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Psalm 104


The Lord's Care Over All His Works
No MT Intro
Praise the Sovereign Lord for His Creation and Providence Hymn to God the Creator In Praise of the Creator The Glories of Creation
104:1-4 104:1-2 104:1-4 104:1-4 104:1-2a
104:5-9 104:5-9 104:5-9 104:5-9 104:5-6
104:10-13 104:10-13 104:10-13 104:10-12 104:10-12
      104:13-15 104:13-15
104:14-17 104:14-18 104:14-23    
      104:16-18 104:16-18
  104:19-23   104:19-23 104:19-21
104:24-26 104:24-26 104:24-26 104:24-26 104:24
104:27-30 104:27-30 104:27-30 104:27-30 104:27-28
104:31-35 104:31-32 104:31-35 104:31-32 104:31-32
  104:33-35b   104:33-35b 104:33-35b
  104:35c-d   104:35c-d 104:35c

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



A. It is obvious that Psalm 103 and 104 form a theological pair This can be seen as the opening and closing verses are exactly alike ("bless," Piel imperative). The significance of this pairing may be in the two general subject matters of these Psalms. Psalm 103 is the covenant love of YHWH as Redeemer and Psalm 104 shows God (Elohim) as the Creator. The names for God reflected in the opening of both of these Psalms are YHWH, the covenant name for God, and Elohim, the general name for God. The Jews say that Psalm 103 describes YHWH in His covenant mercy and Psalm 104 describes Elohim as Creator. This is a much better explanation of these terms than to see in them the JEDP theory of source criticism that was so popular in the 19th century (see Introduction to Genesis online at

B. This Psalm is very similar to the Egyptian hymn to Aton (ANET 369-371), by Akhenaten IV (1375-1357 b.c.). Although there is a similarity, there are also obvious differences. We know that Wisdom Literature was shared among many cultures in the ANE, and there may be a purposeful similarity between the Egyptian hymn to the sun god and the Creator Redeemer God in Psalm 103 and 104. For the ANE parallels see

1. The IVP Bible Background Commentary, pp. 548-550

2. Hard Sayings of the Bible, pp. 277-278

3. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pp.239-240

4. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the OT, pp. 165-199

C. It is somewhat strange that the conscious creation of God (cf. Phil. 2:10), both the angels and humans, is somewhat de-emphasized in Psalm 104. As a matter of fact, the Hebrew text of Ps. 104:4 seems to refer simply to the elements of nature and not the angelic world. Humanity is alluded to briefly in Ps. 104:14 and 23, but only as a sideline and not as a key point.

D. This Psalm seems to reflect, to a limited degree, Genesis 1.

1. Day 1, Gen. 1:1, the heavens - Ps. 104:1-4

2. Days 2-3, Gen. 1:6-9, land - Ps. 104:5-9

3. Day 3, Gen. 1:10-17, food and water - Ps. 104:13-17

4. Day 4, Gen. 1:14-19, sun and moon - Ps. 104:19-23

5. Day 5, Gen. 1:20-23, birds and fish - Ps. 104:24-26

6. Day 6, Gen. 1:24-26, animals and humans - (see C. above)

7. Day 6, Gen. 1:29-31, God's care - Ps. 104:27-30

8. Day 7, Gen. 2:1-3, the seventh day of rest - Ps. 104:31-34

9.  beyond day 7 (i.e., the Fall of Genesis 3) - Ps. 104:35



 1Bless the Lord, O my soul!
 O Lord my God, You are very great;
 You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
 2Covering Yourself with light as with a cloak,
 Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain.
 3He lays the beams of His upper chambers in the waters;
 He makes the clouds His chariot;
 He walks upon the wings of the wind;
 4He makes the winds His messengers,
 Flaming fire His ministers.

104:1 "Bless the Lord, O my soul" This is the way that both Psalm 103 and 104 begin and end (i.e., Piel imperatives). It is a praise to YHWH from the totality of His highest creation (humans, cf. Gen. 1:26-27).

