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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 104

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary

Verse 1

Psalms 104:0.

A meditation upon the mighty power and wonderful providence of God. God's glory is eternal. The prophet voweth perpetually to praise God.

THOUGH this psalm has no title in the original, it is said to be David's by all the old versions, except the Chaldee; and certainly the thoughts and expressions of it throughout, and especially in the first part of it, are so lofty and grand, that they may well be supposed the composition of the Royal Prophet. However, be the author who he will, it is universally allowed to be one of the finest poems that we have upon the works of creation and the providence of God: and as it is upon so general a subject, it is proper to be used at all times. Bishop Lowth observes, that there is nothing extant which can be conceived more perfect than this psalm. See his 29th Prelection. Dr. Delaney imagines it, with great probability, to have been composed by David while he was in the forest of Hareth, where he was surrounded by those pastoral scenes which he so beautifully describes; for, after some general observations upon the works and wisdom of God in the creation, he descends to the following particulars: the rise of springs, the course of rivers, the retreats of fowls and wild beasts of the forests and mountains; the vicissitudes of night and day, and their various uses to the animal world; the dependance of the whole creation upon the Almighty for being and subsistence. He withdraws their breath, and they die; he breaths, and they revive; he but opens his hand, and he feeds; he satisfies them all at once. These are ideas familiar to him, and his manner of introducing them plainly shews them to be the effect of his most retired meditations in his solitary wanderings. Life of David, book 1: chap. 8.

Verse 2

Psalms 104:2. The heavens like a curtain Like a tilt—a tent. Or, Like a canopy. Mudge. A tent seems the most proper translation, as comprehending, not the uppermost part of the tent or the canopy only, but the whole tent, both canopy and curtains: for by that the air which encompasseth the earth is most fitly resembled, in respect of us here below, for whose use it is that God has thus extended or stretched it out; as doing that by his secret and invisible virtue, which in tents used to be done by cords.

Verse 3

Psalms 104:3. Who layeth the beams of his chambers He flooreth his chambers with waters: i.e. "The clouds make the flooring of his heavens." Mudge. By these chambers are meant, though not the supreme, yet the superior or middle regions of the air. It is here described as an upper story in a house, laid firm with beams; (accounting the earth, and the region of air around it, as the lowest story:) and this floor is here poetically said to be laid in the waters; i.e. in watery clouds. Now, whereas in the building of an upper story there must be some walls or pillars to support the weight of it, and on which the beams must be laid; God here, by his own miraculous power, laid, and hath ever since supported, these upper rooms; there being nothing but waters to support them; a fluid unstable body, incapable of supporting itself. This therefore is another work of his divine power; that the waters, which are so fluid, and unable to contain themselves within their own bounds, should yet hang in the middle of the air, and be as walls or pillars to support that region of air, which is itself another fluid body. Mr. Hervey observes very well, that in the words, Who walketh upon the wings of the wind, there is an unequalled elegance; not he flieth—he runneth, but—he walketh; and that on the very wings of the wind; on the most impetuous element, raised into the utmost rage, and sweeping along with incredible rapidity. We cannot have a more sublime idea of the Deity; serenely walking on an element of inconceivable swiftness, and, as it seems to us, uncontrollable impetuosity!

Verse 5

Psalms 104:5. Who laid the foundations of the earth Who hath built the earth upon her bases. Bishop Lowth, in his 8th Prelection, of images taken from things sacred, observes, that we have a remarkable example hereof in this psalm. "The exordium (says he) is peculiarly magnificent, wherein the majesty of God is described, so far as we can investigate and comprehend it from the admirable construction of nature: in which passage, as it was for the most part necessary to use translatitious images, the sacred poet has principally applied those which would be esteemed by the Hebrews the most elevated and worthy such an argument; for they all, as it deems to me, are taken from the tabernacle. We will give the passage verbally, with a short explication. In the first place he expresses the greatness of God in proper words; then he uses metaphorical ones:

לבשׁת׃ והדר הוד hod vehadar labashta Thou hast put on honour and majesty:

לבשׁת labashta is a word very frequently used in the dress of the priests.

