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Asbury Bible Commentary – B. Hymns in Praise of the Creator (Pss 8, 19, 29, 33, 65, 100, 104, 136, 148)
Resources » Asbury Bible Commentary » Part II: The Old Testament » PSALMS » Commentary » I. The Hymns of Praise (the tehillâh) » B. Hymns in Praise of the Creator (Pss 8, 19, 29, 33, 65, 100, 104, 136, 148)
B. Hymns in Praise of the Creator (Pss 8, 19, 29, 33, 65, 100, 104, 136, 148)

These powerful songs either logically ground their call to praise God significantly in his role as Creator (8, 33, 136, 148) or are praise reflections on creation itself (19, 29, 65). These latter songs do not explicitly designate God as “Creator” or “Maker,” but assume his role as Creator in their celebration of his sovereignty over creation. The Creator/creation theme finds important though more abbreviated expression in other psalms also, such as Pss 24, 50, 95, 135, 146, and 147. Judging from these hymns, no other feature of Israel's faith was more foundational than its trust in Yahweh God as Creator of all that is. Understanding of Yahweh's very deity builds from here:

Know that the Lord is God.

It is he who made us. (100:3)

Thus a startling range of claims about God cluster around faith in Yahweh as Creator, either directly linked as faith correlates or closely associated by context. Strike this plank from Israel's faith, and biblical faith exists no more.

Confidence in Yahweh as King of the universe (29:10; 104:2-4), superior to all other “gods” (136:2-3; cf. 95:3-5) rests in Israel's awareness that he is Creator. Sometimes the Creator's royalty is plainly claimed as in Ps 29's celebration of Yahweh of the Storm:

The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;

the Lord is enthroned as King forever (29:10).

This explicit link between God as Creator and God as King finds repeated, explicit praise in several songs where creation thought is subordinate to other themes, as in Ps 95:2-5:

Let us come before him [the Lord] with thanksgiving

and extol him with music and song.

For the Lord is the great God,

the great King above all gods.

In his hand are the depths of the earth,

and the mountain peaks belong to him.

The sea is his, for he made it,

and his hands formed the dry land. (italics mine)

See similar construction in 24:1-2, 7-10; 93:1; 96:5; 146:10.

Other songs draw from the imagery of the heavenly court—the royal court in which God sits enthroned—and in this way praise the Creator as King, even when the words “king” or “throne” do not appear. This is the assembly of the “mighty ones” (the “sons of God”) who offer homage in King Yahweh's presence (29:1-2). From this court God, the King, regally arrayed, sends his messengers and servants to do his royal bidding (104:1-5; cf. 103:19-22).

God as Creator-King acted and acts in Israel's history—the Exodus, the deliverance at the Sea, the wilderness wandering, and the victorious entry to the land (136:10-24; cf. 135:7-12 in context). It is Yahweh the Creator who did these marvelous wonders (136:4). He is sovereign, able to carry out his will, thwarting the devices of the nations and thwarted by no one. He not only wills but is able to deliver his people and to achieve his purposes for them (33:10-11).

This sovereign Creator knows the inner life of all, the way the potter knows the vessel he has fashioned (33:13-15; cf. 139:13-16). As such he is the sure hope of those who fear him, and he stands over against all vain hopes such as military might or natural vigor to which persons are tempted to turn for salvation (33:16-18, 20-22). This is Israel's helper (29:11; 33:16-20; 148:14; cf. 146:6).

The creation hymns extend Yahweh God's creative power beyond the originating, founding act of creation that brought all that is into existence. The Creator now provides for and sustains the life of all flesh (136:25; 104:10-18; 147:14-18). Ps 104:10-23 particularly expounds the life-giving forces in the psalmist's world as the work of Yahweh the Creator. Springs, grass, plants, wine, harvest, seasons, and more are all God's continuing work. Without his sustaining gifts and Spirit no life survives (104:27-30). Not only so, but a profound sense of the complex, interdependent ecosystem appears there, a wonder that reveals the marvelous wisdom of the Creator (104:24). Ps 65 builds its (perhaps New Year) celebration of anticipated harvest on the Creator's (v. 6) care in saturating the parched ground with water and thus bringing plenty (65:9-13). “You crown the year with your bounty,” sings the poet (65:11, italics mine). Grain, showers, crops, overflowing carts, verdant grasslands, and meadows covered with grazing flocks are all Yahweh's continuing provision. But this is not simply a praise for harvest bounty. Praise for “nature's” bounty comes after worship for God's gracious atoning for overwhelming human transgressions (65:1-4) and his saving deeds apparent to persons near and far (65:5-8).

