|<< Psalm 104 >>|
Barnes' Notes on the Bible
This psalm in the Syriac, the Arabic, the Greek, and the Latin versions, is ascribed to David, but on what authority is now unknown. That it "may" have been composed by him cannot be doubted, but there is no certain evidence that he was the author. In the Hebrew, it has no title, and there is nothing in the psalm itself which would furnish any indication as to its authorship.
The occasion on which the psalm was composed is unknown, and cannot now be ascertained. Rosenmuller and Hengstenberg suppose that it was at the time of the return from the Babylonian exile, and that it was intended to be used at the re-dedication of the temple. But it has no special applicability to such a service; it has no such local references as would fix it to that time; it has nothing which would make it inappropriate at "any" time, or in "any public service. It is such a psalm as might be composed at any period of the world, or in any country, where there was an intelligent view and a careful observation of the works of God. It implies, indeed, such a knowledge of the fact that God made the world as could be obtained only by revelation; but it evinces also a power of close observation; a large acquaintance with the creation around us; a relish for the scenes of nature; as well as a rich poetic faculty, and a power of description, adapted to place such scenes before the mind as realities, and to make us feel, in reading it, that we are in the very midst of the things which are described - so that they seem to live and move before our eyes.
The psalm was probably founded on the record of the creation in Genesis 1; with a design to show that the order of the creation, as there described, "was adapted to the purposes which were intended, and was carried out in the providential arrangements now existing on the earth;" or, that, taking the order of the creation as described there, the existing state of things furnished an illustration of the wisdom and benevolence of that order. Accordingly, in the psalm, it was convenient for the writer to follow substantially the "order" observed in Genesis 1 in narrating the creation of the world; and he states, under each part, the "acting out" of that order in existing things; creation in its being actually carried out, or in its results - the creation "developing itself" in the varied and wonderful forms of being - of vegetable and animal life - of beauty, of harmonious movement, of ceaseless activity - on the land, in the air, and in the waters. Accordingly there is in the psalm:
I. An allusion to the work of the "first" day, Psalm 104:2-5 (compare Genesis 1:1-5): to the stretching out of the heavens as a curtain; to the source of light - "who coverest thyself with light as with a garment;" - to the laying of the foundations of the earth to abide forever; to God as Creator of all things, with the additional ideas of his being clothed with honor and majesty; making the clouds his chariot; walking upon the wings of the wind; making the winds his messengers, and flames of fire his ministers.
II. An allusion to the work of the "second" day, Psalm 104:6-9 (compare Genesis 1:6-8). Here it is the separation of the waters - the power exerted on the waters of the earth; in Genesis, the dividing of the waters above from those on the earth; in the psalm, the poetic images of the deep covering the earth as with a garment; the waters climbing up the mountains, and rolling down into the valleys, until they found the place appointed for them, a boundary which they could not pass so as to return again and cover the earth.
III. An allusion to the work of the "third" day, Psalm 104:10-18 (compare Genesis 1:9-13). In Genesis, the waters gathering together; the dry land appearing, and the earth yielding grass, and herbs, and fruit trees - the creation of vegetables; in the psalm, the springs running into the valleys, and winding among the hills - giving drink to the beasts, and quenching the thirst of wild asses - furnishing a lace for the fowls to build their nests, causing the grass to grow for the cattle, and herbs for the service of man - supplying him wine to make him glad, and oil to make his face shine, and bread to strengthen his heart - bringing forth the trees of the Lord, the cedars of Lebanon for the birds to make their nests, and the fir trees for the stork - making the hills a refuge for the wild goats, and the rocks for the conies: that is, the work of creation on the third day is seen by the eye of the psalmist not "as" mere "creation," but in the "result," as enlivened and animated by all these varied forms of life, activity, and beauty which had been spread over the earth as the "consequence" of this part of the work of creation.
IV. An allusion to the work of the "fourth" day, Psalm 104:19-23 (compare Genesis 1:14-19). Here, as in the previous divisions of the psalm, it is not a reference to the mere "creation" - to the power evinced - but to the creation of the sun and moon "as seen in the effects" produced by them - the living world as it is influenced by the sun and moon: the seasons - the alternations of day and night. Thus Psalm 104:20, at night, when the sun has gone down, all the beasts of the forest are seen creeping forth; the lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God; and again when the sun arises Psalm 104:22-23, they are seen gathering themselves together, and retiring to their dens, and man is seen going forth to his work and to his labor until the evening. It is thus not the original act of creation which is before the mind of the psalmist, but that act in its development, or when it is seen what God contemplated by it, or what he intended that in this respect the world should be when he made the sun, the moon, and the stars.
