Psalm 104:1

PREFACE

It is now three years and a half since we sent out the fourth portion of "The Treasury of David," and many have been the enquiries as to when the fifth volume would appear. Our publishers have given hopeful replies to the outside public, but their own patience has been considerably strained as they have watched our slow progress and bemoaned our long intervals of inactivity. The book is ready at last, very much to the author's content though he cannot say that he is quite so well satisfied with it as with the former volumes. There is more work in it, but less to show for the labour. Equal diligence has been bestowed upon it, but upon many of the Psalms the materials have been extremely slender, and therefore research has had to go further afield to discover notes and expositions. Where there was much material there was more freedom of selection, and so the extracts were rich and suggestive, but now that the supply is scanty that which we discover after much hunting is not always of the very highest value.

As most of the commentators upon the Psalms proceed in their work they become slovenly, and appear to write hurriedly and think superficially, either because they grow weary of their huge enterprise, or else because they have said their best things already: this makes the compiler's labour the more severe. Another source of the increasing "famine in the land" is the unhappy fact that the lazy practice of referring to a passage in a former psalm is continually carried out by commentators; or, what is rather worse, the writers fall into the habit of repeating, with scarce a variation of language, that which they have said before.

Our greatest trouble is occasioned by the fact that the expounders are not impartial, but spend all their love, or at least their energies, upon favourite portions of the sacred volume, passing by other passages with scarcely a remark, as if all Scripture were not equally inspired. Why should so much be written on Psalm 106 and so little upon CXVIII? Upon here and there a passage everybody seems to have written or spoken, but having passed through these few frequented places we have had to travel along an untrodden road. Of many a text we have had to sigh, "Few there be that find it." We are writing of the Psalms, the best read portion of the Old Testament, and therefore the fact is the more singular. We have thousands of writers, of one kind or another, but they go in flocks, like sheep, traversing only the same texts and passages. For want of a conscientious effort to expound the whole of Scripture, much of it lies as little considered as if it had never been written for our instruction.

Nor is this the only reason for the time which this volume has occupied, though we judge it to be quite sufficient, but we have desired to complete this work at our best, and not to allow the close of it to exhibit signs of fatigue and decline. We have often sat down to write our comment upon a psalm, and have risen from the task because we did not feel at home at it. It is of no use compelling the mind, its productions in such a case are like forced fruits, disappointing and devoid of flavour. We like to write after the manner of John Bunyan, who said, "As I pulled, it came," and we prefer that the pulling should be as gentle as possible. So it has happened that we have lingered for months over a psalm, feeling quite unfit to enter upon it. Especially was this the case over the hundred and ninth psalm, which we sometimes think we never should have been able to handle at all if it had not been for the Bulgarian massacres, which threw us into such a state of righteous indignation that while we were musing the fire burned, and we melted the sentences, and wished that we could pour them boiling hot upon the monsters. Later tidings make us feel that the other side might well be favoured with similar visitations. Other psalms have had their difficulties, though none to be compared with CIX. The grand Cosmos of Psalm 114 was not to be dismissed in a few days; even now, after laying our best efforts at its feet, we feel dissatisfied with the poor result. However, we have done our best, and have grappled honestly with all hard places. We are so far through our labour and look for a full deliverance. If some of our friends have had to Wait, we hope they will be gainers by obtaining fruit all the riper and better from coming in due season.

This volume is shorter than those which preceded it, on account of the interposition of the hundred and nineteenth psalm, which is far too long to be incorporated in this volume. Being also too long to be embodied in the next, it will be attempted by itself, if health and strength permit. Then we may reckon that from the hundred and twentieth to the hundred and fiftieth will make another volume of about the usual size, and so "The Treasury" will be completed, if the Lord will, in seven portions. Innumerable thanks which we have received render the continuance of this work a very happy engagement, and feeling ourselves free to take as much time as we please, it will never degenerate into task work, nor will it be executed "by the piece," as too much literary work is evidently done. If we die before it is completed, it will be better to leave an unfinished work executed with care than to make a hurried close with inferior workmanship.

