The King is the Creator.
"Who laid the foundations of the earth." Having filled his soul with adoring thoughts of God, by considering his palace, his surroundings, and his attendants, the psalmist goes out into the kingdom of this eternal King, to see what he can learn of him from the provisions, and order, and adaptations, and rule of his dominions. And then an introductory thought comes to him. This eternal King not only founded this kingdom, he actually made everything in it. "The sea is his, and he made it, and his hands formed the dry land." High honour is given to the man who founds a kingdom. What honour is due to him who absolutely originates the great, mysterious, complex, nature kingdom? Bible writers see in the psalm a sketch of creation. Browne calls it "a bright and living picture of God's creative power, pouring life and gladness throughout the universe." But the reference to creation is only a brief, passing, introductory one; and what the psalmist fully dwells on is the marvel of the Divine order and rule in the earth sphere as created.
I. THE SHAPING OF THINGS IS THE ETERNAL KING 'S IDEA . Take but the infinite varieties of form for material things—a crystal, a tree, a mountain, a weed; or for animated things—a bacillus, a mammoth, a dragonfly, an albatross, a worm, a man;—and our minds are overwhelmed by the effort to imagine the ideas of all forms fashioned in one intellect. There is no form of being that was not first of all a thought of God. He is the Foundation of all. If original forms modify and change, it is only according to God's ordered laws.
II. THE POWER OF THINGS IS THE ETERNAL KING 'S ENDUEMENT . For there is nothing made that can really be called dead. Everything has a possibility of doing something. Even a stone can hold moisture on its under side. Metals have their chemical properties, and the very dust can at least combine. In higher ranges of being each creature has its power and its mission. And the power in things is ordered, not just developed. What must he be who is Source of power in everything?
III. THE RELATION OF THINGS IS THE ETERNAL KING 'S ARRANGEMENT . Everything is connected with everything else. Nothing in the world is isolated. Everywhere there is flux and reflux. Everything is touching something, and influencing it by the touch. What must he be who devised all relations and all their consequences?—R.T.
Who laid the foundations of the earth; rather, as in the margin, who founded the earth upon her bases; i.e. fixed the earth in its place, on bases—not necessarily material bases—which keep it steadily where it is (comp. Job 26:7 ). That it should not be removed forever (comp. Psalms 93:1 ).
The greatness of God.
This psalm, charged with the truest poetry, sings of the greatness of God ( Psalms 104:1 ) and of the heritage of man. The subjects are inseparably mingled. Of the former we have suggested to us -
I. HIS GLORY . ( Psalms 104:1 , Psalms 104:2 , Psalms 104:31 .)
II. HIS POWER . ( Psalms 104:3-9 .) The winds are his messengers; the fire is his servant; the clouds are his chariot; the waters flee at his command; the ocean stays at the bound he has drawn.
III. HIS WISDOM . ( Psalms 104:5 , Psalms 104:10 .) Nowhere is his wisdom more apparent than in:
1 . Providing for the security of the earth. The diurnal and annual rotation (with which we are familiar), giving us our change of night and day, and also of our seasons, in no way interferes with the sense of our security, while it brings into view the wonderful wisdom of God (see Psalms 104:24 ).
2 . In the provision of water for his thirsting creatures. The beautiful circulatory system, by which the vapour is drawn up from the seas and the lakes, carried as clouds by the winds, drawn down by the hills and the trees, purified by the earth through which it passes, comes forth as the springs which flow down in the streams and rivers through the land, and end their course by replenishing the sea,—this is another striking instance of those "manifold works" "made in Divine wisdom."
IV. HIS PROVIDENTIAL GOODNESS .
1 . In supplying water for man and beast ( Psalms 104:10-13 ).
2 . In providing nourishment ( Psalms 104:14-16 ).
3 . In giving shelter and protection to the weak—to the bird, to the goat, to the cony ( Psalms 104:17 , Psalms 104:18 ).
4 . In dividing time into seasons ( Psalms 104:19 ; see Genesis 1:14 ); so that we can calculate with perfect accuracy the incoming and outgoing of the tides, as well as the return of summer and winter.
