“Bless the Lord, O my soul.” So whereas Psalm 103 focuses our attention on God's tenderness and compassion as it's revealed in His grace, especially the grace of forgiveness, Psalm 104 focuses us on the greatness of God especially as it is revealed in His creation and in His providence over creation, the way He provides for His creation — not only man, but even the animals.
Psalm 104 celebrates God's creating the world, His providing for the world, His caring for the world, the world's dependence upon Him. It is a Psalm in which we focus on nature as God brought into being the created order. There are about five Psalms in the Psalter that focus on nature, but in contrast from the nature worshipers of the days of the Bible to the nature worshipers in our own time, the Psalm does not worship nature, it points us to the worship of the God who created nature. It stands in amazement of creation; it stands in amazement of the created order; it stands in amazement of the intricacy and the complexity and the fullness of nature, but it doesn't worship nature. It worships the God who made nature, and therein are some lessons for us. Let's outline the Psalm very briefly before we read it together so that you’ll be able to follow along the argument and the flow of the Psalm.
The first verse of the Psalm gives you an ascription of praise. It's in the first half of the first verse. You’re called upon to praise God because of His greatness. Now the bulk of the Psalm from the middle of the first verse all the way to verse 30 is about giving you the specific witness to God's glory that the psalmist wants you to use in order to realize God's greatness. And the witness to God's glory is nature…creation. What He brought into being is to be the witness that moves your soul to praise Him. So if you look, for instance, at verses 1-4, we're told that God's greatness is displayed in nature, and it uses very poetic, graphic language. It speaks of God's clothing himself with nature. When you’re looking at nature, you’re looking at the created order, you’re looking at God's “suit.” You see its glory and you see His glory.
Well, then, in verses 5-9 His greatness is displayed in His having brought nature into being. There's a little recounting of Genesis 1 and 2 right there in verses 5-9 of Psalm 104. Then in verses 10-26, the psalmist points us to three parts of God's creation: the earth (nature at ground level); the heavens (the sun and the moon, and the stars above); and, the ocean. In verses 10-18 he points you to the earth. At verses 19-23 he points you to the heavens.
Then in verse 24 he just can't go on anymore! He's got to stop, and there's this sudden evocation of praise; there's this emotional outburst, this interlude of praise to God in verse 24. Then in verses 25 and 26, he goes back to pointing to God's greatness as displayed in the oceans. So earth, heavens, ocean — and he points to these three parts of creation and he draws from them witness to God's greatness.
Then, having seen God's greatness in creation, he draws a lesson from it, and the lesson is recorded in verses 27-30, and that is the section of the Psalm that the choir just sang to that beautiful setting by Jean Berger: “The Eyes of All Wait on You.” In other words, the deduction that the psalmist draws is that the whole creation is provided for by God and dependent on God.
And then he goes back into praise again. In verses 31-35, he concludes the Psalm with a praise to God but in that section, especially in verses 35, he connects creation with the gospel. So we're going to study that Psalm together.
Now before we read it, let me put a little question in your mind and heart: How does God's creation of nature serve the purposes of your worship of Him? How does the truth, the fact of God's creation of nature, serve the purposes of your worship of Him? This Psalm is going to tell you.
Now let's pray before we read God's word.
Lord, this is Your word, and as You display Your glory in nature, so especially do You display Your glory in Scripture. So as Your Scripture points us to nature and explains how it displays Your glory, we ask that by Your Holy Spirit You would show us Your glory in Your word, for we ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear the word of God from Psalm 104:
“Bless the Lord, O my soul!
O Lord my God, You are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
Covering yourself with light as with a garment,
Stretching out the heavens like a tent.”
He lays the beams of His chambers on the waters;
He makes the clouds His chariot;
He rides on the wings of the wind;
He makes His messengers winds,
His ministers a flaming fire.
He set the earth on its foundations,
So that it should never be moved.
You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
The waters stood above the mountains.
At Your rebuke they fled;
At the sound of Your thunder they took to flight.
