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PSALM 104:1-9

Praise the Lord, my soul. Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty. 

The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants.

He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. 

You covered it with watery depths as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took flight; they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them.

You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth.

The other day my family was at the beach. The tides were out and so the sand stretched out before us out into the bay, little pools of water collecting in pockets around us. As we walked and looked at crab shells, clams, and other fun ocean oddities, the tide slowly started coming back in. At this point, my two kids decided they were going to stop the water. Quickly, they dug trenches and built seawalls out of piles of sand and reinforced it with rocks and crab shells. Eventually a sort of kidney shaped structure was built – maybe 20cm at its high point on the front edge. 

As the tides rolled inevitably in the kids worked hard to repair parts that fell or to stack yet more sand on parts where a particularly high wave would crest the seawall. Diligently they worked and packed and stacked and shoveled from one place to another. And it worked! Even as the ocean water crept around the sides of their two and half meter diameter structure, even as the water climbed up the sides of their retaining wall, the middle stayed clear. Triumphantly, they shouted, “We’re holding back the ocean!”

At least, it worked for a while… As you might know, when the tides come in, the sandy ground gets saturated, and pools can appear in places where the waves have not yet come in. Further, the push and pull of the moon’s gravity on the ocean’s water will not yield; at least, not to 20cm of sand and crab shells. 

With the sense of victory short lived, we eventually walked away – now knee deep in water – and the evidence of all their labours gone, but for the memory.

Try as we might, we are not able to hold the ocean back.

But there is one who can: “You set a boundary [the water depths] cannot cross.” Psalm 104 is a meditation on the creation story and God’s rule over all that is made. In the ancient world individual elements of the creation are deified (made into a god) to make sense of the world. The sun is a god in Egyptian, Canaanite, Babylonian, and all other ancient near eastern religions; the oceans are dwelling places of great beasts made into mythical creatures by the gods of the sea. In this ancient world, the gods are all around us. In the modern world it seems as if some of this natural religion is returning to the populace; and yet there is also a secular materialism that permeates our cultural worldview. And so, simultaneously the gods (or maybe just the Christian God) is dead; but the world is haunted by something of the same stuff of old.

Whether into the ancient context or this current one, the understanding of God from Psalm 104 – and really, the entire Bible – is different. The Lord of Psalm 104 is simultaneously “very great, clothed with majesty and splendor,” revealed as apart from and over and above the creation; he stands apart as the one who set its foundations (vs. 5), who has covered the earth with its beauty, but who speaks and the natural world listens (vs. 7), he is the one who determines its boundaries (vs. 9), he is the one who gives life, sustains life, and brings an end (vs. 27-30), he simply looks and the earth trembles (vs. 32). 

He is wholly holy. He is totally other. He only is the unCreated one; he is the unmoved mover; he is the Alpha and Omega; he is without beginning and end. The theological word for this is: transcendence. The God of the Bible only stands apart and above his creation.

And yet, I just wrote the Lord of Psalm 104 is “simultaneously ‘very great, clothed in majesty and splendor’ revealed as apart from and over and above the creation” because we also get an understanding of God who is intimately involved in and with his creation. Unlike the gods of old who are fundamentally apart of the world and yet still needed to be placated and convinced to act on behalf of the good of the world; and unlike the aspects of the modern worldview that refuse to see God as integral to the world, Psalm 104 shows us a God who is intimately and immediately involved in his world. “The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment… he makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. He makes the winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants.” Our God is present in and to – and through – his world.

Vs. 5-9 is a reflection of praise on the second and third days of creation (Gen. 1:6-10) when God creates the waters above and below (“you covered it with watery depths as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.”) one day, and then separates them out the next day (“but at your rebuke the waters fled… they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them.”) God is involved in creating and he is involved in his creation. He set the chaos to order, and he keeps the order from unspooling back to chaos. The very reason tides continue to pull at the oceans and push them back to their places is because God sets the boundaries; he sets the order – and he continues to uphold that order. God is both above and yet still involved in his creation. He is the Creator who continues his creating in the doctrine of providence. From the movement of water to the hairs on our head, to the sparrows being fed; from the great big, sovereign plans of God to the smaller yet still significant plans of men and women, all the way down to the seemingly inane and mundane of the ordinary, the Lord sets the boundary.

Try as we might, we cannot change the order of God’s creation design; try as we might to rebel against it, we only ever end up asserting the goodness of God’s original intent and purpose. Even when our culture struggles so hard to impose its will on the very good creation order of God, we can’t hold back the tide. Eventually we find ourselves knee deep in it; may it be that then we look to and “sing praise to my God as long as I live. May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the Lord.” (vs. 33-34)

In the order of creation may I see your goodness. In the design of the world may I see your purposes. And may my life always be lived out of the truth of who you are and what you are doing in the world. I praise you for your transcendence, I love you for your closeness ultimately revealed in Jesus. Amen.