God’s Word for You
Psalm 104:1-4 winds his messengers
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, May 28, 2018
The 104th Psalm is a masterpiece of Hebrew poetry. The poet sings about the created wonders of God, and he uses the framework of the days of creation in Genesis 1 as his outline. But he does even more. He has arranged the psalm in a skillful pattern of 3-5-9-5-3 verses followed by a 9-verse commentary and praise section, with single-verse praises to begin and end the psalm:
Introduction and the First Day of creation (1 verse)
Second Day of creation (3 verses)
Third Day of creation - the creating (5 verses)
Third Day of creation - the created things (9 verses)
Fourth Day of creation (5 verses)
Fifth and Sixth Day of creation (3 verses)
God preserves his creation (4 verses)
Closing benediction and prayer (5 verses)
Praise the Lord (1 verse)
1 Praise the LORD, O my soul.
O LORD my God, you are very great;
you are clothed with splendor and majesty.
2 He wraps himself in light as with a garment;
As the Psalm begins, we see a picture of God wrapping himself up in light like an outfit he wears. Later, God took on another “garment” when he wrapped himself up in human flesh, to bring light to the world and to rescue us all from our sins.
He stretches out the heavens like a tent
3 and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
and rides on the wings of the wind.
4 He makes winds his messengers,
flames of fire his servants.
We need to be careful not to assume that because ancient poetry uses quaint imagery (like heaven being like a tent, or having rafters) those same ancient people thought that the universe really was like a giant tent. Poetry needs to be handled like poetry, no matter when it was written. And to quote one of my teachers, “those folks weren’t dummies.” Nevertheless, we can learn something from the image of the tent and the image of the chariot.
Like a tent, the universe stretches out to cover us and shelter us from what is outside—which is a profound way of looking at the universe we live in. And where does God dwell in all the universe? Outside it. He “lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.” So the outer dimensions of the universe form the foundational dirt upon which the Lord lays the flooring of heaven.
Verse 4 is quoted in Hebrews 1:7 where it is applied to angels. And in truth, we can apply this passage both as it sits here in the Psalm (talking about stormy winds and “flames of fire” which are probably lightning flashes) and as the New Testament believers understood it to be talking about angels. The Hebrew word for “spirit,” ruah, can mean either “wind,” “breath” or “spirit.” So it can be used to describe an angel. Also, the Hebrew and Greek words for “messenger” (malach and angelos) are the words most often used in the Bible for “angel.” And again, the “flames of fire” recalls the description of the angels called “flaming ones” (Seraphim) in Isaiah 6.
God does not tell us when the angels were created. But Luther summed up the purpose for angels when he said:
An angel is a spiritual creature, a personal being
without a body, appointed for the service of the
divine church. (What Luther Says, Vol. I, p. 23).
Praise God, who made heaven and earth for us to enjoy, subdue, and care for.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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