June 11, 2017
Creation points to God’s glory, sovereign power, and wisdom.
A. He is Glorified in His Creation (Psalm 104:1-4)
B. He is Sovereign over His Creation (Psalm 104:5-9)
C. His Wisdom is Displayed in the Working of Creation (Psalm 104:10-26)
B'. He is Sovereign over His Creation (Psalm 104:27-30)
A'. He is Glorified in His Creation (Psalm 104:31-35)
I want to begin today with an imagination exercise. I want you to imagine you are standing someplace watching a tremendous storm come in. You’re on top of a hill, so maybe the Hill Country of Texas, or Kansas, or maybe this is a hill in Galilee or Judea. But close your eyes and imagine this storm coming. Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty, 2covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. 3He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind; 4he makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire.
One of the great joys of life is taking a moment to worship a God who is glorified by creation. Creation is not god. God is much greater than creation. But creation points to him, to his glory, his sovereign power and his wisdom. Here in the second week of our Foundations series we want to rejoice in the Creator God, the Creator King. All the ancient creeds begin with this truth, “creator of heaven and earth.” The Free Church statement of faith that we read last week, in the same paragraph that talks about the Trinity, says “We believe in one God, Creator of all things, having limitless knowledge and sovereign power.” We see his limitless knowledge and sovereign power in creation.
And we’ll see it today in Psalm 104. This is a great text, one of my favorites, one of the most beautiful creation texts in Scripture. From time to time when we look at a text we notice what Biblical scholars call a chiasm, where the initial point of a block of text is matched by a final point, and the second point is echoed in the next to the last point, etc. Scholars love these things and sometimes make them more complicated than they need to be. But this one, slightly simplified, really fits. We see in Psalm 104 first, and last, that God is glorified in his creation. Second, that he is sovereign over his creation, and third, centrally, that his wisdom is displayed in the working of creation.
The verses we just read, 1 to 4, are the initial statement that God is glorified in his creation. “Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, you are very great! You are clothed with splendor and majesty.” This is God’s glory, his greatness his splendor, his majesty. A Biblical definition of glory is actually a bit hard to arrive at. The word itself, not used here but used later in the Psalm, literally means heavy, the heaviness, in the literal sense of crushing and the figurative sense of profound. But my definition has been that God’s glory is the radiance displayed by any of his perfections, the heavy light that surrounds them.
Here it is creation itself that displays this heavy light. Verse 2: covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. Notice that this verse reflects day one of creation in Genesis. The author of Psalm 104 had his quiet time not only on that stormy hill, but meditating on the first part of Genesis. There are echoes throughout the Psalm. Notice also that the light and the heavens display God’s glory. The Sandra McCracken video was based on these verses: Call Him good, my soul; I am here to declare my affection for You; Call Him good, my soul; You who are wrapped in glory; Dressed in greatness. For covering, You choose light; Your clothes, sunset and moonrise; For a tent, You stretch out the heavens, For a roof, You pitch the sky”
Verse 3: “He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters; he makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind.” There is a sense of God’s presence, God’s coming in power. The direct thought of the verse is day two of creation, but the implication is that creation has a purpose, that God creates not just to display his glory in the abstract, but to come and show it to created beings. Verse 4 “He makes his messengers winds, his ministers a flaming fire.”
So that’s point A, the creator God is glorified in his creation. Point B. He is sovereign over His creation. Verses 5 to 9: He set the earth on its foundations, so that it should never be moved. 6You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. 7At your rebuke they fled; at the sound of your thunder they took to flight. 8The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place that you appointed for them. 9You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth.
This paragraph reflects Genesis 1:9-10, day three of creation “And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.” By God’s power and at his sovereign command, the lands of the earth were separated from and by the waters of the oceans. This is his sovereign power. He set the earth on its foundations. He covered it with the waters. But at his rebuke they fled. At his thunder they took to flight. He appointed the place for the mountains and the valleys. He set a boundary for the water. When we look at creation we should and perhaps must stand in wonder and in awe of a God who is infinitely powerful and sovereign.
But these verses also remind us of Noah’s flood. I think whoever authored this Psalm intended to remind his readers of the sovereign power of God in both events. One of the phrases that points us to the flood is in verse 6: “You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.”
Genesis says “And the waters prevailed so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered. 20The waters prevailed above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep.” So God’s power is shown not only by the creation of the earth but by his acts of judgment and, of course, rescue. Verse 7: “At your rebuke they fled; at the sound of your thunder they took to flight. 8The 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.” God says to Noah “never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” So point B is that God is sovereignly powerful, as shown in creation and in his subsequent acts of judgment and rescue.
Point C, the center of the Psalm emphasizes his wisdom in the ordering of creation. Verses 10 to 26, a long section and I have to ask you to imagine yourself in a mountain valley and follow this story down to the sea. “You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills; 11they give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. 12Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches. 13From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work. 14You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth 15and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart. 16The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. 17In them the birds build their nests; the stork has her home in the fir trees. 18The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers.19He made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting. 20You make darkness, and it is night, when all the beasts of the forest creep about. 21The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God. 22When the sun rises, they steal away and lie down in their dens. 23Man goes out to his work and to his labor until the evening.
