rose, the valleys sank down, to the place which You had assigned to them-
The reference seems to be to the changed topography after the flood, and this is the imagery used about the restoration in Is. 40:4. The valleys would be lifted up and the mountains brought down [they very opposite of what is described as happening here after the flood], in order to pave the way for the coming of Messiah and God's glory to Zion. "Assigned" is the word used for the "foundation" of the rebuilt temple (Ezra 3:6,10). This potential wasn't realized at the restoration, and was reapplied to the Lord Jesus. 

Psa 104:9

You have set a boundary that they may not pass over; that they don’t turn again to cover the earth-
Just as the flood waters (see on :6,7) would never return to destroy the earth, so the Babylonian destruction was potentially the final such judgment upon God's people. But their impenitence and continued sin precluded this from being the case, and so this idea of the waters [representing the nations around Israel] never covering the earth again was rescheduled to the last day. "Boundary" is the usual word used for the border of the promised land. But the rivers and floodwaters of the invading armies were frequently sent by God over this border even after the Babylonian invasion. The truth was that Judah's princes had removed the border in throwing themselves open to the gods and influences of the nations around them (s.w. Hos. 5:10).  

Psa 104:10

He sends forth springs into the valleys, they run among the mountains-
The waters of the Gentile nations would be assuaged, but God would send forth His own waters, not to destroy but to create.

Psa 104:11

They give drink to every animal of the field, the wild donkeys quench their thirst-
"Every" may imply 'both clean and unclean', with the unclean wild donkeys being cited as an example. God's care and saving purpose is thereby declared as being for all.

Psa 104:12

The birds of the sky nest by them, they sing among the branches-
Mt. 13:32 uses this imagery in describing the Kingdom of God. The picture here is of how God's waters would create a restored Kingdom of God on earth. This potential wasn't realized by the exiles; and so these things were reinterpreted and are reapplied to the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus. And therefore the imagery of this verse is used by Him about His Kingdom.

Psa 104:13

He waters the mountains from His rooms, the earth is filled with the fruit of Your works-
The allusion may be to the temple on earth reflecting that in heaven. The living water is envisaged as flowing out of the rebuilt temple (Zech. 14:8; Joel 3:18; Ez. 47:5). Sadly the possibility of this was precluded by the exiles refusing to build and operate the temple in accordance with the specifications of Ez. 40-48.

Psa 104:14

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-
God "makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Mt. 5:45). God consciously makes the sun rise each day- it isn't part of a kind of perpetual motion machine. Hence the force of His promises in the prophets that in the same way as He consciously maintains the solar system, so He will maintain His Israel. Ps. 104 is full of such examples: "He waters the hills... causes the grass to grow... makes darkness (consciously, each night)... the young lions... seek their meat from God... send forth Your Spirit (Angel), they are created" (not just by the reproductive system). There are important implications following from these ideas with regard to our faith in prayer. It seems to me that our belief that the world is going on inevitably by clockwork is one of the things which militates against a sense of God's active presence through His Spirit. See on Mt. 6:26.

Psa 104:15

wine that makes glad the heart of man, oil to make his face to shine, and bread that strengthens man’s heart-
This doesn’t mean we are to drink alcohol until we feel “merry”. This phrase and those surrounding it are not talking about the effect of crops on the bodies of people, but rather the effect of a good harvest on the emotions of those gathering them. Wine, oil and bread are all associated with the sanctuary services (s.w. Hag. 2:12).

Psa 104:16

Yahweh’s trees are well watered, the cedars of Lebanon, which He has planted-
The living water of the Messianically restored Zion mentioned on :13 was intended to water trees of life (Ez. 47:12; Rev. 22:2). This didn't happen at the restoration as intended, as the Jews didn't build the temple system of Ez. 40-48. But in essence it will come true in Messiah's Kingdom (Rev. 22:2), and does come true in it even now. The promise that the restored exiles could have become the trees of Yahweh's planting (Is. 60:21; 61:3) can become true spiritually for all who now accept the message of the Kingdom.

Psa 104:17

where the birds make their nests. The stork makes its home in the fir trees-
As noted on :12, Mt. 13:32 uses this imagery in describing the Kingdom of God. The picture here is of how God's waters would create a restored Kingdom of God on earth. This potential wasn't realized by the exiles; and so these things were reinterpreted and are reapplied to the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus. And therefore the imagery of this verse is used by Him about His Kingdom. The stork was an unclean animal, but the unclean were to be welcomed into the restored Kingdom, for all such divisions between clean and unclean were to be removed.