In this volume, as in all the rest, we have had the indefatigable assistance of Mr. J.L. Keys, who, in addition to a vast amount of copying, has visited various libraries and museums to select from rare works which could not be found in any other places. Our venerable friend, the Rev. George Rogers, has all along contributed his invaluable sermon outlines, for which we are deeply grateful. Mr. Gracey, the classical tutor of the Pastors' College, assisted us through the earlier psalms of this volume in making selections from the Latin authors, and when he was obliged to decline, owing to the pressure of his engagements, his place was ably filled by the Rev. E.T. Gibson, late of Crayford, to whom we also owe certain notes from German authors. The immense mass of work which has been done in translating does not appear in the volume, for only here and there an extract has been selected out of the immense area of Latinity which has had to be traversed. To begin with, many of the voluminous authors are so fanciful as to be frequently ridiculous in their interpretations, and amid acres of words one can hardly find a grain of reasonable comment. Worse still, if worse can be, their translations are not to be relied upon, and they generally throw the most weight upon the slenderest threads, hanging ponderous teachings upon very doubtful renderings. In addition to all this, the Latin authors, like the English, greatly degenerate as they proceed, and the quotable portions become more and more rare. We have somewhat enlarged upon this point that our readers may see that this smaller volume represents far more labour than any of its predecessors. Driven to the Latin authors by the poverty of the English, we have not used a tenth part of what has been selected.

It has hardly been encouraging to do more work with less apparent result, and yet it must be more useful to give hints for the interpretation of passages which have, been neglected than merely to present our readers with what they could easily have found for themselves. Reflecting upon this, we thank God and take courage.

Though frequently interrupted by ill health, we hope to proceed with our work with all possible diligence, indulging the hope that when the author and compiler shall sleep with his fathers, the libraries of his brethren will remain enriched, and other minds will be assisted in setting forth the infinite fulness of this incomparable portion of the word of God. We cannot but express our sense of the superficiality of the best and most laborious of comments when compared with the bottomless depths of the Sacred Word, nor can we refrain from uttering our growing conviction that the Scriptures possess a verbal as well as a plenary inspiration; indeed, we are quite unable to see how they could have the one without the other. So much of meaning dwells in the turn of an expression, the tense of a verb, or the number of a noun, that we believe in the inspiration of the words themselves; certainly the words are the things written, and the only things that can be written -- for the refined spirit of a passage is not the creature of pen and ink. Our Lord's favourite sentence, "It is written," must of necessity apply to words, for only words are written. Those words which the Holy Ghost teacheth are, however, by no means to be regarded as mere words, for besides their office of conserving the inner meaning, as the shell preserves the mystic germ within the egg, they are themselves spirit and life. From all of them we gather quickening, and they breathe fire into our souls.

May the enlightening Spirit rest upon all students of the Psalms, and grant them to see far more deeply into the hidden meaning of these sacred hymns than we have been enabled to do. We rise from our perusal of each holy passage abashed at our own short sightedness, and almost overwhelmed at our temerity in having dared to undertake such a work as we have brought to the present stage. May He who accepteth us according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not, bless our unworthy labours to His own glory, for Christ's sake.


Yours very heartily,
C.H. Spurgeon


CLAPHAM,



August, 1878.

PSALM 104 OVERVIEW

GENERAL, REMARKS. -- Here we have one of the loftiest and longest sustained flights of the inspired muse. The psalm gives an interpretation to the many voices of nature, and sings sweetly both of creation and providence. The poem contains a complete cosmos sea and land, cloud and sunlight, plant and animal, light and darkness, life and death, are all proved to be expressive of the presence of the Lord. Traces of the six days of creation are very evident, and though the creation of man, which was the crowning work of the sixth day, is not mentioned, this is accounted for from the fact that man is himself the singer: some have ever, discerned marks of the divine rest upon the seventh day in Psalms 104:31 . It is a poet's version of Genesis. Nor is it alone the present condition of the earth which is here the subject of song; but a hint is given of those holier times when we shall see "a new earth wherein dwelleth righteousness," out of which the sinner shall be consumed, Psalms 104:35 . The spirit of ardent praise to God runs through the whole, and with it a distinct realization of the divine Being as a personal existence, loved and trusted as well as adored.

