Sermon preached on Psalm 104 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 9/18/2011 in Novato, CA.
Note: The first portion of the audio was inadvertently cut off. We apologize for the inconvenience.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
May the Lord Rejoice in his Works: Praise the LORD!
We have here another beautiful psalm that gives praise to our God. This is psalm that praises God as the creator of all things. It is especially a psalm that praises God as the sustainer of all things. God creates and sustains all things. Creation and providence are the works of God whereby we know him through the nature around us. While many in this world celebrate Mother Earth, or maybe even make creation somehow divine, this psalm disagrees. This psalm praises the God who is distinct from his creation. A God who was active both at the beginning when he made all things, and a God who continues to be involved in all aspects of his creation to preserve and govern it. God’s works bring praise to the author of this psalm. And that is why we will study it today as well. To call us all to praise God with our whole selves, as our creator and sustainer, as well as our redeemer. This is a praise that is to always be present in our lives, just as God is always present in our lives to sustain us and uphold us.
I’d like us to begin today by surveying how this passage presents God’s work in creation and providence. One thing you may have noticed as we read through this psalm is that it echoes a lot of Genesis chapter 1. That’s the chapter at the very start of the Scriptures that details how God created everything in 6 days, and rested on the 7th. There so much here from Genesis 1, that some commentators have suggested that you can outline this psalm from the days of Genesis 1. Well, when you start to try to do that, you realize pretty quickly that there would be so many exceptions then imposed on the structure of this psalm, that such a theory loses credibility right away. But the idea is helpful. What instead seems to be the case is that the author of this psalm is providing a reflection on Genesis 1. It’s like he is meditating on the contents of Genesis 1 and that then has become his praise. That makes sense with what the verses 33-34 even say. At the end he says he will sing praises to the LORD and asks that God will be pleased with his meditations. Well, this psalm seems to be one of those meditations; meditating on Genesis 1. The psalmist is considering not only the creation of Genesis 1, but how he sees God continuing to care for that which he put into being at the creation.
So then notice all of the details from Genesis 1 here. On day 1, God had created the light and the darkness. Light is referenced in verse 2, and darkness in verse 20. He goes on to describe the change back and forth between night and day as something important to creation – that’s something important in Genesis 1 too, the repeated refrain of each day – there was evening and then there was morning. On day 2 of creation, God divided the waters, created a firmament or expanse. That separated the waters on the earth from the waters above the earth. Well, that division of waters on the earth and the clouds in the sky is subtly described in the opening few verses here as well. On day 3, land and water are specifically separated; that is discussed in verses 6-9. That same day vegetation was created, which is referenced in verses 14-17. On day 4 of creation, the sun and moon are created for controlling the times and seasons. That’s referenced in verses 19-23. On day 5, the sea creatures were created, they are referenced in verses 25-26. On day 6, the animals and man were created. They are referenced especially in verses 24-28. It’s on that 6th day that God appointed food for all the creatures, which is a subject dealt with in verses 27-30.
And so, this psalm deals with material from Genesis 1. And yet though it describes at points God’s creation of these things, the focus is much more than that. It’s on how God is at work in these created things here and now. You might say that he’s taking Genesis 1 and contextualizing it for the current day. Applying it to how he sees God at work in the present. Again, you could see how the author could have been meditating on Genesis 1 as the Spirit led him to draft this psalm. And so the backdrop is creation, but the focus especially is on God’s providence. How he providentially cares for his creation. God’s not the watchmaker that just makes the watch and lets it run on its own. He’s the God who is involved in the day to day operations of the world, and makes all things tick. The psalmist is dealing with these things as he currently experiences them, and he sees God’s work through them all. An example here: He talks about the weather system here. Certainly, the psalms does describe the original creation – how God created the waters, and the clouds, and the weather system. But he especially describes how God is working in all it to sustain the earth. Verse 3 sees God riding in the clouds. Verse 13 says how God waters the world from his upper chambers. In other words, rain and clouds and the weather system are an active ongoing work of God in providentially caring for the earth. As a kid when it rained, we jokingly talked about how God must be taking a shower. But the idea is that we acknowledge that God’s behind the rain. He controls it. This world isn’t just on auto-pilot. God’s actively sustaining it, and the creatures that he created to live here. So we see the outcome of this. Verses 7-10 says that not only did God establishing the seas separate from the dry land at the beginning. But it says how he currently sends springs among the dry land. Verse 11 describes how crucial these are for quenching the thirst of the wild animals. He goes on to describe how the birds even live by them in trees, trees which also rely on this water God provides. So the whole system of precipitation is a work of God’s providence.