▣ " O Lord my God, You are. . ." Psalm 104:1 has two perfects describing God, followed by seven participles describing His actions.

1. You are very great - BDB 152, KB 178, Qal perfect, cf Deut. 3:24; 2 Sam. 7:22; 1 Chr. 16:25; Ps. 35:27; 40:16; 48:1; 70:4; 86:10; 96:4; 145:3; Mal.1:5

2. You are clothed - BDB 527, KB 519, Qal perfect

a. splendor (BDB 217, Job 40:10; Ps. 96:6)

b.  majesty (BDB 214, Ps. 93:1)

Psalm 104 2-4 lists His activities in initial creation of the heavenly realm.

1. He covers Himself with light - BDB 741, KB 813, Qal participle, cf. Ps. 36:9; Dan. 2:22; 1 Tim. 6:16; James 1:17; 1 John 1:5

2. He stretches out the heaven - BDB 639, KB 692, Qal participle, cf. Job 9:8; 37:18; Isa. 40:22; 42:5; 45:12; Jer. 10:12; Zech. 12:1

3. he lays the beams of His upper chambers - BDB 900, KB 1138, Piel participle

4. He makes the clouds His chariot - BDB 962, KB 1321, Qal participle

5. He walks upon the wings of the wind - BDB 229, KB 246, Piel participle, cf. 2 Sam. 22:11; Ps. 18:10

6. He makes the wind His messenger - BDB 793, KB 889, Qal participle

7. He makes flaming fire His ministers - verb from #6 assumed

a. flaming fire - BDB 529, KB 521, Qal participle

b. ministers - BDB 1058, KB 1661, Piel participle


104:2 "Covering Yourself with light" Because elsewhere in the Psalms the allusion is to Genesis 1, one wants to see this as referring to Gen. 1:3-5, but notice it is God Himself who is being described, not a formless and void earth.

Light is a recurrent biblical theme of truth, healing, revelation, and goodness. God wears it and speaks it into our world!

▣ "like a tent curtain" This is a common ancient Middle Eastern concept (cf. Isa. 42:5; Job 9:8; Ps. 104:2; Jer. 10:12; 51:15; Zech. 12:1). In the Egyptian Book of the Dead, heaven is described as a "skin." In the Rig Veda, heaven is described as "stretched out like a hide." This is simply a metaphorical way of speaking of the vault of the heaven (i.e., the atmosphere of this planet) above the earth. It is the language of metaphor.

104:3a This speaks of pillars sitting on the bedrock of the earth (cf. Ps. 24:2; 104:5; Job 38:4), upon which the heavens (i.e., atmosphere where moisture is stored) rest (cf. Amos 9:6).

However, this verse could also refer to pillars founded on the waters of the heavens (i.e., atmosphere, cf. Gen 1:7). The imagery is ambiguous, and not to be taken literally. Please read my commentary on Genesis 1-11 online for the genre of Genesis 1-11 at

At this place in the discussion of YHWH creating His palace/temple above the waters of the atmosphere, I would like to mention a new book by John Walton, The Lost World of Genesis One, which has been so helpful to me in interpreting Genesis 1. He asserts that Genesis 1 is an ANE account of YHWH building His cosmic temple (cf. Heb. 8:2,5; 9:23-24). I think this text also speaks of that.

The AB suggests a connection with the verb (BDB 900, KB 1138) and "storehouse" (p. 34), and translates the line as "who stored with water his upper chambers." Note Job 37:9 as a possible parallel (i.e., "chamber"); also note Job 38:22.

▣ "He makes the clouds His chariot" The Septuagint makes this refer to angelic spirits and this is followed by Heb. 1:7, but in context the Hebrew language almost demands that these are simply natural elements that God uses and controls for His own purposes (cf. Isa. 19:1). The word "wind," in both Hebrew and Greek, can refer to "wind," "breath," or "spirit." See SPECIAL TOPIC: BREATH, WIND, SPIRIT.