We have no information as to the author, but the Septuagint assigns it to David, and we see no reason for ascribing it to any one else. His spirit, style, and manner of writing are very manifest therein, and if the psalm must be ascribed to another, it must be to a mind remarkably similar, and we could only suggest the wise son of David -- Solomon, the poet preacher, to whose notes upon natural history in the Proverbs some of the verses bear a striking likeness. Whoever the human penman may have been, the exceeding glory and perfection of the Holy Spirit's own divine authorship are plain to every spiritual mind.

Division. -- After ascribing blessedness to the Lord the devout psalmist sings of the light and the firmament, which were the work of the first and second days Psalms 104:1-6 . By an easy transition he describes the separation of the waters from the dry land, the formation of rain, brooks and rivers, and the uprising of green herbs, which were the produce of the third day Psalms 104:7-18 . Then the appointment of the sun and moon to be the guardians of day and night commands the poet's admiration Psalms 104:19-23 , and so he sings the work of the fourth day. Having already alluded to many varieties of living creatures, the psalmist proceeds from Psalms 104:24-30 to sing of the life with which the Lord was pleased to fill the air, the sea, and the land; these forms of existence were the peculiar produce of the fifth and sixth days. We may regard the closing verses Psalms 104:31-35 as a Sabbath meditation, hymn, and prayer. The whole lies before us as a panorama of the universe viewed by the eye of devotion. O for grace to render due praise unto the Lord while reading it.

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 1. Bless the LORD, O my soul. This psalm begins and ends like the Hundred and Third, and it could not do better: when the model is perfect it deserves to exist in duplicate. True praise begins at home. It is idle to stir up others to praise if we are ungratefully silent ourselves. We should call upon our inmost hearts to awake and bestir themselves, for we are apt to be sluggish, and if we are so when called upon to bless God, we shall have great cause to be ashamed. When we magnify the Lord, let us do it heartily: our best is far beneath his worthiness, let us not dishonour him by rendering to him half hearted worship.

O LORD my God, thou art very great. This ascription has in it a remarkable blending of the boldness of faith, and the awe of holy fear: for the psalmist calls the infinite Jehovah "my God," and at the same time, prostrate in amazement at the divine greatness, he cries out in utter astonishment, "Thou art very great." God was great on Sinai, yet the opening words of his law were, "I am the Lord thy God;" his greatness is no reason why faith should not put in her claim, and call him all her own. The declaration of Jehovah's greatness here given would have been very much in place at the end of the psalm, for it is a natural inference and deduction from a survey of the universe: its position at the very commencement of the poem is an indication that the whole psalm was well considered and digested in the mind before it was actually put into words; only on this supposition can we account for the emotion preceding the contemplation. Observe also, that the wonder expressed does not refer to the creation and its greatness, but to Jehovah himself. It is not "the universe is very great!" but "THOU art very great." Many stay at the creature, and so become idolatrous in spirit; to pass onward to the Creator himself is true wisdom.

Thou art clothed with honour and majesty. Thou thyself art not to be seen, but thy works, which may be called thy garments, are full of beauties and marvels which redound to thine honour. Garments both conceal and reveal a man, and so do the creatures of God. The Lord is seen in his works as worthy of honour for his skill, his goodness, and his power, and as claiming majesty, for he has fashioned all things in sovereignty, doing as he wills, and asking no man's permit. He must be blind indeed who does not see that nature is the work of a king. These are solemn strokes of God's severer mind, terrible touches of his sterner attributes, broad lines of inscrutable mystery, and deep shadings of overwhelming power, and these make creation's picture a problem never to be solved, except by admitting that he who drew it giveth no account of his matters, but ruleth all things according to the good pleasure of his will. His majesty is, however, always so displayed as to reflect honour upon his whole character; he does as lie wills, but he wills only that which is thrice holy, like himself. The very robes of the unseen Spirit teach us this, and it is ours to recognize it with humble adoration.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Whole Psalm. -- This psalm is an inspired "Oratorio of Creation." -- Christopher Wordsworth.