Another example in this psalm of God’s providence is the sun and the moon with their related light and darkness. That’s the description beginning in verse 19. By this system which God controls, animals such as the lions go out to hunt at night, and the humans go out to work by day. Again, the psalmist takes these ideas beyond their initial creation as recorded in Genesis 1 and shows how they are positively controlled by God today. Man and beast function based on how he continues to order things.
Two other larger examples I’ll just mention briefly at this point from this psalm of God’s providence. He describes how God is active to give food to his creatures. He didn’t just give an initial mandate of how to get food at creation, and that’s it. No, look at verse 27. It says that the creatures all wait for God to give them their food in due season. God is active here. Last example is with regard to the giving and taking away of life. Look at verses 29-30: “You hide your face, they are troubled; you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. You send forth Your Spirit, they are created.” Life and death is something under God’s providential control.
And so the point I’m making is that this psalm praises God for creation, but especially for his providence. How he actively sustains and governs his creation. What a wonderful thing it is to know that God who made all of this is intimately involved in every detail. What a reason to praise him. Well, as we look at this psalm then, several perfections of God are seen in this all – several characteristics of God which he perfectly expresses in their best way. The psalmist tells us that God’s creation and providence tell us about his perfect character. Let’s briefly consider four perfections of God in this passage: his wisdom, his goodness, his power, and his glory.
First his wisdom. Verse 24 the psalmist declares, “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all.” Think of the some of the examples of creation and providence we’ve seen in this psalm. Consider the scientific studies of meteorology and astronomy. Countless time and money has been invested into these fields to just barely begin to understand how things like the weather works, and how the sun and moon operate. Yet, God in his wisdom both created them and runs them. Without the weather system, for example, life wouldn’t make it on planet earth. The psalmist draws our attention to the necessity of these things for live. He says it’s to God’s wisdom how he works all these things. Proverbs 3:19 says something similar, that “The LORD by wisdom founded the earth.”
Next his goodness. God is good to his creation. Both animals and humans see this goodness. Verses 14 and 15 bring this out. Look there. “He causes the grass to grow for the cattle, And vegetation for the service of man, that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine that makes glad the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, And bread which strengthens man’s heart. He goes on to talk about how even the young lions rely on God, and the sea creatures including the scary Leviathan (whatever exactly that might have referred to, we’re not sure the translation). Verse 27. These all wait for you. Verse 28. You open your hand, they are filled with good. It’s God’s goodness we find here. His goodness toward his creation. He provides good things to them, in his providential care. Think about what it says to man here. Not only does God provide bread for his basic sustenance, but even beyond that with blessings beyond our basic needs with things like oil and wine. In a world cursed by God due to sin, he still shows his goodness through his common grace provisions for the world.
Next notice his power and might in this psalm. Verse 1 starts with declaring his greatness. We see that greatness then in the power he uses in all what’s described in this psalm. But notice especially verse 32. He looks on the earth, and it trembles; He touches the hills, and they smoke. Sounds like its referring to earthquakes and fires. In an instant God can cause these or countless other natural disasters. His amazing power to create and sustain can also be used in judgment and destruction. His power is awesome in the best sense of the word. Our praise for God should include his awesome, almighty, power.
Fourth perfection, notice his glory. Verse 31 specifically calls our attention to that. “May the glory of the LORD endure forever.” All of what’s described here is to glorify God, to draw attention to who he is. The other perfections I just mentioned should result in glory. He is glorified because of how his wisdom is shown in his providence. He is glorified for how good and powerful he is. I like how the opening verses of this psalm get at this. It starts out in verse 1 explicitly stating that God is clothed in honor and majesty. That’s getting at his glory. But then it describes how the creation itself is a sort of clothing for God, a clothing that shows his glory. Verse 2, for example, describes him having light as like a garment. It goes on in these opening verses to make similar analogies: the heavens are like God’s curtain, the sky is the foundation for his heavenly chamber, the clouds is his chariot, the wind his wings to walk on. Notice that God is still distinguished in this from the creation. The pagan religions back then identified God as those parts of nature. The biblical revelation is where God is seen through nature; his glory and power is revealed through nature, but he is not those things. He created those things and they are his tools, tools that show forth his glory. Glory that must be praised!