The mountains rose, the valleys sank down
To the place that you appointed for them.
You set a boundary that they may not pass,
So that they might not again cover the earth.
“You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
They flow between the hills;
They give drink to every beast of the field;
The wild donkeys quench their thirst.
Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell.
They sing among the branches.
From Your lofty abode You water the mountains;
The earth is satisfied with the fruit of Your work.
“You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
And plants for man to cultivate,
That he may bring forth food from the earth
And wine to gladden the heart of man,
Oil to make his face shine
And bread to strengthen man's heart.
“The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
The cedars of Lebanon that He planted.
In them the birds build their nests;
The stork has her home in the fir trees.
The high mountains are for the wild goats;
The rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers.
“He made the moon to mark the seasons;
The sun knows its time for setting.
You make darkness, and it is night,
When all the beasts of the forest creep about.
The young lions roar for their prey,
Seeking their food from God.
When the sun rises, they steal away
And lie down in their dens.
Man goes out to his work and to his labor
Until the evening.
“O Lord, how manifold are Your works!
In wisdom have You made them all;
The earth is full of Your creatures.
Here is the sea, great and wide,
Which teems with creatures innumerable,
Living things both small and great.
There go the ships, and Leviathan,
Which You formed to play in it.
“These all look to You,
To give them their food in due season.
When You give it to them, they gather it up;
When You open Your hand, they are
Filled with good things.
When You hide Your face, they are dismayed;
When You take away their breath,
They die and return to their dust.
When You send forth Your Spirit, they are created,
And You renew the face of the ground.
“May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
May the Lord rejoice in His works,
Who looks on the earth and it trembles,
Who touches the mountains and they smoke!
I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
May my meditation be pleasing to Him,
For I rejoice in the Lord.
Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
And let the wicked be no more!
Bless the Lord, O my soul!
Praise the Lord!”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
How do you stir your soul up to worship? Sometimes God does it for you, doesn't He? Sometimes He has given you so great a gift, He has shown you so great a favor, that your heart just sings and you’re ready to worship! But sometimes He has given you such a need, such a burden, that you can't do anything but to come into His presence because you are so conscious of your utter dependence upon Him. Sometimes He does the work for you and stirs your heart up to worship, but normally how do you stir your heart up to worship? When you find yourself preparing for the Lord's Day and your heart is cold, what do you do to warm it up? What do you do to stir yourself up to be ready to give to the Lord the glory due His name, and to worship Him from the heart and not just to go through the motions?
You know, on Saturday afternoon from Norman to Baton Rouge to Starkville to Jackson there were a lot of people worshiping. They tell me that there were people singing in the stands in Baton Rouge! And I'm not critical of that: they were happy! They’d been given something that stirred their hearts, and they were singing about it.
Let me switch the theme to something far more solemn and substantial. The last week we had children born into the congregation, and mothers and fathers and grandmothers and grandfathers have stood in amazement as God gives the gift of new life, and it evokes praises from the hearts of God's people when they see God giving new life not only to us as a congregation, but families in our congregation. It evokes emotion and stirs our hearts to praise God for the gift of children.
Well, God gives means whereby we appreciate His favor and then, having apprehended His favor, having seen His goodness, we turn around in a genuine response for the way that He has displayed His goodness and favor to us and we do — what? We worship Him.
So back to our question again: How does God's creation of nature serve the purposes of our worship of Him? How does nature stir our hearts to praise God? That's what the psalmist is telling us in this Psalm. The psalmist is telling you that when you reflect on the invisible God's creation of this visible world, it leads you back to the praise of the invisible God.
