Last month we spoke about how created things point to the glory of the creator and how our reaction needs to be praise. We also mentioned how humanity’s need to worship is often filled incompletely by worshiping the created. Because of this, Christians often struggle with turning their full hearts toward worshiping God in song and prayer. The poor examples that surround us don’t help. On one hand we are surrounded by a nation who is ignorant of the God’s glory, on the other hand many often praise God out of artificial religiousness. Counteracting our poor role models through studying the hearts and words of righteous men shows us where our hearts need to be.
The Psalms are filled with inspired individual accounts of people who felt they couldn’t stop their lips from praising God. Psalm 104 is a magnificent account of praise to God for his creation. As we study this Psalm chunk by chunk, we are going to take home three main observations from the text that help us see the inspiration for the Psalmist’s praise. Place yourself in the shoes of the author, trying to see what causes the author to feel as though he must burst into praise.
The Creator’s Introduction (vs. 1-4)
This Psalm is bookended with similar praise in verses 1 and 35: Bless the Lord, O my soul! You are very great! Praise the Lord! The beautiful description of creation in between these two praises serves to explain why the Psalmist believes God is great. Notice how the Psalmist’s praise follows the chronological order of the Genesis creation account. We see light and then the expansive sky in verse 2, and the waters and dry land appearing in verses 5-9. We see vegetation and trees in verses 14 and 16; the luminaries of the skies in verse 19. But, notice how there is never a focus on the actual created thing, but on God and how God causes the created to exist and obey his function. The creator is always lifted up – never the created.
We usually demonstrate someone’s richness by talking about their nice clothes and awesome house. That is the picture of verses 1-4. Picture the Psalmist describing why he thinks God is so great by taking you on a tour of the world that you are seeing for the first time. Look at the strikingly bright and warming sunlight. That’s what God wears. Stand out in an open plain and look at the sky’s expansive beauty; he stretched it out to be the roof of his tent. Look at Earth from space and see all the blue waters. That’s his house’s foundation. If you think your ride is awesome, consider the billowy clouds – that’s his wind-powered ride. In the pantheistic religions of the world at that time, all these things are worshiped as gods; yet, here they serve the Lord’s purpose. These descriptions aren’t meant for us to pick apart and discuss how light is his garment, etc. They paint a picture and tell us about the Lord; if light is his garment and the sky the roof of his tent, how great he must be!
The Creator’s Handiwork (vs. 5-30)
Once we have been introduced to God and his glorious home, the rest of the Psalm tells us how he has opened up his home and formed it into a beautiful place for life to exist. The formation of Earth’s terrain happens through powerful waters in verses 5-9. People struggle with whether this is speaking of the creation of the world, or the flood. Our focus is not on that, but on how the awe of God causing this action. The ominous deep the Hebrews feared is under God’s control as his voice sends them fleeing to their place. Deep valleys give a place for the waters to rest, while God’s voice sends mountains shooting out of the ground. Geologists talk about how great valleys and canyons are formed out of water and how mountains seem to just sprout out of the ground through shifting of the Earth’s crust and volcanic activity. We don’t need geologists to tell us that for that is the picture conjured up by God’s activities in verses 5-9. It is fascinating to visit different famous locations of the world where gigantic mountains tower over us and expansive valleys spread out below us and to talk about how these things may have been formed, but we are fools if in that scene we do not praise the Lord as the artist behind all of it. Mountains, valleys, waterfalls, and islands were all created because God willed them into existence.
Water, vegetation, and the luminaries of space take the rest up the rest of verses 10-23. In each of these portrayals the Psalmist shows God’s infinite wisdom in creating everything with a purpose and plan. Have you ever paused to consider how much wisdom it would take for one of us to create a world with as much order as ours? The immense complexity is mind-boggling. Every piece of life that God creates must have someway to continue growing and living and reproducing. He can give man food and water today, but what about the trillions of other living creatures? What about the thousands of generations to come? The sources of food have to reproduce and water has to keep cycling. Notice verses 10-13, God designed all kinds of mechanisms for bodies of waters to exist in all kinds of terrains across the world for all kinds of life. Notices verses 14-15, God also designs the Earth to bring forth the special blessings of oil, wine, and bread for mankind. All the different kinds of life have to have homes, but in verses 16-18 we see God already had the foreknowledge to create trees for the birds and the mountains for the goats. But how is man going to be able to do his work when all the other predators of Earth are trying to eat? Verses 19-23 show how God created the sun and moon to mark times of light and darkness so man can work during light, and animals can hunt at night. If we were in charge of creating the world we would have probably missed that detail.
I love the Psalmist’s declaration after this in verse 24, “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all.” I can just picture him looking out across the sea and sky and mountains and writing about this order and he cannot help but burst into praise because of everything he sees before him. Romans tells us that this is the reaction created things are supposed to evoke. They generate full faith in an eternally powerful and divine God. However, this faith is more than a shallow cognitive allowance that God exists.
