Theme: The God Who Sustains and Provides
In this week’s lessons, we see that not only does creation rejoice in God its Creator, but also God himself takes joy in what he has made.
Scripture: Psalm 104:1-35
Stanzas 2-4 of Psalm 104 (vv. 5-23) cover days three and four of creation: day three, the separation of land and water (Gen. 1:9, 10) and the creation of trees and vegetation (Gen. 1:11-13); and day four, the creation of the moon and sun as timekeepers (Gen. 1:14-19). But again, as in stanza one, the emphasis is not on creation itself or even on the sequence of God’s creative acts, but on creation as it displays God’s glory.
1. The separation of land and water (vv. 5-9). What makes this stanza interesting are the overtones of danger, which to the Hebrew mind were always associated with water. The Jews were not seagoing people. They lived on land and loved the land. To their way of thinking, the oceans were always dangerous and in the rainy season floods might sweep away either possessions or people. It was important to them, then, that God had “set the earth on its foundations” (v. 5) and that at his “rebuke the waters fled” (v. 7). In the last verse of this stanza there is a clear reference to the Flood of Noah and to God’s promise that “never again will the waters cover the earth” (v. 9).
In this verse we begin to see something that emerges more clearly in the next stanza, namely, that God continues to provide for his creation and that he does not turn his back on it. He is an ever-present Creator or an ever-sustaining God.
2. Water and food for God’s creatures (vv. 10-18). In Favorite Psalms John Stott points out that although the verbs in the psalm have been mostly in the past tense up to now, “in this part of the psalm through verse 23 the verbs are mostly in the present tense, and remind us that Christians are not deists.”1 What he means is what I hinted at in the last comment on the preceding section, namely, that God has not merely created the cosmos as some skilled clock maker might have made a clock, wound it up and then placed it on a shelf to run by itself, showing no further interest in it. No Jewish person ever thought like that. To them God was always actively involved with creation, constantly sustaining it, since without his care it could not exist for a second, and graciously providing for each and every one of the creatures he has made.
As far as the wild animals are concerned, God provides water, without which they cannot live (vv. 10-13), and homes for them in the trees and mountains (vv. 12, 17, 18). As for domesticated animals, such as cattle, he provides grass for food (v. 14). With human beings he is lavish. He gives “wine that gladdens the heart of man, oil to make his face shine, and bread that sustains his heart” (v. 15). These were the three life staples of people living in the ancient near east. Wine was important where water was usually unsafe. Oil was applied to the skin in a climate where the sun dried it out in short order. Bread was the food that kept most people alive.
Looked at another way, particularly when we think of God providing food and homes for all the vast variety of the earth’s animal life, the poet is describing what we call ecology, that is, “God’s marvelous adaptation of the earth’s resources to the needs of living creatures, and vice versa.”2 Modern man attributes this to blind chance or mysterious “nature.” The poet and all other knowledgeable believers attribute it to God.
3. The beneficial regulation of time (vv. 19-23). The fourth stanza of this psalm corresponds to the fourth day of creation in which “God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night” (Gen. 1:16). In Genesis this has to do only with the separation of day and night and the marking of seasons and years. In Psalm 104 the night is established as the time for the animals of the night to seek their food, and the day is established as the time for man to go “out to his work, to labor until the evening” (v. 23). The alternating sequence of day and night is a reminder that there is a time to work but also a time to rest and recuperate from work. Work is good, but a life of nothing except work is against God’s wise and benevolent will.
1John Stott, Favorite Psalms (Chicago: Moody, 1988), p. 99.
2John Stott, Ibid., p. 100.
What happened on days 3 and 4 of creation? How are they alluded to in stanzas 2-4 of this psalm?
How did the Israelites view water?
Why were wine, oil, and bread important?
What is the lesson we learn from breaking day from night?
Application: Because God is constantly involved in creation, how does he provide for your needs?
Prayer: Thank and praise God for his lavish gifts to you. And because of who God is, do not grow weary in bringing requests to him for which you do not yet know his answer.