Psalm 104

Psalm 104[a]

Praise of God the Creator

1 Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord, my God, you are indeed very great.
You are clothed in majesty and splendor,
2 wrapped in light[b] as in a robe.
You have stretched out the heavens like a tent;
3 you have established your palace[c] upon the waters.
You make the clouds serve as your chariot;
you ride forth on the wings of the wind.
4 You have appointed the winds as your messengers
and flames of fire[d] as your ministers.
5 You established the earth on its foundations
so that it will remain unshaken forever.[e]
6 You covered it with the deep like a cloak;
the waters rose above the mountains.
7 At your rebuke[f] the waters took to flight;
at the sound of your thunder they fled in terror.
8 They rose up to the mountains
and flowed down to the valleys,[g]
to the place that you had designated for them.
9 You established a boundary that they were not to cross
so that they would never again cover the earth.
10 [h]You made springs gush forth in the valleys
and flow between the mountains.
11 They supply water to every beast of the field,
and from them the wild asses quench their thirst.
12 On the banks the birds of the air build nests
and sing among the branches.
13 [i]From your dwelling you water the mountains,
enriching the earth with the fruit of your labor.
14 You provide grass for the cattle,
and the plants for man to cultivate.
You bring forth food from the earth
15 and wine to gladden the heart[j] of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen his body.
16 The trees of the Lord have fruit in abundance,
the cedars of Lebanon[k] that he planted.
17 In them the birds build their nests;
in the fir trees the stork makes its home.
18 The high mountains are inhabited by the wild goats;
in the rocky crags the badgers[l] find refuge.
19 You created the moon that marks the seasons
and the sun that knows its time for setting.[m]
20 You bring on darkness, and it is night,
when all the beasts of the forests go on the prowl.
21 The young lions[n] roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
22 When the sun rises, they steal away
and return to their lairs to rest.
23 People go forth to their work
and to their labor until darkness descends.
24 [o]How countless are your works, O Lord;
by your wisdom you have made them all;
the earth abounds with your creatures.
25 There is the sea, vast and broad,
filled with numberless species,
living creatures both great and small.
26 There the ships sail forth,
and the Leviathan[p] that you formed to play therein.
27 [q]All of them look to you
to give them their food at the appropriate time.[r]
28 [s]When you provide it for them,
they gather it up;
when you open your hand,
they are filled with good things.
29 When you turn away your face,[t]
they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath,
they die and return to the dust.
30 When you send forth your Spirit,[u]
they are created,
and you renew the face of the earth.
31 [v]May the glory of the Lord abide forever,
and may the Lord rejoice in his works.[w]
32 When he looks at the earth, it quakes;
when he touches the mountains, they smoke.[x]
33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;[y]
I will sing praise to my God while I have life.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I find my joy in the Lord.
35 May sinners be banished from the earth,
and may the wicked no longer exist.
Bless the Lord, O my soul.[z]
Alleluia.

