Sacred Texts  Bible  Bible Commentary  Index 
Psalms Index
  Previous  Next 

Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Psalms Chapter 104


psa 104:0

Hymn in Honour of the God of the Seven Days

With Bless, O my soul, Jahve, as Ps 103, begins this anonymous Psalms 104 also, in which God's rule in the kingdom of nature, as there in the kingdom of grace, is the theme of praise, and as there the angels are associated with it. The poet sings the God-ordained present condition of the world with respect to the creative beginnings recorded in Gen 1:1; and closes with the wish that evil may be expelled from this good creation, which so thoroughly and fully reveals God's power, and wisdom, and goodness. It is a Psalm of nature, but such as not poet among the Gentiles could have written. The Israelitish poet stands free and unfettered in the presence of nature as his object, and all things appear to him as brought forth and sustained by the creative might of the one God, brought into being and preserved in existence on purpose that He, the self-sufficient One, may impart Himself in free condescending love - as the creatures and orders of the Holy One, in themselves good and pure, but spotted an disorganized only by the self-corruption of man in sin and wickedness, which self-corruption must be turned out in order that the joy of God in His works and the joy of these works in their Creator may be perfected. The Psalm is altogether an echo of the heptahemeron (or history of the seven days of creation) in Gen 1:1. Corresponding toe the seven days it falls into seven groups, in which the מאד הנה־טוב of Gen 1:31 is expanded. It is not, however, so worked out that each single group celebrates the work of a day of creation; the Psalm has the commingling whole of the finished creation as its standpoint, and is therefore not so conformed to any plan. Nevertheless it begins with the light and closes with an allusion to the divine Sabbath. When it is considered that Psa 104:8 is only with violence accommodated to the context, that Psa 104:18 is forced in without any connection and contrary to any plan, and that Psa 104:32 can only be made intelligible in that position by means of an artificial combination of the thoughts, then the supposition of Hitzig, ingeniously wrought out by him in his own way, is forced upon one, viz., that this glorious hymn has decoyed some later poet-hand into enlarging upon it.

Psalms 104:1

psa 104:1

The first decastich begins the celebration with work of the first and second days. הוד והדר here is not the doxa belonging to God πρὸ παντὸς τοῦ αἰῶνος (Jde 1:25), but the doxa which He has put on (Job 40:10) since He created the world, over against which He stands in kingly glory, or rather in which He is immanent, and which reflects this kingly glory in various gradations, yea, to a certain extent is this glory itself. For inasmuch as God began the work of creation with the creation of light, He has covered Himself with this created light itself as with a garment. That which once happened in connection with the creation may, as in Amo 4:13; Isa 44:24; Isa 45:7; Jer 10:12, and frequently, be expressed by participles of the present, because the original setting is continued in the preservation of the world; and determinate participles alternate with participles without the article, as in Isa 44:24-28, with no other difference than that the former are more predicative and the latter more attributive. With Psa 104:2 the poet comes upon the work of the second day: the creation of the expanse (רקיע) which divides between the waters. God has spread this out (cf. Isa 40:22) like a tent-cloth (Isa 54:2), of such light and of such fine transparent work; נוטה here rhymes with עטה. In those waters which the "expanse" holds aloft over the earth God lays the beams of His upper chambers (עליּותתו, instead of which we find מעלותיו in Amo 9:6, from עליּה, ascent, elevation, then an upper story, an upper chamber, which would be more accurately עלּיּה after the Aramaic and Arabic); but not as though the waters were the material for them, they are only the place for them, that is exalted above the earth, and are able to be this because to the Immaterial One even that which is fluid is solid, and that which is dense is transparent. The reservoirs of the upper waters, the clouds, God makes, as the lightning, thunder, and rain indicate, into His chariot (רכוּב), upon which he rides along in order to make His power felt below upon the earth judicially (Isa 19:1), or in rescuing and blessing men. רכוּב (only here) accords in sound with כּרוּב, Psa 18:11. For Psa 104:3 also recalls this primary passage, where the wings of the wind take the place of the cloud-chariot. In Psa 104:4 the lxx (Heb 1:7) makes the first substantive into an accusative of the object, and the second into an accusative of the predicate: Ὁ ποιῶν τοὺς ἀγγέλους αὐτοῦ πνεῦματα καὶ τοὺς λειτουργοὺς αὐτοῦ πυρὸς φλόγα. It is usually translated the reverse say: making the winds into His angels, etc. This rendering is possible so far as the language is concerned (cf. Psa 100:3 Chethb, and on the position of the worlds, Amo 4:13 with Psa 5:8), and the plural משׁרתיו is explicable in connection with this rendering from the force of the parallelism, and the singular אשׁ from the fact that this word has no plural. Since, however, עשׂה with two accusatives usually signifies to produce something out of something, so that the second accusative (viz., the accusative of the predicate, which is logically the second, but according to the position of the words may just as well be the first, Exo 25:39; Exo 30:25, as the second, Exo 37:23; Exo 38:3; Gen 2:7; Ch2 4:18-22) denotes the materia ex qua, it may with equal right at least be interpreted: Who makes His messengers out of the winds, His servants out of the flaming or consuming (vid., on Psa 57:5) fire (אשׁ, as in Jer 48:45, masc.). And this may affirm either that God makes use of wind and fire for special missions (cf. Psa 148:8), or (cf. Hofmann, Schriftbeweis, i. 325f.) that He gives wind and fire to His angels for the purpose of His operations in the world which are effected through their agency, as the materials of their outward manifestation, and as it were of their self-embodiment,