You've never seen God, but you've seen His garments. They’re called “creation,” and in the earth and in the heavens and in the oceans we see the display of His glory. They are the theater of His glory. They are the garments in which He wraps himself, and when we see them we're to work our way back to Him. And the psalmist tells us that we're to do that in four ways: we're to see God's greatness in creation; we're to see God's providence in creation; we're to see our dependence upon God in creation…illustrated in creation; and then, the psalmist connects the gospel to creation. And I want to look at those four things with you today: God's greatness, God's providence, our dependence, and the gospel as it's set forth in this Psalm, and as this Psalm shows us how our hearts are stirred to praise God by looking and reflecting on the creation, because the psalmist tells us here that that's precisely what we're to do when we see creation. When we look at creation, we're not simply to appreciate its beauty, we are to meditate and reflect upon its maker. You see that, by the way, explicitly said in this Psalm. Look down at verse 34:
“May my meditation be pleasing to Him, For I rejoice in the Lord.”
In other words, the psalmist is saying ‘I'm not going to look at creation without reflecting on the One who made it, without meditating on the One who created the creation.’ And so we are reminded that every time we look at the created order it ought to be an opportunity for praise to God in which we meditate and reflect upon what He has created.
I. God's greatness
The first thing that we see in this Psalm is His greatness. Now the bulk of the Psalm, if you look from verses 1-30, looks at aspects of God's creation that display His greatness. We don't have time to do justice to all of the things that the Psalmist says, but look for a moment at two things in particular.
First, if you look at verses 10-13, you will see the psalmist talking about God's irrigation system for the world. If you traveled, if you did foreign study when you were in college, or if you visited Europe and you've been to parts of Europe where the Romans occupied back in the days of the Empire, perhaps you have seen the remnants of the aqueducts. And perhaps even if you haven't been there, you've seen them on the internet or in books and you've been amazed at how the Romans with the technology available to them two millennia ago — twenty centuries ago, two thousand years ago — could move water from here to here, from the mountains to a city, to irrigate, to provide water for a whole city. It's amazing what the Romans were able to do.
Well, the psalmist is looking at the way God provides water for the world, and he's absolutely astonished at God's irrigation system. He's looking at the waters and the snows in the mountains flowing down in huge mountain rivers into the valleys and providing water not only for the animals of the mountains and the valleys, but for people. And he's stunned. He says ‘This is amazing, Lord! This is so complex, and it's so intricate, and it's so purposeful, and it all works together, and I've never seen an irrigation system like this in the world of man that even remotely compares to the way that You provide water for the world.’
And then look at verses 19-23. He points us up to the stars, to the moon, and to the sun, and he says, ‘Lord, the sun and the moon even order our time! At night the nocturnal animals go out to hunt; at day, they go back into their dens. At day, the man goes out to work; at night he comes back in to his home. You have ordered our very time and our lives according to these astronomical bodies that You have placed into the heavens — the sun and the moon.’ And the psalmist ponders the size and the complexity and the function of creation, and he says if creation is great — and it is — then surely the Creator is greater. In other words, he draws a line from the greatness of the creation back to the greatness of the Creator, and he says this — does what? — stirs my heart to worship God! Because as great as this creation is, the Creator is greater.
You know in the time of the psalmist, as in our own time, there have been people who have decided to worship creation rather than the Creator. In the psalmist's time, the Egyptians and the Babylonians and the Canaanites worshiped the sun and the moon and the stars. Every week in the newspapers and in the magazines you can see people who still believe that the sun and the moon and the stars order their lives. We’re so modern, we've gotten beyond the ancient Babylonians, haven't we? And here's the psalmist saying ‘When I see the sun and the moon and the stars, when I see the oceans and the mountains, I am amazed. They are great, but I don't worship them. I worship the God who made them. I don't worship the sun and the moon and the stars and the mountains and the oceans, I worship the God who made the sun and the moon and the mountains and the oceans.’ There's an Egyptian hymn that's a lot like this Psalm, but all of the worship is for the sun and the moon. And the psalmist says ‘I don't worship the sun and the moon! I worship the God who made the sun and the moon!’ And, my friends, you understand how the creation has stirred his heart to worship the one true God.
But in our day and age, from Charles Darwin to Richard Dawson, people look at the created order and they are amazed by the created order to the point of having almost a religious experience about their reflection upon creation, but they worship the creation — not the One who made it. And the psalmist says ‘I'm not going to make that mistake.’
