Psalm 104
Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty.
Psalms 104

The 104th Psalm was a favourite with Alexander von Humboldt. After speaking in his Cosmos of the exalted views of nature given in the Old Testament, as the living expression of the omnipresence of God in the visible world, he refers specially to this Psalm: 'We are astonished to find, in a lyrical form of such limited compass, the whole universe, the heavens and the earth, sketched with a few bold touches. The toilsome labour of man, from the rising of the sun to his setting, when his daily work is done, is contrasted with the moving life of the elements of nature. This contrast and generalization of the action of the natural world, and this vision of an omnipresent invisible power which can renew the earth or crumble it to dust, are not so much a glowing and gentle, as a solemn and exalted conception of creation!' Humboldt names Psalm 65:6-13; Psalm 74:15-17, as having similar features in softer form.

Verses 19-24 are the Evensong of the Russian Church.—J. K.

The Powers of Nature

Psalm 104:4

When we survey Almighty God surrounded by His holy angels, His thousand thousands of ministering Spirits, and ten thousand times ten thousand standing before Him, the idea of His awful Majesty rises before us more powerfully and impressively. We begin to see how little we are, how altogether mean and worthless in ourselves, and how high He is, and fearful. The very lowest of His angels is indefinitely above us in this our present state; how high then must be the Lord of angels! The very seraphim hide their faces before His glory while they praise Him; how shamefaced then should sinners be when they come into His presence!

It is a motive to our exertions in doing the will of God to think that, if we attain to heaven, we shall become the fellows of the blessed angels. Indeed, what do we know of the courts of heaven, but as peopled by them? and therefore doubtless they are revealed to us that we may have something to fix our thoughts on when we look heavenwards. Heaven, indeed, is the palace of Almighty God, and of Him doubtless we must think in the first place; and again of His Son our Saviour, who died for us, and who is manifested in the Gospels, in order that we may have something definite to look forward to: for the same cause, surely, the angels also are revealed to us, that heaven may be as little as possible an unknown place in our imaginations.

—J. H. Newman.

The Day's Work

Psalm 104:23

I. What are we in the World for?—Why are we here and what for? He is a little man in a little world who thinks he can give a complete answer to this question. This mystery is great, but it is plainly the purpose of the mystery to challenge our courage and to lead the human mind onward step by step to the conquest of the unknown. We are here, must it not be? as parts of this great creation, to fill our place in it as faithfully as we can; to contribute to the development of its purpose by bringing our individual life with all its peculiar endowments and opportunities, relations, and interest into correspondence with that purpose; to work in harmony with the power, the wisdom, the goodness which most manifestly pervade the world, and are slowly building it up into strength and beauty.

II. Man's Creative Power.—We are here to share the work of God in creating the world—called not only to subdue and control but to create. Creation is not finished but is always proceeding. And in this continuous and never-ceasing work of creation man can help or hinder, develop or retard, the creative purpose and process. The one great teaching of modern knowledge is that not anything above a certain low level of excellence comes by natural law unaided by man. That all best things in the world of nature today are the result of his thought and toil. Man is not only a factor in evolution but an instrument. He has his contribution to make toward the finishing and perfecting of the material universe.

III. Man's Share in Making Himself.—In his own making and saving, in the development of personal faculty and character, man is called to work and to labour until the evening. What he can do for the earth and for the creatures and things which live upon it he can do for himself, fulfil and finish the Creator's purpose and plan. God makes nothing right away and perfect at once. Like the rest of His work man was left unfinished that man himself might complete what God began. We can do nothing ourselves without cooperation. To an extent practically unlimited we can make or mar ourselves. We cannot be passive recipients of the Divinest blessing of life. The salvation that costs us nothing is worth nothing, an unreal rescue from an unreal danger. God needs our cooperation or He will fail of His saving purpose.

IV. Man's Share in Christ's Work.—In redeeming the world even more than in creating it God works through men and in human ways. God the Saviour must be helped even more than God the Creator. It is through men God helps and saves men and creates His new heaven and His new earth. They are the hiding-place of His power, and through their hands He reaches forth to save and heal His wandering children.

Theology and Science

Psalm 104:24

This Psalm is a beautiful poem on Natural Theology. Natural Theology (by which is meant the knowledge of God to be obtained from the study of nature) was in much worse favour during the first half of the nineteenth century than it has been since. When, however, the science of geology became developed, the system of Natural Theology which has been so popular, received a rude shock. It was shown by the geological records within the rocks, i.e. by the fossils there preserved, that the world instead of being as chronologists had supposed only about 6000 years old, must have existed untold ages, and that instead of the work of creation being confined to six literal days, life has existed upon the earth for many millions of years. The result of this revelation on the part of natural science led many good people to denounce it as being contrary to the revelation in God's word. For some twenty or thirty years the battle was hot between the theologians and scientists. Of late, however, the noise of battle has grown less loud. We have come to recognize the fact that revelation and nature are two parts of one whole: that both books are written by God Himself: and that He does not contradict in one what He has written in another, but one is the compliment of the other—the other part—without which it cannot be fully understood. Nature without the Bible is certainly not complete: and the Bible in many respects becomes a much more intelligible book when it is read in the light which a knowledge of nature gives. Let me give an example on both sides.

I. First, on the need of revelation to supplement the teaching of nature. From none of the records in the book of nature do we gain any light whatever on the origin of matter, or of life in the first instance. We see as it were the working of the machinery but do not see or understand the motive power. There must be, as even Mr. Herbert Spencer freely admits, a power behind all the operations of nature, the existence of which the man of science cannot ignore, although he cannot find out by his science what it is. Now here comes in revelation with the explanation which nature does not give. Here God reveals Himself as the Power, the Force, whose existence the man of science admits. He is the first great cause. Here then in the teaching of this book we find the counterpart of nature.

