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104. Psalm 104

Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty.

2Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain:

3Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind:

4Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire:

5 Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever.

6Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment: the waters stood above the mountains.

7At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away.

8They go up by the mountains; they go down by the valleys unto the place which thou hast founded for them.

9Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth.

10He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills.

11They give drink to every beast of the field: the wild asses quench their thirst.

12By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation, which sing among the branches.

13He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works.

14He 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;

15And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man’s heart.

16The trees of the Lord are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted;

17Where the birds make their nests: as for the stork, the fir trees are her house.

18The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for the conies.

19He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down.

20Thou makest darkness, and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth.

21The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God.

22The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens.

23Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening.

24O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.

25 So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts.

26There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein.

27These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season.

28 That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good.

29Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.

30Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.

31The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever: the Lord shall rejoice in his works.

32He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth: he toucheth the hills, and they smoke.

33I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.

34My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the Lord.

35Let 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.

1 Bless Jehovah, O my soul! After having exhorted himself to praise God, the Psalmist adds, that there is abundant matter for such an exercise; thus indirectly condemning himself and others of ingratitude, if the praises of God, than which nothing ought to be better known, or more celebrated, are buried by silence. In comparing the light with which he represents God as arrayed to a garment, he intimates, that although God is invisible, yet his glory is conspicuous enough. In respect of his essence, God undoubtedly dwells in light that is inaccessible; but as he irradiates the whole world by his splendor, this is the garment in which He, who is hidden in himself, appears in a manner visible to us. The knowledge of this truth is of the greatest importance. If men attempt to reach the infinite height to which God is exalted, although they fly above the clouds, they must fail in the midst of their course. Those who seek to see him in his naked majesty are certainly very foolish. That we may enjoy the light of him, he must come forth to view with his clothing; that is to say, we must cast our eyes upon the very beautiful fabric of the world in which he wishes to be seen by us, and not be too curious and rash in searching into his secret essence. Now, since God presents himself to us clothed with light, those who are seeking pretexts for their living without the knowledge of him, cannot allege in excuse of their slothfulness, that he is hidden in profound darkness. When it is said that the heavens are a curtain, it is not meant that under them God hides himself, but that by them his majesty and glory are displayed; being, as it were, his royal pavilion.

3. Laying the beams of his chambers in the waters David now proceeds to explain at greater length what he had briefly stated under the figure of God’s raiment. The scope of the passage is shortly this, that we need not pierce our way above the clouds for the purpose of finding God, since he meets us in the fabric of the world, and is everywhere exhibiting to our view scenes of the most vivid description. That we may not imagine that there is any thing in Him derived, as if, by the creation of the world, he received any addition to his essential perfection and glory, we must remember that he clothes himself with this robe for our sake. The metaphorical representation of God, as laying the beams of his chambers in the waters, seems somewhat difficult to understand; but it was the design of the prophet, from a thing incomprehensible to us, to ravish us with the greater admiration. Unless beams be substantial and strong, they will not be able to sustain even the weight of an ordinary house. When, therefore, God makes the waters the foundation of his heavenly palace, who can fail to be astonished at a miracle so wonderful? When we take into account our slowness of apprehension, such hyperbolical expressions are by no means superfluous; for it is with difficulty that they awaken and enable us to attain even a slight knowledge of God.

What is meant by his walking upon the wings of the wind, is rendered more obvious from the following verse, where it is said, that the winds are his messengers God rides on the clouds, and is carried upon the wings of the wind, inasmuch as he drives about the winds and clouds at his pleasure, and by sending them hither and thither as swiftly as he pleases, shows thereby the signs of his presence. By these words we are taught that the winds do not blow by chance, nor the lightnings flash by a fortuitous impulse, but that God, in the exercise of his sovereign power, rules and controls all the agitations and disturbances of the atmosphere. From this doctrine a twofold advantage may be reaped. In the first place, if at any time noxious winds arise, if the south wind corrupt the air, or if the north wind scorch the corn, and not only tear up trees by the root, but overthrow houses, and if other winds destroy the fruits of the earth, we ought to tremble under these scourges of Providence. In the second place, if, on the other hand, God moderate the excessive heat by a gentle cooling breeze, if he purify the polluted atmosphere by the north wind, or if he moisten the parched ground by south winds; in this we ought to contemplate his goodness.