V. An allusion to the work of the "fifth" day, Psalm 104:24-30 (compare Genesis 1:20-23); the creation of "life" in the waters, and in the air; as the fowls of heaven - the whales, etc. Here, too, the psalmist sees all this as it is - or developed on the sea, and in the air. In the sea there are things creeping innumerable, small and great; there are the ships; there is leviathan; there is everywhere animated life; there are beings innumerable all dependent on God; there are the processes of renewing, creating, destroying, continually going on - a moving scene, showing the "effect of life" as it is produced by God.
VI. It is remarkable, however, that the allusion to the successive days of the work of creation, so obvious in the other parts of the psalm, seems to close here, and there is no distinct reference to the sixth day, or the seventh - to the creation of "man" as the crowning work, and to the "rest" provided for man in the appointment of the Sabbath. The purpose of the psalmist seems to have been to celebrate the praises of God in the varied scene - the panorama passing before the eye in the works of "nature." The purpose did not seem to be to contemplate "man" - his creation - his history - but "nature," as seen around us. The remainder of the psalm, therefore, is occupied with a description of the glory of the Lord "as thus manifested;" the works of God as suited to fill the mind with exalted views of his greatness, and with a desire that his reign may be universal and perpetual, Psalm 104:31-35.
1Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty.
Bless the Lord, O my soul - See Psalm 103:1.
O Lord my God, thou art very great - This is a reason why the psalmist calls on his soul to bless God; namely, for the fact that he is so exalted; so vast in his perfections; so powerful, so wise, so great.
Thou art clothed with honor and majesty - That is, with the emblems of honor and majesty, as a king is arrayed in royal robes. Creation is the garment with which God has invested himself. Compare the notes at Psalm 93:1.
2Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain:
Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment - Referring to the first work of creation Genesis 1:3, "And God said, Let there be light, and there was light." He seemed to put on light as a garment; he himself appeared as if invested with light. It was the first "manifestation" of God. He seemed at once to have put on light as his robe.
Who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain - As an expanse spread over us. The word used here means a curtain or hanging, so called from its tremulous motion, from a word meaning to tremble. Thus it is applied to a curtain before a door; to a tent, etc. It is applied here to the heavens, as they seem to be "spread out" like the curtains of a tent, as if God had spread them out for a tent for himself to dwell in. See the notes at Isaiah 40:22.
3Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters: who maketh the clouds his chariot: who walketh upon the wings of the wind:
Who layeth the beams of his chambers in the waters - The word here rendered "layeth" - from קרה qârâh - means properly to meet; then, in Hiphil, to cause to meet, or to fit into each other, as beams or joists do in a dwelling. It is a word which would be properly applied to the construction of a house, and to the right adjustment of the different materials employed in building it. The word rendered "beams" - עליה ‛ălı̂yâh - means "an upper chamber, a loft," such as rises, in Oriental houses, above the flat roof; in the New Testament, the ὑπερῷον huperōon, rendered "upper room," Acts 1:13; Acts 9:37, Acts 9:39; Acts 20:8. It refers here to the chamber - the exalted abode of God - as if raised above all other edifices, or above the world. The word "waters" here refers to the description of the creation in Genesis 1:6-7 - the waters "above the firmament," and the waters "below the firmament." The allusion here is to the waters above the firmament; and the meaning is, that God had constructed the place of his own abode - the room where he dwelt - in those waters; that is, in the most exalted place in the universe. It does not mean that he made it of the waters, but that his home - his dwelling-place - was in or above those waters, as if he had built his dwelling not on solid earth or rock, but in the waters, giving stability to that which seems to have no stability, and making the very waters a foundation for the structure of his abode.
Who maketh the clouds his chariot - Who rides on the clouds as in a chariot. See the notes at Isaiah 19:1. Compare the notes at Psalm 18:11.
Who walketh upon the wings of the wind - See the notes at Psalm 18:10.
Psalm 104:3'I saw in the night visions, and behold, one like the Son of Man came with the clouds of heaven' Daniel 7:13. So the Saviour is represented as coming to judgment in the clouds of heaven Matthew 24:30. Compare the sublime description in Habakkuk 3:3-10.
And the idols of Egypt - It is well known that Egypt was celebrated for its idolatry. They worshipped chiefly the heavenly bodies; but they worshipped also all kinds of animals, probably as living symbols of their gods. "Shall be moved." That is, shall tremble, be agitated, alarmed; or shall be removed from their place, and overthrown. The word will bear either construction. Vitringa inclines to the latter.
And the heart of Egypt - The strength; the courage; the rigor. We use the word "heart" in the same sense now, when we speak of a stout heart; a courageous heart, etc.
Shall melt - The word used here denotes "to dissolve;" and is applied to the heart when its courage fails - probably from the sensation of weakness or fainting. The fact alluded to here was probably the disheartening circumstances that attended the civil commotions in Egypt, when the people felt themselves oppressed by cruel rulers. See the Analysis of the chapter.
4Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire:
Who maketh his angels spirits - The meaning here literally would be, "Who makes the winds his messengers," or "his angels;" that is, who employs them to execute his purpose; who sends them out as messengers or angels to do his will.
His ministers a flaming fire - That is, Fire is employed by him - in lightnings - to accomplish his purpose as his ministers or his servants. They are entirely under his command. They are sent by him to do his will; to carry out his designs. This is intended to describe the majesty and the power of God - that he can employ wind and lightning - tempest and storm - to go on errands such as he commands; to fulfill his plans; to do his bidding. For the application of this to the angels, and as employed by the apostle Paul to prove the inferiority of the angels to the Messiah, see the notes at Hebrews 1:7.
5Who laid the foundations of the earth, that it should not be removed for ever.
Who laid the foundations of the earth - Referring still to the creation of the earth. The margin is, "He hath founded the earth upon her bases." The Hebrew word rendered in the margin "her bases" means properly a place; then a basis or foundation. The idea is, that there wes something, as it were, placed under the earth to support it. The idea is not uncommon in the Scriptures. Compare the notes at Job 38:4.
That it should not be removed for ever - So that it cannot be shaken out of its place. That is, It is fixed, permanent, solid. Its foundations do not give way, as edifices reared by man. but it abides the same from age to age - the most fixed and stable object of which we have any knowledge. Compare the notes at Psalm 78:69.
6Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment: the waters stood above the mountains.
Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment - Compare the notes at Job 38:9. The meaning is, that God covered the earth with the sea - the waters - the abyss - as if a garment had been spread over it. The reference is to Genesis 1:2; where, in the account of the work of creation, what is there called "the deep" - the abyss - (the same Hebrew word as here - תהום tehôm - covered the earth, or was what "appeared," or was manifest, before the waters were collected into seas, and the dry land was seen.
The waters stood above the mountains - Above what are now the mountains. As yet no dry land appeared. It seemed to be one wide waste of waters. This does not refer to the Deluge, but to the appearance of the earth at the time of the creation, before the gathering of the waters into seas and oceans, Genesis 1:9. At that stage in the work, all that appeared was a wide waste of waters.
7At thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of thy thunder they hasted away.
At thy rebuke they fled - At thy command; or when thou didst speak to them. The Hebrew word also implies the notion of "rebuke," or "reproof," as if there were some displeasure or dissatisfaction. Proverbs 13:1; Proverbs 17:10; Ecclesiastes 7:5; Isaiah 30:17; Psalm 76:6. It is "as if" God had been displeased that the waters prevented the appearing or the rising of the dry land, and had commanded them to "hasten" to their beds and channels, and no longer to cover the earth. The allusion is to Genesis 1:9, and there is nowhere to be found a more sublime expression than this. Even the command, "And God said, Let there be light; and there was light," so much commended by Longinus as an instance of sublimity, does not surpass this in grandeur.
At the voice of thy thunder they hasted away - They fled in dismay. The Hebrew word - חפז châphaz - contains the idea of haste, trepidation, consternation, alarm, "as if" they were frightened; Psalm 31:22. God spake in tones of thunder, and they fled. It is impossible to conceive anything more sublime than this.
8They go up by the mountains; they go down by the valleys unto the place which thou hast founded for them.
They go up by the mountains ... - That is, when they were gathered together into seas. They seemed to roll and tumble over hills and mountains, and to run down in valleys, until they found the deep hollows which had been formed for seas, and where they were permanently collected together. The margin here is, "The mountains ascend, the valleys descend." So it is translated in the Septuagint, in the Latin Vulgate, by Luther, and by DeWette. The more natural idea, however, is that in our translation: "They (the waters) go up mountains; they descend valleys."
Unto the place - The deep hollows of the earth, which seem to have been scooped out to make a place for them.
Which thou hast founded for them - Where thou hast laid a permanent foundation for them on which to rest; that is, which thou hast prepared for them.
9Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth.
Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over - See Job 26:10, note; Job 38:10-11, note.
That they turn not again to cover the earth - As it was before the dry land appeared; or as the earth was when "darkness was upon the face of the deep" Genesis 1:2, and when all was mingled earth and water. It is "possible" that in connection with this, the psalmist may also have had his eye on the facts connected with the deluge in the time of Noah, and the promise then made that the world should no more be destroyed by a flood, Genesis 9:11, Genesis 9:15.
10He sendeth the springs into the valleys, which run among the hills.