5 . In the amplitude of the gift of life. Not only are the air and the earth full of happy life, but so is the "great and wide sea" ( Psalms 104:25 ). All these innumerable hosts of living things—insects, birds, beasts, fishes—are spending a happy life in their own element, and after their own instincts. Who can form any conception of the sum of sentient life and enjoyment at any moment upon this earth?
6 . In providing the materials for locomotion. Those ships of Psalms 104:26 are suggestive of all the forces at our command, every year becoming greater, for moving rapidly over land and sea, indefinitely promoting the circulation of produce and intercourse between man and man. All these instances of Divine beneficence are suggestive of—
V. HIS GRACE to his human children. For:
1 . If God cares so much for bird and beast, he will care very much more for us, his children by faith in Jesus Christ.
2 . if he provides so bountifully with the necessaries of mortal life, we can well believe that he has made ample provision for our spiritual and eternal good.
The heritage of man.
The psalmist sings of the greatness of God ( supra ) , and also of the fair heritage bestowed upon us. This includes—
I. SUFFICIENCY AND VARIETY OF FOOD . "These [all the living creatures, including man, that have been specified] wait on thee, that thou mayest give them their food," etc. ( Psalms 104:27 ); and the "herb" ( Psalms 104:14 ), for the service of man, stands for all the variety of fruits and vegetables with which our need is met and our taste is gratified. The constant supply of necessary and of palatable food is no small part of our heritage.
II. STRENGTH AND HEALTH . The gift of bread which "strengtheneth man's heart" is suggestive of all the bountiful provision God has made for building up our bodily frame, raising it from infantile helplessness to manly vigour, and frequently restoring from the weakness of disease to the wholeness and capacity of health. Strength is the normal condition, and if we conformed to the laws of nature, i.e. to the will of God, it would be the general and the lasting condition.
III. HAPPINESS . The "wine that makes glad the heart of man" may well stand for all those gifts of God which stimulate and gladden the soul, which give sparkle and joyousness to human life; e.g. the good wine of human fellowship, and that of honourable enterprise, and that of generous helpfulness.
IV. LABOUR . For while oppressive toil is an evil and a part of the penalty of sin, wholesome and regular activity, developing muscle and nerve, ministering to health, conducing to moral soundness, resulting in many kinds of wealth, is a true blessing to our race.
V. REST . God makes the darkness, in which the wild beasts come forth for their prey ( Psalms 104:20 , Psalms 104:21 ), but in which also man lies down to rest; and the sleep which comes with the night is as welcome as the labour which comes with the day ( Psalms 104:23 ). The invigoration which comes between the evening and the morning, fitting the body and the mind for new life, is one of God's kindest gifts to man.
VI. JOY IN GOD AND IN HIS SERVICE . ( Psalms 104:33 , Psalms 104:34 .) The act of contemplation when God (with his loving kindness) is the Object of our thought, and the service of praise, are specified; but these are suggestive of all the blessedness which springs from piety and devotion. All reverent thought, all worship, all sacred study and sacred song, all Christian service rendered "as unto God," all really religious offerings,—all this is a large part of the human heritage. And it all demands of us the frequent utterance ( Psalms 104:1 , Psalms 104:35 ) as well as the deeply cherished spirit, of gratitude and praise.
God's love for living creatures.
This psalm celebrates and proves it. For, see—
I. HE HAS PLACED THEM EVERYWHERE . The sea, the air, the land, all teem with it, as this psalm tells. And the lower life points to the higher, and proclaims that when God's will is done, that, too, shall fill earth and heaven.
II. HE HAS ABUNDANTLY PROVIDED FOR THEM . Food, habitation, refuge ( Psalms 104:16-18 ). And Christ came, that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. "He is able to save to the uttermost." Full provision for fulness of life is made.
III. AND SUITABLY LIKEWISE . The trees for the birds' nests, the hills and rocks for those creatures that dwell there. And so his grace is according to our need. He has a niche for each of us to fill, which will suit none else so well, and he prepares us for the place in which he would have us be.
