Psalm 104 Study Notes


104:1-35 This psalm is a companion hymn to Ps 103. It begins with the same words that end that psalm. This psalm alludes to the Noahic covenant and the six days of creation. It resembles ancient Near Eastern texts in form and content. The psalm is an argument against sun worship.

104:1 To be clothed with majesty and splendor represents royal language typically associated with kingship (96:6; 111:3; 145:5-12; Jb 40:10; Is 2:10,19-20; 35:2).

104:2 God is identified with light (Gn 15:17; 1Jn 1:5), and light signifies the Lord’s presence in Jerusalem (Ps 89:15; Is 60:1; Ezk 43:1-2). Light, the first created element, dispels darkness and reveals evil (Jn 3:20; 8:12; 2Co 4:5-6; 1Jn 2:8). On spreading out the sky, compare Is 40:22; Zch 12:1.

104:3 The palace (or “chamber”) refers to God’s dwelling place, which contains rain (v. 13; Am 9:6). The Lord rides the clouds (Ps 68:4,17). To walk on the wings of the wind refers to God’s dominion (18:10).

104:4 The winds and rain, controlled by God, are agents of judgment and blessing. Flames of fire refers to lightning (29:7; 148:8; see Heb 1:7). In the ancient Near East, the heavenly bodies and natural elements were worshiped as deities, but in this psalm all of these “deities” fall under the Lord’s authority as Creator.

104:5 While vv. 1-4 describe the Lord’s sovereignty over natural forces, the emphasis in this verse shifts to the Lord as King over the earth. By divine command, God established the earth on its axis. It will never be shaken could be rendered as “it will never totter,” based on the nuance of the Hebrew verb mut (“to tip over, fall off balance,” 82:5; 93:1; 96:10; Is 24:19; 40:20; 41:7).

104:6-8 God covered the earth with the deep and the water stood above the mountains. The imagery is consistent with the cosmic flood in Genesis (7:18-20). At God’s rebuke the water fled like warriors fleeing from battle (114:3-6) and hurried away (i.e., in alarm) at the sound of God’s voice. The floodwaters receded, uncovering the mountains and redefining the valleys, restoring the earth to its natural state. Just as the Lord established the earth (v. 5), so the mountains and valleys remained in the places God established for them.

104:9 As sovereign Creator, God appointed a boundary that the waters could not transcend, so that they will never cover the earth again (Is 54:9). This expression recalls the Lord’s covenant with Noah, when he promised never to destroy the earth by flood again (Gn 9:11).

104:10-12 The psalmist transformed the destructive role of water into a constructive role—the provision of water for sustaining the life of his creatures.

104:13 On palace, see note at v. 3.

104:14 Vegetation provides food for cattle and mankind alike. Humanity stands at the center of the psalm, representative of God’s finest creature and the crowning achievement of his creation (Ps 8).

104:15 To make a man’s face shine with oil figuratively describes the abundance of God’s provision and the satisfaction of rich foods. Bread denotes any type of food.

104:16 Flourish is literally “are satisfied.”

104:17-18 The Lord has allotted a place for all the animals.

104:19-20 The solar and lunar cycles regulate the seasons, reflecting God’s dependability and sovereignty over creation. God controls the darkness and the light and the life cycles of night and day creatures.

104:21-24 These verses speak of the orderliness of creation. Verse 24 pauses to praise God for his works.

104:25 Vast and wide is literally “great and broad its hands.”

104:26 Leviathan (Jb 3:8; Is 27:1) refers to a large sea creature that would play in the water. See note at 74:14.

104:27 God’s faithfulness to his creation allows his creatures to anticipate his future provision (145:5; 146:5; Is 38:18).

104:28 The Hebrew word for satisfied (sb‘) is a key term in the psalm. The earth is “satisfied” (v. 13), the trees are satisfied (“flourish,” v. 16), and all of the earth’s inhabitants are “satisfied” (v. 28).

104:29-30 The hiding of God’s face refers to abandonment. The term terrified denotes a state of chaos, and it may also be translated “confused.” Only God has power over life and death (Gn 2:7; 6:17). When man dies, he returns to dust (Gn 3:19); and when God sends forth his breath (Hb ruach, “spirit”), he creates life.

104:31-32 The focused attention of God causes the earth to tremble (2:11; 55:5; Jb 4:14; Is 33:14). The presence of the omnipotent God causes mountains to smoke (18:8; 144:5; 2Sm 22:9; Is 4:5; 6:4), often as part of an appearance of the Lord (Ex 19:18; 20:18).

104:33-34 This is a vow of praise.

104:35 In the LXX, Hallelujah! begins Ps 105; thus, Pss 103-106 each end with the same phrase they begin with—“My soul, bless the Lord!” in 103 and 104, and “Hallelujah!” in 105 and 106. Hallelujah is literally “praise Yah.” Yah is a shortened form of Yahweh. The psalmist was inviting his audience to join him in praising the Lord.