He sendeth the springs into the valleys - Though the waters are gathered together into seas, yet God has taken care that the earth shall not be dry, parched, and barren. He has made provision for watering it, and by a most wise, wonderful, and benevolent arrangement, he has formed springs among the valleys and the hills. It is now animated nature which comes before the eye of the psalmist; and all this he traces to the fact that the earth is "watered," and that it is not a waste of rocks and sands. The allusion in this part of the psalm (see the Introduction) is to the earth as covered with vegetation - or, to the third day of the week of creation Genesis 1:9-13, which, in Genesis, is connected with the gathering of the waters into seas. This description continues in Psalm 104:18. The literal rendering here would be, "sending springs into the valleys." He conducts the waters from the great reservoirs - lakes and seas - in such a way that they form springs in the valleys. The way in which this is done is among the most wonderful and the most benevolent in nature - by that power, derived from heat, by which the waters of the ocean, contrary to the natural law of gravitation, are lifted up in small particles - in vapor - and carried by the clouds where they are needed, and let fall upon the earth, to water the plants, and to form fountains, rivulets, and streams - and borne thus to the highest mountains, to be filtered through the ground to form springs and streams below.
Which run among the hills - Margin, "walk." That is, they go between the hills. The streams of water flow along in the natural valleys which have been made for them.
11They give drink to every beast of the field: the wild asses quench their thirst.
They give drink to every beast of the field - All are thus kept alive. The wild beasts that roam at large, find water thus provided for them.
The wild donkeys quench their thirst - Margin, as in Hebrew, "break." The meaning is, that the most wild and ungovernable of beasts - those which are farthest from the habits of domesticated animals, and the most independent of any aid derived from man, find abundance everywhere. On the word rendered "wild asses," and on the habits of the animals here referred to, see the notes at Job 11:12.
12By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation, which sing among the branches.
By them shall the fowls of the heaven have their habitation - Among them the fowls of the air dwell. That is, among the trees which spring up by the fountains and water-courses. The whole picture is full of animation and beauty.
Which sing among the branches - Margin, as in Hebrew, "give a voice." Their voice is heard - their sweet music - in the foliage of the trees which grow on the margin of the streams and by the fountains. There is scarcely to be found a more beautiful poetic image than this.
13He watereth the hills from his chambers: the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works.
He watereth the hills from his chambers - The waters, as stated before, run in the valleys - in the natural channels made for them among the hills, Psalm 104:10. But still, it was a fact that the hills themselves were watered; that there were springs far up their heights; and that vegetation was sustained above the reach of the fountains and streams below; and it was a proof of the divine skill and beneficence that, in some way, water was furnished on the summits and sides of the hills themselves. This was caused, the psalmist says, by God's pouring water on them, as it were, from his own "chambers" - his abode on high. The allusion is, doubtless, to rain, which seems to be poured down from the very abode of God. The word rendered "chambers" means "upper rooms," (see the notes at Psalm 104:3); and the reference is to the dwelling-place of God, as far above the earth.
The earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works - Thy doings; with what thou hast done. All the needs of the earth seem to be met and "satisfied;" all that it could desire to make it fertile and beautiful; and the proper abode of man, of beast, and of fowl, has been granted. It has no cause of complaint; nothing has been left undone, in the valleys or on the hills, on the dry land or in the waters, that was needful to be done to carry out the purpose for which it has been called into being.
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;
He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle - Out of the earth there is caused to grow every variety of food necessary for the various orders of beings that are placed upon it. The idea here is not merely that of "abundance;" it is also that of "variety:" the needs and tastes of all have been consulted in the productions of the earth. The one earth - the same earth - has been made to produce the endless varieties of food required for the creatures that have been placed on it. The word "grass" here refers to all the vegetable productions needful for cattle.
And herb for the service of man - Genesis 1:29. The word "herb" here would include every green plant or vegetable; or all that the earth produces for the food of man. This, of course, refers to the earth as it came from the hand of God, and to the original arrangement, before permission was given to man to eat the flesh of animals, Genesis 9:3. The word translated "service" might be rendered "culture," as if man was to cultivate it for his use, not that it was to be produced, as the food for cattle, spontaneously.
That he may bring forth food out of the earth - Hebrew, "bread." That is, that by culture he may bring forth that which would make bread.
15And wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengtheneth man's heart.
And wine that maketh glad the heart of man ... - literally, "And wine (it) gladdens the heart of man to make his face to shine more than oil." Margin, "to make his face shine with oil, or more than oil." The latter expresses the idea most accurately. So DeWette renders it. The meaning is, that the earth is made to produce wine (or grapes which produce wine), and this exhilarates the heart, so that the effect is seen on the countenance, making it more bright and cheerful than it is when anointed with oil. On the use of oil, see the notes at Psalm 23:5. The reference here, in the original, is not to wine and oil as produced by the earth, as would seem to be implied in our translation, but to wine that makes the heart glad, and the face brighter than if anointed with oil. The psalmist here states a fact about the use of wine - a wellknown fact that it exhilarates the heart, and brightens the countenance; and he states it merely as a fact. He says nothing on the question whether the use of wine as a beverage is, or is not, proper and safe. Compare the notes at John 2:10.