IV. AND ALL HIS CREATURES BUT OURSELVES GLADLY ACCEPT HIS PROVISION . They never refuse his bounty, but depend on it always. Each makes its way to its own home. Christ is the soul's home: shall we turn away from that?—S.C.
The psalm of creation: the third day.
On all this the preacher will compare Milton's magnificent lines ('Paradise Lost'). The opening verse of this section was laid hold of by those who opposed Galileo, as with equal reasonableness or unreasonableness like verses are laid hold of in like controversies now—as utterly contradicting the conclusions to which his investigations had led him. Ever since there has been a clearer perception that the poetry of the Bible is poetry, and is to be judged by its appropriate laws. In the former homily we traced suggestions of the law of self-surrender to God; in this there are yet others on the same theme. The verses of this section tell of the separation of the land, the other part of the created earth, from the waters, and the fruitfulness that then followed. The deep mountains were still beneath the waters: "Above the mountains did the waters stand." There has been already an uplifting of the waters by means of the creation of the atmosphere, and their glorification in consequence. How we are to see another aspect of the law of self-surrender in the blessed service of the waters, in the ministry they fulfil. In this section, therefore, as in the corresponding one in Genesis, which tells of the creation work of the third day, we have the twofold command.
I. TO THE WATERS .
1 . They were to " be gathered together into one place. " Here, in the psalm, this is poetically described as the result of the Divine rebuke. The terrible volcanic action by which the mountains were uplifted and the deep valleys hollowed out, and the consequent downrush of the waters, is told of as if it were the thunder voice of God bidding them haste away.
"Immediately the mountains huge appear
Emergent, and their broad, bare backs upheave
Into the clouds, their tops ascend the sky;
So high as heav'd the tumid hills, so low
Down sunk a hollow bottom, broad and deep,
Capacious bed of waters," etc.
So Milton renders verse 7. "The mountains rose, the valleys sank down into," etc. Thus by this emergence of the dry land the waters of the wild seas, hitherto flowing everywhere, are appointed their bounds, over which they may not pass. Straitened, shut in, subdued, and beaten back are they, as they never were before, for such is their Creator's will. The life of the ocean wave seems a poor affair compared with what it was. But is it so?
2 . See, now, the ministry of the waters. It is told of in verse 10 onwards. On the wings of the air the waters send up of their strength, and they thus mount on high, and in the form of snow, and dew, and rain they fall on mountain, valley, hill, and plain; and then, by means of moss and glacier and tree (see Hugh Macmillan's beautiful sermon on 'Mountain Springs'), God sendeth forth the springs along the valleys. Thus he "watereth the earth from his chambers: and the earth is satisfied with the fruit of his work" (verse 13). Thither come the beasts of the field, and from the branches of the trees, which love to dwell where the springs are, the birds fly down, and alike quench their thirst. And grass and herb, corn, vine, and olive, and the noblest trees, are sustained, and myriad creatures of God are blessed; and even the barren rocks, the steep precipices, and the high mountains, are for the good of some—the wild goats and the conies make these their home. Is it not all a parable? The waters, at the command of God, give up their strength, and they become the glorious heavens, the visible palace of God. And this is not all. They now render unspeakable service; life, and beauty, and strength, and joy spring into existence as the result of their ministry, and this psalm is the song thereof.
3 . And so also is it with the surrendered soul. Yield it up to God in loving self-sacrifice, and he will glorify that soul and use it for the blessings of others far and wide.
II. TO THE LAND . Take it, as so often has been done, as a type of, or rather as suggestive of, man regenerate. See God's will for him as pictured here.
1 . He is to live a separate life. Hitherto earth and sea had been mingled together, as man in the world, but now God's will is this—separation.
2 . And this separation is to be evident. "Let the dry land appear. " There must be no hiding away, but open confession of God.
3 . And fruitful of good. The earth was to yield "grass," the common excellences of the renewed nature, and not these only, but those more precious, and yet more precious still (see verses 14-16). But all this:
4 . Is the work of God. What God commands he is able to secure. Be but passive to his will, and all will be brought to pass.
5 . The old life will seek to regain its power. (Verse 9.) But will not be able; for:
6 . The new life will be sustained and kept satisfied in God. (Verse 13.)—S.C.