Covering himself with light as with a garment:

A manifest symbol of the divine presence; the light, conspicuous in the holiest, is pointed out under the same idea; and from this single example a simile is educed to express the ineffable glory of God generally and universally.

כיריעה׃ שׁמים נוטח noteh shamaiim kaiieriah. Stretching out the heavens like a curtain:

The word יריעה, rendered curtain, is that which denotes the curtains, or covering of the whole tabernacle.

עליותיו במים המקרה hammekareh bammaiim aliiothaiv. Laying the beams of his chambers in the waters.

The sacred writer expresses the wonderful nature of the air, aptly and regularly constructed from various and flux elements into one continued and stable series, by a metaphor drawn from the singular formation of the tabernacle; which, consisting of many different parts, and easily reparable when there was need, was kept together by a perpetual juncture and contiguation of them all together. The poet goes on:

רכובו עבים השׂם hassam abiim rekubo. רוח כנפי על המהלךֶ hammehallek al kanpei ruach. Making the clouds his chariot; Walking upon the wings of the wind.

He had first expressed an image of the divine majesty, such as it resided in the holy of holies, discernible by a certain investiture of the most splendid light. He now denotes the same from that sight of itself, which the divine majesty exhibited, when it moved together with the ark, sitting on a circumambient cloud, and carried on high through the air: the seat of the divine presence is even called by the sacred historians, as its proper name, המרכבה hamerchabah, that is, a chariot.

Causing the winds to be his angels. And the flaming fire to be in the place of his ministers. רוחות מלאכיו עשׂה ouseh malaakaiv ruchoth. להט׃ אשׁ משׁרתיו meshartaiv eish lohet.

The elements are described prompt and expedite to perform the divine commands, like angels or ministers serving in the tabernacle; the Hebrew משׁרתיו mashartaiv, being a word most common in the sacred ministrations.

מכוניה על ארצ יסד iasad erets al mekoneihah. He hath also founded the earth upon its bases:

This also is manifestly taken from the same. The poet adds,

ועד עולם תמוט בל bal timmot olam vanged. That it should not be removed for ever:

That is, till the time appointed according to the will of God. As the condition of each was the same in this respect; so the stability of the sanctuary, in turn, is in almost the same words elsewhere compared with the stability of the earth."

Verse 6

Psalms 104:6. Thou coveredst it with the deep, &c.— That is, at the first creation, the earth, while yet without form, was covered all over, and, as it were, clothed with the great deep; that vast expansion of air and waters; and those which are now the highest mountains, were then all under that liquid element. He adds, Psalms 104:7. At thy rebuke they fled; they, namely, the inferior waters, (see Genesis 1:9.) which were all gathered together into one place: At thy rebuke, i.e. at the powerful command of God; which, as it were, rebuked, and thereby corrected and regulated, that indigested confusion of things. At the voice of thy thunder, means, "Thy powerful voice, which resounded like thunder."

Verse 8

Psalms 104:8. They go up to the mountains They went up mountains, they went down vallies, to the place which thou hast founded for them. Here a noble image is lost in our translation, for want of considering that the sacred writer is describing the motion of the waters over mountains and in vallies, when, at God's command, they filed off from the surface of the earth unto the posts assigned them. Mudge. This psalm will gain great light by being compared with the first chapter of Genesis, and considered as a kind of comment upon it.

Verse 11

Psalms 104:11. The wild asses quench their thirst It is particularly remarked of the asses, that though they are dull and stupid creatures, yet by Providence they are taught the way to the waters in the dry and sandy desarts; and that there is no better guide for the thirsty traveller to follow, than to observe the herds of them descending to the streams. The description here is very picturesque, of fine springs in the midst of shady vallies, frequented by a variety of beasts and birds, allured thither by the pleasantness of the place, and giving a kind of life and society to it. See Psalms 104:12.

