God’s Work of Creation

 

Week of August 24, 2014

 

Bible Verses:  Psalm 104:1-9,24-30.

 

The Point:  Everything in creation is the work of the God who loves us.

 

God’s Greatness in His Creation:  Psalm 104:1-9; 24-30

 

[1]  Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, [2]  covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. [3]  He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind; [4]  he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire. [5]  He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved. [6]  You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. [7]  At your rebuke they fled; at the sound of your thunder they took to flight. [8]  The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place that you appointed for them. [9]  You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth. [24]  O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. [25]  Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great. [26]  There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it. [27]  These all look to you, to give them their food in due season. [28]  When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. [29]  When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. [30]  When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.  [ESV]

 

“Psalms 103 and 104 form a perfect pair and illustrate the balance of the Bible. Both begin and end with the words Bless the Lord, O my soul! Psalm 103 goes on to tell of the goodness of God in salvation, Psalm 104 of the greatness of God in creation. Psalm 103 depicts God as the father with His children, Psalm 104 as the creator with His creatures. Psalm 103 catalogs His benefits, Psalm 104 His works. The author evidently has in mind the narrative of Genesis 1 and draws his inspiration from it. He follows approximately the same order, beginning with light and ending with human beings. He describes with great poetic beauty how God made the heavens and the earth [1-9], and provides drink, food, and shelter for all birds and beasts [10-23]. After a further meditation on God’s many varied works in both creating and preserving all His creatures [24-30], he concludes with a prayer that God’s glory may endure, a resolve to worship God throughout his life, and a desire that sinners who spoil God’s world shall be no more [31-35]. Most of the verbs in verses 1-9 should probably be put in the past tense and understood to refer to the creation of the heavens [1-4] and the earth [5-9]. We should beware of taking these verses literally. The author writes as a poet, not as a scientist. We are not intended to picture God riding on a chariot of clouds or building the earth like a house on actual, material foundations. All this is imagery. What the passage does teach us is that God is the creator of the universe, and that He has revealed Himself in it. In His essential being He is invisible, but He makes Himself known in the visible order which He has made. The light is His garment, the heavens are His tent, the sky His chambers, and the clouds His chariot, while He makes the winds His messengers and fire and flame His servants [2-4]. Even though God is invisible, His glory is manifest in His creation.”  [Stott, pp. 88-90]

 

“It is not for nothing that the Psalms so frequently urge God’s people to sing, to shout, to clap, to make a joyful noise to the Lord. Psalm 104 begins, Bless the Lord, O my soul!, and all that follows is a joyous expression of praise, until, in the last verse, the psalmist’s longing for the fullness of righteousness bursts forth in a painful cry at the thought of the wicked – only to be drowned out by renewed praise. How would he praise God? By telling both God and others of the Lord’s splendor and majesty [1]. In his excitement he spoke first to himself: Bless the Lord, O my soul! Then he addressed God directly: O Lord my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty. Then, unable to keep the wonder to himself and God, he turned to anyone who would hear in verses 2 and 3. After that he alternated between addressing God and addressing others, like an actor on a stage who makes the audience part of the play. What moved him to praise? He saw the world and was overwhelmed with its beauty in form and function. He stared with wide-eyed, childlike astonishment at the marvelous, mystifying handiwork of the Lord and gave the only fitting response. He saw the world as the stunning theater, workshop, playground, of our Father in heaven. The psalmist structured his praises roughly according to the days of creation. He spoke of the first day, when God created the heavens, the earth, and light and darkness; of the second, when God distinguished sky from earth; of the third, when God separated seas and lakes from dry land, and created plant life; of the fourth, when God separated night from day; of the fifth and sixth, when God made all the creatures of sea, sky, and land – including man – blessed them, and told them to multiply; and finally of the seventh day, the day of God’s rest. Finally, reflecting on the goodness and beauty of pristine creation, and shocked by its contrast with the sinful, cursed world he now inhabited, he longed for the eternal Sabbath when again God’s glory would be perfectly proclaimed by a creation untainted by wickedness, when God would look again on everything He had made and declare it very good [Gen. 1:31]. Why did the psalmist speak of all these things? Of light and clouds and wind, of sea and land and thunder, of mountains and valleys and springs and rivers? Why did one who set out to praise God revel in thoughts of wild donkeys and goats, of birds and grass and cattle, of wine and oil and bread? Why did he speak so glowingly of the trees of the Lord … the cedars of Lebanon [16]? What did it matter that there the birds build their nests; the stork has her home [17] or that badgers hide in the mountain crags? Why did he tell of sun and moon, of day and night? Because these are God’s works; they revealed His wisdom [24]. To speak in awe and wonder of them is to speak in yet more awe and wonder of their Creator. For the psalmist everything was sacred: everything told its story about the Creator. Psalm 104 – like Genesis 1, which it reflects – marks one of the great dividing lines between biblical religion and the nature worship of many other ancient peoples. Here we find a clear distinction between creature and Creator that permits unabashed admiration for the art as praise for the Artist. The psalmist saw the world as the bearer of messages: he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire [4]. Light tells of God’s splendor, darkness of His mystery or anger [29]. Wind and flame display His power, the firmness of earth is founded on His steadfastness [5], its orderliness on His order [7-9]. Springs of water that quench the thirst of wild donkeys reflect the living Holy Spirit on whom man and beast alike depend for every breath [11-13]. Grass that feeds cattle, plants that yield fruit and grain for man, deep waters from which great trees drink their fill [14-16] – all these and more are marvels. Yet even these are but signs of the God to whom all living things look for their food [27]. Mountains and crags that provide safety for goat and badgers picture man’s refuge in God. After all his meditation on creation, the psalmist turned again to the Creator: May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works [31]. He remembered that his purpose had been to praise God, to give Him glory, to exalt and extol Him. As if to avoid worshiping things made rather than their Maker he recalled how puny and fragile they were in God’s presence. The earth that could never be moved [5] trembles at a mere glace from God; the mountains that sheltered donkey and goat smoked at His touch [32]. The psalmist’s song could not be confined to the works of God but had to reach to God Himself: I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being [33]. And to the God in whom the psalmist rejoiced and who rejoiced in His own works [31], he prayed, May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord [34], as if to say, ‘May I give You as much joy as You give me.’ But suddenly the thought of the wicked invaded the psalmist’s reverie. The very existence of evil men stained the garment of creation. Indignantly he cried, Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more! [35]. For him, the wicked were a great contradiction. They rebelled against creation and creation’s God. And so his longing for their destruction was a pure and righteous expression of his praise to God. The psalmist, however, did not allow himself to be distracted long by thoughts of the wicked. No temporary trouble could shake his confidence in the ultimate goodness of God. Confident that the wicked would vanish from the earth, he concluded as he had begun: Bless the Lord, O my soul! Praise the Lord! [35].”  [Beisner, pp. 19-23]