Footnotes

  1. Psalm 104:1 This hymn calls to mind the majestic poem that opens the Book of Genesis (see Gen 1); perhaps it is even older. The text seems to have undergone the influence of an Egyptian hymn to the sun. It is a rarity at this period for the author to look at the world with the curious eyes of a scientist who is seeking the cause of things and the laws that govern them. The author nevertheless conceives of the universe primarily as a song to God who gives it life. While Ps 103 celebrates the Lord insofar as he shows himself animated by a powerful love in the moral and spiritual order, this psalm—possibly composed by the same poet—invites us to praise him insofar as he reveals himself as a prodigious artist in the initial creation and a benevolent organizer in the governance of the universe.
    The power of the creative act brings worlds forth: perfectly mastered, nature and creatures come alive. Divine providence has foreseen everything and organized it all: the seasons, the rhythm of existence, nourishment, and the home of animals and humans. Animated by the Spirit, that is, the divine Breath, creatures sing of the glory of their Creator. The only shadow in this tableau is sin, which risks destroying the beautiful harmony; hence, the author prays that it be eliminated. In the creative Breath (v. 30), the Church sees the Spirit of Pentecost who renews the broken harmony and gives rise to the “new creation,” the new human being who is reborn in Christ (see 2 Cor 5:17).
    Enlightened by science concerning the unsuspected and amazing wonders of the material universe, all Christians sing to their heavenly Father this psalm of enthusiastic praise. They will also sing it to Christ, intimately associated with the Father both in the creation of these wonders and in their continuance in being (see Col 1:16f). We will praise above all the eminent greatness and power of Father and Son in sending their Spirit to re-create sinful human beings and to renew the spiritual cosmos, the Church (v. 30).
  2. Psalm 104:2 Light: created on the first day (see Gen 1:3-5). In general, the psalmist follows the order of creation found in Gen 1. Heavens: created on the second day (see Gen 1:6-8).
  3. Psalm 104:3 As the ancients represented the world, the rains were stored in reservoirs in the vault of the heavens, which they thought were solid. Your palace: God’s heavenly dwelling above the upper waters of the sky (see notes on Pss 29:10; 36:9; see also Gen 1:6f). Clouds . . . your chariot: see note on Ps 68:5.
  4. Psalm 104:4 The Letter to the Hebrews cites this verse to show that Christ is superior to the angels. Since God makes use of mere wind and lightning (flames of fire) as his messengers and servants, the ministering spirits in heaven that he also uses as his messengers must be infinitely inferior to the eternal Son of God. The cogency of the argument is much greater in Greek (in which the Letter was written) because the word pneuma means both “wind” and “spirit” while the word angelos means both “messenger” and “angel.”
  5. Psalm 104:5 The ancients regarded the earth as resting upon firm foundations (see note on Ps 24:2).
  6. Psalm 104:7 Rebuke: see Ps 76:7. Waters took to flight: poetic description of what took place on the third day of creation (see Gen 1:9f).
  7. Psalm 104:8 They rose up to the mountains and flowed down to the valleys: the sources of the Jordan and the other great rivers of the Near East are in the mountains. Another translation offered is: “The mountains rose high and the valleys went down.”
  8. Psalm 104:10 God refreshes the ravines by means of the lower waters.
  9. Psalm 104:13 God refreshes his creatures by means of the reservoir of upper waters (see v. 3; Gen 7:11; Job 38:22; Sir 43:14).
  10. Psalm 104:15 Heart: see note on Ps 4:8.
  11. Psalm 104:16 Cedars of Lebanon: see note on Ps 80:11.
  12. Psalm 104:18 Badgers: the hyrax or rock badger, a small, harelike, ungulate mammal (see Lev 11:5; Deut 14:7; Prov 30:26).
  13. Psalm 104:19 The ancients governed their lives by the cycles of the sun and moon, which God created on the fourth day for that purpose (see Gen 1:14-19).
  14. Psalm 104:21 The young lions and man represent the animal and the human kingdom. The psalmist, in accord with the beliefs of his day, postulates that animals come out at night to search for their food, and humans do their working and eating by day. See Jn 9:4, where Jesus uses the inability of humans to work at night (because of the circumstances of his time—absence of light at night) to impart a greater spiritual truth.
  15. Psalm 104:24 The psalmist now takes up God’s creation of the sea and everything in it on the fifth day (see Gen 1:20-23). He calls upon the people to worship the Lord’s wisdom and creative diversity. Here he emphasizes sea creatures to complement the wild and domesticated animals and humans mentioned in verses 10-18.
  16. Psalm 104:26 See note on Ps 74:13-14. Here Leviathan is a whale or large cetacean. The name is that of a fabled dragon and is already found in Ugaritic poems of the 15th century B.C.
  17. Psalm 104:27 On the sixth day, God enabled everything he had made to fructify (see Gen 1:24-31). All living things on earth and in the sea, whether wild or domesticated, birds, sea creatures, and human beings have some idea of the living Presence by whom they exist (see Pss 145:15f; 147:9). They have their being in God (see Acts 17:24f), and the Lord gives and sustains life by his Spirit. Indeed, God has supreme power over the universe, creating, preserving, and governing all. The lives of all creatures are in his hands.
  18. Psalm 104:27 All nature depends on its Creator for provisions, and he has arranged for everyone to have enough food.
  19. Psalm 104:28 Creatures are governed by the Lord; they are gladdened by his provisions, terrified by his absence, and encounter death by the withdrawal of his breath.
  20. Psalm 104:29 Turn . . . face: see note on Ps 13:2. Return to dust: see note on Ps 90:3.
  21. Psalm 104:30 Your Spirit: the Spirit or “Breath” of God is the divine creative power, source of all natural life (see Gen 1:2; 2:7). So also the Holy Spirit is the source of all supernatural life (see Jn 3:5f). Hence, this verse is applied by the Church to the third Person of the Blessed Trinity.
  22. Psalm 104:31 The psalmist concludes the psalm the way it began—with praise (vv. 1-4). The Lord, who reveals himself in creation in all his splendor (vv. 1-4), has bestowed his glory on it (see Ps 19:2; Isa 6:3), and his handiwork will endure as long as he undergirds it. Hence, his faithful should respond with praise, devotion, and an intention to please the Lord (see Ps 19:15).
  23. Psalm 104:31 Rejoice in his works: as he did at the end of creation (see Gen 1:31).
  24. Psalm 104:32 The Lord is so much greater than his creation that even a mere look or touch on his part is enough to wreak havoc in it.
  25. Psalm 104:33 I will . . . I live: a perpetual vow to praise the Lord (see note on Ps 7:18).
  26. Psalm 104:35 Before concluding, the psalmist prays that sin may disappear from creation. However, because the hymn cannot end with a malediction (see Ps 139:19), he repeats the words of verse 1 as a refrain: “Bless the Lord, O my soul.” Alleluia: i.e., “Hallelujah” or “Bless [or praise] the Lord,” which most likely belongs to the beginning of Ps 105 (see Pss 105:45; 106:1, 48).

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