As the apostle, who writes to the Hebrews, (Hebrews 1:7) quotes this passage, and applies it to the angels, both the Greek and Latin expositors have almost unanimously considered David as here speaking allegorically. In like manner, because Paul, in quoting Psalm 19:4, in his Epistle to the Romans, (Romans 10:18) seems to apply to the apostles what is there stated concerning the heavens, the whole psalm has been injudiciously expounded as if it were an allegory. 179179     See volume 1, page 314. The design of the apostle, in that part of the Epistle to the Hebrews referred to, was not simply to explain the mind of the prophet in this place; but since God is exhibited to us, as it were, visibly in a mirror, the apostle very properly lays down the analogy between the obedience which the winds manifestly and perceptibly yield to God, and that obedience which he receives from the angels. In short, the meaning is, that as God makes use of the winds as his messengers, turns them hither and thither, calms and raises them whenever he pleases, that by their ministry he may declare his power, so the angels were created to execute his commands. And certainly we profit little in the contemplation of universal nature, if we do not behold with the eyes of faith that spiritual glory of which an image is presented to us in the world.

5 He hath founded the earth upon its foundations Here the prophet celebrates the glory of God, as manifested in the stability of the earth. Since it is suspended in the midst of the air, and is supported only by pillars of water, how does it keep its place so steadfastly that it cannot be moved? This I indeed grant may be explained on natural principles; for the earth, as it occupies the lowest place, being the center of the world, naturally settles down there. But even in this contrivance there shines forth the wonderful power of God. Again, if the waters are higher than the earth, because they are lighter, why do they not cover the whole earth round about? Certainly the only answer which philosophers can give to this is, that the tendency of the waters to do so is counteracted by the providence of God, that a dwelling-place might be provided for man. If they do not admit that the waters are restrained by the determinate appointment of God, they betray not only their depravity and unthankfulness, but also their ignorance, and are altogether barbarous. The prophet, therefore, not without reason, recounts among the miracles of God, that which would be to us wholly incredible, did not even experience show its truth. We are very base indeed if, taught by such undoubted a proof, we do not learn that nothing in the world is stable except in as far as it is sustained by the hand of God. The world did not originate from itself, consequently, the whole order of nature depends on nothing else than his appointment, by which each element has its own peculiar property. Nor is the language of the prophet to be viewed merely as an exhortation to give thanks to God; it is also intended to strengthen our confidence in regard to the future, that we may not live in the world in a state of constant fear and anxiety, as we must have done had not God testified that he has given the earth for a habitation to men. It is a singular blessing, which he bestows upon us, in his causing us to dwell upon the earth with undisturbed minds, by giving us the assurance that he has established it upon everlasting pillars. Although cities often perish by earthquakes, yet the body of the earth itself remains. Yea, all the agitations which befall it more fully confirm to us the truth, that the earth would be swallowed up every moment were it not preserved by the secret power of God.