And bread which strengtheneth man's heart - That is, Which sustains the heart - that being regarded as the seat of life. Compare Genesis 18:5.
16The trees of the LORD are full of sap; the cedars of Lebanon, which he hath planted;
The trees of the Lord - From the grass, from the herb, from the vine, and from bread, as adapted to sustain the living beings upon the earth, the psalmist passes to the more lofty and grand productions of the vegetable world - to those which display more manifestly the power of God, and which furnish abodes and retreats for the various orders of living beings. The phrase "the trees of the Lord" means great and magnificent trees - as the expression "mountains of God" means great and lofty mountains - as if they seemed to "approach" God, or as if no appellation would so well describe their nature as that which was derived from the Infinite One. See Psalm 36:6, note; Psalm 65:9, note; Psalm 80:10, note.
Are full of sap - The word so rendered means merely to be full, to be saturated - the words "of sap" being supplied by the translators. The idea is, that, lofty as they are, they are abundantly supplied with that which is necessary to their growth. There is no want - no lack - of that which is needful to supply them. They flourish, sustained abundantly by that which is derived from the earth and the waters.
The cedars of Lebanon - As among the loftiest and most magnificent productions of the earth. See Psalm 29:5, note; Psalm 92:12, note; Isaiah 2:13, note.
Which he hath planted - So lofty and large, that it would seem as if none could plant them but the Almighty.
17Where the birds make their nests: as for the stork, the fir trees are her house.
Where the birds make their nests - Furnishing a home for the birds where they may breed their young. In Psalm 104:12, the birds are introduced as singing among the foliage of trees and shrubs by the water-courses; here they are introduced as having their home in the lofty cedars in places which God had made for them. The word rendered "birds" here is the word which in Psalm 84:3 is translated "sparrow," and which is commonly used to denote "small birds." Compare Leviticus 14:4 (margin), and Leviticus 14:5-7, Leviticus 14:49-53. It is used, however, to denote birds of any kind. See Genesis 7:14; Psalm 8:8; Psalm 11:1; Psalm 148:10.
As for the stork - See the notes at Job 39:13.
The fir trees are her house - Her retreat; her abode. The stork here is used to represent the larger class of birds. The meaning is, that they build their nests among the fir-trees or cypresses. See the notes at Isaiah 14:8; notes at Isaiah 41:19. So Milton says:
"The eagle and the stork
On cliffs and cedar-tops their eyries build."
They build their nests, however, not only on fir and pine trees, but on houses and castles. Dr. Thomson ("Land and the Book," vol. i. p. 504), says of them, "These singular birds do not breed in Syria, but pass over it to Asia Minor, and into Northwestern Europe, where they not only build in fir and pine trees upon the mountains, but also enter cities and villages, and make their nests on houses, castles, and minarets."
18The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and the rocks for the conies.
The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats - Still keeping up the description of animated nature - the carrying out of the work of creation. The idea is, that nature is full of life. Even the most inaccessible places - the rocks - the high hills - have their inhabitants. Where man cannot climb or dwell, there are abodes of animals which God has made to dwell there, and which find there a refuge - a shelter - a home. On the word used here, and rendered "wild goats," see the notes at Job 39:1. The word occurs elsewhere only in 1 Samuel 24:2.
And the rocks for the conies - The word here "employed" - שׁפן shâphân - denotes a quadruped that chews the cud, in the manner of a hare Leviticus 11:5; Deuteronomy 14:7, and living in flocks. The rabbis render it the "coney," or rabbit, as our translators have done. The habits of the rabbit accord with this description. The word occurs nowhere else, except in Proverbs 30:26, where it is rendered, as here, "conies."
19He appointed the moon for seasons: the sun knoweth his going down.
He appointed the moon for seasons - Genesis 1:14-18. That is, The moon, as well as the sun, is appointed to divide time; to determine its progress; to indicate the return of festival occasions, or appointed times to be observed in any manner. It is, in fact, the foundation of the division of the year into "months," and consequently the indication of all that is to be observed in the "months" of the year. But for this, there would be no natural divisions of time except those of day and night, and of the year. How great an advantage it is for the purpose of life, to have time broken up into brief intervals or periods which can be marked and remembered, both in our private life and in history, it is not necessary to say. God has been pleased to add to the natural divisions of time into days, and years, and months, an "artificial" division - the "fourth" part of the moon's course - "a week," indicated by the Sabbath, thus greatly facilitating the plans of life in regard to stated times or "seasons," and especially in regard to religious observances. The idea in the passage before us is, that the whole arrangement is one of benevolence, promoting the comfort of man, and bringing the ideas of succession, variety, and beauty into the system.