(Note: It is a Talmudic view that God really makes the angels out of fire, B. Chagiga, 14a (cf. Koran, xxxviii. 77): Day by day are the angels of the service created out of the stream of fire (נהר דינור), and sing their song of praise and perish.)

as then in Psa 18:11 wind and cherub are both to be associated together in thought as the vehicle of the divine activity in the world, and in Psa 35:5 the angel of Jahve represents the energy of the wind.

Psalms 104:5

psa 104:5

In a second decastich the poet speaks of the restraining of the lower waters and the establishing of the land standing out of the water. The suffix, referring back to ארץ, is intended to say that the earth hanging free in space (Job 26:7) has its internal supports. Its eternal stability is preserved even amidst the judgment predicted in Isa 24:16., since it comes forth out of it, unremoved from its former station, as a transformed, glorified earth. The deep (תּהום) with which God covers it is that primordial mass of water in which it lay first of all as it were in embryo, for it came into being ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ δι ̓ ὕδατος (Pe2 3:5). כּסּיתו does not refer to תהום (masc. as in Job 28:14), because then עליה would be required, but to ארץ, and the masculine is to be explained either by attraction) according to the model of Sa1 2:4), or by a reversion to the masculine ground-form as the discourse proceeds (cf. the same thing with עיר Sa2 17:13, צעקה Exo 11:6, יד Eze 2:9). According to Psa 104:6, the earth thus overflowed with water was already mountainous; the primal formation of the mountains is therefore just as old as the תהום mentioned in direct succession to the תהו ובהו. After this, Psa 104:7 describe the subduing of the primordial waters by raising up the dry land and the confining of these waters in basins surrounded by banks. Terrified by the despotic command of God, they started asunder, and mountains rose aloft, the dry land with its heights and its low grounds appeared. The rendering that the waters, thrown into wild excitement, rose up the mountains and descended again (Hengstenberg), does not harmonize with the fact that they are represented in Psa 104:6 as standing above the mountains. Accordingly, too, it is not to be interpreted after Psa 107:26 : they (the waters) rose mountain-high, they sunk down like valleys. The reference of the description to the coming forth of the dry land on the third day of creation requires that הרים should be taken as subject to יעלוּ. But then, too, the בקעות are the subject to ירדוּ, as Hilary of Poictiers renders it in his Genesis, 5:97, etc.: subsidunt valles, and not the waters as subsiding into the valleys. Hupfeld is correct; Psa 104:8 is a parenthesis which affirms that, inasmuch as the waters retreating laid the solid land bare, mountains and valleys as such came forth visibly; cf. Ovid, Metam. i. 344: Flumina subsidunt, montes exire videntur.

