David the Young Earth Creationist
Biblical creationists interpret Genesis as a historical record of creation because that is what the Bible does, over and over. We have shown both the Old Testament and New Testament teachings rely on Genesis as a historical record of creation in six normal-length days only thousands, not billions, of years ago.
One of the biggest misconceptions that people have about the Bible is that while narrative teaches history, poetry is not conveying historical truth. While the poetry in the Bible does not communicate in the same way as narrative (or it would not be poetry), and has different emphases, it is a vehicle for communicating truth. The main difference is that the goal in narrative writing is generally to convey what happened, while the poetry in the Bible, and particularly in the Psalms, generally calls us to worship God because of His character and actions.
While creation passages do not feature heavily in the books which recount Israel’s history, this does not mean that the emphasis of God as Creator is a later innovation. When we look at the Psalms, which were composed from David’s time up to the time of the exile (and one was composed by Moses much earlier), we see that creation is a consistent theme that is utilized in many different ways, and as such was important for Israelites’ view of Yahweh’s identity.
The Creation Psalms
There are several psalms that focus on all or part of God’s creative work, and these can tell us a lot about the psalmists’ view of creation. The most in-depth creation psalm is Psalm 104, and it’s worth taking an extended look at its statements about creation.
Bless Yahweh, O my soul!
O Yahweh my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
covering yourself with light as a garment,
stretching out the heavens as a tent.
He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters;
he makes the clouds his chariot;
he rides on the wings of the wind;
he makes his messengers winds,
his ministers a flaming fire.
He set the earth on its foundations,
so it should never be moved (104:1–5).
As is typical for Psalms, it starts by praising God, and in this case, the occasion for praise is the greatness of His work in creation. The vocabulary in this section evokes Day 1 of creation week, with the mention of the creation of the heavens and earth, the waters, and light. This psalm also seems to suggest that the angels were also created on Day 1, even though the Genesis creation account, which is concerned only with the physical creation, does not mention when the angels were created.
The psalmist then moves on to Day 2:
You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains (104:6).
In Genesis 1, on Day 2 God separated the sky from the sea, but dry land had not been created. The mention of the water covering the mountains might also be intended to bring to mind the Flood in Noah’s day (i.e. Genesis 7:19: “And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered”). While the psalmist is following the outline of Genesis 1 for his hymn, he is not constrained to only the events that happened during creation week (one important difference between narrative and poetry).
The next section may likewise refer either to the creation of dry land on Day 3, or the retreat of the floodwaters in Noah’s day:
At your rebuke they fled;
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.
The mountains rose, the valleys sank down
to the place that you appointed for them.
You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth (104:7–9).
Some believe the reference to mountains rising and valleys sinking must refer to the end of the Flood, because creation geologists believe that this geological activity is what allowed the continents to emerge from the global Flood. Similar to the previous section, the psalmist could intend to bring both to mind simultaneously. There is an extended section praising God for the various types of springs and rivers that water the land (vv. 10–13), then the psalmist moves on to plant life.
You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
The trees of Yahweh are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has her home in the fir trees.
The high mountains are for the wild goats,
the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers (14–18).
The psalmist praises God for the various sorts of plants that God has created, which provide food, wine, oil, and lumber for human beings, as well as providing homes for birds. The various landforms God created (also on Day 3) are perfect habitations for various animals.
In Genesis 3, cultivation of crops is seen as a curse and a form of painful toil that would be necessary away from the bounty of Eden’s fruit trees. However, here the psalmist sees the sheer variety of cultivated plants as an example of God’s abundant provision for human beings. The cedars of Lebanon, some of the most prized trees in the ancient world, are compared to the trees of Eden, which God likewise planted. Moving on to the next creation day, the Psalmist exclaims:
He made the moon to mark the season;
the sun knows its time for setting.
You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the beasts of the forest creep about.
The young lions roar for their prey, seeking food from God.
When the sun rises, they steal away
and lie down in their dens.
Man goes out to his work
and to his labor until evening (19–23).
Just as night precedes morning in the Jewish reckoning of a day, both in Genesis and elsewhere, the Psalmist speaks of the moon and the night first. The night is when predators hunt, and animals generally predominate, because humans generally are inside and asleep. Even the animals are said to be completely dependent on God for their food.
The sunrise marks the beginning of the workday, and this pattern is seen as a good gift from God.