Whole Psalm. -- The Psalm is delightful, sweet, and instructive as teaching us the soundest views of nature (la mas sans fisica), and the best method of pursuing the study of it, viz., by admiring with one eye the works of God, and with the other God himself, their Creator and Preserver. --Sanchez, quoted by Perowne.

Whole Psalm. -- It might almost be said that this one psalm represents the image of the whole Cosmos. We are astonished to find in a lyrical poem of such a limited compass, the whole universe -- the heavens and the earth -- sketched with a few bold touches. The calm and toilsome labour of man, from the rising of the sun to the setting of the same, when his daily work is done, is here contrasted with the moving life of the elements of nature. This contrast and generalisation in the conception of the mutual action of natural phenomena, and this retrospection of an omnipresent invisible power, which can renew the earth or crumble it to dust, constitute a solemn rather than a glowing and gentle form of poetic creation. --A. Vonl Hurnboldt's Cosmos.

Whole Psalm. -- Its touches are indeed few, rapid -- but how comprehensive and sublime! Is it God? -- "He is clothed with light as with a garment," and when he walks abroad, it is on the "wings of the wind." The winds or lightnings? -- They are his messengers or angels: "Stop us not," they seem to say; "the King's business requireth haste." The waters? -- The poet shows them in flood, covering the face of the earth, and then as they now lie, enclosed within their embankments, to break forth no more for ever. The springs? He traces them, by one inspired glance, as they run among the hills, as they give drink to the wild and lonely creatures of the wilderness, as they nourish the boughs, on which sing the birds, the grass, on which feed the cattle, the herb, the corn, the olive tree, the vine, which fill man's mouth, cheer his heart, and make his face to shine. Then he skims with bold wing all lofty objects -- the trees of the Lord on Lebanon, "full of sap," -- the fir trees, and the storks which are upon them -- the high hills, with their wild goats -- and the rocks with their conics. Then he soars up to the heavenly bodies -- the sun and the moon. Then he spreads abroad his wings in the darkness of the night, which "hideth not from Him," and hears the beasts of the forest creeping abroad to seek their prey, and the roar of the lions to God for meat, coming up upon the wings of midnight. Then as he sees the shades and the wild beasts fleeing together, in emulous haste, from the presence of the morning sun, and man, strong and calm in its light as in the smile of God, hieing to his labour, he exclaims, "O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all!" He casts, next, one look at the ocean -- a look glancing at the ships which go there, at the leviathan which plays there; and then piercing down to the innumerable creatures, small and great, which are found below its unlifted veil of waters. He sees, then, all the beings, peopling alike earth and sea, waiting for life and food around the table of their Divine Master -- nor waiting in vain -- till, lo! he hides his face, and they are troubled, die, and disappear in chaos and night. A gleam, next, of the great resurrection of nature and of man comes across his eye. "Thou sendest forth thy Spirit, they are created, and thou renewest the face of the earth." But a greater truth still succeeds, and forms the climax of the psalm -- (a truth Humboldt, with all his admiration of it, notices not, and which gives a Christian tone to the whole) -- "The Lord shall rejoice in his works." He contemplates a yet more perfect Cosmos. He is "to consume Sinners" and sin "out of" this fair universe: and then, when man is wholly worthy of his dwelling, shall God say of both it and him, with a yet deeper emphasis than when he said it at first, and smiling at the same time a yet warmer and softer smile, "It is very good." And with an ascription of blessing to the Lord does the poet close this almost angelic descant upon the works of nature, the glory of God, and the prospects of man. It is not merely the unity of the Cosmos that he had displayed in it, but its progression, as connected with the parallel progress of man -- its thorough dependence on one Infinite Mind -- the "increasing purpose" which runs along it -- and its final purification, when it shall blossom into "the bright consummate flower" of the new heavens and the new earth, "wherein dwelleth righteousness;" -- this is the real burden and the peculiar glory of the 104th Psalm. --George Gilfillan, in "The Bards of the Bible".

