Praising the Creator in the Psalms
Published: 24 March 2016 (GMT+10)
This is part 2 of a three part series. See Part 1: David the young earth creationist.
When considering how creation is used in the Psalms, it is not enough to only cite the places that are obviously retelling the creation account, because the psalmists use the fact of God as Creator to spur Israel on to worship and trust God in all sorts of other ways. In addition, some psalms attribute abilities and actions to God that make no sense apart from His identity as the Creator.
Yahweh’s absolute rule over the nations
One characteristic of Yahweh which cannot be understood apart from creation is His absolute sovereignty over human affairs. For instance, Psalm 2 recounts the united rebellion of all nations against God. Yahweh’s response is simply to laugh in derision before sending His chosen King to rule them (see also 37:12–13). His absolute sovereignty only makes sense if He is the Creator. The resistance of His creatures makes no difference; He will be absolutely victorious over them.
Yahweh’s knowledge of the human heart
The Psalms also assert that Yahweh knows people’s thoughts. David confidently calls Yahweh “you who test the minds and hearts” (7:9). And “Yahweh is in his holy temple, Yahweh’s throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man. Yahweh tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence” (11:4–5). This ability goes beyond that attributed to any created creature, and again points to Yahweh as the One who is perfectly able to judge His creatures.
This ability is directly linked to God’s work in creation:
“Understand, O dullest of the people!
Fools, when will you be wise?
He who planted the ear, does he not hear?
He who formed the eye, does he not see?
He who disciplines the nations, does he not rebuke?
He who teaches man knowledge—Yahweh—knows the thoughts of man,
that they are but a breath” (94:8–11).
In other words, God was able to give mankind ears, eyes, and other organs and abilities because He has those abilities in far greater measure.
David calls on God to exercise this judgment: “Arise, O Yahweh! Let not man prevail; let the nations be judged before you! Put them in fear, O Yahweh! Let the nations know they are but men!” (9:19–20). David not only is certain that God is able to judge, but that He will judge perfectly justly.
The psalmist calls on Yahweh’s people to trust Him alone:
Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
on that very day his plans perish.
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in Yahweh his God,
who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry (146:3–7).
Corrupt and short-lived humans are contrasted with the Creator God who is perfectly just and provides for His people. This shows that the fact that God is the Creator was a major reason why Israel was exhorted to trust and serve Him only.
The permanence of the Creator
All humans have a limited lifespan, but God is not subject to death, and so that is an another reason David praises God.
Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you will remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
but you are the same, and your years have no end (102:25–27).
Even the earth is not as old as Yahweh who had created it, and Yahweh will outlast it. God’s unchanging nature is a comfort to those who trust in Him, because we will never have to wonder whether He will really be there for us in the future.
The presence of the Creator
The power of God would not be comforting or helpful to His people if He were far away or uninvolved, like a deistic god, creating the universe and then not intervening in its affairs. After discussing God’s knowledge of his thoughts and actions even before he does them (139:1–6), David affirms that God is in fact omnipresent and that there is nowhere he can go that would be away from God’s presence:
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me (vv. 7–10).
Using imaginative language, David then communicates that even in the most extremely distant places he can think of, he would still be under God’s care and guidance, because God is even in those remote places. Not only is David unable to run, he can’t hide, either:
If I say, surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you (vv. 11–12).
Darkness is often spoken of in Scripture as a threatening time when wild animals and evil men roam about. In a time before electricity and widely-available lighting, night-time was dangerous. But the night does not keep God from seeing and caring for His people.
In fact, God’s sight extends to the most intimate and hidden places of all:
For you formed my inward parts;
you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there were none of them (vv. 13–16).
Today, we can see the unborn child more clearly than ever before with the advent of new kinds of ultrasound imaging. Surgeons can even operate on unborn children to correct defects before they are born, treating spina bifida and other serious conditions. But in David’s day, the development of the unborn child was a mystery, and the greatest example of God’s presence is that He sees and is intimately involved with the development of the unborn child. Not only does God create the child in the womb, but He knows beforehand the length of his or her life.
God’s provision and good gifts
God’s presence and knowledge of His people is inextricably linked with His care and provision for them.
“Your steadfast love, O Yahweh, extends to the heavens,
your faithfulness to the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God;
your judgments are like the great deep;
man and beast you save, O Yahweh.
How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings
They feast on the abundance of your house,
and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
in your light do we see light” (36:5–9).
God is not a stingy provider; rather, He richly pours out His blessings. He is the source of light and life itself. And in an agrarian culture that depended on the harvest cycle, Yahweh’s provision was seen in successful harvest years:
You visit the earth and water it;
you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
you provide their grain,
for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly,
settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
and blessing its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy (65:9–13).
Bad harvests could mean that people would literally starve to death, and so even those who didn’t run farms themselves were conscious of their dependence on rain coming in its season and the crops growing properly to yield an abundant harvest (see also Psalm 147). To the Israelites, this was not blind meteorological chance, but the direct result of Yahweh providing or withholding rain. And God is credited with making the righteous man prosper as he continues in confident reliance in Him (Psalm 112).
Yahweh preeminent among the gods
Israel was surrounded by nations who worshipped other gods, and Israel’s involvement in idolatry was one of the main reasons they were eventually sent into exile. But the psalmists unanimously assert that Yahweh is preeminent and that the other gods are worthless and corrupt. Yahweh is different from all other gods because He is the creator. Psalm 82 presents Yahweh standing in judgment over the false gods because of their corruption.
David confidently looks forward to the day when all nations, not just Israel, will look to Yahweh and not false gods:
“There is none like you among the gods, O Lord,
nor are there any works like yours.