Young people, if you’re studying science, praise God! And as you study the intricate micro-complexities of the atom or the massive 14 billion light-year-across universe, at every point you need to break forth like in verse 24 and say, “O Lord, how manifold Your works!” You see, the greatness of creation leads the psalmist back to the greatness of the Creator and stirs his heart to worship God. There's the first thing we see in this Psalm.
II. God's providence — all creation is dependent upon God.
The second thing we see is providence. This Psalm celebrates not only God's greatness in having made creation and having ruled creation, and having made a huge, complex, functional, purposeful creation, it points us to God's providence. Look especially at verses 27-28:
“These all look to You,
To give them their food in due season.
When You give it to them, they gather it up;
When You open Your hand, they are
Filled with good things.”
The psalmist is pointing us to God's providence over even the animals: He provides the animals in His created order what they need. And then he makes this deduction: If God cares for the animals, won't He care for you also?
That's exactly what Jesus does in the Sermon on the Mount, isn't it? You remember in Matthew 6 where Jesus says to His disciples, ‘Look at the birds of the air. They don't have a house, they don't have clothes, they don't build barns to gather their food in the winter and store it up and eat until the harvest comes in next year. And yet the Lord provides for them.’ And then you remember the almost comical question that Jesus asks His disciples: ‘Don't you think that you’re just a little bit more important to God than birds?’ And He begins to teach His disciples about the way that God cares for His people. In other words, Jesus points them to the birds and to God's providence for the birds, and then draws a line back to the fact that God will provide for them.
My friends, it's so important in the light of this Psalm that you understand that God lacks no supply. Our economy may not be so good, but heaven's economy is just fine. And so God does not lack the capacity to supply you what you need. You may be sitting here this morning and say ‘I've just lost about sixty percent of my net worth.’ You know what? God hasn't. God's net worth is right where it was before the crash, and He can supply every need. Jesus draws a line from God's providence over the animals to God's providence over us, and then the psalmist says in light of God's providence in creation, what ought we to do? Worship God. He uses God's providence to stir him up to worship.
But not only God's providence, but our dependence on God: look at the rest of that stanza. Look at verses 29 -30:
“When You hide Your face, they are dismayed;
When You take away their breath,
They die and return to their dust.”
There the psalmist is reminding us that the animals themselves are utterly dependent upon God. They are totally dependent upon God.
Now you may say to yourself, “Well, I'm smarter than the animals.” And you are. “And I have more technology than the animals.” And you do. “And I have more resources available to me than the animals, to take care of myself and to take care of my family, and to resist the various changes and famine, and in drought, and in all the natural circumstances of the world.” And you do. But you are no less dependent upon God than the animals.
Farmers are about the last people among us that still remember that, because they’re so dependent upon the cycles of the seasons and the cycles of sun and rain that they’re reminded annually of their total…. It doesn't matter how good they are: if the rain doesn't come at the right time, or if it does come at the wrong time, their livelihood is in danger.
There are parts of the world that don't have the technology available to us that are far more susceptible to famine and drought, although the people of the Southeast have known something of the pressures of drought in the last fifteen years. But whether we realize it or not, we are dependent on the Lord just like those animals. So when you see the dependence of the animals on the Lord, do you draw a line to your dependence on Him, and then worship Him with your trust? You see, the psalmist is giving you things with which to stir your heart up to worship. The greatness of God in creation stirs your heart to worship the great God. God's care for the animals reminds you of His care for you and stirs you up to worship God. The utter dependence of the animals upon God reminds you of your utter dependence on the Lord, and it stirs you up to worship God through your trust in Him.
III. There is a connection between creation and the gospel. God's creation of us establishes in us an obligation to Him. God's greatness in creation cries out for our acknowledgement of His greatness.