Psalms 104:8

psa 104:8

Psa 104:8 continues with the words אל־מקום (cf. Gen 1:9, אחד אל־מקום): the waters retreat to the place which (זה, cf. Psa 104:26, for אשׁר, Gen 39:20) God has assigned to them as that which should contain them. He hath set a bound (גּבוּל, synon. חק, Pro 8:29; Jer 5:22) for them beyond which they may not flow forth again to cover the earth, as the primordial waters of chaos have done.

Psalms 104:10

psa 104:10

The third decastich, passing on to the third day of creation, sings the benefit which the shore-surrounded waters are to the animal creation and the growth of the plants out of the earth, which is irrigated from below and moistened from above. God, the blessed One, being the principal subject of the Psalm, the poet (in Psa 104:10 and further on) is able to go on in attributive and predicative participles: Who sendeth springs בּנּחלים, into the wads (not: בּנחלים, as brooks). נחל, as Psa 104:10 shows, is here a synonym of בּקעה, and there is no need for saying that, flowing on in the plains, they grow into rivers. The lxx has ἐν φάραγξιν. חיתו שׂדי is doubly poetic for חיּת השּׂדה. God has also provided for all the beasts that roam far from men; and the wild ass, swift as an arrow, difficult to be hunted, and living in troops (פּרא, Arabic ferâ, root פר, Arab. fr, to move quickly, to whiz, to flee; the wild ass, the onager, Arabic himr el-wahs, whose home is on the steppes), is made prominent by way of example. The phrase "to break the thirst" occurs only here. עליהם, Psa 104:12, refers to the מעינים, which are also still the subject in Psa 104:11. The pointing עפאים needlessly creates a hybrid form in addition to עפאים (like לבאים) and עפיים. From the tangled branches by the springs the poet insensibly reaches the second half of the third day. The vegetable kingdom at the same time reminds him of the rain which, descending out of the upper chambers of the heavens, waters the waterless mountain-tops. Like the Talmud (B. Ta‛anı̂th, 10a), by the "fruit of Thy work" (מעשׂיך as singular) Hitzig understands the rain; but rain is rather that which fertilizes; and why might not the fruit be meant which God's works (מעשׂיך, plural) here below (Psa 104:24), viz., the vegetable creations, bear, and from which the earth, i.e., its population, is satisfied, inasmuch as vegetable food springs up as much for the beasts as for man? In connection with עשׂב the poet is thinking of cultivated plants, more especially wheat; לעבדת, however, does not signify: for cultivation by man, since, according to Hitzig's correct remonstrance, they do not say עבד העשׂב, and להוציא has not man, but rather God, as its subject, but as in Ch1 26:30, for the service (use) of man.

Psalms 104:14

psa 104:14

In the fourth decastich the poet goes further among the creatures of the field and of the forest. The subject to להוציא is מצמיח. The clause expressing the purpose, which twice begins with an infinitive, is continued in both instances, as in Isa 13:9, but with a change of subject (cf. e.g., Amo 1:11; Amo 2:4), in the finite verb. On what is said of wine we may compare Ecc 10:19, Sir. 40:20, and more especially Isaiah, who frequently mentions wine as a representative of all the natural sources of joy. The assertion that משּׁמן signifies "before oil = brighter than oil," is an error that is rightly combated by Bttcher in his Proben and two of his "Gleanings,"

(Note: Proben, i.e., Specimens of Old Testament interpretation, Leipzig 1833, and Aehrenlese (Gleanings), referred to in the preface of these volumes. - Tr.)