Clouds are the traditional means of the transportation of deity (cf. Dan. 7:13; Matt. 24:30; 26:64; Acts 1:9-11; Rev. 1:7). The image calls to remembrance the Shekinah cloud of the OT exodus experience (cf. Exod. 13:21,22; 14:19,20,24; 16:10; 19:9,16; 24:15,16,18; 34:5; 40:34-38), which symbolizes God's presence with His people.

▣ "He walks upon the wings of the wind" See note online at Psalm 18:10.

104:4 Physical creation (i.e., wind and fire, cf. Ps. 148:8) is YHWH's servant (cf. LXX, quoted in Heb. 1:7, personifies the physical aspects into servants). This verse does not, in context, refer to "natural revelation" (cf. Ps. 19:1-6), but YHWH's intimacy with His physical creation, especially this planet. C. S. Lewis called earth, "the touched planet."

The UBS Handbook (p. 879) has a good pictorial depiction of the ancient Hebrew imagery of the layers of this planet.

1. heaven above (God's dwelling place)

2. water

3. firmament (hard dome with windows, cf. Ps. 78:23; Mal. 3:10)

4. atmosphere (clouds, birds)

5. pillars that support the heavens (cf. Ps. 104:3)

6. earth (flat)

7. pillars of the earth in the deep (cf. 1 Sam. 2:8; Ps. 75:3)

8. Sheol under the earth

See Contextual Insights B. #4.


 5He established the earth upon its foundations,
 So that it will not totter forever and ever.
 6You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
 The waters were standing above the mountains.
 7At Your rebuke they fled,
 At the sound of Your thunder they hurried away.
 8The mountains rose; the valleys sank down
 To the place which You established for them.
 9You set a boundary that they may not pass over,
 So that they will not return to cover the earth.

104:5-9 In Genesis 1 the only thing that God did not speak into existence was "water." This strophe describes (as does Ps. 104:3) His control of water (cf. Gen. 1:6-8, the waters above; Gen. 1:9-10, the waters below). Job 38:8-11 forms a theological parallel.

104:5 God's created order is secure (cf. 1 Chr. 16:30; Ps. 24:1-2; 2 Tim. 2:19; Heb. 11:10).

This same imagery is used of the Coming Messiah (i.e., the Cornerstone, cf. 1 Cor. 3:11; Eph. 2:20; 1 Pet. 2:6-8).


▣ "So that it will not totter forever and ever" Although Ps. 102:25-26 speaks of the world passing away (cf. Matt. 5:18; 24:35; 2 Pet. 3:10), the earth is also used as a symbol of stability (cf. Ps. 78:69; 93:1; 96:10; Eccl. 1:4). The "heavens and earth" are regularly used as the two permanent witnesses (cf. Deut. 4:26; 30:19; 31:28; 32:1).

104:6 This line of poetry asserts that water covered the earth at the beginning of God's spoken creative activity (cf. Gen. 1:2; Ps. 33:6-7; Pro. 3:19-20; 8:24-25,27-28). The Genesis summary account describes how God separated things (dark - light; water - land; salt water - fresh water) and how they were designed, in and of themselves, to continue and develop through time.

▣ "deep" This term is personified in several ANE creation myths to show the chaos of original creation. However, both in Genesis 1 and Psalm 104:6, God is in control of watery chaos (see Special Topic: waters). It is not a separate, independent entity, but is under the control of God. Although there are some terms in this Psalm which correlate to ancient mythology, the Psalm has removed all of the ancient mythological personalization from these terms (cf. Psalm 74:12-17). See Introduction to Genesis online at

104:7 "At Your rebuke" The noun (BDB 172) refers to an oral command or word. This is used in the OT for three events.