24O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. 25Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great. 26There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.
The thing I love about this Psalm is that it depicts in poetic language what scientists call “the water cycle.” Wikipedia says “The water cycle, also known as the hydrological cycle, describes the continuous movement of water on, above and below the surface of the Earth. . . . The sun, which drives the water cycle, heats water in oceans and seas. Water evaporates as water vapor into the air. Ice and snow can sublimate directly into water vapor.”
The water vapor molecule, H2O is less dense than the other atmospheric gases, so the water rises. However, as altitude increases, air pressure decreases and the temperature drops. The water vapor condenses into tiny liquid water droplets. A huge concentration of these droplets over a large space become visible as clouds. In the clouds particles collide, grow, and can no longer be supported. They fall as precipitation, rain or snow, sleet or hail. On land a portion of the water runs off to form streams and rivers. Some infiltrates deep into the ground and replenishes aquifers, which can store freshwater for long periods of time. But some of the groundwater finds openings in the land surface and comes out as springs. Over time, the water runs down to the ocean, where evaporation returns it to the water cycle. The water cycle, Wikipedia says “is essential for the maintenance of most life and ecosystems on the planet.”
The Psalmist knew all this thousands of years ago, though not in academic words. But he knew what academics have forgotten, that the wisdom of God designed it “You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills; 11they give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. 12Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches. 13From your lofty abode you water the mountains; the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.”
The groundwater, the rain, and the surface water are engines of life in God’s great ecology. Verse 14 “You cause the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth 15and wine to gladden the heart of man, oil to make his face shine and bread to strengthen man’s heart. 16The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted. 17In them the birds build their nests; the stork has her home in the fir trees. 18The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers.” The plants depend directly on this water for the abundance of their growth. On them, in turn, the whole complexity of animal life depends. And from this complexity of life, plants and animals, mankind is supplied, food and wine and oil and bread and livestock.
All of this is built not just on the water cycle, but on the seasonal cycle and on the day-night cycle. Verse 19 “He made the moon to mark the seasons; the sun knows its time for setting. 20You make darkness, and it is night, when all the beasts of the forest creep about. 21The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God. 22When the sun rises, they steal away and lie down in their dens. 23Man goes out to his work, to his labor until the evening.” Sorry, I get so caught up in the scientific accuracy and wonder of this that I drift away from the main point, verse 24 “O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.”
God did all this in wisdom. The Creator God is not only sovereign in power, he is unfathomable in wisdom. And by wisdom, in this context, I mean knowing how to do things, right. We normally define Biblical wisdom in human terms, skill for right living. But for God we also use another word, omniscience. He knows everything that can be known about everything. His wisdom is knowing everything and then doing the right thing and doing everything right.
That’s what we see in creation. Verse 25 “Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great. 26There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.” The water cycle ends, or begins in the sea. From here we go back to the first verses of the Psalm. Remmber, it’s a chiam. It cycles back to the clouds and the storm and rain on the mountains. But this is only one of thousands of processes the creator God designed in wisdom for his creation and for us. This one was especially visible to the Psalmist as he meditated on Genesis and on the storm.
But God has allowed us to see his intelligent design, his wisdom, in so many things that we above all ages are without excuse when we do not turn that seeing into praise. I could give countless examples of the wonder and complexity of creation. One that has been on my mind is the wonder of human development, from conception to birth. I want to sit down and let you watch most of a TED talk called “from conception to birth.” I’ve edited it because of time constraints, but I’ve included a good deal of the commentary. I want you to listen for the word ‘divinity.’ I don’t know the beliefs of this man Alexander Tsiaras, but if I understand him correctly, when he says ‘divinity,’ he’s saying “God had to make this. Only in his wisdom could this have happened.” Listen.
“I was offered a position as associate professor of medicine and chief of scientific visualization at Yale University in the department of medicine. And my job was to write many of the algorithms and code for NASA to do virtual surgery in preparation for the astronauts going into deep-space flight, so they could be kept in robotic pods. One of the fascinating things about what we were working on is that we were seeing, using new scanning technologies, things that had never been seen before. Not only in disease management, but also things that allowed us to see things about the body that just made you marvel. I remember one of the first times we were looking at collagen. And your entire body, everything — your hair, skin, bone, nails — everything is made of collagen. And it's a kind of rope-like structure that twirls and swirls like this. And the only place that collagen changes its structure is in the cornea of your eye. In your eye, it becomes a grid formation, and therefore, it becomes transparent, as opposed to opaque. So perfectly organized a structure, it was hard not to attribute divinity to it.
One of the opportunities I had was one person was working on a really interesting micromagnetic resonance imaging machine with the NIH. And what we were going to do was scan a new project on the development of the fetus from conception to birth using these new technologies. So I wrote the algorithms and code, and he built the hardware — Paul Lauterbur — then went onto win the Nobel Prize for inventing the MRI. I got the data. And I'm going to show you a sample of the piece, "From Conception to Birth."
