>In Not My Own: Discovering God’s Comfort in the Heidelberg Catechism (the fifth grade volume I wrote for the “Life in Christ” catechism curriculum), I use Psalm 104 to demonstrate God’s sovereign care over creation. As the student reads the psalm and identifies verses containing specific word pictures, I hope he or she begins to glimpse the beauty of God’s sovereignty.
The exercise is part of Lesson 8, “Who Is God the Father?”, and leads into discussion of Q & A 26, certainly one of the most beautiful of many comforting questions and answers in the highly biblical and intensely personal Heidelberg Catechism:
26 Q. What do you believe when you say:
“I believe in God the Father, almighty,
maker of heaven and earth”?
A. That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who out of nothing created heaven and earth
and everything in them,
who still upholds and rules them
by his eternal counsel and providence,
is my God and Father
because of Christ his Son.
I trust him so much that I do not doubt
he will provide whatever I need
for body and soul,
and he will turn to my good
whatever adversity he sends me
in this sad world.
He is able to do this because he is almighty God;
he desires to do this because he is a faithful Father.
If you read Psalm 104 (which I encourage you to do right now at Bible Gateway), you will be struck by the variety and energy of its imagery.
Anyone who loves literature loves the effective use of imagery in the printed word, and the Bible makes extremely effective use of imagery. Literature lovers also enjoy identifying types or genres of writing, and the Bible makes very effective use of different genres. If you love literature, you will appreciate the editorial comments in the ESV Literary Study Bible that help the reader identify different forms employed by the human authors of the biblical text.
I’ve mentioned the ESV Literary Study Bible (which can be purchased on Amazon) in previous posts and I’ve mentioned editors Leland Ryken and Philip Graham Ryken, but I haven’t explained their relationship.
Not only is Philip Graham Ryken the son of Leland Ryken, but he also is now his boss. Leland Ryken is a longtime professor at Wheaton College, where Philip Graham Ryken was inaugurated as the school’s eighth president on September 17, 2010. I’ve interviewd both men for Christian Renewal; my interview with Leland Ryken appearing in the February 11, 2009, issue and my interview with Philip Graham Ryken appearing in the April 28, 2010 issue (with profiles of three newly appointed presidents at Christian colleges). I’ll try to post those interviews later this week.
ESV Literary Study Bible editors Ryken and Ryken identify Psalm 104 as “the fourth of five nature poems in the Psalter,” writing that it is “so exalted and long that it ranks as an ode” (p. 862).
It begins with these familiar words:
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
covering yourself with light as with a garment,
stretching out the heavens like a tent (verses 1-2, ESV).
Yesterday’s reflection on Psalm 103 discussed how the concept of “blessing the Lord” includes loving and praising God. These opening verses directly praise God (in the second person) for his sovereign majesty and his creative power.
The next three verses switch to indirect praise, talking about God (in the third person) with picturesque language describing his majestic creativity.
He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters;
he makes the clouds his chariot;
he rides on the wings of the wind;
he makes his messengers winds,
his ministers a flaming fire.
He set the earth on its foundations,
so that it should never be moved (3-5, ESV).
The next lengthy section reverts to direct praise in word pictures pulsing with vitality:
You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
At your rebuke they fled;
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.
The mountains rose, the valleys sank down
to the place that you appointed for them.
You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.
You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills;
they give drink to every beast of the field;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell;
they sing among the branches.
From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart (6-15, ESV).
One could reflect at length on each of the above images. Some certainly seem to describe the earth before, during, and after the flood (Genesis 6-9).
In the next section of Psalm 104, the psalmist again switches to indirect praise as he reflects on God’s present care over creation:
The trees of the LORD are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has her home in the fir trees.
The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers (16-18, ESV).
The next verse ties together God’s creation with his continued sustenance:
He made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting (19, ESV).
God causes the progression of day and night. He creates the inclinations of different creatures. He does both of these things so that wild animals and man can co-exist in the same areas of creation.
You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the beasts of the forest creep about.
The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
When the sun rises, they steal away
and lie down in their dens.
Man goes out to his work
and to his labor until the evening (20-23, ESV).
Another section of direct praise marvels at God’s amazing sea and land creatures, who all depend on God for sustenance. God brings forth the plants that provide their food in the sea and on land. God brings each creature to life and takes away each one’s life according to his great plan.
O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Here is the sea, great and wide,
which teems with creatures innumerable,
living things both small and great.
There go the ships,
and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.
These all look to you,
to give them their food in due season.
When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground (24-20, ESV).
The psalmist prays that God will always endure and rejoice in his creation, over which he exercises complete and almighty control (31-32, ESV):
May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
may the LORD rejoice in his works,
who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke!
Can’t you visualize tall buildings swaying in an earthquake or a volcano billowing black smoke and red lava?
Psalm 104 concludes with the psalmist’s personal vow to praise God all his life. He prays that God will enable his meditation to please him. He also asks God to refine the earth by destroying the wicked. And he bookends the psalm with “blessing the Lord” praise similar to the phrase that opens it (33-35, ESV):
I will sing to the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the LORD.
Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more!
Bless the LORD, O my soul! Praise the LORD!
May we join the writer of Psalm 104 in seeing God’s handiwork in all of creation and praising him for it! And may the beauty of God’s sovereignty and providence comfort us in our pilgrimage.