Verse 13

Psalms 104:13. The earth is satisfied, &c.— That the earth may be satiated with the fruit of thy works: Psa 104:14 to cause the grass to grow, &c. Mudge.

Verse 16

Psalms 104:16. Are full of sap Or, Shall be satisfied.

Verse 18

Psalms 104:18. The rocks for the conies See Leviticus 11:5. The meaning of the Psalmist is, that even those parts of the earth which may seem barren and useless have yet their uses, and serve to shelter certain animals which are adapted to them. None, says Dr. Delaney, but one who had surveyed the venerable shade and stupendous size of the cedars of Libanus, could entertain those exalted conceptions of them which David here does: that they were planted by the hand of God, Psalms 104:16. None but one who had been himself refuged in the hills of the wild goats, could so well, and so familiarly, contemplate upon the ends of the divine wisdom in forming these solitary sanctuaries. It were endless to enumerate particulars; and I shall only beg leave to add, that none but one well acquainted with the fierce inhabitants of the forest, their rovings and roarings, could so describe them, as David doth in Psalms 104:20-22.

Verse 19

Psalms 104:19. He appointed the moon for seasons See Genesis 1:14.

Verse 21

Psalms 104:21. The young lions roar after their prey Dr. Hammond observes, that lions are not provided with great swiftness of foot to pursue those beasts on which they prey. It is necessary, therefore, that this defect should be provided for some other way; and it has been affirmed, that their very roaring is useful to them for this purpose; and that when they cannot overtake their prey, they do by that fierce noise so astonish and terrify the poor beasts, that they fall down before them. This seems probable enough, and illustrates the Psalmist's expression. The prophet Amos has the same allusion, ch. Psalms 3:4. Will a lion roar in the forest, when he hath no prey? i.e. when he hath no prey in view.

Verse 25

Psalms 104:25. So is this great and wide sea, &c.— So is the sea, great and wide in extent, wherein are moving things, both small and great animals. Mudge.

Verse 26

Psalms 104:26. That leviathan See Job 41:0.

Verse 28

Psalms 104:28. Thou openest thine hand The ideas in these verses can be excelled by nothing but by the concise elegance of the expressions; which convey to the human mind the most sublime and awful conceptions of that tremendous Being, who doth but look on the earth, and it trembleth; who doth but touch the hills, and they smoke; Psalms 104:32. The Psalmist alludes in the latter clause to God's descent on mount Sinai.

Verse 34

Psalms 104:34. My meditation of him shall be sweet I shall delight in making him my theme. Mudge. It is literally, My theme upon him will be sweet. The next verse may be rendered, While the sinners shall be consumed out of the earth, and the wicked shall be no more, &c. The reader desirous of seeing a more complete and philosophical comment on this psalm, will find such a one in the 7th Volume of Scheuchzer's Physique Sacree.

REFLECTIONS.—1st, One page of the holy Scriptures contains more of the true sublime than is to be found in all the volumes of poets and philosophers; of which this psalm is a striking instance; where majesty of diction, vastness of idea, and the transcendently dazzling brightness of the images, conspire to fill the soul with sacred reverence and awe of the Divine Majesty, whose glory passes before us.

1. The Psalmist calls upon his own soul to awake, to praise Jehovah, Jesus; Very great in his divine person; in his amazing works of creation, providence, and grace; and in his distinguished offices; clothed with honour and majesty; the object of universal adoration in earth and heaven; and, what above all engages the heart, my God, in all whole greatness and glory I am interested.

