A Song of God's Providence

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Psalm 104:1-35

It’s good to know and believe that God created the world. It’s even better to realize that he still personally upholds and governs all things at every moment – including every detail of our lives.

The 104th Psalm is a magnificent celebration of the greatness and glory of God. “O Lord my God,” the psalmist begins, “you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty” (v. 1, niv). God’s greatness is most obviously seen in his majestic creation, the awesome heavens and the luxuriant, life-giving earth. In Psalm 104 the writer’s purpose is to enhance the reputation of the Creator by extolling the wonders of the creation. He does this in the exalted language of a song which should be read alongside the description of the world’s creation in Genesis 1, a passage for which this psalm serves as a sort of praise-filled commentary.

GOD THE CREATOR

Psalm 104 opens with an exclamation prompted by the psalmist’s reflection on the infinite variety of God’s creation. He begins by systematically cataloguing the wonders of the universe: the heavens with their brilliant light and dark storm clouds, the wind and fiery lightning (vv. 2-4). Next the earth and sea (vv. 5-9); then the springs and rivers, the rain, the grasslands and great forests, together with all the vast array of living things these lands and waters sustain (vv. 10-18). Finally, the psalmist speaks of the sun and moon, night and day, and the creatures, including man, who live and work in their proper spheres (vv. 19-23). Summing up all the wonders and glories of the whole created order the psalmist exclaims, “How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all” (v. 24).

The beauty, variety and majesty of the created universe testify to both the wisdom and the power of God. How great God must be to have made all these things that surround us. You can tell something about an artist by the quality of his work. The incredible splendor of the earth and heavens says a great deal about the artist who made them. From the unimaginably huge galaxy millions of light years in diameter to the microscopic organisms in the soil that help to make it fertile, God created it all. And he has created the universe in such a way that the world continues to bring forth and sustain life, with all things co-existing in the exquisite balance that alone makes life possible. In fact, scientists only recently have begun to understand just how great a variety of incredibly detailed factors had to be pre-planned and built into the structure of the universe from the very beginning for life to exist on earth. If the tiniest changes were made in elemental physics or biology, nothing could live at all. Who else but God could have been wise enough, great enough, powerful enough, to design and build such a universe? Who else but God could have brought all of it into being?

Because God is the maker of all, he is also Lord of all. The psalmist sees his hand everywhere, even at the ends of the earth. The ancient Hebrews were landlubbers. Their country was land-locked because their enemies the Philistines controlled the coastal areas of Palestine, which forced the people of Israel to live in the interior hill country. So to them the sea was a fearful place, filled with frightening creatures. But God created even those things.

The earth is full of your creatures.

Look at the ocean, so big and wide!

It is filled with more creatures than people can count.

It is filled with living things, from the largest to the smallest.

Ships sail back and forth on it.

The leviathan, the sea monster you made, plays in it.

(vv. 24-6, NIrV)

God even made the terrifying leviathan, the monstrous creature of the deep – no monster to him, but nothing more than a playful pet. No wonder the psalmist can’t contain his admiration for the greatness of the Lord.

Lord my God, you are very great.

You are dressed in glory and majesty.

You wrap yourself in light as if it were a robe.

You spread the heavens out like a tent.

(vv.1-2)

The “majesty” of which the psalmist sings refers to the brilliance and splendor of God’s kingly greatness. He is the transcendent God (“transcendence” means God’s “above and beyond-ness”). It’s true that God is like us; he is a Person. But he’s not just like us. He is God. He is so much infinitely greater. And the universe that awes and sometimes terrifies us with its immensity is his throne and footstool. The world with all its teeming variety is God’s handiwork.

THE SOVEREIGN LORD OF NATURE

But God has done more than just create the world. He didn’t only start it up and set it off going on its own. He also is involved with it intimately. He sustains and cares for the whole universe and all its creatures at every moment of time. God is not an absentee ruler. He’s the active King and Lord of the whole universe. God is in command, in control. The psalmist describes how all things that are alive depend on God day by day for everything.