6. He hath covered it with the deep as with a garment, This may be understood in two ways, either as implying that now the sea covers the earth as a garment, or that at the beginning, before God by his omnipotent word held gathered the waters together into one place, the earth was covered with the deep. But the more suitable sense appears to be, that the sea is now the covering of the earth. At the first creation the deep was not so much a garment as a grave, inasmuch as nothing bears less resemblance to the adorning of apparel than the state of confused desolation and shapeless chaos in which the earth then was. Accordingly, in my judgment, there is here celebrated that wonderful arrangement by which the deep, although without form, is yet the garment of the earth. But as the context seems to lead to a different view, interpreters are rather inclined to explain the language as denoting, That the earth was covered with the deep before the waters had been collected into a separate place. This difficulty is however easily solved, if the words of the prophet, The waters shall stand above the mountains, are resolved into the potential mood thus, The waters would stand above the mountains; which is sufficiently vindicated from the usage of the Hebrew language. I have indeed no doubt that the prophet, after having said that God had clothed the earth with waters, adds, by way of exposition, that the waters would stand above the mountains, were it not that they flee away at God’s rebuke. Whence is it that the mountains are elevated, and that the valleys sink down, but because bounds are set to the waters, that they may not return to overwhelm the earth? The passage then, it is obvious, may very properly be understood thus, — that the sea, although a mighty deep, which strikes terror by its vastness, is yet as a beautiful garment to the earth. The reason of the metaphor is, because the surface of the earth stands uncovered. The prophet affirms that this does not happen by chance; for, if the providence of God did not restrain the waters, would they not immediately rush forth to overwhelm the whole earth? He, therefore, speaks advisedly when he maintains that the appearance of any part of the earth’s surface is not the effect of nature, but is an evident miracle. Were God to give loose reins to the sea, the waters would suddenly cover the mountains. But now, fleeing at God’s rebuke, they retire to a different quarter. By the rebuke of God, and the voice of his thunder, is meant the awful command of God, by which he restrains the violent raging of the sea. Although at the beginning, by his word alone, he confined the sea within determinate bounds, and continues to this day to keep it within them, yet if we consider how tumultuously its billows cast up their foam when it is agitated, it is not without reason that the prophet speaks of it, as kept in check by the powerful command of God; just as, both in Jeremiah, (Jeremiah 5:22) and in Job, (Job 28:25) God, with much sublimity, commends his power, as displayed in the ocean. The ascending of the mountains, and the descending of the valleys, are poetical figures, implying, that unless God confined the deep within bounds, the distinction between mountains and valleys, which contributes to the beauty of the earth, would cease to exist, for it would engulf the whole earth. It is said that God has founded a place for the valleys; for there would be no dry land at the foot of the mountains, but the deep would bear sway, did not God command the space there to be unoccupied by the sea, as it were contrary to nature.

9. Thou hast set a bound which they shall not pass The miracle spoken of is in this verse amplified, from its perpetuity. Natural philosophers are compelled to admit, and it is even one of their first principles, that the water is circular, and occupies the region intermediate between the earth and the air. It is entirely owing to the providence of God, that part of the earth remains dry and fit for the habitation of men. This is a fact of which mariners have the most satisfactory evidence. Yea, were even the rudest and most stupid of our race only to open their eyes, they would behold in the sea mountains of water elevated far above the level of the land. Certainly no banks, and even no iron gates, could make the waters, which in their own nature are fluid and unstable, keep together and in one place, as we see to be the case. I have just now said that earthquakes, which bring destruction upon some places, leave the globe, upon the whole, as it was before; and in like manner, although the sea, in some parts of the world, overpasses its boundaries, yet the law, which confines it; within certain limits, stands fast, that the earth may be a fit habitation for men. The Baltic Sea, in our own time, inundated large tracts of land, and did great damage to the Flemish people and other neighboring nations. By an instance of this kind we are warned what would be the consequence, were the restraint imposed upon the sea, by the hand of God, removed. How is it that we have not thereby been swallowed up together, but because God has held in that outrageous element by his word? In short, although the natural tendency of the waters is to cover the earth, yet this will not happen, because God has established, by his word, a counteracting law, and as his truth is eternal, this law must remain steadfast.