And so those four perfections are seen of God in this psalm: his wisdom, goodness, power, and glory. This psalm calls us to praise God for his wisdom, goodness, power, and glory. Let me point you to one other characteristic seen of God here. This isn’t quite a perfection, but it’s a pretty amazing statement. Look at verse 31. May the LORD rejoice in his works. That’s a profound idea. Not only do we rejoice in God’s works. God rejoices in his works. God rejoices in his creation and providence. The psalmist cries out that God would be pleased with what he is doing with this world. This world is his workmanship; his craft; the craft of the almighty; so he in his glorious creation takes satisfaction in his work. Like how at the end of Genesis 1 he looked at all his work and saw that it was very good. I took this verse 31 as part our sermons title today because it’s such a profound idea: God rejoicing in his creation and providence.
Let me give some analysis at this point. This psalm shows very clearly a distinction between creator and creature. God is not his creation. No, he stands apart from it, even though he is intimately involved in it. For example, God is the one who feeds humans and animals. But listen to what God says in Psalm 50:12, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness is mine.” God made all things, owns all things, and is thus distinct from all things. His ownership of everything is listed here in verse 24 as well. There are many implications based on this distinction. There are many ramifications to us based on the fact that God is the creator and we are the creatures. One of those ramifications is the very point of this psalm. That we ought to worship God. That we must praise him continually. Romans 1 says the same thing – that the natural revelation of God shows that we ought to worship him. That’s how this psalm opens and closes. That’s the conclusion of verses 33-34. All of this demands we worship God continually.
And yet, it’s at that point, that this psalm introduces some tension. You see, we find in this psalm two groups of people represented. One group who responds to this obligation of worship, and one who doesn’t. The author is representative of those who respond to God’s glory in worship. This psalm is that response, but verses like verse 33 explicitly state it – he says, “I will sing to the LORD as long as I live.” On the other hand, you have verse 35. “May sinners be consumed from the earth, and the wicked be no more.” This might seem jarring to us at first. I would imagine that any liberal theologian of today would be loving this psalm until that verse. And yet how true this last verse is. Here we see a different group of people. Here we see a different response to God. Instead of worshipping the God of creation and providence, some rebel against him. Some are identified with the label of being the wicked, or sinners. The existence of sinners on the earth, mars this otherwise wonderful creation. The psalmist instead prays that they would ultimately be removed from the earth. Then this glorious creation will be all the more glorious. Then those who do not look to glorify God would clear the way for all with breath to glorify God as he deserves.
At that point of verse 35 when the wicked are mentioned, we realize already that there had been subtle markers in this psalm before about the wicked. There had been subtle markers that God is a God that also brings judgment on the wicked. They may have been subtly mentioned before, but when verse 35 so clearly calls for the wicked’s removal, those subtle markers stand out then so clearly. Look at verse 9. It mentions how the waters will never again cover the whole earth, a reference most see to refer to the judgment of old – the flood which removed the wicked from the earth in previous days. The very fragileness of both man and creature in verses 29-30 hint at divine judgment. Death entered this world when Adam and Eve sinned. And so, the death of man and animals listed in verses 29-30 reminds you again of divine judgment. And verse 32’s description of God’s power to bring earthquake and fire is suggestive of his powerful wrath. Things like earthquakes in Scripture are sometimes attributed to God’s judgment – think of how God touched the earth and had it swallow up Korah and his rebellious friends in Numbers 16. This is not to say that every natural disaster is a judgment on a particular sin. But the existence of them shows we live in a sin-cursed world. They reflect God’s power to be able to bring judgment on the wicked at any moment.
So the question that inevitably comes up then, is which camp do I fall in? I am one of those who worship God, or am I one of those called the wicked and a sinner? That might be a confusing question for us, because we are probably used to identifying ourselves as both. Christians acknowledge that we are sinners saved by grace. As such, we praise and worship God. That’s what the gospel is all about. This psalm acknowledges that sinners should be removed from the earth. And yet we know that all of us are sinners. Christ was the only human on earth that worshipped God but was without any sin. Well, understand that sometimes in biblical language, to call someone a sinner or wicked can be used as a label for those not in relationship to God. It’s not saying that some people sin, and some don’t sin at all. It’s saying that some people are characterized as those who rebel against God in sin and aren’t in a covenant relationship with him. Others, though still people who do sin from time to time, are in covenant relationship with God. They are people who worship God and people who look to follow God’s laws. They especially are people who realize they need God’s grace and forgiveness in their lives. That was true in Old Testament days, and it’s true today.
