Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
I’ve mentioned a few times before that on my current read-through of the Bible I am trying to tackle the Psalms in a different style than usual. Before, I had read them all together, which works well early on; but after about fifty or so they all start to run together. To avoid this, I have dispersed the Psalms between the other books of the Bible. It used to seem that around Psalm 100, the writers started having a contest to as to who could make the longest Psalm (that is until 119 blows them all out of the water). So, often I could not focus on what the Psalms actually said, instead only seeing their increasingly daunting lengths. Now I know what I was missing out on, thank God the Lord had me change things up.
Psalm 104 serves as a memorializing of the awesomeness of God. We can sing about how awesome the Lord is, but I don’t know if we often stop and really consider just how amazing God is. Today, let’s look in detail at the awesomeness of God with Psalm 104 as our guide. The Psalmist starts off by writing,
Praise the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great;
You are clothed with splendor and majesty.
He 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 the waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
And rides on the wings of the wind.
He makes winds his messengers,
Flames of fire his servants (Psalms 104:1-4).
Our Lord is grand and mighty. He defies our understanding of nature (and physics). God wraps himself in light; in fact, the Lord is light. We know because on the very first day of creation the Lord made light,
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light (Genesis 1:2-3).
What’s more impressive is that God did this before he even created the sun! Indeed the sun didn’t come about until day four of creation,
And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, and let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights- the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars (Genesis 1:14-16).
That’s right, before there was a sun in the sky there was light. In the end of the Bible, we are told that the new heaven and earth will also feature this sunless light. We read in Revelation 22:5, “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.” How is this possible? Jesus gives a sneak peek to his disciples of what it might look like in Matthew 17:1-2,
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.
Pretty impressive, right? It just goes to show that when God says in Isaiah 55:9, “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” he wasn’t kidding. The Word of God is filled with multi-level messages. Messages like John 8:12, “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” I bet you hadn’t considered the literal implications of that before, had you? Praise the Lord for his awesome grandness!
Understanding the awesomeness of God can also bring stability to our lives. We read in Psalms 104:5, “He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.” God set the earth’s foundations. We find this noted at the beginning of the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Many people worry about natural disasters, wars, global warming, or whatever else is deemed newsworthy as possible factors for human extinction. But as Christians, we have a leg up on the non-believers because we know that with the Lord as our world’s architect we have an assurance that the ground on which we stand will not give way and that the world’s cares are not the same as ours. The world will end, but not by some meteor, alien race, or giant bomb. We’ll talk about how it will end later. For now though, revel at the structure of the universe and our world, and remember what Solomon said, “Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever” (Ecclesiastes 1:4).
How awesome is our Lord? He is a God that always keeps his promises. The Psalmist writes,
You covered it with the deep 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 to 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 (Psalms 104:6-9).
When I first read this I thought the Psalmist was still talking about creation. However, the Holy Spirit directed me to take note that the waters go above the mountains, and later they are given a barrier that cannot be crossed. This set of verses is not about creation, but about the great flood. We are reminded about what that was like in Genesis 7:17-20,
For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than twenty feet.
The global flood was awful, killing almost everything in the world. After it was finished though, God promised that he would never again flood the whole world like that,
And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life” (Genesis 9:12-15).
To this day there has never been another global flood. It doesn’t end there though, the Lord used the rainbow as his covenant with mankind and indeed we usually see rainbows during rainy times. However, God is reminded of his promise all the time. How do I know? When John is given the vision of the Revelation, he writes about the throne of heaven,
At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne (Revelation 4:2-3).
Around God’s throne is a rainbow. We can take this to mean that the Lord never forgets his promises. Even Jesus, after returning to life, retained the holes in his hands as we can read in John 20:19-20,
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
Jesus kept the marks of his crucifixion as a permanent reminder of his covenant with us, that by trusting in him we can be cleansed of our sins and given an eternal life with him. The bible is a book of promises, and we know that the Lord does not forget that which he swears to do. So we can rejoice in our awesome God who keeps his word!
Next we read,
He makes the springs pour water into the ravines;
It flows between the mountains.
They give water to all the beasts of the field;
The wild donkeys quench their thirst.
The birds of the air nest by the waters;
They sing among the branches.
He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
The earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work.
He makes the grass grow for the cattle,
And plants for man to cultivate-
Bringing forth food from the earth:
Wine that gladdens the heart of man,
Oil to make his face shine,
And bread that sustains his heart.
The trees of the Lord are well watered,
The cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
There the birds make their nests;
The stork has its home in the pine trees.
The high mountains belong to the wild goats;
The crags are a refuge for the coneys (Psalms 104:10-18).
The Lord not only created our world, but he also sustains it. From the massive heavenly bodies down to the smallest creatures, nothing is out of the Lord’s watchful eyes. He speaks of his care for all via questions in Job 38:39-41,
Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
And satisfy the hunger of the lions
When they crouch in their dens
Or lie in wait in a thicket?