The sun knoweth his going down - As if conscious of what he is doing, he knows the exact time of setting, and never varies, but always obeys the divine command; never sets "before" his time - unexpectedly shortening the day, and leaving man in sudden darkness in the midst of his toil; and never lingers above the horizon "after" the moment has come for his setting, but withdraws at the exact time, enabling man to close his toil, and seek repose, and giving an opportunity for another class of creatures to come forth on the animated scene. Their good is regarded as well as that of man; and the operations of nature are so arranged as to promote the welfare of all.
20Thou makest darkness, and it is night: wherein all the beasts of the forest do creep forth.
Thou makest darkness, and it is night - Thou hast made arrangements for the return of night - for the alternations of day and night. The Hebrew word rendered "makest," means "to place;" and the idea is, that God constitutes the darkness, or so disposes things that it occurs.
Wherein all the beasts of the forest - The margin is, "the beasts thereof do trample on the forest." The reference is to the beasts which seek their prey at night.
Do creep forth - The Hebrew word used here means properly "to creep," as the smaller animals do, which have feet, as mice, lizards, crabs, or as those do which glide or drag themselves upon the ground, having no feet, as worms and serpents. Genesis 1:21, Genesis 1:26, Genesis 1:28, Genesis 1:30; Genesis 9:2. The allusion here is to the quiet and noiseless manner in which the animals come forth at night in search of their prey, or seem to crawl out of their hiding-places - the places where they conceal themselves in the day-time. The idea is, that the arrangements which God has made in regard to day and night are wisely adapted to the animals which he has placed on the earth. The earth is full of animated beings, accomplishing by day and night the purposes of their existence.
21The young lions roar after their prey, and seek their meat from God.
The young lions roar after their prey - This is a continuation of the description in the previous verse. At night the beasts which had been hidden in the daytime crawl forth and seek their food. The lion is particularly specified as one of the beasts that in a general survey would attract attention. The psalmist hears his "roar" as he goes forth in the forest in pursuit of his prey.
And seek their meat from God - Their food. That is, God bestows it on them, and they act as if they sought it at his hand. They seek it where he has placed it; they are dependent on him for it. It is a beautiful idea that even the brute creation act as if they called on God, and sought the supply of their needs at his hands.
22The sun ariseth, they gather themselves together, and lay them down in their dens.
The sun ariseth - A new scene in this endless variety of incidents in a world full of life and beauty. The psalmist sees the light break in the east, and the sun appear above the horizon - and the whole scene is changed. The animals that had gone forth at night are seen to return again to their hiding-places, and man in his turn Psalm 104:23 is seen to go forth to his daily toil.
They gather themselves together - Though scattered in the night, when light returns, they all bend their steps to the places where they are accustomed to repose in the daytime. The scene is most beautiful. At night they sally forth for their prey; when the morning light returns, they all retrace their steps to the places in dens and caverns where they pass the day, and there they repose in silence until night returns again.
23Man goeth forth unto his work and to his labour until the evening.
Man goeth forth ... - Man is now seen to go forth from his dwelling, and he appears on the stage to perform his daily toil, until evening comes, and then again he gives way for the beasts of night. Thus the scene is ever varying - showing how full of animated existence the earth is; how varied are the occupations of its different inhabitants; and how the varieties of being are adapted to its own varied condition in the alternations of day and night.
24O LORD, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches.
O Lord, how manifold are thy works! - literally, "how many." The reference is to the "number" and the "variety" of the works of God, and to the wisdom displayed in them all. The earth is not suited up merely for one class of inhabitants, but for an almost endless variety; and the wisdom of God is manifested alike in the number and in the variety. No one can estimate the "number" of beings God has made on the earth; no one can comprehend the richness of the variety. By day the air, the earth, the waters swarm with life - life struggling everywhere as if no placc was to be left unoccupied; even for the dark scenes of night countless numbers of beings have been created; and, in all this immensity of numbers, there is an endless variety. No two are alike. Individuality is everywhere preserved, and the mind is astonished and confounded alike at the numbers and the variety.
In wisdom hast thou made them all - That is, Thou hast adapted each and all to the different ends contemplated in their creation. Anyone of these beings shows the wisdom of God in its formation, and in its adaptations to the ends of its existence; how much more is that wisdom displayed in these countless numbers, and in this endless variety!
The earth is full of thy riches - Hebrew, "possessions." So the Septuagint and the Vulgate. That is, these various objects thus created are regarded as the "possession" of God; or, they belong to him, as the property of a man belongs to himself. The psalmist says that this wealth or property abounds everywhere; the earth is full of it.
25So is this great and wide sea, wherein are things creeping innumerable, both small and great beasts.