2. He describes the exceeding greatness of his covenant God; before whose majestic presence all human grandeur vanishes, as the glow-worm before the meridian sun. What monarch ever appeared so clothed, so enthroned, so attended? Light itself is his garment, so bright and dazzling, that even angels themselves veil their faces when they approach his footstool, unable to bear the intolerable blaze. The vast expanse of heaven forms the curtains of his pavilion, as easily stretched out at his word, and, when he pleases, as instantly rolled together. Above the firmament his radiant throne is fixed; and those waters which float in the skies are the beams of his chambers. If he comes forth, the clouds, his chariots, wait, and he walketh on the wings of the wind; so swift to succour his people, or pour vengeance on their foes. Bright angels, ministers of flame, spirits disencumbered from the fetters of material substance, stand ready, the creatures of his hand and the willing servants of his pleasure. Fixed by him on a basis immoveable, the solid earth abides. The vast abyss of waters, which at creation covered it, at his command halted to the hollow deep, fled over the mountains, and through the vallies retired to their appointed places: there shut up in bounds they cannot pass, the billows toss themselves in vain; since God hath said, "Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed." Meditate, my soul, on these wonders of power, and ceaseless adore this glorious Jehovah.
2nd, Having mentioned the more august displays of the Divine Majesty in heaven and earth, the Psalmist passes on to consider his bountiful providential care over the world, and the creatures in it, the work of his hands.
1. He sends his rain from the clouds, his chambers, to fill the vast reservoirs in the hills and mountains, from whence the springs burst forth, and descend into the vallies beneath, affording grateful refreshment to the thirsty cattle, and at which even the wild asses quench their thirst. Shall God then so kindly relieve the wants of creatures so worthless, and can we dare distrust him, or fear that he will suffer us to want?
2. By the sides of these flowing streams the birds take up their grateful abode, and sing on the branches, as if attempting to articulate thanksgiving for the provision which God had made. Shall they sing, and man be silent? forbid it, gratitude!
3. By these kind rains also the earth impregnated, teems with vegetative life, well-pleased to bear those fruits which God causes to spring forth, grass for the cattle, and herb for the service of man, for food or physic: a rich provision, not only for necessity but delight: corn, wine, and oil, to strengthen his body, to cheer his spirits, and beautify his countenance. Note; (1.) Since we are daily fed by God's bounty, it becomes us to be thankful for the provision, and dependant on his providence. (2.) If God hath given us so many good things, and, far from tantalizing us merely with the sight, bids us enjoy his blessings, let us beware that we do not, by our abuse, turn that into our curse, which was designed for our comfort.

4. The trees, as well as animals, are fed with their proper nourishment: filled with sap, under God's care they grow; his hand planted them, and he waters them with the dew of heaven. Such are his saints, planted by his grace, and watered with heavenly influences; full of sap and spiritual life within; increasing with the increase of God; tall as the cedars, and bringing forth the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ to the praise and glory of God.
5. By strange instinct the birds are taught to build their nests on the lofty trees, as the places most suitable and safe; and the wild goats, sensible of their defenceless state, choose the high hills and precipices for their abode and refuge; and the feeble and fearful rabbits burrow under the rocks for their shelter. Shall these all shew wisdom in their choice, and shall we be the only fools in nature! Instead of flying to Jesus as our refuge, and making him our munition of rocks, shall we neglect his great salvation, and carelessly stand exposed to every spiritual enemy, till we fall a prey to the destroyer!
3rdly, New wonders of God's power and providence afford new matter for our contemplation and praise.
1. The day and night, and the luminaries which preside over them, are the works of his hands: if the sun knoweth his stated seasons of revolution, and the moon in regular order fills and empties her orb with light, it is by Divine appointment, and for the wisest purposes. The night, which affords welcome repose to man, emboldens the creatures on whom the fear of man is impressed to arise in quest of food; the lions, roaring, roam about the forest, and seek their meat from God who feedeth them, and when the sun begins to rear his head they return again to their dens: the welcome morning breaks, and slumbering man arises; the day is his time for labour, till the shadows of the evening warn him to retire, and recruit with repose his exhausted strength for the labours of another day. Note; (1.) If God at the lion's roar provides flesh for his hunger, can it be possible that his own children should cry to him and be refused bread? (2.) In the night of desertion and temptation the roaring lion, Satan, fails not to endeavour to scare the poor distressed soul: but lo! the morning breaks, and before the beams of the sun of righteousness our fears are dispelled, and our enemy driven away. (3.) The day is for labour; a sluggard is an offence to the sun, that wastes on him his glorious light. (4.) The shadows of the evening of death will be welcome to those who have, through Divine grace, finished the work which God had given them to do.