1. initial creation - Ps. 18:13,15; Isa. 50:2 (i.e., Gen. 1:9-10)

2. the dividing of the Red Sea at the exodus - Ps. 78:13; 106:9

3. theophany of judgment (time unspecified) - Ps. 9:5,11; 9:21; Isa. 17:13

Notice that "thunder" (BDB 947) is parallel (cf. Job 26:14; 37:4-5; Ps. 18:13; 29:3). Thunder is used by John in Revelation to describe the voice of

1. four living creatures, Rev. 6:1

2. a strong angel, Rev. 10:3-4

3. the redeemed, Rev. 14:2

4. great multitude, Rev. 19:6


▣ "At Your rebuke they fled" This speaks of the power of God's spoken word (cf. Genesis 1; Isa. 55:11; Heb. 1:3). It also shows that at His word, not only do things come into existence, but they were formed and shaped by His word after initial creation.

▣ "At the sound of Your thunder they hurried away" This seems to remind us of the Exodus experience where God's voice is described as thunder at the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai (cf. Exod. 19:10-19).

104:8-9 "To the place which You did establish for them" These two verses show that God is in control of His creation. There is a set plan which creation follows. This basic worldview is the background of the western, scientific orientation. There is a natural order which can be discerned because of the creative and preserving hand of God in creation. This is not Theism, which says that God created and then left the world alone. This active, biblical personalism asserts that God is involved moment-by-moment in His creation.

104:9 The Bible has many passages about YHWH controlling and permanently limiting the seas and rivers/lakes (cf. Job 38:8-10; Ps. 74:15; Pro. 8:29; Jer. 5:22). Water, with its destructive power, has been tamed (i.e., Isa. 43:2).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 104:10-13
 10He sends forth springs in the valleys;
 They flow between the mountains;
 11They give drink to every beast of the field;
 The wild donkeys quench their thirst.
 12Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell;
 They lift up their voices among the branches.
 13He waters the mountains from His upper chambers;
 The earth is satisfied with the fruit of His works.

104:10-17 The third day of creation is magnified in this Psalm. It was the creation and watering of vegetation which will prove to be food for both humans and animals (cf. Job 38:39-41). The wild animals will be discussed in Ps. 104:10-13; the domestic animals in Ps. 104:14; and mankind in Ps. 104:14-15.

Notice the recurrent use of participles to show divine activity (cf. Ps. 104:2,3,4,10,13,14).

The abundance of food shows the fulfillment of Lev. 26:1-13; Deut. 28:1-13; Ps. 1:2-3! This is what creation was meant to be and was before the Fall! This is the imagery of Revelation 21-22 (i.e., heaven as a new Eden).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 104:14-17
 14He causes the grass to grow for the cattle,
 And vegetation for the labor of man,
 So that he may bring forth food from the earth,
 15And wine which makes man's heart glad,
 So that he may make his face glisten with oil,
 And food which sustains man's heart.
 16The trees of the Lord drink their fill,
 The cedars of Lebanon which He planted,
 17Where the birds build their nests,
 And the stork, whose home is the fir trees.

104:14 "vegetation for the labor of man" It is interesting to note that mankind was to labor, both before and after the Fall (cf. Gen. 2:15 and 3:17-19).

104:15 "wine which makes man's heart glad" Wine is seen in a list of the gifts of God. The Bible does not condemn wine but it does condemn the overuse of wine. See Special Topic: Alcohol and Alcohol Abuse.

▣ "So that he may make his face glisten with oil" The word "glisten" (BDB 843 II) appears only here in the OT. It refers to olive oil, which was used by the ancients as a cosmetic. It was placed on the face and hands in preparation for a festival (cf. Ps. 23:5; 92:10; 141:1; Eccl. 9:8; Luke 7:46).

104:17-18 Although they appear in different stanzas (according to NASB) in the poem, they both seem to describe the types of homes that God has provided for the animals. This Psalm speaks of God's care and provision for His animal creation.