which imputes to the poet a mention of oil that is contrary to his purpose in this connection wand inappropriate. Corn, wine, and oil are mentioned as the three chief products of the vegetable kingdom (Luther, Calvin, Grotius, Dathe, and Hupfeld), and are assumed under עשׂב in Psa 104:14, as is also the case in other instances where distinction would be superfluous, e.g., in Exo 9:22. With oil God makes the countenance shining, or bright and cheerful, not by means of anointing-since it was not the face but the head that was anointed (Mat 6:17), - but by the fact of its increasing the savouriness and nutritiveness of the food. להצהיל is chosen with reference to יצהר. In Psa 104:15 לבב־אנושׁ does not stand after, as in Psa 104:15 (where it is לבב־ with Gaja on account of the distinctive), but before the verb, because לבב as that which is inward stands in antithesis to פנים as that which is outside. Since the fertilization of the earth by the rain is the chief subject of the predication in Psa 104:13, Psa 104:16 is naturally attached to what precedes without arousing critical suspicion. That which satisfies is here the rain itself, and not, as in Psa 104:13, that which the rain matures. The "trees of Jahve" are those which before all others proclaim the greatness of their Creator. אשׁר־שׁם refers to these trees, of which the cedars and then the cypresses (ברושׁים, root בר, to cut) are mentioned. They are places where small and large birds build their nests and lodge, more particularly the stork, which is called the חסידה as being πτηνῶν εὐσεβέστατον ζώων (Barbrius, Fab. xiii.), as avis pia (pietaticultrix in Petronius, lv. 6), i.e., on account of its love of family life, on account of which it is also regarded as bringing good fortune to a house.

(Note: In the Merg& district, where the stork is not called leklek as it is elsewhere, but charnuk[ on account of its bill like a long horn (Arab. chrn) standing out in front, the women and children call it Arab. 'bû sa‛d, "bringer of good luck." Like the חסידה, the long-legged carrion-vulture (Vultur percnopterus) or mountain-stork, ὀρειπελαργός, is called רחם (Arab. rḥm) on account of its στοργή.)

The care of God for the lodging of His creatures leads the poet from the trees to the heights of the mountains and the hiding-places of the rocks, in a manner that is certainly abrupt and that disturbs the sketch taken from the account of the creation. הגּבהים is an apposition. יעל (Arabic wa‛il) is the steinboc, wild-goat, as being an inhabitant of יעל (wa‛l, wa‛la), i.e., the high places of the rocks, as יען, Lam 4:3, according to Wetzstein, is the ostrich as being an inhabitant of the wa‛na, i.e., the sterile desert; and שׁפן is the rock-badger, which dwells in the clefts of the rocks (Pro 30:26), and resembles the marmot - South Arabic Arab. tufun, Hyrax Syriacus (distinct from the African). By שׁפן the Jewish tradition understand the coney, after which the Peshto here renders it לחגסא (חגס, cuniculus). Both animals, the coney and the rock-badger, may be meant in Lev 11:5; Deu 14:7; for the sign of the cloven hoof (פּרסה שׁסוּעה) is wanting in both. The coney has four toes, and the hyrax has a peculiar formation of hoof, not cloven, but divided into several parts.

Psalms 104:19

psa 104:19

The fifth decastich, in which the poet passes over from the third to the fourth day, shows that he has the order of the days of creation before his mind. The moon is mentioned first of all, because the poet wishes to make the picture of the day follow that of the night. He describes it in Psa 104:19 as the calendarial principal star. מועדים are points and divisions of time (epochs), and the principal measurer of these for civil and ecclesiastical life is the moon (cf. Sir. 43:7, ἀπὸ σελήνης σημεῖον ἑορτῆς), just as the sun, knowing when he is to set, is the infallible measurer of the day. In Psa 104:20 the description, which throughout is drawn in the presence of God in His honour, passes over into direct address: jussives (תּשׁת, ויהי) stand in the hypothetical protasis and in its apodosis (EW. 357, b). It depends upon God's willing only, and it is night, and the wakeful life of the wild beasts begins to be astir. The young lions then roar after their prey, and flagitaturi sunt a Deo cibum suum. The infinitive with Lamed is an elliptical expression of a conjugatio periphrastica (vid., on Hab 1:17), and becomes a varying expression of the future in general in the later language in approximation to the Aramaic. The roar of the lions and their going forth in quest of prey is an asking of God which He Himself has implanted in their nature. With the rising of the sun the aspect of things becomes very different. שׁמשׁ is feminine here, where the poet drops the personification (cf. Psa 19:1-14). The day which dawns with sunrise is the time for man. Both as to matter and style, Psa 104:21 call to mind Job 24:5; Job 37:8; Job 38:40.