Psa 104:18

The high mountains are for the wild goats, the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers-
"High mountains" may be an intensive plural for the ultimately high mountain, of Zion. The term is used of Zion in Is. 40:9; 57:7; Ez. 17:22; and of the restored Zion in Ez. 40:2. This mount Zion was to become a refuge for unclean animals; and we can note the emphasis in this chapter upon the beauty and acceptance of the unclean animals. 

Psa 104:19

He appointed the moon for seasons, the sun knows when to set-
The moon being for seasons recalls the language of the Genesis creation. And the seasons were specifically the feasts. These were intended to feature in the reestablished Kingdom.

Psa 104:20

You make darkness, and it is night, in which all the animals of the forest prowl-
Darkness was always feared in contemporary societies, and the animals which prowled at night were seen as in league with demons. But this common understanding is being deconstructed. God is the maker of darkness, the animals of the night are beckoned forth by Him; for the Old Testament deconstructs any idea of a cosmic 'Satan' being and associated demons.

Psa 104:21

The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their food from God-
Even the instinct of the lion to hunt is given by God; they seek their food from Him. This is significant in the context of the exiles because the likes of Assyria and Babylon are likened to lions and wild, mysterious beasts (:20). But they too were ultimately under God's control, and had sought their prey from God's people under His direct instigation. There was and is no radical evil in the conception of God's true people. See on 27.

Psa 104:22

The sun rises, and they steal away and lay down in their dens-
As explained on :21, the mysterious wild animals of the night, including the lions, were all under God's control, and would go their way from God's people when He causes the sunrise. This clearly looks ahead to the coming of Messiah as the dawn (Mal. 4:2), heralding the end of all Judah's abusers.

Psa 104:23

Man goes forth to his work, to his labour until the evening-
See on :24. The allusion may be to the curse of Gen. 3:19, that man was to work until he can do so no more, and then returns to dust (:29). This contrasts with the eternity of God (:24) and His people.

Psa 104:24

Yahweh, how many are Your works! In wisdom have You made them all. The earth is full of Your riches- 
LXX "The earth is full of Thy creation". The contrast is with the weary labour of man upon earth (:23), which he eagerly brings to an end every evening; and the ceaseless, creative labour of Yahweh.

Psa 104:25

There is the sea, great and wide, in which are innumerable living things, both small and large animals-
The sea was seen by contemporary peoples as mysterious and out of human control, inhabited by monsters which equate to the cosmic 'Satan' being wrongly believed in by many today. But all within the seas are God's servants, waiting upon Him (:27) and looking to Him for food. The seas are used in the prophets to represent the Gentile nations who had abused Israel. These too were not forms of radical, uncontrolled evil; they were all totally under God's control.

Psa 104:26

There the ships go, and leviathan, whom You formed to play there-
"Ships" here may refer to whales or other great sea beasts. See on :25. Leviathan appears to be the Canaanite version of the orthodox ‘Satan’ figure, perhaps a reference to the ‘Lotan’ of the Ugaritic myths. In great detail in Job 41, this creature and belief is deconstructed. It is shown to be a created being (:30) – created by the one almighty God of the Old Testament, to be completely under His control to the point that He can even tease them, playing with them as in Job 41, so enormously greater is His power than theirs. These Canaanite ‘Satan’ figures are thereby shown to have no significant existence; and they certainly don’t exist as opposed to God. They are totally under His control. And yet these monster figures clearly have characteristics shared by known animals, such as the hippopotamus, crocodile etc. Those similarities are intended. It’s been well observed: “To say that Leviathan has characteristics of the crocodile and the whale is not to say that it is such a creature, but rather to suggest that evil is rooted in the natural world” (Robert S. Fyall, Now My Eyes Have Seen You: Images of Creation and Evil in the Book of Job (Leicester: I.V.P. / Apollos, 2002) p. 27) – and the point is so laboured in Job that the natural world is of God’s complete creation. ‘Evil’ in a form independent of Him, in radical opposition to Him, simply isn’t there.