So is this great and wide sea ... - Our translation here does not quite express the beauty and the force of the original; "This sea! Great and broad of hands! There is the creeping thing - and there is no number; animals - the little with the great." The reference here is, undoubtedly to the Mediterranean Sea, which not improbably was in sight when the psalm was composed - as it is in sight not only along the coast, but from many of the elevations in Palestine. The phrase "wide of hands" applied to the sea, means that it seems to stretch out in all directions. Compare the notes at Isaiah 33:21. The "creeping things" refer to the variety of inhabitants of the deep that glide along as if they crept. See the notes at Psalm 104:20. The word "beasts" refers to any of the inhabitants of the deep, and the idea is that there is an endless variety "there." This reflection cannot but impress itself on the mind of anyone when looking on the ocean: What a countless number, and what a vast variety of inhabitants are there in these waters - all created by God; all provided for by his bounty!
26There go the ships: there is that leviathan, whom thou hast made to play therein.
There go the ships - There the vessels move along - objects that would, of course, attract the attention of one looking at the sea, and admiring its wonders. The psalmist is describing the active scenes on the surface of the globe, and, of course, on looking at the ocean, these would be among the objects that would particularly attract his attention.
There is that leviathan - The Septuagint and the Vulgate render this, dragon. On the meaning of the word "leviathan," see the notes at Job 41:1.
Whom thou hast made - Margin, as in Hebrew, "formed." The idea of creation is implied in the word.
To play therein - As his native element. To move about therein; to make quick and rapid motions, as if in sport.
27These wait all upon thee; that thou mayest give them their meat in due season.
These wait all upon thee - That is, These are all dependent on thee. It does not, of course, mean that they "wait" in the sense that they are conscious of their dependence on God, but that they are "actually" dependent. The original word implies the idea of "expecting" or "hoping," and is so rendered in the Septuagint and Vulgate. They have no other ground of expectation or hope but in thee.
That thou mayest give them their meat in due season - Their food at the proper time. That is, They are constantly dependent on thee, that thou mayest give them food from day to day. Perhaps there is also the idea that they do not lay up or hoard anything; or that they cannot anticipate their own needs, but must receive from one day to another all that they want directly from God.
28That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good.
That thou givest them they gather - What thou dost place before them they collect. They have no resources of their own. They can invent nothing; they cannot vary their food by art, as man does; they cannot make use of reason, as man does, or of skill, in preparing it, to suit and pamper the appetite. It comes prepared for them direct from the hand of God.
Thou openest thine hand - As one does who bestows a gift on another. The point in the passage is, that they receive it immediately from God, and that they are wholly dependent on him for it. They have not to labor to prepare it, but it is made ready for them, and they have only to gather it up. The allusion in the "language" may be to the gathering of manna in the wilderness, when it was provided by God, and people had only to collect it for their use. So it is with the brute creation on land and in the waters.
They are filled with good - They are "satiated" with good; that is, They are satisfied with what to them is good, or with what supplies their needs.
29Thou hidest thy face, they are troubled: thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust.
Thou hidest thy face - As if God turned away from them; as if he was displeased with them; as if he withdrew from them the tokens of his friendship and favor.
They are troubled - They are confounded; they are overwhelmed with terror and amazement. The word "troubled" by no means conveys the sense of the original word - בהל bâhal - which means properly to tremble; to be in trepidation; to be filled with terror; to be amazed; to be confounded. It is that kind of consternation which one has when all support and protection are withdrawn, and when inevitable ruin stares one in the face. So when God turns away, all their support is gone; all their resources "fail, and they must die." They are represented as conscious of this; or, this is what would occur if they were conscious.
Thou takest away their breath - Withdrawing that which thou gavest to them.
They die, and return to their dust - Life ends when thou dost leave them, and they return again to earth. So it is also with man. When God withdraws from him, nothing remains for him "but to die."
30Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.
Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created - That is, New races are created in their place, or start up as if they were created directly by God. They derive their being from him as really as those did which were first formed by his hand, and the work of creation is constantly going on.
And thou renewest the face of the earth - The earth is not suffered to become desolate. Though one generation passes off, yet a new one is made in its place, and the face of the earth constantly puts on the aspect of freshness and newness.
31The glory of the LORD shall endure for ever: the LORD shall rejoice in his works.
The glory of the Lord shall endure for ever - Margin, as in Hebrew, "shall be." It might be rendered, "Let the glory of the Lord be for ever," implying a strong desire that it should be so. But the language may denote a strong conviction that it would be so. The mind of the writer was filled with wonder at the beauty and variety of the works of God on the land, in the air, and in the waters; and he exclaims, with a heart full of admiration, that the glory of a Being who had made all these things could never cease, but must endure forever. All the glory of man would pass away; all the monuments that he would rear would be destroyed; all the works of art executed by him must perish; but the glory of One who had made the earth, and filled it with such wonders, could not but endure forever and ever.
The Lord shall rejoice in his works - See Genesis 1:31. The idea here is, that God finds pleasure in the contemplation of his own works; in the beauty and order of creation; and in the happiness which he sees as the result of his work of creation. There is no impropriety in supposing that God finds pleasure in the manifestation of the wisdom, the power, the goodness, the mercy, and the love of his own glorious nature.