104:17 "the fir trees" This translation is followed by most English versions. The NEB, REB, and NJB support the emendation (as does the UBS Text Project ["C" rating] for the MT's "on top of them" [i.e., the highest part of the Cedars of Lebanon])!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 104:18-23
 18The high mountains are for the wild goats;
 The cliffs are a refuge for the shephanim.
 19He made the moon for the seasons;
 The sun knows the place of its setting.
 20You appoint darkness and it becomes night,
 In which all the beasts of the forest prowl about.
 21The young lions roar after their prey
 And seek their food from God.
 22When the sun rises they withdraw
 And lie down in their dens.
 23Man goes forth to his work
 And to his labor until evening.

104:19 "He made the moon for the seasons;

 The sun knows the place of its setting" This reflects the fourth day of creation and it shows the significant truth that God is in control of the sun and the moon (cf. Gen. 1:14-19), as well as the light and the darkness (cf. Gen. 1:3-5). This is not like the ANE myths of a conquest or contrast between the forces of light and darkness, but shows that God is in control of all of them. This is a very significant statement in light of the Babylonian astral worship and the horoscope myth of our day (cf. Ps. 19:1-6).

The lights (i.e., sun, moon) are given in Gen. 1:14 to set worship times (i.e., Sabbath, annual feast days, fasts). They are servants of mankind's worship times. In this context they do not primarily refer to the seasons, unless they are linked to

1. the wet and dry seasons of the ANE (cf. Ps. 104:10-17)

2. the feeding times of different animals (cf. Ps. 104:20-23)

God created and controls light and darkness (cf. Ps. 74:16; Amos 5:8). They are not gods or angels which affect human life! They are aspects of an orderly, regular creation with its cycles of activity and rest.

104:20a This line of poetry has two verbs which are both jussives in form (but are not translated as jussive) as past acts of God at creation (cf. Gen. 1:3-4).

104:21-23 Although it seems somewhat unusual at first, these verses are simply a statement that the animals of the forest use the nighttime to gather their food and mankind and other animals use the daytime to gather their food. There seems to be no more theological implication to this than this simple statement of creation sharing the time available to utilize the productivity of the earth.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 104:24-26
 24O Lord, how many are Your works!
 In wisdom You have made them all;
 The earth is full of Your possessions.
 25There is the sea, great and broad,
 In which are swarms without number,
 Animals both small and great.
 26There the ships move along,
 And Leviathan, which You have formed to sport in it.

104:24 "In wisdom You have made them all" This may be an allusion to Pro. 8:22-31, where personified "wisdom" is YHWH's agent in creation (cf. Pro. 3:19).

▣ "The earth is full of Your possessions" This refers to the living creatures that have blossomed on the earth, partially water creatures (Ps. 104:25-26).

This term "possessions" (BDB 889) is translated in several ways.

1. NASB, NKJV, TEV, NJB, REB - possession

2. NASB margin, NRSV - creatures

3. JPSOA - creations

4. LXX - acquisitions

5. KJV, Peshitta - riches

6. Knox - Your creative power

The MT has a singular, but probably it is a collective noun.

104:26 "Leviathan, which You have formed to sport in it" God plays with the animals which He created. In Ugaritic literature (i.e., Ras Shamra texts) the high god, El, plays with the sea monster, Loton (Leviathan in Hebrew). There is an obvious connection between the imagery of the OT and the Ugarit (i.e., Canaanite) mythology. I think OT authors used well known concepts, images, stories of the ANE fertility gods to affirm the uniqueness and majesty of YHWH. See Special Topic: Monotheism.

The term "Leviathan" (BDB 531) refers to an ancient, large sea monster, while the term "Behemoth" (BDB 97, Job 40:15) seems to refer to the ancient, large land monster (cf. Ps. 74:13,14; Job 3:8; 41:1; Isa. 27:1). For a full note on Leviathan see Isa. 27:1 online.

The Jewish Study Bible (p. 1398) mentions that some scholars see the term "Leviathan" in its literal sense of "the escort" - the dolphins or large fish often found near ships.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 104:27-30
 27They all wait for You
 To give them their food in due season.
 28You give to them, they gather it up;
 You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good.
 29You hide Your face, they are dismayed;
 You take away their spirit, they expire
 And return to their dust.
 30You send forth Your Spirit, they are created;
 And You renew the face of the ground.

