My house has flooded a few times. We are lower than our neighbors so significant downpours have come in the back door or over the foundation several times. The word “overflowing” is not necessarily a pleasant one to me. Yet, Psalm 104’s overflowing is beautiful and exuberant. Psalms can overflow with theological claims, natural observations and points of connections to the rest of scripture. All of these are found in Psalm 104.
First, the central claim of the Psalm is that the Lord is the creator and sustainer of all that is. It is especially concerned with the creation and sustenance of life. The God of scripture, in contrast to mythology present in the Ancient Near East, is presented as a God who forms creation with order, wisdom, and grace. The Babylonian creation myth known as Enuma Elish talks about creation as the remains of Tiamat who have a conflict with Marduk–the supreme god for the Babylonian pantheon. In the Gilgamesh Epic--another Mesopotamian creation myth, humanity comes from a lover’s quarrel. In Atrahasis, an Akkadian epic, people are created to serve the needs of a lazy group of gods. The language of the biblical creation narrative in Genesis 1-3 draws on these Ancient Near Eastern texts. However, the Biblical God is (a) singular–Judaism and Christianity and Islam are monotheistic; (b) benevolent as Psalm 104 affirms God is good; (c) compassionate. Notice how God is described as the One who gives grass to the cattle, trees for the birds, crags for the badgers (“coneys”), prey for the lions and work for humanity.
Second, natural observations abound in Psalm 104. The Psalm observes the movement of water to the lower places, the way oil makes faces shine, the habitations of birds and animals, the relationship of the moon to seasonal. The Psalmist presents creation as a varied and dynamic context through which God’s praise rings out.
Finally, Psalm 104 connects to other passages of scripture. The openings and closing (Psalm 104:1 and Psalm 104:35) connect to the preceding hymn’s opening and closing (Psalm 103:1 and Psalm 103:22). Psalm 104:5-9 suggests the experience of the flood in the Noah story–especially compare Psalm 104:9 with Genesis 9:15. The affirmation that God made the world “in wisdom” (Psalm 104:24) relates to Proverbs 8:22-31 where wisdom is personified in a female character through whom God creates. Finally, the closing petition, “May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord” (Psalm 104:34) resembles the closing to Psalm 19–also a creation Psalm–“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
In Psalm 104 these overlapping theological claims, observations and connections to other biblical material are not set forth in an orderly treatise. Rather they flow–much like the water that runs through the Psalm itself. They swirl and blend and turn. It’s a beautiful reminder that in our own faith and thought ideas are not as simply divided into categories as we might sometimes wish for them to be. The swirl together.