10. Sending out springs by the valleys The Psalmist here describes another instance both of the power and goodness of God, which is, that he makes fountains to gush out in the mountains, and to run down through the midst of the valleys. Although it is necessary for the earth to be dry, to render it a fit habitation for us, yet, unless we had water to drink, and unless the earth opened her veins, all kinds of living creatures would perish. The prophet, therefore, speaks in commendation of that arrangement by which the earth, though dry, yet supplies us with water by its moisture. The word נחלים, nechalim, which I have rendered springs, is by some translated, torrents or rivers; but springs is more appropriate. In the same sense it is added immediately after, that they run among the hills; and yet, it is scarcely credible that fountains could spring forth from rocks and stony places. But here it may be asked, why the prophet says that the beasts of the field quench their thirst, rather than men, for whose sake the world was created? I would observe, in reply, that he obviously spake in this manner, for the purpose of enhancing the goodness of God, who vouchsafes to extend his care to the brute creation, yea, even to the wild asses, under which species are included all other kinds of wild beasts. And he purposely refers to desert places, that each of us may compare with them the more pleasant, and the cultivated parts of the earth, afterwards mentioned. Rivers run even through great and desolate wildernesses, where the wild beasts enjoy some blessing of God; and no country is so barren as not to have trees growing here and there, on which birds make the air to resound with the melody of their singing. Since even those regions where all lies waste and uncultivated, furnish manifest tokens of the Divine goodness and power, with what admiration ought we to regard that most abundant supply of all good things, which is to be seen in cultivated and favorable regions? Surely in countries where not only one river flows, or where not only grass grows for the feeding of wild beasts, or where the singing of birds is heard not only from a few trees, but where a manifold and varied abundance of good things everywhere presents itself to our view, our stupidity is more than brutish, if our minds, by such manifestations of the goodness of God, are not fixed in devout meditation on his glory.

The same subject is prosecuted in the 13th verse, where it is said that God watereth the mountains from his chambers It is no ordinary miracle that the mountains, which seem to be condemned to perpetual drought, and which, in a manner, are suspended in the air, nevertheless abound in pastures. The prophet, therefore, justly concludes that this fruitfulness proceeds from nothing else but the agency of God, who is their secret cultivator. Labour cannot indeed, in the proper sense, be attributed to God, but still it is not without reason applied to him, for, by merely blessing the earth from the place of his repose, he works more efficaciously than if all the men in the world were to waste themselves by incessant labor.

14. Making grass to grow for cattle The Psalmist now comes to men, of whom God vouchsafes to take a special care as his children. After having spoken of the brute creation, he declares, that corn is produced, and bread made of it, for the nourishment of the human race; and he mentions in addition to this, wine and oil, two things which not only supply the need of mankind, but also contribute to their cheerful enjoyment of life. Some understand the Hebrew word לעבדת, laäbodath, which I have rendered for the service, to denote the labor which men bestow in husbandry; for while grass grows on the mountains of itself, and without human labor, corn and herbs, which are sown, can only be produced, as is well known, by the labor and sweat of men. According to them the meaning is, that God blesses the toil of men in the cultivation of the fields. But this being too strained an interpretation, it is better to understand the word service, in the ordinary sense of the term. With respect to the word bread, I do not object to the view of those who understand it in a restricted sense, although it probably includes all kinds of food; only I dislike the opinion of those who exclude bread. There is no force in the reason which they allege for taking this view, namely, that in the following verse another use of bread is added, when it is said, that it strengthens the heart of man; for there the same thing is expressed in different words. The prophet, in stating that God causeth the earth to bring forth herbs for the support of men, intends to say that the earth supplies them not only with food in corn, but also with other herbs and fruits; for the means of our sustenance is not limited exclusively to one kind of food.

15. And wine that cheereth the heart of man In these words we are taught, that God not only provides for men’s necessity, and bestows upon them as much as is sufficient for the ordinary purposes of life, but that in his goodness he deals still more bountifully with them by cheering their hearts with wine and oil. Nature would certainly be satisfied with water to drink; and therefore the addition of wine is owing to God’s superabundant liberality. The expression, and oil to make his face to shine, has been explained in different ways. As sadness spreads a gloom over the countenance, some give this exposition, That when men enjoy the commodities of wine and oil, their faces shine with gladness. Some with more refinement of interpretation, but without foundation, refer this to lamps. Others, considering the letter מ, mem to be the sign of the comparative degree, take the meaning to be, that wine makes men’s faces shine more than if they were anointed with oil. But the prophet, I have no doubt, speaks of unguents, intimating that God not only bestows upon men what is sufficient for their moderate use, but that he goes beyond this, giving them even their delicacies.

The words in the last clause, and bread that sustains man’s heart, I interpret thus: Bread would be sufficient to support the life of man, but God over and above, to use a common expression, bestows upon them wine and oil. The repetition then of the purpose which bread serves is not superfluous: it is employed to commend to us the goodness of God in his tenderly and abundantly nourishing men as a kind-hearted father does his children. For this reason, it is here stated again, that as God shows himself a foster-father sufficiently bountiful in providing bread, his liberality appears still more conspicuous in giving us dainties.