 

Learning to Praise God for the Creation.

“How can we capture the psalmist’s delight in God’s creation and learn to praise the Lord for His wonderful works?

 

We can take the following five steps:

 

(1)  First, we must understand that the earth is the Lord’s, that He did make it. It is neither the absurd result of random accidents nor itself divine. The earth is a glorious, never-ending display of His goodness and wisdom, His power and beauty.

 

(2)  Second, we can sharpen our skills of observation. While we cannot all become amateur biologists, geologists, or artists, we can open our eyes to the brilliance of a bluebird, the miniature world of bugs treading through forests of grass, or the awesome majesty of a huge thunderhead glistening in the late afternoon sun. We can train our ears to notice the cooing of doves, the singing of crickets, and the purring of a cat on our lap. When we learn to taste the wonder of cold, clear water on a hot day, to smell the sweetness of freshly mowed hay, to feel the springy softness of moss on the forest floor, to remember that each of these was planned and made by the hand of the Lord, then we can join the psalmist in praise to God the Creator.

 

(3)  But believing and seeing are not enough by themselves. They must be coupled with a third step, proclaiming. In our age of quiet, private, hide-it-in-your-heart religion, we often fail to realize the role of proclamation in the life of faith. Yet like cheering at a football game or clapping at a child’s first steps, outward expression can make indelible the writing on our hearts.

 

(4)  The fourth step toward enjoying creation to the utmost is learning to hate evil, to be deeply bothered by wickedness. If we do not react to evil with horror, we will not react to God’s goodness and beauty with praise. Rather than turning the other way when confronted by evil, we must choose, each day, to confront it, to loathe it, to do battle with it, and, by the blood of the Lamb and the Word of His testimony, to overcome it. We must share the psalmist’s longing for the time when sinners will vanish from the earth and the wicked will be no more.

 

(5)  This leads naturally to the fifth step toward enjoying God’s creation: developing a firm, unalterable faith that God will win the war against evil. If we believe, like atheistic physicists, that the universe is slowly and inexorably dying, our joy must always be mixed with melancholy resignation to the triumph of nothingness. But Scripture teaches us that the God who made everything and declared it very good will one day remake everything. Even in His judgment on sin, when God subjected all creation to vanity and corruption, He did so in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God [Rom. 8:20-21]. The people of God will one day be made pure, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away [Rev. 21:4]. It will be replaced by a new heaven and a new earth in which righteousness reigns without end. If we can believe that God made the earth and everything in it, learn to observe and proclaim the beauty around us, truly loathe evil, and retain complete faith that God’s will shall be done one day on earth as it is in heaven, then we can enjoy creation as God intends us to and find in it reason to say, Bless the Lord, O my soul! Praise the Lord!  [Beisner, pp. 23-25] 

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.         Frequently the Psalms call us to Bless the Lord; to rejoice in the greatness of our God. List the reasons the Psalmist gives us in these verses for blessing our great God. Think about how and why the Psalmist praises God.

 

2.         Read carefully the section on “Learning to Praise God for the Creation.” Seek to follow these five steps in your life.

 

3.         Ask God to open your eyes so that you may see the greatness of our Lord in His creation and to rejoice in His handiwork.

 

References:

Psalms, Willem VanGemeren, EBC, Zondervan.

Favorite Psalms, John Stott, Baker.

Psalms of Promise, E. Calvin Beisner, P & R Publishing.