It’s significant that dragons in the form of serpents were common in Babylonian theology. Figures on vases show serpent griffins, there was one on Marduk’s temple in Nippur, and also on the Ishtar Gate in Babylon. These would have been familiar to Judah in Babylonian captivity. They may well have seen a similarity between the Babylonian monsters and the Leviathan beast. That God is greater than Leviathan and can do what He wills with him would therefore have had a special meaning to the faithful Jew in exile. In a restoration context, Isaiah comforted Judah that God would destroy “Leviathan the gliding serpent; He will slay the monster of the sea” (Is. 27:1). The real ‘monster’ faced by Judah in exile wasn’t a supernatural being; it was a concrete kingdom of men on earth, namely Babylon. God taught Job, and through him showcased to the watching world, that all such imaginations of Leviathan, monsters in the raging sea, crooked serpents etc. were vain – in any case, God had created them and used them to do His will with His people, symbolized as they were by Job. His sitting in dust and ashes is very much the picture of Judah sitting by the rivers of Babylon, bemoaning their losses. 

Psa 104:27

These all wait for You, that You may give them their food in due season-
As noted on :25,26, the creatures of the sea are actually God's servants, for that is the meaning of the idiom of 'waiting for'. And He feeds them; they do not randomly choose their prey purely in their own strength and of their own volition. See on :21.

Psa 104:28

You give to them; they gather. You open Your hand; they are satisfied with good-
As explained on :27, the apparently mysterious and radically evil beasts of the sea are all under God's controlled. Whatever they eat, is given to them by God's open hand. The beasts which had consumed Judah were actually given their food by God; for the prophets continually stress that these invasions came from God's direction. 

Psa 104:29

You hide Your face: they are troubled; You take away their breath: they die, and return to the dust-
The hiding of God's face always speaks of His moral displeasure. This statement is specifically in the context of the death of the mighty sea beasts, although as we have seen, they represent the nations dominating Israel. Their time for judgment would come, even if it were simply in the form of their death. We could not wish for any clearer statement that death of any living creature is an undoing of creation, whereby the breath or spirit is given by God, and then when it is withdrawn, they return to dust. This language is elsewhere used specifically of human beings. For in the matter of death, man truly has no preeminence above a beast (Ecc. 3:19).

Psa 104:30

You send forth Your Spirit: they are created, You renew the face of the ground-
As explained on :26, the great sea beasts are shown to be  created beings- created by the one almighty God of the Old Testament, to be completely under His control to the point that He can even tease them, playing with them as in Job 41, so enormously greater is His power than theirs. And likewise the nations they represented were created by God. The dust into which they returned was the "ground" from which God could use His Spirit to form a new creation, when all these beasts have passed away for good.

Psa 104:31

Let the glory of Yahweh endure forever, let Yahweh rejoice in His works-
This forms an inclusio to the opening allusions to the cherubim and the shekinah glory in :2-4. The psalmist wishes for the day to come when again the glory would return to Zion visibly, and "endure forever", never to be taken away again. And this would involve Yahweh eternally rejoicing in the works of the new creation intimated in :30.

Psa 104:32

He looks at the earth, and it trembles. He touches the mountains, and they smoke-
This continues the inclusio to the opening allusions to the cherubim and the shekinah glory in :2-4, this time further alluding to the theophany on Sinai when Israel were first declared Yahweh's Kingdom. The psalmist was looking for the dramatic reestablishment of the Kingdom, accompanied by a similar theophany.

Psa 104:33

I will sing to Yahweh as long as I live, I will sing praise to my God while I have any being-
We note again David's belief in the mortality of man, with no conscious existence after death [until the resurrection of the body]. For his time of "being" was "as long as I live".

Psa 104:34

Let your meditation be sweet to Him. I will rejoice in Yahweh-
His rejoicing in what was going to do was to be a reflection of God's rejoicing in His new creation (:31).

Psa 104:35

Let sinners be consumed out of the earth. Let the wicked be no more. Bless Yahweh, my soul. Praise Yah!-
A quotation from Is. 16:4 about the consuming out of the land of the sinful nations dominating Judah. The psalmist is praying for this time to be hastened, and until it comes, he will still praise Yahweh as if it has already happened (see on :34). For this is the nature of faith, to adopt God's timeless perspective, and look to the end as if it is even now.