II. Now on the other side, let me give an example of the advantage which the believer in revelation may derive from the study of nature: how it helps us to interpret and to understand the Bible. So far from Scripture and physical science being at variance, we shall find that the two harmonize most perfectly. Just as modern researches into the history of ancient nations—such as Assyria, Babylon, Egypt—are continually throwing new light upon Bible history and prophetic teaching, so also the researches of our scientific men are constantly helping us better to understand the Scriptures. Instead of warning young people against the study of physical science lest it should lead them to scepticism and agnosticism, I would advise all who can to study nature. Accept the fact that the force, which as Herbert Spencer admits, lies behind all phenomena is the great God; believe that in His infinite mind the conception of nature existed before the facts of nature were wrought out, even as the conception of a piece of machinery exists in the mind of the inventor before it is formed. Study nature in this reasonable spirit, and everywhere you will see more and more clear evidence of the working of an intelligent, omniscient mind; and you will be constrained to say, 'O Lord, how manifold are Thy works! in wisdom hast Thou made them all: the earth is full of Thy riches'.

—S. J. Whitmee, British Weekly Pulpit, p. 217.

References.—CIV. 24.—W. F. Shaw, Sermon Sketches, p. 30. A. Jessopp, Norwich School Sermons, p. 64. T. Sadler, Sermons for Children, p. 155. G. S. Barrett, Old Testament Outlines, p. 140. C. Kingsley, Village Sermons, p. 1. CIV. 26.—J. D. Burns, Christian World Pulpit, 1891, p. 314. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxi. No. 1259. CIV. 28.—G. A. Sowter, Sowing and Reaping, p. 37. CV 1, 2.—B. F. Westcott, Village Sermons, p. 333. CV. 17.—H. J. Buxton, God's Heroes, p. 20. CV. 17-19.—G. Trevor, Types and the Antitype, p. 71.

The Spirit of Thanksgiving

Psalm 104:28; Psalm 104:33

The intention of Providence includes a response as well as a gift—an appeal or a claim made on us as well as the meeting our appeal. Providence towards mankind requires a personal and kindred return from men. It is not satisfied by some recognition in the way of religious routine, or by men in believing that it is Divine and benevolent. 'Lord, Lord,' is not enough. Nothing is enough unless God hears His bounty answered by the Spirit of His Son saying in our hearts, Abba, Father, and unless He receives the service of our redeemed.

I. Life and Duty.—Religion is practically two things: Life and Duty. It comes from God as Life. It goes to Him still alive—'a living sacrifice, acceptable to God, a reasonable service'—as Duty. In the power of the life that it receives it keeps the Commandments, it obeys and tends to sympathize with the Divine purpose and intention. The Spirit of Christ speaking through its heart says, 'Abba, Father'. The same Spirit, working in its life, does the Father's will. And so keeping the Commandments it becomes more than a recipient of life and a pensioner on bounty; it 'enters into life,' it exercises the citizenship of the kingdom of heaven. How much good there is in the world that seems to miss completion and life because it keeps out of this great vital cycle. God is ceaselessly pouring upon our lives and out of His open hand and yearning heart stimulus and opportunity and cheer. And we only occasionally allow the life that He is giving to go back to him in communion and service. Truth springs from the earth and righteousness looks down from heaven. But the truth sinks back to earth again, failing of contact with that which claims it from above and could alone complete it. On all sides we can see so much that is so good accomplishing so little because it does not go up alive to God—repentances that stick fast in the mire; strength that beats the air or builds on sand; sacrifices that are mainly losses; faith that sings no songs. And for this great sad fact of wasted goodness and exhausting effort there is but one sufficient explanation—the absence or the lack of life.

II. The Cycle of God's Providence.—Nothing surely can make our lives satisfactory outside the cycle of God's loving Providence, and nothing can really frustrate them if they be making their true answer to God, uttering their Abba, Father. This is the purpose of our being and of that Father by Providence which works continually to bring us into harmony, communion, fellowship with God. If we will consent to it, and come willingly into its cycle of blessing, nothing can stay us from singing to the Lord. For underneath all our singing will be the gladness of a speech that must for ever make for praise—the voice of the Spirit in our hearts, saying Abba, Father.

References.—CIV. 30.—J. M. Neale, Readings for the Aged (4th Series), p. 122. Ibid. Sermons Preached in Sackville College Chapel, vol. i. p. 382. J. E. Vaux, Sermon Notes (4th Series), p. 62. J. Keble, Sermons for Ascension Day to Trinity Sunday, p. 164. CIV.—International Critical Commentary, vol. ii. p. 329. Expositor (2nd Series), vol. i. p. 174.

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:
Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire:
Who 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.
They go up by the mountains; they 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.
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, which sing among the branches.
He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works.
He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth;
And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart.
The trees of the LORD are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted;
Where the birds make their nests: as for the stork, the fir trees are her house.
The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for the conies.
He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down.
Thou makest darkness, and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth.
The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God.
The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens.
Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening.
O LORD, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.
So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts.
There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein.
These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season.
That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good.
Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.
Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.
The glory of the LORD shall endure for ever: the LORD shall rejoice in his works.
He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth: he toucheth the hills, and they smoke.
I will sing unto the LORD as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the LORD.
Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth, and let the wicked be no more. Bless thou the LORD, O my soul. Praise ye the LORD.
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