Who provides food for the raven
When its young cry out to God
And wander about for lack of food?
Who feeds the animals? God does; the Lord sustains all of creation and nothing under heaven goes uncounted by him. With this knowledge, we can relax and know that the Lord is looking after us. Jesus says,
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows (Luke 12:6-7).
As we are created in the image of the Lord, we should not fear of worry. If he takes care of the rest of creation, certainly the Lord will take care of us. Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:25-26,
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?
And he continues a couple of verses later,
And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6:28-33).
So relax! We have the creator and sustainer of the universe at the wheel. If life isn’t going how you expected it to go, don’t worry; the Lord has it under control!
In fact, control is exactly what our Psalmist talks about next. He writes,
The moon marks off the seasons,
And the sun knows when to go down.
You bring darkness, it becomes night,
And all the beasts of the forest prowl.
The lions roar for their prey
And seek their food from God.
The sun rises, and they steal away;
They return and lie down in their dens.
Then man goes out to his work,
To his labor until evening (Psalms 104:19-23).
The Lord has everything under control and organized. Sometimes it may seem like our world is chaotic and messed up (and to an extent it is at our level), but for God everything is running like clockwork. The Lord has balanced everything since the creation, sometimes things move in one direction, sometimes in another. All wise men (even heathen wise men) can see some sort of cosmic balance. This has been provided by Father, worked in since the beginning of time. Solomon tells us that, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). The Lord has a season for everything. Even the end will come at God’s appointed time, not a minute before. Jesus tells us in Matthew 24:36, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” Nobody but our Father in heaven knows when the end will come- but he does know and has always known. And until he decrees an end, the end will not come (no matter what the news or non-Biblical prophecy may say); because our Lord has complete control- and that’s awesome.
Go outside and look around. Or, if you live in the city, watch National Geographic; the creation is amazing! Our Psalmist reminds us of all of God’s wonderful creatures,
There is the sea, vast and spacious,
Teeming with creatures beyond number-
Living things both large and small.
There the ships go to and fro,
And the leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.
These all look to you
To give them their food at the proper time.
When you give it to them,
They gather it up;
When you open your hand,
They are satisfied with good things (Psalms 104:24-28).
Now, an unbeliever may try to say that the diverse animals, birds, fish, and creepy-crawly things all came by mere happenstance. Indeed they will try to tell us that all of these creatures (and us too) owe their ancestry to tiny microbes. People who own (and read) Bibles know differently though. For we read,
And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky.” So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the waters in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.” And there was evening, and there was morning- the fifth day.
And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good (Genesis 1:20-25).
God even made dinosaurs! He talks about one in Job chapter 40. He calls it “the behemoth.” We read,
Look at the behemoth,
Which I made along with you
And which feeds on grass like an ox.
What strength he has in his loins,
What power in the muscles of his belly!
His tail sways like a cedar;
The sinews of his thighs are close-knit.
His bones are tubes of bronze,
His limbs like rods of iron.
He ranks first among the works of God,
Yet his Maker can approach him with his sword (Job 40:15-19).
A tail like a cedar? Does this sound like any animals alive today? God made all of the animals, great and small, and he made you too. How awesome is our God who designs and brings such a diversity of life!
Our Lord is so great, how can one live without him? We read in Psalms 104:29-30,
When you hide your face,
They are terrified;
When you take away their breath,
They die and return to the dust.
When you send your Spirit,
They are created,
And you renew the face of the earth.
Without God is only death. Even if a person thinks they are alive today, without God (and his son Jesus Christ), only eternal death and suffering await. It is a life as a dead man walking. Jesus explains,
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God (John 3:17-21).
God came to the world in the form of his son Jesus in order that all who believe in him may find the light and the life of God. When we accept Jesus into our lives, we receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells us that, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). So believe in Jesus, our risen Lord; and enter into his promised eternal life. How can you do this? Paul writes,
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved (Romans 10:9-10).
It is that simple. In only a matter of moments we can go from being the living dead to the eternally saved. How awesome for God to give us such an easy way to be allowed into his kingdom!
Finally, our Psalmist makes his last statement of praise,
May the glory of the Lord endure forever;
May the Lord rejoice in his works-
He who looks at the earth, and it trembles,
Who touches the mountains, and they smoke.
I will sing to the Lord all my life;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.
May my meditation be pleasing to him,
As I rejoice in the Lord.
But may sinners vanish from the earth
And the wicked be no more.
Praise the Lord, O my soul.
Praise the Lord (Psalms 104:31-35).
Our Lord is so awesome and so grand in his conduct towards us; how can we not praise him? Paul writes,
For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities- his eternal power and divine nature- have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse (Romans 1:20).
We have read today about how all of creation reflects God’s awesomeness. Only those who actively choose to ignore God can deny him. Such people face an unhappy end. But for those of us who cannot deny the truth, eternal joy waits. Peter sums it up pretty well when he writes,
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade- kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time (1 Peter 1:3-5).
Rock on God!