Commentary on Psalm 104:24-34, 35b
This creation psalm celebrates the goodness, splendor, complexity, and interrelatedness of creation, which reflect God’s wisdom.
With strategic repetition of “your works” throughout the chapter, Psalm 104 celebrates the world as evidence of God’s wisdom in creating and sustaining the world, such that everything connects with everything else.
The phrase “Bless the Lord, O my soul” appears in Psalms 103 and 104, joining these two psalms as a larger celebration of God’s creation and as a guide for the people to pray in praise of God for creation. The psalmist agrees with Psalm 103 that God rules over all that is, and Psalm 104 expands upon this by detailing God’s works of creation.
Verse 24 begins with a new vocative, “O Lord,” proclaiming God’s sovereignty and dominion over all of the earth and the heavens, all of which are God’s creation. The psalm is somewhat reminiscent of Genesis 1 but is not intended to be read as a narrative.
Humankind are workers within God’s ordered world, built upon interdependence between all living things. The whole world depends on God for sustenance, and none can survive without God. As the creator and source of life, God will always be sovereign, but God guides creation like a loving and compassionate parent. God has made creation and providence continuous with each other, just as those are continuous within God’s very self.
Verse 30 points to God’s ruach, or breath, which brings life to our physical and spiritual lives simultaneously. Just as God raised the dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14), God’s breath/Spirit is our complete source of life in every possible meaning. The psalmist is suggesting that the purpose of creation is life itself and that delight in life must always be rooted in deep connection to God.
Creation exists in polyrhythm, and just as God’s life-giving breath animates all of creation, humanity is to echo this life-giving breath with their praise of God.
Similarly, because the world was created with interdependence, everything we do impacts God’s world, and also God. Ecology and theology cannot be separated because every human action impacts God’s creation, therefore, they impact God as well. Note that in verse 16, the psalmist refers to “trees of the Lord” but never to “people of the Lord,” which suggests that humans are not above creation but rather are one piece within its majestic whole. God tasked humans to serve creation and take care of it, not to rule over it and exploit it for human gain. Human interference in the delicate balance of interconnectedness threatens the system which God has put into place.
This begs us to consider the root cause of our contemporary concern with environmental justice. Is it rooted in preserving our way of life for future generations (self-interest), or is it rooted in praise for God the Creator (worship)?
Wickedness is a jarring discord between the world and what it was created to be. Wickedness seeks to disconnect and deal harm, whereas the world was created for life-giving interconnectedness. As J. Clinton McCann referenced, “we have seen the wicked, and it is us!” (McCann, 1100).
The mention of the sea monster Leviathan recalls the ancient association between the ocean and chaos and between sea monsters and evil. Even these, this psalmist says, are subject to God, for God has ordered the chaotic waters to become life-giving springs (verses 6-13) and quieted the sea monsters (verses 25-26).
The psalmist wishes that God would rule over creation for eternity and that this will bring God joy. While verse 35a seems disconnected from the rest of Psalm 104, the psalmist so rejoices in creation that he wishes wickedness were not at work attempting to dismantle what God has built.
This also points to the fact that those who view themselves as part of creation cannot praise God and tolerate wickedness within the world. Either one lives in praise of God as creator/life-giver/sustainer, or one undermines God’s sovereignty by seeking to harm what God has made.
Verse 35 also offers the first instance of “hallelujah” in the psalter, which is one of the reasons this passage tends to be used on the Day of Pentecost in celebration of God’s spirit (breath, wisdom) over creation. Just as God is the source of life for all of creation — physically, cosmically, and spiritually — God has created the church and sustained the church, through which all humankind and creation are interconnected.
What amazes you about creation? For what do you find yourself repeatedly praising God? How does God reveal God’s self through creation? What responsibilities do humans have to and for creation, and how does your preaching form your congregation in this regard?
Bruggemann, Walter, Israel’s Praise: Doxology against Idolatry and Ideology (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988).
Cotter, Jim, Psalms for a Pilgrim People (Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse, 1998).
deClaissé-Walford, Nancy, Introduction to the Psalms: A Song from Ancient Israel (St. Louis, Chalice Press, 2004).
Mays, James L., Preaching and Teaching the Psalms (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006).
Mays, James L., Psalms: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994).
McCann, J. Clinton, “Psalms,” In The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol 4, ed by Leander E. Keck, et al. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996).
Reid, Stephen Breck, Listening In: A Multicultural Reading of the Psalms (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997).