Many Christians picture God as distant and uninvolved in the routine, trivial, uneventful affairs of life. This especially holds true when it comes to the phenomena of nature. Surely the God of heaven and earth, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, would not bother himself with such things as grass, rain, cattle, and animals in remote regions of the world that nobody knows of or cares about. Quite to the contrary. God is present, not in some passive sense as merely a concerned spectator, but is actively upholding all things, preserving all things, and guiding all things to their ultimate goal of triumph in and through Christ. See Col. 1:16-17; Heb. 1:3.
There are two ways of looking at Psalm 104. (1) First, there is a prologue in v. 1, an epilogue in v. 35b, in between which is sandwiched, as it were, a picturesque portrayal of God's providential care of his creation. It is a portrayal designed to arouse in us wondering awe and devoted love. Thus there are three divisions: first, vv. 2-23, a description of the beauty of God's creation; second, vv. 24-32, a portrayal of the utter dependence of the creation upon the Creator; and third, vv. 33-35, praise for all God's marvelous works. (2) Second, one may look at the psalm in terms of its correspondence to the initial creation as found in Genesis 1. Thus, vv. 2-4 = the creation of the 1st and 2nd days in Gen. 1:3-8; vv. 5-9 = the creation of the first part of the 3rd day in Gen. 1:9-10 when the earth and waters were separated; vv. 10-18 = the second part of the 3rd day in Gen. 1:10-13; vv. 19-23 = the creation of the 4th day of the heavenly bodies in Gen. 1:14-18; vv. 24-26 = the creation of the 5th day; v. 31 = an allusion to the Sabbath rest of the 7th day.
A. Prologue - v. 1
This verse "exhibits in advance the sum and substance of the whole composition, the design of which is to describe the glories of creation and providence as the royal robe of the divine sovereign" (Alexander, 420).
B. Portrayal of the beauty of creation - vv. 2-23
1. The creation of the heavens and the light and their subservience to God - vv. 2-4
"In comparing the light to a robe he signifies that though God is invisible, yet His glory is manifest. If we speak of His essential being, it is true that He dwelleth in light inaccessible; but inasmuch as He irradiates the whole world with His glory, this is a robe wherein He in some measure appears to us as visible, who in Himself had been hidden. . . . It is folly to seek God in his own naked Majesty. . . . Let us turn our eyes to that most beautiful frame of the world in which He would be seen by us, that we may not pry with idle curiosity into the mystery of His nature."
In v. 2 he portrays God's creation of the heavens as no more difficult for him than it is for a man to erect a tent!
In vv. 3-4 we see that the whole of heaven is at his command! Verse 4 has been variously interpreted, but there are only two ways which make sense. (1) God makes his angels or ministering spirits swift as the wind and quick as lightning in his service. Or (2) the idea is that God makes the wind his messengers and the lightning his servant. In other words, it is figurative language designed to tell us that the wind and lightning, no less than the clouds and the light itself, are in his control, fulfilling his command.
2. The spectacle of the separation of dry land from water - vv. 5-9
Vv. 6-8, in particular, are a poetic expansion of Gen. 1:9 ("Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear"). The earth as originally formed was enveloped in water. God spoke a word of rebuke that the waters might give way to land. The verb translated "hurried away" (v. 7) means to be panic stricken. As someone said, the waters "were terrified by the despotic command of God." Immediately there were revealed mountains and valleys, apparently already in existence. But the important point to note is that "none of this movement was left to blind chance: both mountains and valleys sought out the place that God had founded for them. Everything was continually under perfect divine control" (Leupold).
Others have suggested that vv.5-9 do not describe the original creatiion but rather the work of God in restoring the earth after the flood of Noah. Verse 9 certainly seems to support this view. In any case,
"not so much as a solitary particle of spray ever breaks rank, or violates the command of the Lord of sea and land, neither do the awful cataracts and terrific floods revolt from his sway" (Spurgeon).
3. The clothing of the earth with grass, herbs, and trees -vv. 10-18
In these verses we move away from the original creation and catch a glimpse of divine providence. Says Spurgeon,
"We see here, also, that nothing is made in vain; though no human lip is moistened by the brooklet in the lone valley, yet are there other creatures which need refreshment, and these slake their thirst at the stream. Is this nothing? Must everything exist for man, or else be wasted? What but our pride and selfishness could have suggested such a notion? It is not true that flowers which blush unseen by human eye are wasting their sweetness, for the bee finds them out, and other winged wanderers live on their luscious juices. Man is but one creature of the many whom the heavenly Father feedeth and watereth."
In vv. 14-18 the psalmist includes a reference to God's care for mankind in addition to what he does for the animal world. Of v. 14, Spurgeon writes: "Divine power is as truly and as worthily put forth in the feeding of beasts as in the nurturing of man; watch but a blade of grass with a devout eye and you may see God at work within it!" Indeed, even the wildest and most inaccessible regions of the creation exist for a purpose, to shelter some form of God-given life. There is no such thing, therefore, as a "God-forsaken land." Even the rocks and cliffs never seen by human eyes are monuments to the divine wisdom.
4. The creation and governance of the heavenly luminaries - vv. 19-23
C. Portrayal of the creation's dependence upon God - vv. 24-32
Note especially in vv. 29-30 that all living things exist by the favor of his countenance. If God hides his face, they are terrified, their breath is taken away, they die. God suspends and withdraws his life-supporting benefits no less than he supplies them. All existence is his to destroy or sustain as he wills. We also see in vv. 31-32 that both earthquakes and volcanoes are his doing! "These are again not merely the operation of certain natural potencies that are imbedded in nature and are bound to appear by way of automatic reactions" (Leupold). God glances at the earth and it trembles. He lays his finger on a volcano and it erupts.
D. Praise of God for all his works - vv. 33-35a
E. Epilogue - v. 35b