(Music) [From Conception to Birth] [Oocyte] [Sperm] [Egg Inseminated] [24 Hours: Baby's first division] [The fertilized ovum divides a few hours after fusion...] [And divides anew every 12 to 15 hours.] [Early Embryo] [Yolk sack still feeding baby.] [25 Days: Heart chamber developing.] [32 Days: Arms & hands are developing] [36 Days: Beginning of the primitive vertebrae] [These weeks are the period of the most rapid development of the fetus.] [If the fetus continues to grow at this speed for the entire 9 months, it would be 1.5 tons at birth.] [45 Days] [Embryo's heart is beating twice as fast as the mother's.] [51 Days] [Developing retina, nose and fingers] [The fetus' continual movement in the womb is necessary for muscular and skeletal growth.] [8 Months]
But as you can see, when you actually start working on this data, it's pretty spectacular. And as we kept on scanning more and more, working on this project, looking at these two simple cells that have this unbelievable machinery that will become the magic of you. And as we kept on working on this data, looking at small clusters of the body, these little pieces of tissue that were the trophoblasts coming off of the blastocyst, all of a sudden burrowing itself into the side of the uterus, saying, "I'm here to stay." Having conversation and communications with the estrogens, the progesterones, saying, "I'm here to stay, plant me," building this incredible trilinear fetus that becomes, within 44 days, something that you can recognize, and then at nine weeks is really kind of a little human being. The marvel of this information: How do we actually have this biological mechanism inside our body to actually see this information?
The magic of the mechanisms inside each genetic structure saying exactly where that nerve cell should go — the complexity of these, the mathematical models of how these things are indeed done are beyond human comprehension. Even though I am a mathematician, I look at this with marvel of how do these instruction sets not make these mistakes as they build what is us? It's a mystery, it's magic, it's divinity.
So we’ve seen that the creation is a mirror that glorifies God. That in sovereign power he rules his creation, and that the complexity and order of creation causes us to marvel at his wisdom. Unwinding the chiasm very quickly we return to the fact that God is sovereign over this, and then to the initial truth that all of this brings Him glory. Verses 27 to 30: These all [the creatures he has made] look to you, to give them their food in due season. 28When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things. 29When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. 30When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.
These few verses emphasize the fact that a sovereign God is the source of life for his creatures, the authority over death and the giver of new life. The Psalmist says that all creatures look to God for their sustenance. If God does not actively provide, there is no provision. God did not wind up the universe like a clock or program it like a computer and then walk away to leave it to run. Hebrews tells us that Jesus upholds all things by the word of his power. Creation is not set and forget. God is actively involved in maintaining, even in continuously creating his creation. And, verse 29 “when you hide your face, they are dismayed, when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.” God is sovereign over life and death. And life again, verse 30: “When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.” Genesis 1 attributes life, especially the life of man, to God’s breath. But the word breathe and the word Spirit are the same. The Spirit gives life and he renews life. Iit’s not out of the question to think that verse 30 is looking past the death of the creatures to the restoration of life, to resurrection for men and women and renewal of the creation, the New Heavens and the New Earth.
And the last point is, of course, the first. God receives glory from this creation from us as we contemplate it. Verses 31-35 May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works, 32who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke! 33I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. 34May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord. 35Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more! Bless the Lord, O my soul! Praise the Lord!
The glory of the Lord is the light of all his perfections, especially, here, his works. The light of his perfection will be praised forever. He himself, the Psalmist says, rejoices in his works. Remember how he described creation day by day. It is good, it is good, it is good, it is very good. Is there any doubt at all that God, like every creator, rejoiced in what he had made.
And he still rejoices in it, despite the fall and the brokenness of all his creatures. He rejoices because he wrote the end of the story, when there will be an ‘enough’ to brokenness and all things will be made new. The Lord, who is filled with sovereign power rejoices in his creation, which has the good sense to tremble at his glance and burn at his touch. And so should we. God receives glory not just from rocks and hills, from stars and seas, from perfect processes and miracles of design, but he receives, or ought to receive, glory from us, the ones made in his image who are capable of highest praise. “I will sing to the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being. 34May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.” The Psalmist looks back over what he has written, over what we have studied, and offers praise, song and rejoicing to the Lord. He has looked on creation in some detail. He’s done the hard work of seeing its wonders, and that has led him to praise. He also, as we did several weeks ago cries out “Enough.” “Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more!” But then he calls himself back to praise. “Bless the Lord, O my soul! Praise the Lord!”
So do you see what this is calling us to? We should engage our hearts and our minds in the study of creation and in wonder. Whether it’s a divinely designed process like the water cycle, or the growth of a baby, or the simple beauty of a leaf, a flower, a forest, a mountain or the black depths of a starry night, we should see it and rejoice, see it and glorify the sovereign God who does all things in perfect wisdom.