Genesis relegates the creation of the stars to only three words in Hebrew, and the psalmist skips them entirely (though other psalms dwell on them). The goal of the psalmist is to mention the categories of Genesis, not to be completely comprehensive. About Day 5 and 6, he says:
O Yahweh, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
Here is the sea, great and wide,
which teems with creatures innumerable.
living things both small and great.
There go the ships, and Leviathan,
which you formed to play in it (24–26).
Earlier in the psalm, the psalmist mentioned various sorts of land animals and birds, but here he speaks of God’s wisdom in creating them. Then he speaks of the sea creatures created on Day 5. The greatest of the sea creatures is Leviathan, who features more prominently in Job 41, and there is described as a huge crocodilian, perhaps similar to Sarcosuchus. Ships were clearly not among the things God created on Day 5, but again, he is using the categories of creation week while being free to mention things which arose later.
These all look to you,
to give them their food in due season.
When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground (27–30).
While this statement applies to all creatures, it seems to be specifically true of mankind, who consciously looks to the providence of God. The statement about returning to dust recalls the Curse, where Adam and his descendants are sentenced to return to the dust from which they were made (Genesis 3:19). However, the psalmist also focuses on the creative power of the Spirit.
Psalm 104 is instructive, because it is literally a poetic account of creation. Contrasting it to Genesis 1, we can see how Genesis is a narrative account which lacks the parallelism and exclamations of praise that characterize the psalm. The Psalmist clearly had access to the Genesis creation account, or something very much like it, indicating an early composition for Genesis.
Praising the God who made the stars
David is rightly known as the preeminent psalmist, even though many of the psalms were written by others, just as his son and successor Solomon was known for his proverbs, even though others feature in the book of Proverbs. In the ancient world, many worshipped the stars as gods, or thought of them as angels. But when David looked to the night sky, he saw yet another reason to worship the only true God. In Psalm 8 he says:
O Yahweh our Lord,
How majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
He addresses God in covenant terms—Yahweh was the name through which God revealed Himself to Moses, and He is not just the Lord, but our Lord. David is approaching him through the special covenantal terms He initiated with Israel.
The result of God’s work is such that everything from the splendor of the heavens to the babbling of the tiniest baby glorifies Him.1
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
We can imagine David looking up at the night sky and marveling at the beauty of the heavens. But just as Genesis teaches, they are “the work of [Yahweh’s] fingers”, not gods. The anthropomorphism of God using his fingers communicates the idea of a finely-crafted work that was deliberately put together, almost like a fine jeweler placing jewels in a setting designed to maximize the beauty of each. But no matter how beautiful the finished work, all the praise rightfully belongs to the Creator.
In view of the vastness and the beauty of the heavens, David regards man as very small, a thought that many people have had throughout history.
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
The God whose glory is above the heavens has seen fit to crown human beings, who are in His image, with glory. And one manifestation of this glory is the dominion God has given human beings over the rest of the physical creation.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O Yahweh our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
The categories of livestock, beasts of the field, birds, and fish comes from Genesis. David ends by repeating his initial statement of praise. “The dignity of man is a gift of God and requires a relationship of responsibility as well as a response of praise to the good Creator.”2
Creation as an example of God’s power
There are a few other psalms that have substantial references to creation. Psalm 33:6–8 says:
By the word of Yahweh the heavens were made,
and by the breath of his mouth all their host.
He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap;
he puts the deeps in storehouses.
Let all the earth fear Yahweh;
let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him!
For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm.
Other ancient near eastern creation myths have the cosmos coming into being as the result of a war among the gods. In contrast, God’s power is manifested in that He merely spoke and the world came into being.
Psalm 90 is attributed to Moses. For those who believe the traditional view of the Mosaic authorship of Genesis, it should be unsurprising that Moses’ song of praise refers back to the creation account:
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man [Adam]!”
For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.
You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed win the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers (90:2–6).
The Genesis account begins, “In the beginning, God…” and in this psalm Moses reaffirms this fundamental truth. As in many other psalms, Moses contrasts God’s unchanging nature and eternal existence with the short lives of humans.
Lessons from the Creation Psalms
The creation psalms teach us that it is not enough to affirm that God created the earth, or even to believe that creation took place in six literal days 6,000 years ago. Rather, this truth must move us to praise our Creator in light of His creation, and to consider our own place as created beings in His world.
The Psalms go much further in applying creation theology. Part 2 of this series explores how the psalmists applied creation theology in praising Yahweh.