2. The earth with all its riches, and the sea with all its swarms of inhabitants, display the wisdom and power of the great Creator; there go the ships, transporting to other lands the various produce of different climes; and there fearless plays on the surface the vast leviathan; whilst all the watery brood which swim or creep, both small and great, depend on their Maker's hand are fed from day to day, the least not disregarded, the largest liberally supplied, and all are filled with good, receiving the portion suited to their wants. Shall men then be less careful to seek their meat from God, or dare they impatiently murmur against the provision made for them!

3. In his hands they are to live or die; if he withhold their supplies, they pine with hunger; if he command the breath that he gave to depart, they return to their dust. Yet, though death seem to threaten universal desolation, a new creation in succession rises, no species of animals fails; the earth is replenished with inhabitants, renewed daily by the rising sun, and annually by the returning spring.
4. Well might these views make the pious Psalmist cry out, O Lord! how manifold are thy works! so vast and various, and withal so exquisitely finished; in wisdom hast thou made them all: the works of man will hardly bear inspection, and the microscopic eye descries the foulest flaws in the most finished pieces; but here examination raises the wonder, all is executed beyond the power of imagination to add thereto, or the possibility of finding fault: as for God, his work is perfect.

4thly and lastly, We have,
1. The Psalmist's resolution, while he has a being, to give praise to God for all he is in himself, and for the wonders he hath wrought. His glory is everlasting; it will appear not only through time, but to eternity; and glorified saints and angels will for ever adore him. The Lord shall rejoice in his works, well pleased on the survey; for all he doth, is well done: and, if he pleased, with one frown he could dissolve all created nature. He looketh on the earth, and it trembleth, convulsed with earthquakes: he toucheth the hills, and straight the fire kindles, they smoke, and burst forth in flames. Most worthy therefore is he to be praised, who is so greatly to be feared. Let the sinner tremble, who obstinately refuses, or carelessly neglects, to give him the glory due unto his name. If but a touch, a frown, is so terrible, how will the guilty soul endure the fierceness of his wrath, and the lighting down of his indignation?

2. He determines with delight to meditate continually on all God's wondrous works: his works of providence, and his yet more pleasing works of redemption and grace; the sweetest subject that can engage the believer's thoughts; and as the blest effect of such contemplation, I will be glad in the Lord; the reflections will fill his soul with joy, and his lips with praise to his divine and adored Jesus.

3. He foresees the end of the wicked, and prays for the appearing of God's glory in their destruction. Let the sinners who obstinately and perseveringly reject God's government, and rob him of his glory, be consumed out of the earth, by the stroke of judgment, and the brightness of the Saviour's coming; and let the wicked, whose ways are one continued scene of impiety and impenitence, be no more; cut off with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord. Note; The hour is near, when all God's patience with the ungodly shall have an end, and ruin terrible and eternal overtake them.

4. He concludes with calling on his own soul to bless the Lord for his judgments on the wicked, and invites all God's people to join his praises. Here first in the psalms the word Hallelujah occurs, and this on occasion of the destruction of the ungodly. It is in the New Testament only found in Rev 19:1-6 where it is used on a like occasion. Note; The damnation of the finally impenitent will redound to God's glory, as well as the salvation of the faithful, and both afford matter for his saints' everlasting praises.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Psalms 104". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/psalms-104.html. 1801-1803.
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