But one last thing. The psalmist also connects for us creation and the gospel. It's always a good thing for us to connect whatever doctrine of the Bible that we're studying to the gospel, and the psalmist does it here in a most surprising way. Take a look at verses 35:
“Let sinners be consumed from the earth….”
Wait a minute! Where did sinners come in here? For 34 verses we've been talking about nature, we've been talking about creation, we've been talking about sun and moon and stars and mountains and rivers and oceans and land and beasts. Where did sinners come in here?
Well, the psalmist says that God's creation of us establishes in us an obligation to Him. We’re accountable to God. If God made me, I'm accountable to Him. If God created me, I'm obligated to Him. And one of the things I'm obligated to do is to praise Him for His greatness as it's displayed in creation. But we so often resist that, don't we?
In the nineteenth century, William Plummer, the famous Southern Presbyterian Old Testament scholar, tells that a pastor and his young apprentice went out early in the morning, about 4:30 or 5:00 in the morning, to Rockfish Gap, Virginia. (Now some of you have been there. It's right along the Blue Ridge Parkway.) And from their perch on the side of the mountain, they watched the sun rise over the Blue Ridge. And when the sun finally peeked up over the mountaintop and spread its yellow and orange rays along the mountain cliffs and into the valleys, it was a sight that took their breath away. And the older pastor turned to the young man, and he said, “Young man, if anybody ever tells you there's no God, you tell him he's a fool!”
Now the point is this, that God's greatness in creation cries out for our acknowledgement of His greatness, and yet so often we look at creation and our breath is taken away, but we don't give the praise to the One who made the creation. And that, my friends, is not simply intellectual idiocy, it's moral rebellion. Because we know that God has brought this world into being.
You know, it's amazing, isn't it? We look at this huge, intricate, complex, purposeful creation in which everything makes sense and in which everything is so mutually interdependent, and it's the most complex machine that you could possibly imagine. It's so complex that not even the greatest scientists understand it all. And yet we can see the purpose in the created order, and we cannot comprehend that someone personal purposefully brought it into creation. Scientists will speak of the purposefulness, of the way that creation operates, and then they’ll deny that it was created by a personal, purposeful being.
My physics professor in college, Dr. Benjamin Soldano, was preparing for the Roman Catholic priesthood and he rejected his faith. He became jaded and cynical about the church and he rejected his faith. And he went into the field of physics because he wanted to pursue truth. And as he pursued the study of physics, he was brought to wonderment over the intricacy and the complexity and the size and the purpose that he saw in the created order, and he said, “This cannot exist unless someone designed it. It's too intricate. It makes too much sense. It has too much order to just be an accident.” And his study of physics led him back not only to belief in a personal God, but it led him back to Jesus Christ.
You see, there is a connection between creation and the gospel. The created order testifies that there is a God who made us to whom we are accountable, but we have worshiped ourselves and creation instead of Him.
That is why we need the gospel, because all of us have fallen short of the glory of God so powerfully displayed in creation, and by our sin we have brought upon ourselves the wages of death, the condemnation and judgment due to our rebellion against God. But God in His mercy, while we were yet sinners, sent His Son, His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us, so that if we would trust in Him we would not only not perish, but we would spend the rest of our lives praising Him for His greatness — the greatness that is displayed in creation.
And that's how the psalmist connects creation to the gospel. He speaks of sinners who in their recalcitrance and their hardened hearts will not give God the praise to the greatness which He so clearly revealed in His creation.
Is that where you are today, friend? Do you see the greatness of creation around you, but you don't give praise to God? Then there's only one hope for you: fleeing to Christ by faith. Christian, do you study the created order with the purpose of meditating and reflecting upon its glory and having that stir you up to worship and praise? How does the greatness of God in creation serve the interest of your worship? Because it is a way that God displays His majesty and providence to you, to evoke from your heart willing and generous praise.
Our heavenly Father, thank You for Your word. Cause it to dwell richly in our hearts. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Now would you take your bulletins out, and if you would look on the bottom of the “Guide to Morning Worship,” we're going to sing part of Psalm 104 back to God.