In none of these songs is a stinging attack on the “gods of the nations” far from the surface. Sometimes in the Creation hymns this exaltation of the superiority of Yahweh God to all other “gods” explicitly appears. Yahweh is the “God of gods” and the “Lord of lords,” that is, “the highest, supreme God,” “the highest, supreme Lord” (136:2-3; cf. 95:3-5). But the apologetic is always present by virtue of the fact that the various parts of the “natural order” subordinated as God's creatures (his creative work) are among Israel's neighbors worshiped and feared as gods. Lord Sea, Judge River, Baal (god of storm, wind, lightning, fertility), Lady Sun, Moon, the Stars, Miss Earth (as underworld/plague), and twins Dawn and Dusk all appear in mythological or liturgical texts from the Canaanite city of Ugarit. Affirming that “the heavens” (i.e., the sun, moon, stars, and all the heavenly order) declare the glory of God,” Ps 19 directs worship from these “gods” to the one who made them and then specifically subordinates the divine Sun to Israel's Creator God (19:4b-6). Ps 29 presses all the domains of the storm god Baal into the praise of God: flood waters, thunder, wind, and lightning (29:3-9). These express Yahweh's power, not Baal's, the informed ancient reader understands. Similar is Ps 104:2-9. At other points the psalmists borrow categories of creation from Canaanite theology (e.g., mighty conquest of the primordial sea, the raging floods) to praise Yahweh as Creator, and to deny any ground to the gods of the nations (65:5-6; 104:7).

The apology continues in the celebration that the Creator's genius and life-giving Spirit sustains the created order and now provides life and food for all flesh (104:10-27). Wine, vine, oil, grain, bread, and offspring (flock and family) are among the code words in the polemic regarding life and food in the OT and the ancient Near East. Canaanite religion tied continuing fertility and life not to creation and the Creator's continuing care but to the dying and rising, the captivity and rescue and/or the sexual union and procreation of the gods. In mythology expressing this “fertility” faith, Baal figured prominently. The sole option to the contrary in the ancient Near East, so far as we know, was faith in Yahweh of the sort we have come to call “biblical faith.”

Israel continually succumbed to confusion at this point, often falling before the temptation to think that the wine and oil, the wheat and grain, the lambs and their wool and meat, the goats and their milk, and their own children were “gifts” of the various baals (manifestations of Baal worshiped at local shrines at the “high places”). Hosea, among others, exposes this delusion by which the provisions of Yahweh are thought to derive from Israel's harlotrous worship (Hos 2:5-13). All such matters come under the works of the one Creator, Yahweh, who “gives food to every creature” (136:25). The worship of the baals received such severe castigation not simply because fertility worship involved promiscuous and degrading sexual behavior in its liturgy. More fundamentally, fertility faith is the worship of oneself, the supreme blasphemy, for its aim is the guarantee of the worshipers' own survival, the perpetuating of life as it is through worship. The Creation hymns call the worshiper away from such preoccupation with one's own survival to the worship of Yahweh who made and sustains the world and all flesh by his power.

As a matter of fact, these songs in praise of the Creator draw precisely the opposite conclusion regarding human beings. The life, fertility, and survival of human beings is not the primary concern here. Praise of God is. In the presence of the Creator and his vast creation, the frailty and finitude of human beings is obvious (8:3-4; cf. 104:27-30). That the Creator pays attention to them is an astounding act of grace (cf. 139:12-17). And yet God has placed humans as the crown of his creation, chief administrator of the Creator's works (8:4-8). This creation paradox has the seeds of a true humanism in which the marvelous grandeur of human beings and their obvious and often painful frailty are held together in the worship not of them but of their Creator. So not only do these songs present cardinal “theology” (doctrines about God) but clear “anthropology” (doctrine about human beings) as well.

Ps 19, a song of “mixed form,” raises important issues for creation thought. This song is apparently formed from the joining of a Hymn to the Creator (19:1-6) and a Torah Song (19:7-11) with concluding reflections (19:12-14). The key issue: What can you know about God from creation? It is the question of “natural theology.” Clearly the psalmists believed the created order did reveal something about God; the question is what. Ps 19:1 carefully phrases the affirmation that the heavens reveal “the glory of God” and the fact of creation, i.e., God's creative activity (They present themselves as the “work of his hands.”). Similarly Pss 8:1, 9; 29:1-9; 104:1; 148:13 sing the majesty, splendor, and power of God based on creation. Ps 104:24 sees God's wisdom in creation. Ps 136, called here a Hymn in Praise of the Creator because of the primary place accorded Yahweh's creative work in his “marvelous works,” affirms repeatedly “his love endures forever.” But the affirmation stands on its own, grounded if anywhere in the whole range of God's self-disclosure in history, not only or primarily in creation.

But there are limits to what one may know of God from creation. The exaltation of the Torah (19:7-11) stands beside the celebration of the Creator's glory seen in the heavens (19:1-6) as absolutely essential commentary. One may know of God's glory, power, and intelligence from creation, but one does not know clearly God's character or his will from creation. One knows that only from the Law, from God's revelation of himself to his servants and in the history of Israel. True revival of the soul, moral awareness, concepts of righteousness and justice as Yahweh sees them are found only in his law, statutes, precepts, commands, and ordinances.

And still there is more. Neither creation nor the law by itself gives illumination and accomplishes moral transformation on its own. God himself must grant insight and foster moral transformation. The psalm closes with appeal to the Creator-Lawgiver himself to forgive and for moral restraint beyond the psalmist's own sheer will power. The plea is that God will be Rock and Redeemer to his servant in such ways that his words and thoughts prove pleasing to Yahweh (19:12-14; cf. 104:34). Perhaps such surrender is implicit in all of these songs that call worshipers and all creation to sing (e.g., 33:1; 104:33), to praise (e.g., 104:1, 35), and to trust and hope in Yahweh the Creator (33:12-22).