104:27-28 "They wait for You" This shows God's care and providence for all creatures with breath (cf. Gen. 1:29-30; Col. 1:17).

104:29-30 This is simply the fact that the old die (cf. Gen. 3:19; Job 10:9; Ps. 90:3) and young are born to replace them. This is an obvious allusion to mankind being created out of the dust of the earth and God breathing into him the breath of life (cf. Gen. 2:7).

However, it is interesting that a human becomes a nephesh (BDB 659) in Gen. 2:7, which means "soul life." This term nephesh is also used to refer to the animals in Genesis (cf. Gen. 1:24; 2:19). See note online at Gen. 35:18.

Notice the double use of "spirit" (i.e., "breath," BDB 924, see SPECIAL TOPIC: SPIRIT IN THE BIBLE).

1. the human spirit or life force

2. God's Spirit (or "breath" of Gen. 2:7)

In the OT the "Spirit" is a force from God who accomplishes His purposes (i.e., Gen. 1:2), but in the NT the concept becomes personal (see Special Topic: Personhood of the Spirit).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 104:31-35
 31Let the glory of the Lord endure forever;
 Let the Lord be glad in His works;
 32He looks at the earth, and it trembles;
 He touches the mountains, and they smoke.
 33I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
 I will sing praise to my God while I have my being.
 34Let my meditation be pleasing to Him;
 As for me, I shall be glad in the Lord.
 35Let sinners be consumed from the earth
 And let the wicked be no more.
 Bless the Lord, O my soul.
 Praise the Lord!

104:31-32 Several English translations see Ps. 104:31-32 as a separate strophe (i.e., NKJV, TEV, NJB, REB). This is a reference to the seventh day of creation.

There are two grammatical features in these verses.

1. Ps. 104:31 has two jussives

a. let the glory of the Lord endure forever - BDB 224, KB 243, Qal jussive, cf. Ps. 86:12

b. let the Lord be glad in His work - BDB 970, KB 1333, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense, cf. Gen. 1:31

2. Ps. 104:32 starts off with "He who. . ." (participle), as was common at the beginning of this Psalm (see note at Ps. 104:1)


104:32 This language is used of a theophany. Exactly how it fits Genesis 1 is uncertain. It usually relates to a time after the Fall when a sinful world is convulsed by the approach of its holy creator God!

104:33-34 Several English translations see Ps. 104:33-35b as a separate strophe (i.e., NKJV, TEV, NJB, REB). This is because

1. Ps. 104:33 has two cohortatives

2. Ps. 104:34-35b has two Qal imperfects used in a jussive sense (and an implied third one, Ps. 104:35b)

One will praise God in word, thought, and life or one will be consumed (BDB 1070, KB 1752) and annihilated (lit. "be no more," cf. Job 24:24; Ps. 37:10). There are eternal consequences to choices made in time!

The ideal creation of abundance and peace has been shattered by human sin and rebellion (i.e., Genesis 3). What God initially created will be restored (compare Genesis 1-2 with Revelation 21-22).

104:35c-d The conclusion of this Psalm matches the double imperative of Psalm 103 (two Piel imperatives, "bless"). Here

1. Bless - BDB 138, KB 159, Piel imperative

2. Praise - BDB 237, KB 248, Piel imperative, cf. Ps. 105:45; 106:48



This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. How are Psalm 103 and 104 related?

2. What is the significance of the term "YHWH," which is translated "Lord" (all capitals) and Elohim, which is translated "God" in English?

3. How does this Psalm reflect Genesis 1?

4. Why is the presence of angels and humanity depreciated in this Psalm and animal life lifted up?

5. Why is God's control of the moon and stars so significant in this ANE context?

6. How does Ps. 104:33-34 reflect other significant parts of the OT truths about the care of God both in this life and the next life?

7. Explain the modern theological concept of "annihilationism."

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