But as there is nothing to which we are more prone, than to abuse God’s benefits by giving way to excess, the more bountiful he is towards men, the more ought they to take care not to pollute, by their intemperance, the abundance which is presented before them. Paul had therefore good reason for giving that prohibition, (Romans 13:14)

“Make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof;”

for if we give full scope to the desires of the flesh, there will be no bounds. As God bountifully provides for us, so he has appointed a law of temperance, that each may voluntarily restrain himself in his abundance. He sends out oxen and asses into pastures, and they content themselves with a sufficiency; but while furnishing us with more than we need, he enjoins upon us an observance of the rules of moderation, that we may not voraciously devour his benefits; and in lavishing upon us a more abundant supply of good things than our necessities require, he puts our moderation to the test. The proper rule with respect to the use of bodily sustenance, is to partake of it that it may sustain, but not oppress us. The mutual communication of the things needful for the support of the body, which God has enjoined upon us, is a very good check to intemperance; for the condition upon which the rich are favored with their abundance is, that they should relieve the wants of their brethren. As the prophet in this account of the divine goodness in providence makes no reference to the excesses of men, we gather from his words that it is lawful to use wine not only in cases of necessity, but also thereby to make us merry. This mirth must however be tempered with sobriety, first, that men may not forget themselves, drown their senses, and destroy their strength, but rejoice before their God, according to the injunction of Moses, (Leviticus 23:40;) and, secondly, that they may exhilarate their minds under a sense of gratitude, so as to be rendered more active in the service of God. He who rejoices in this way will also be always prepared to endure sadness, whenever God is pleased to send it. That rule of Paul ought to be kept in mind, (Philippians 4:12,)

“I have learned to abound, — I have learned to suffer want.”

If some token of the divine anger is manifest, even he who has an overflowing abundance of all kinds of dainty food, will restrict himself in his diet knowing that he is called to put on sackcloth, and to sit among ashes. Much more ought he whom poverty compels to be temperate and sober, to abstain from such delicacies. In short, if one man is constrained to abstain from wine by sickness, if another has only vapid wine, and a third nothing but water, let each be content with his own lot, and willingly and submissively wean himself from those gratifications which God denies him.

The same remarks apply to oil. We see from this passage that ointments were much in use among the Jews, as well as among the other eastern nations. At the present day, it is different with us, who rather keep ointments for medicinal purposes, than use them as articles of luxury. The prophet, however, says, that oil also is given to men, that they may anoint themselves therewith. But as men are too prone to pleasure, it is to be observed, that the law of temperance ought not to be separated from the beneficence of God, lest they abuse their liberty by indulging in luxurious excess. This exception must always be added, that no person may take encouragement from this doctrine to licentiousness.

Moreover, when men have been carefully taught to bridle their lust, it is important for them to know, that God permits them to enjoy pleasures in moderation, where there is the ability to provide them; else they will never partake even of bread and wine with a tranquil conscience; yea, they will begin to scruple about the tasting of water, at least they will never come to the table but in fearfulness. Meanwhile, the greater part of the world will wallow in pleasures without discrimination, because they do not consider what God permits them; for his fatherly kindness should be to us the best mistress to teach us moderation.

16. The trees of Jehovah shall be satiated The Psalmist again treats of God’s general providence in cherishing all the parts of the world. In the first place, he asserts, that by the watering of which he had spoken the trees are satiated, or filled with sap, that thus flourishing they may be a place of abode to the birds. He next declares, that the wild deer and conies have also their places of shelter, to show that no part of the world is forgotten by Him, who is the best of fathers, and that no creature is excluded from his care. The transition which the prophet makes from men to trees is as if he had said, It is not to be wondered at, if God so bountifully nourishes men who are created after his own image, since he does not grudge to extend his care even to trees. By the trees of the Lord, is meant those which are high and of surpassing beauty; for God’s blessing is more conspicuous in them. It seems scarcely possible for any juice of the earth to reach so great a height, and yet they renew their foliage every year.


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