Psalms 104:24

psa 104:24

Fixing his eye upon the sea with its small and great creatures, and the care of God for all self-living beings, the poet passes over to the fifth and sixth days of creation. The rich contents of this sixth group flow over and exceed the decastich. With מה־רבּוּ (not מה־גּדלוּ, Psa 92:6) the poet expresses his wonder at the great number of God's works, each one at the same time having its adjustment in accordance with its design, and all, mutually serving one another, co-operating one with another. קנין, which signifies both bringing forth and acquiring, has the former meaning here according to the predicate: full of creatures, which bear in themselves the traces of the Name of their Creator (קנה). Beside קיניך, however, we also find the reading קנינך, which is adopted by Norzi, Heidenheim, and Baer, represented by the versions (lxx, Vulgate, and Jerome), by expositors (Rashi: קנין שׁלּך), by the majority of the MSS (according to Norzi) and old printed copies, which would signify τῆς κτίσεώς σου, or according to the Latin versions κτήσεώς σου (possessione tua, Luther "they possessions"), but is inferior to the plural ktisma'toon σου, as an accusative of the object to מלאה. The sea more particularly is a world of moving creatures innumerable (Psa 69:35). זה היּם does not properly signify this sea, but that sea, yonder sea (cf. Psa 68:9, Isa 23:13; Jos 9:13). The attributes follow in an appositional relation, the looseness of which admits of the non-determination (cf. Psa 68:28; Jer 2:21; Gen 43:14, and the reverse case above in Psa 104:18). אניּה .) in relation to אני is a nomen unitatis (the single ship). It is an old word, which is also Egyptian in the form hani and ana.

(Note: Vide Chabas, Le papyrus magique Harris, p. 246, No. 826: HANI (אני), vaisseau, navire, and the Book of the Dead 1. 10, where hani occurs with the determinative picture of a ship. As to the form ana, vid., Chabas loc. cit. p. 33.)

Leviathan, in the Book of Job, the crocodile, is in this passage the name of the whale (vid., Lewysohn, Zoologie des Talmuds, 178-180, 505). Ewald and Hitzig, with the Jewish tradition, understand בּו in Psa 104:26 according to Job 41:5 : in order to play with him, which, however, gives no idea that is worthy of God. It may be taken as an alternative word for שׁם (cf. בּו in Psa 104:20, Job 40:20): to play therein, viz., in the sea (Saadia). In כּלּם, Psa 104:27, the range of vision is widened from the creatures of the sea to all the living things of the earth; cf. the borrowed passages Psa 145:15., Psa 147:9. כּלּם, by an obliteration of the suffix, signifies directly "altogether," and בּעתּו (cf. Job 38:32): when it is time for it. With reference to the change of the subject in the principal and in the infinitival clause, vid., Ew. 338, a. The existence, passing away, and origin of all beings is conditioned by God. His hand provides everything; the turning of His countenance towards them upholds everything; and His breath, the creative breath, animates and renews all things. The spirit of life of every creature is the disposing of the divine Spirit, which hovered over the primordial waters and transformed the chaos into the cosmos. תּסף in Psa 104:29 is equivalent to תּאסף, as in Sa1 15:6, and frequently. The full future forms accented on the ultima, from Psa 104:27 onwards, give emphasis to the statements. Job 34:14. may be compared with Psa 104:29.