Whole Psalm. -- It is a singular circumstance in the composition of this psalm, that each of the parts of the First Semichorus, after the first, begins with a participle. And these participles are accusatives, agreeing with hwhy, the object of the verb ygdb, at the beginning of the whole psalm. Bless the Jehovah -- putting on -- extending -- laying -- constituting -- travelling -- making -- setting -- sending -- watering -- making -- making. Thus, this transitive verb, in the opening of the psalm, extending its government through the successive parts of the same semichorus, except the last, unites them all in one long period. --Samuel Horsley.

Whole Psalm. -- As to the details, -- the sections intervening between verses 2 and 31, -- they may be read as a meditation upon creation and the first "ordering of the world," as itself the counterpart and foreshadowing of the new and restored order in the great Sabbath or Millenary period, or, it may be, they are actually descriptive of this -- beginning with the coming of the Lord in the clouds of heaven (verse 3 with Psalms 18:9-11 ), attended with "the angels of his power" (verse 4 with 2 Thessalonians 1:7 Gr.): followed by the "establishing" of the earth, no more to be "moved" or "agitated" by the convulsions and disturbances which sin has caused: after which Nature is exhibited in the perfection of her beauty -- all things answering the end of their creation: all the orders of the animal world in harmony with each other, and all at peace with man; all provided for by the varied produce of the earth, no longer cursed, bug blessed, and again made fruitful by God, "on whom all wait...who openeth his hand and fills them with good"; and all his goodness meeting with its due acknowledgment from his creatures, who join in chorus to praise him, and say -- "O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches. Hallelujah." --William De Burgh.

Verse 1. -- "Bless the Lord, O my soul." A good man's work lieth most within doors, he is more taken up with his own soul, than with all the world besides; neither can he ever be alone so long as he hath God and his own heart to converse with. --John Trapp.

Verse 1. -- With what reverence and holy awe doth the psalmist begin his meditation with that acknowledgment! "O Lord, my God, thou art very great;" and it is the joy of the saints that he who is their God is a great God: the grandeur of the prince is the pride and pleasure of all his good subjects. -- Matthew Henry.

Verse 1. -- Thou art clothed with honour and majesty. That is, as Jerome says, Thou art arrayed and adorned with magnificence and splendour; Thou art acknowledged to be glorious and illustrious by thy works, as a man by his garment. Whence it is clear that the greatness celebrated here is not the intrinsic but the exterior or revealed greatness of God. --Lorinus.

Verse 1. -- Each created, redeemed, regenerated soul is bound to praise the Lord, the Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier; for that God the Son, who in the beginning made the worlds, and whose grace is ever carrying on his work to its perfect end by the operation of the Holy Ghost, has been revealed before us in his exceeding glory. He, as the eternal High priest, hath put on the Urim and Thummim of majesty and honour, and hath clothed himself with light, as a priest clothes himself with his holy vestments: his brightness on the mount of transfiguration was but a passing glimpse of what he is now, ever hath been, and ever shall be. He is the true Light, therefore his angels are the angels of light, his children the children of light, this doctrine the doctrine of light. The universe is his tabernacle; the heavens visible and invisible are the curtains which shroud his holy place. He hath laid the beams and foundations of his holy of holies very high, even above the waters which are above the firmament. The clouds and the winds of the lower heaven are his chariot, upon which he stood when he ascended from Olivet, upon which he will sit when he cometh again. --"Plain Commentary".

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Verse 1. (first clause) -- An exhortation to one's own heart.

  1. To remember the Lord as the first cause of all good. Bless not man, or fate, but the Lord.
  2. To do this in a loving, grateful, hearty, praising manner. Bless the Lord.
  3. To do it truly and intensely. O my soul.
  4. To do it now -- for various reasons and in all possible ways.

Verse 1. (second clause). -- He is all this essentially, and in nature, providence, grace, and judgment.