All of those creatures depend on you

to give them their food when they need it.

When you give it to them,

they eat it.

When you open your hand,

they are satisfied with good things.

When you turn your face away from them,

they are terrified.

When you take away their breath,

they die and turn back into dust.

When you send your Spirit,

you create them.

You give new life to the earth.

(vv. 27-30)

The forces of nature are also at the Lord’s bidding. The clouds are his chariot and the winds his messengers (vv. 3-4), says the psalmist. Israel’s pagan neighbors believed that nature was ruled by the gods they worshiped. Baal was the god of thunder and lightning, and the various fertility gods and goddesses controlled things like weather and crops. Pagan worship was largely a matter of appeasing these deities in order to assure fertility, which in turn produced prosperity as measured in the ancient world by the three basic “f’s”: food, flocks, and families.

But Israel’s prophets and psalmists taught God’s people to laugh at the pretensions of these so-called “gods.” Psalm after Psalm sings of the overruling power of the God of Israel. Life and food and offspring for all creatures come only from the Lord, not from any Baal. This truth is as important in modern times as it was for biblical folk. We’re no longer as threatened by paganism, in western society at leas – although keep an eye on the New Age movement. But naturalism is the dominant world view in our culture. We are taught every day to think of nature as a closed system of physical causes and effects. What the psalmist can do for us is to remind us that physical causes in nature are actually secondary causes. The ancient Hebrews did not really believe in what we call “nature.” They believed in God. They saw everything as God’s direct action; all that occurred in the world around them they attributed to the power of God. His will ordered the world, his word made things happen. Secondary causes were not important to them. To the Hebrews, the thunder wasn’t created by a sound wave produced by super-heated molecules as a result of a discharge of static electricity in the clouds. It was the sound of God’s chariot. Storms weren’t caused by low-pressure systems colliding with masses of moisture-laden air. They were the messengers and servants of the Lord.

Now, we know more about nature in a scientific sense than the ancient Hebrews did. But we know less about God. So we need to be taught by them to remember the sovereign rule of God over nature – and every other part of the world. We don’t have to reject or ignore secondary causes; they are real. God does use them. In fact he usually works through them. But they are secondary, and we need the psalmist to remind us about the primary cause of everything. As G. K. Chesterton once remarked, “The sun does not rise only in response to the forces of physics; it rises because each day God says, ‘Get up!’”

THEREFORE . . .

So how should we react to the truth that God is both Creator and Sustainer of the whole world? This truth is what lies behind the Christian doctrine of the providence of God. Here is a classic definition of providence: Providence is

“the almighty and ever-present power of God, by which he upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty – all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand.

(Heidelberg Catechism, Question 27)

Two things are called for in response to the providence of God. The first is worship. Our initial reaction to the revelation of God’s power and glory ought to be praise. “May the glory of the Lord endure forever . . . I will sing to the Lord all my life. I will sing praise to my God as long as I live” (vv. 31,33). So many of our problems are the result of misdirected worship. We estimate things wrongly. We treasure and pursue created things rather than the Creator, and that is the source of all kinds of trouble both for us and for the world. We need to be reminded by the psalmist that only God is truly great, and worthy of worship. God alone deserves our highest praise.

The second response to providence is trust. When I reflect upon the sovereign control of God over all the world and all the details of my life, that leads me to rejoice. Why? Because I can know that God will use his wisdom and power to take care of me. What comfort there is in knowing that the awesome might of God, the very same power by which God created the galaxies of space and the mountains and oceans of the world, is devoted to the aid and the well-being of his people! You can trust in the providence of God. God will protect you in danger. He will deliver you from evil. Nothing is stronger than God. Nothing can defeat him. Because of that,

I trust him so much that I do not doubt he will provide whatever I need for body and soul, and he will turn to my good whatever adversity he sends me in this sad world. He is able to do this because he is almighty God; he desires to do this because he is a faithful Father.

(Heidelberg Catechism, Question 26)

That’s what I believe. Do you?