32He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth: he toucheth the hills, and they smoke.
He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth - There is great sublimity in this expression, as indicating the power and the majesty of God. He has only to "look" upon his works, and they stand in awe and tremble. The most mighty and fearful convulsions of nature occur as if they were the mere effect of God's "looking" on the earth. Compare Habakkuk 3:10 - "The mountains saw thee, and they trembled."
He toucheth the hills, and they smoke - That is, as Mount Sinai did when God came down upon it. Exodus 19:18. It is as if the hills were conscious of his presence, and were awed.
33I will sing unto the LORD as long as I live: I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
I will sing unto the Lord as long as I live - That is, I will continue to praise him; I will never cease to adore him. The result of the psalmist's meditations on the wonderful works of God is to awaken in his mind a desire to praise God forever. He is so filled with a sense of his greatness and glory that he sees that there would be occasion for eternal praise; or that the reason for praise could never be exhausted. He who has any proper sense of the greatness, the majesty, and the glory of God "intends" to praise him forever. He sees that there is enough in the character of God to demand eternal praise, and he does not anticipate that a period can ever occur in all the future when he will feel that the causes for praise have come to an end, or when his heart will be indisposed to celebrate that praise.
34My meditation of him shall be sweet: I will be glad in the LORD.
My meditation of him shall be sweet - That is, I will find pleasure in meditating on his character and works. See the notes at Psalm 1:2. It is one of the characteristics of true piety that there is a "disposition" to think about God; that the mind is "naturally" drawn to that subject; that it does not turn away from it, when it is suggested; that this fills up the intervals of business in the day-time, and that it occupies the mind when wakeful at night. Psalm 63:6. It is also a characteristic of true piety that there is "pleasure" in such meditations; happiness in thinking of God. The sinner has no such pleasure. The thought of God is painful to him; he does not desire to have it suggested to him; he turns away from it, and avoids it. Compare the notes at Isaiah 30:11. It is one of the evidences of true piety when a man "begins" to find pleasure in thinking about God; when the subject, instead of being unpleasant to him, becomes pleasant; when he no longer turns away from it, but is sensible of a desire to cherish the thought of God, and to know more of him.
I will be glad in the Lord - That is, I will rejoice that there is such a Being; I will seek my happiness in him as my God.
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.
Let the sinners be consumed out of the earth - Compare Psalm 37:38. This might with propriety be rendered, "Consumed are the sinners out of the earth," expressing a fact and not a desire; and it may have been prompted by the feeling of the psalmist that such an event would occur; that is, that the time would come when sin would no more abound, but when the world would be filled with righteousness, and all the dwellers on the earth would praise God. The word translated "consumed" - from תמם tâmam - means properly to complete, to perfect, to finish, to cease. It does not mean "consume" in the sense of being burned up - as our word means - or destroyed, but merely to come to an end, to cease, to pass away: that is; Let the time soon come - or, the time will soon come - when there will be no sinners on the earth, but when all the inhabitants of the earth will worship and honor God. The "connection" here seems to be this: The psalmist was himself so filled with the love of God, and with admiration of his works, that he desired that all might partake of the same feeling; and he looked forward, therefore, as those who love God must do, to the time when all the dwellers on earth would see his glory, and when there should be none who did not adore and love him. All that is "fairly" implied in the wish of the psalmist here would be accomplished if all sinners were converted, and if, in that sense, there were to be no more transgressors in the world.
And let the wicked be no more - Let there not be anymore wicked persons; let the time come when there shall be no bad people on the earth, but when all shall be righteous. In this prayer all persons could properly unite.
Bless thou the Lord, O my soul - The psalm closes (as Psalm 103 does) as it began. The psalmist commenced with the expression of a purpose to bless God; it closes with the same purpose, confirmed by a survey of the wonderful works of God.
Praise ye the Lord - Hebrew, Hallelu-jah. The psalmist expresses the earnest desire of a truly pious heart (in looking upon a world so beautiful, so varied in its works, so full of the expressions of the wisdom and goodness of God - a world where all the inferior creation so completely carries out the purpose of the Creator), that man, the noblest of all the works of God, might unite with the world around and beneath him in carrying out the great purpose of the creation - so that he might, in his own proper place, and according to the powers with which he is endowed, acknowledge God. How beautiful - how sublime - would be the spectacle on earth, if man accomplished the purpose of his creation, and filled his place, as well as the springs, the hills, the trees, the fowls, the wild goats, the moon, the sun, the young lions, and the inhabitants of the "great and wide sea" do in their spheres! Oh, come the time when on earth there shall be harmony in all the works of God, and when all creatures here shall carry out the purpose which was contemplated when God called the earth into existence.