And yet in the light of the New Testament, it’s so clear to us that all humans deserve to be put in the category of “sinner” and the “wicked.” Even if we’ve become a follower of Jesus Christ, its only grace that we don’t get that label put on us anymore. Well, to be fair, this psalm doesn’t delve explicitly in that subject of grace and gospel. And yet, even when a passage doesn’t explicitly deal with that, I still look for how I can find Christ and the gospel in a passage. Jesus told us that the Psalms talk of him. In this psalm we again can be driven to Christ through it. Even if in nothing more than realizing that we’ve been saved from being identified as those who are the sinners that are going to be removed. That is a prayer request that will be answered on the final day of judgment. God will remove the sinners from this earth on that final day. The new heavens and the new earth won’t have sinners any more – that renewed paradise won’t be marred by sinners. Well, we’ve been saved through Christ from that removal and judgment.
And yet there is another positive note I find here that points us to Christ as well. I think of the picture we see here of both animals and men looking to God’s goodness to provide for them. The picture here is that both animals and man are given food and the good things of life from God. Even that is grace, common grace. After the fall into sin, mankind doesn’t even deserve that. On the day you eat of that fruit, you will surely die, God had told them. It’s grace that God stayed the final aspect of that judgment. It’s common grace that he still gives us food to eat, and even wine to gladden our hearts, and oil to make our faces shine. He gives us even beyond what we need physically to survive. He provides for the animals as well. This is a song of his providential care for his creatures.
But that reminds me of Jesus’ teaching on this subject. Jesus talked about how God feeds the animals. In Luke 12, Jesus calls us to consider the ravens, and how God feeds them. He tells us to consider the lilies of the field and the grasses, of how God makes them grow. Jesus says there that God knows the physical things that we need, and he will provide for them. Just like in this psalm, we see it say in verse 27 that all the creatures of the earth look to God to feed them. If you have a pet, they probably know the routine, and at meal time are waiting there by the bowl for you to feed them. This psalm says that’s what the animals do. They look to God to feed them. We do the same. Both this psalm and Jesus in Luke 12 acknowledges that. And yet in Luke 12:23, Jesus says that life is more than food. Jesus says he was teaching about the animals looking to God for food to tell us that there is something else we must look to God for. Something better than food. Jesus says to seek the kingdom! Seek the kingdom of God. Like these animals that look to God to feed them. Go to God, and seek his kingdom. And listen to then what Jesus says in verse Luke 12:32. “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.”
Ask and you will receive! This psalm tells us that we look to God to provide for us in the physical. Jesus takes that truth and applies it one step further. Look to God to provide for us also in the spiritual. If we need God’s common grace to survive physically, then how much more will we need God’s saving grace to survive spiritually. Look to him to save you. Look to him to provide the grace to go to him, to worship him, to know him. But you don’t have to look with doubt or worry that he might not give you this. No, Jesus says that if you are looking for it, God will be pleased to give it. And so in all things we are dependent on God. We are dependent on him to give us physical life in the first place. And we are dependent on him to give us new life in our salvation – to be born again – that’s his work that we need. And we are dependent on God to feed us physically. And we are dependent on God to feed us spiritually. But he is a wise, powerful, good, and glorious God who indeed gives us these things!
And so, saints of God, you are sinners saved by grace. If you are here today as a follower of Christ in faith, you have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. Keep growing by looking to him to feed you, physically and spiritually. And let this then resound in the highest praise to him. This psalm calls us to praise him. On Sunday, yes. But the picture of this psalm in verse 33 is something we do all the time too – all our life. Many psalms bring out the corporate aspect of our worship. This one especially sees the individual aspect. Twice it says, Praise the LORD, oh my soul. The author commands his own soul to praise God. Well, command your own soul to do this as well! One of the best ways we can praise God all week long is by meditating on God’s word, and then turning that into praise. Sing, it, pray it, either way. But that’s what this psalmist seems to have done – meditate on Scripture such as Genesis 1, and turn that into a praise. I encourage you to try that this week, to try it every day this week. Pick a passage of Scripture, read over it, talk through it with yourself, think of how it applies to your life, and then turn it into praise. Let’s strive to have that be a regular part of our spiritual life. Remember, we are no longer to be identified as a sinner or as the wicked. We are to be identified as people who praise their God.
Let me close with this final encouragement. We are reminded here again in this psalm of our purpose in life. To glorify and enjoy God. And yet verse 31 told us of how God enjoys and rejoices in his creation. As you rejoice in God growing you, realize how pleased God is at how he is working to grow you. Be encouraged that he finds great pleasure in his work of grace in your life. We, ourselves, are his workmanship. Something he takes joy in. Our response to that? Praise the LORD, oh my soul! Hallelujah! Amen.
Copyright (c) 2011 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.