Romans 1:18-23, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”
See how these unrighteous came to be where they are? They knew God, yet did not honor him as God or give thanks to him. God expects us to see his creation and not only have full confidence in his existence, but to also see his power and divinity in it. But, if we stop there we are no different than the unrighteous. We must honor, give thanks, and glorify him. This is what the Psalmist is accomplishing. Christians, where is this excitement and passion for the Lord in our hearts and in our personal prayers? I am afraid that we think it is okay to be passionate about the world and not passionate about the Lord’s glory because as long as we show up to church God understands we are trying. We should fearfully tremble if we are okay with that. Notice verse 21, when we do not honor him in this way our thinking becomes futile and our hearts become dark and foolish. We think we are okay where we are, but hearts are only renewed and made healthy when they constantly lift up our creator. May we never grow accustom to the beauty and wisdom of God displayed in his creation – it is the inspiration our hearts need to worship him. We must grow in personal worship, for a heart that does not raise God up becomes selfish and corrupt.
The Creation’s Trust (vs. 27-30)
The result of God’s wisdom in creation and bountiful provision is seen in verses 27-30 – all life looks to him for their food and for their breath. This Psalm is screaming with the faithfulness of God. He faithfully provides food and gives air to breath and living creatures know it so they constantly look to him for it. If you’ve ever owned a pet, you understand the picture here as the feeder of a pet. Every night that animal looks to you for its food and doesn’t worry because you always feed it. That same faithfulness is portrayed of the Lord here in his giving of food and breath.
If there were absolutely no benefits to worshiping God we should still do it, but we can see here another benefit of meditating on God’s great glory and faithfulness. Because the Psalmist has meditated on God’s bountiful provision his faith has increased and because of it he trusts the source of his next meal and next breath. Even the animals recognize who gives them their meals! Americans are currently so blessed by God that we pridefully think we control our destiny. When we forget the creator has a divine plan and think man controls the fate of the universe, worry will dominate our lives. Worrying about food. Worrying about global warming. Worrying about finances. Worrying about health. Worrying about politics.
If we recognized God’s glory and praised him as we should, we would have the blissful recognition the Psalmist has – God is in control! Jesus uses the same reasoning in Matthew 6. He commands them to not be anxious because of nature’s example around them. Verse 26, “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” Verses 28-30, “And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” Our problem is that we aren’t mediating on these things, growing our faith in the power of God. If we were meditating and praising God for his wisdom, power, and detailed design our hearts would immediately trust him with any problems we have. God decides when we are fed, when to bless us with health, and when we die. Trust him. Do we believe God has control over the universe or not?
The Creator’s Rejoicing (vs. 31-35)
The Psalmist’s concluding prayer is that God will be able to rejoice in his works. Why would he rejoice in his works? Because his creative work has caused all that we see throughout the Psalm and what we see at the beginning of verse 31 – the everlasting glory of the Lord. Verses 32-34 show the reaction of creation in keeping with God’s glory. All he does is look at the earth and touch the mountains and they tremble and smoke! They know their creator. In turn, the Psalmist also sees God’s works and glorifies him through singing to, meditating on, and rejoicing in the Lord. All creation responds as it should in glorification of God.
Except for the wicked. The wicked in verse 35 stand out like a sore thumb in the midst of this hymn of praise. It should stand out. Being surrounded by the wicked often causes us to feel as though we are in the minority as worshipers of God. However, that’s not the perspective of the Psalmist. God created and has control over every single created thing – they are all stamped with his wisdom and artistry. Every single blade of grass, water molecule, tree, insect, animal, human, and mountain that ever existed was made to reveal the glory and majesty of God. These all submit to their purpose in testimony of God’s glory and power and they infinitely outnumber the unrighteous. If we think it is a fruitless pursuit to love, proclaim, and reflect the glory of the king, we are the outnumbered unrighteous who refuse to submit to proclaiming his glory. It is with this perspective that the Psalmist speaks: the entire universe joins in chorus praising God and all who don’t should be destroyed for soiling this joyous and harmonious scene. Like one who boos at the bride of a wedding, the thought disgusts the Psalmist. Do you want to be the one who is outnumbered?
Think about your wedding day. Think about how natural it was to tell your bride how beautiful she was and how much you loved her. Our praise for God should be that natural, but often, it is not. If you are struggling in this – as we all should be struggling forward – I challenge you to increase your awareness of God’s creation and provision for you and for all of creation. Fall in love with the signs of his glory in creation as you fall in love with a spouse. Meditate on his creation and how expansively, beautifully, and wisely it has been created. Look at the stars. Watch the sunrise. Meditate on his provision for you. Meditate on how little you deserve the things you have. Study and think about words in passages like this. As you study the Bible, try to find all the ways God is good to his people. Seek where his glory is revealed. Then, once your heart has considered these things, pour out your thoughts from your lips and praise God for them. Only then will it be a genuine, heartfelt praising of God. If you feel that it is awkward for you, don’t worry. It was probably awkward the first time you told your spouse you loved them. The more you meditate on the Lord’s glory and express the Lord’s glory, the more naturally it will come to you.