All the nations you have made shall come and worship before you, O Lord,
and shall glorify your name.
For you are great and do wondrous things;
you alone are God (86:8–10).
In light of God’s works, first and foremost among them the creation of the earth itself, only He is worthy of worship. Ethan the Ezrahite echoes this theme:
Let the heavens praise your wonders, O Yahweh,
your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones!
For who in the skies can be compared to Yahweh?
Who among the heavenly beings is like Yahweh?
A God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones,
and awesome above all who are around him?
O Yahweh God of hosts,
Who is as mighty as you are, O Yahweh,
with your faithfulness all around you?
You rule the raging of the sea;
when its waves rise, you still them.
You crushed Rahab like a carcass;
you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours;
the world and all that is in it, you have founded them. (89:5–11).
None of the other gods can claim ultimate ownership of the world Yahweh created; it is His alone, and He can exercise His sovereign prerogative over it at any time. Perhaps when Jesus calmed the storm (Matthew 8:23–27) the disciples, who would have been steeped in the language of the Psalms through the synagogue, thought of the words, “You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them”.
Because God created the universe, He owns it. “The earth is Yahweh’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers” (24:1–2). This means He is not dependent on anyone for anything:
“I will not accept a bull from your house
or goats from your folds.
For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the hills,
and all that moves in the field is mine.
If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and its fullness are mine” (Psalm 50:9–12).
David can even call angels and the heavenly host to worship God, because He is their Creator:
Bless Yahweh, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word,
obeying the voice of his word!
Bless Yahweh, all his hosts,
his ministers, who do his will!
Bless Yahweh, all his works,
in all the places of his dominion.
Bless Yahweh, O my soul (103:20–22).
This theme is repeated several more times throughout the Psalms:
For Yahweh is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before Yahweh, our Maker (95:3–6)!
For great is Yahweh, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but Yahweh made the heavens (96:4–5).
The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all peoples see his glory.
All worshipers of images are put to shame,
who make their boast in worthless idols;
worship him, all you gods (97:6–7).
This theme is constant throughout Scripture: only Yahweh deserves worship, and all other gods are worthless idols. But what makes the Psalms unique is that they turn this into an occasion of praising Yahweh, who is the only true God.
Creation as motivation for worship
In Romans 1, Paul speaks of how creation bears witness to God in such a way that all are condemned when they fail to worship Him as He deserves. The Psalms teach of another element of ‘natural revelation’—i.e., creation moves people to praise the Creator. Even the most strident evolutionist naturalists are moved to awe by aspects of creation which require the use of the language of design. One of the clearest statements of creation’s witness to its Creator is in Psalm 19:
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heart.
Their voice goes out through all the earth.
and their words to the end of the world (19:1–4).
Even though the heavens do not have a voice, their witness to the glory of their Creator could not be clearer. The sun by day and the moon and stars by night are unmistakable evidence of God’s design of the universe. In fact, the psalmist can command creation itself to praise God:
Praise Yahweh from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
praise him all his hosts (148:1–2).
As we saw previously, the psalmists can exhort even the angels to praise Yahweh.
Praise him, sun and moon,
praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens (3–4).
The sun, moon, and stars were frequent objects of idolatrous worship, but the psalmist places them in their proper context as creations which glorify God. The detail of “waters above the heavens” is clearly taken from Day 2 of creation.
Let them praise the name of Yahweh!
For he commanded and they were created.
And he established them forever and ever;
he gave a decree and it shall not pass away (5–6).
Creation is commanded to praise Yahweh because He created, permanently ordered, and regulates the world of nature. “The order and regularity of the heavenly bodies and of the forms of precipitation is because of his creative involvement. There is nothing due to a chance happening.”1
Praise Yahweh from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and mist,
stormy wind fulfilling his word (7–8)!
The ocean was considered a dangerous and foreboding place, so much so that when Revelation wants to convey the goodness of the new creation, it says, “and the sea was no more” (Revelation 21:1). However, even it is under Yahweh’s command. Likewise, the Psalmist doesn’t see the forces of nature as random natural phenomena, or as gods to be worshipped, but as powers which God controls to do His will.
Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
Beasts and all livestock,
creeping things and flying birds (9–10)!
The earth, trees, and all living creatures are called to worship their Creator. Some commentators think that this psalmist was condensing the themes found in Psalm 104.2
Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and rulers of the earth!
Young men and maidens together,
old men and children!
Let them praise the name of Yahweh,
for his name alone is exalted;
his majesty is above earth and heaven (11–13).
Last of all, the psalmist addresses people, who are created in Yahweh’s image, and have been commissioned to steward the earth for His glory. This obligation to worship Him extends to men and women, young and old alike. There is no one who is exempt from this call to worship.
In fact, the witness of creation to God’s power and righteousness is so apparent that one who denies there is a God is automatically labeled a corrupt fool (14:1; 53:1). If the evidence from creation was ambiguous, the person might merely be ignorant or misguided, but the language of the Psalms seems to make the person who denies God culpable for his unbelief in a manner similar to Paul’s argument in Romans 1.
Praise the Creator!
We have seen how God’s identity as the Creator led the Psalmists to worship and trust Him, and to call on their fellow believers to do likewise. Today, some Christians are intimidated into downplaying the doctrine of creation because of evolution. However, this attack on creation should lead us to be even more vocal in praising our Creator.
Part 3 will discuss how the Psalms praise Yahweh as Creator in the context of His special covenant relationship with Israel, and how this carried over into the Church’s worship of Jesus.