Psalms 104:31

psa 104:31

The poet has now come to an end with the review of the wonders of the creation, and closes in this seventh group, which is again substantially decastichic, with a sabbatic meditation, inasmuch as he wishes that the glory of God, which He has put upon His creatures, and which is reflected and echoed back by them to Him, may continue for ever, and that His works may ever be so constituted that He who was satisfied at the completion of His six days' work may be able to rejoice in them. For if they cease to give Him pleasure, He can indeed blot them out as He did at the time of the Flood, since He is always able by a look to put the earth in a tremble, and by a touch to set the mountains on fire (ותּרעד of the result of the looking, as in Amo 5:8; Amo 9:6, and ויעשׁנוּ of that which takes place simultaneously with the touching, as in Psa 144:5, Zac 9:5, cf. on Hab 3:10). The poet, however, on his part, will not suffer there to be any lack of the glorifying of Jahve, inasmuch as he makes it his life's work to praise his God with music and song (בּחיּי as in Psa 63:5, cf. Bar. 4:20, ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις μου). Oh that this his quiet and his audible meditation upon the honour of God may be pleasing to Him (ערב על synonymous with טּוב על, but also שׁפר על, Psa 16:6)! Oh that Jahve may be able to rejoice in him, as he himself will rejoice in his God! Between "I will rejoice," Psa 104:34, and "He shall rejoice," Psa 104:31, there exists a reciprocal relation, as between the Sabbath of the creature in God and the Sabbath of God in the creature. When the Psalmist wishes that God may have joy in His works of creation, and seeks on his part to please God and to have his joy in God, he is also warranted in wishing that those who take pleasure in wickedness, and instead of giving God joy excite His wrath, may be removed from the earth (יתּמּוּ, cf. Num 14:35); for they are contrary to the purpose of the good creation of God, they imperil its continuance, and mar the joy of His creatures. The expression is not: may sins (חטּאים, as it is meant to be read in B. Berachoth, 10a, and as some editions, e.g., Bomberg's of 1521, actually have it), but: may sinners, be no more, for there is no other existence of sin than the personal one.

With the words Bless, O my soul, Jahve, the Psalm recurs to its introduction, and to this call upon himself is appended the Hallelujah which summons all creatures to the praise of God - a call of devotion which occurs nowhere out of the Psalter, and within the Psalter is found here for the first time, and consequently was only coined in the alter age. In modern printed copies it is sometimes written הללוּ־יהּ, sometimes הללוּ יהּ, but in the earlier copies (e.g., Venice 1521, Wittenberg 1566) mostly as one word הללוּיהּ.

(Note: More accurately הללוּיהּ with Chateph, as Jekuthil ha-Nakdan expressly demands. Moreover the mode of writing it as one word is the rule, since the Masora notes the הללוּ־יהּ, occurring only once, in Psa 135:3, with לית בטעם as being the only instance of the kind.)

In the majority of MSS it is also found thus as one word,

(Note: Yet even in the Talmud (J. Megilla i. 9, Sofrim v. 10) it is a matter of controversy concerning the mode of writing this word, whether it is to be separate or combined; and in B. Pesachim 117a Rab appeals to a Psalter of the school of Chabibi (תילי דבי חביבי) that he has seen, in which הללו stood in one line and יה in the other. In the same place Rab Chasda appeals to a תילי דבי רב חנין that he has seen, in which the Hallelujah standing between two Psalms, which might be regarded as the close of the Psalm preceding it or as the beginning of the Psalm following it, as written in the middle between the two (בעמצע פירקא). In the הלליה written as one word, יה is not regarded as strictly the divine name, only as an addition strengthening the notion of the הללו, as in במרחביה Psa 118:5; with reference to this, vide Geiger, Urschrift, S. 275.)

and that always with הּ, except the first הללוּיהּ which occurs here at the end of Ps 104, which has ה raphe in good MSS and old printed copies. This mode of writing is that attested by the Masora (vid., Baer's Psalterium, p. 132). The Talmud and Midrash observe this first Hallelujah is connected in a significant manner with the prospect of the final overthrow of the wicked. Ben-Pazzi (B. Berachoth 10a) counts 103 פרשׁיות up to this Hallelujah, reckoning Psa 1:1-6 and Psa 2:1-12 as one פרשׁת'.

Next: Psalms Chapter 105