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The well-know hymn O Worship the King All Glorious Above is based on verses from Psalm 104. It is a celebration of God the Creator and Sustainer of all things.
There are some resemblances to the Egyptian Hymn to the Sun, but here the worship is the God the maker of all things, including the sun.
The psalm, which comes from the same cultic tradition as Genesis 1, seems to combine the emphases of the two creation narratives at the beginning of Genesis: the majesty and grandeur of the priestly account in chapter 1, like a rocky mountain range dwarfing us in its scope, and the intimacy of chapter 2 where God is called by his personal name, Yahweh, and walks round the garden calling for his friend. Majesty and intimacy are two of the perspectives on God we find also in this psalm.
‘The psalmist is a man who combines the capacity for profound religious thought with the gift of reflecting on nature with an affectionate intimacy; moreover, he possesses the talent of giving immortal expression to sentiments which are sublime and powerful as well as sweet and tender.’ (A. Weiser The Psalms SCM 1962 p. 666)
The first verse is a summons to himself to sing God’s praise – and he is led to that by his reflection on the glory of God in the natural world.
The wonderful opening paragraph vv. 1 – 4 celebrate God’s majesty in the whole celestial world, created for his sake that it may serve his purpose and reveal his glory.
In verses 5 – 9 we are back on earth, with a celebration of God as creator. There is wonder at God’s creative power, and yet a sense of trust in God’s trustworthiness.
Verses 10 – 18 speak of God’s sustaining providence as life-giver, providing habitation and food for animals and human beings. Life comes to us as gift.
Verses 19 – 23 reflect on the moon and the sun which mark the seasons. Here is the importance of time as well as space. Time, too, is given by God.
Verses 24 – 26: the sea monsters are also part of God’s providence. The sea sometimes functions as a symbol of disorder, chaos and fear. In the creation account in Genesis 1, God makes a place for the sea, setting its bounds. It is the water of the flood in Genesis 6 – 9 which releases God’s judgement. When the rainbow comes out, God gives the rivers their proper place again. It is not insignificant that the disciples say of Jesus ‘even the wind and sea obey him’ – nor that one of the words of reassurance at the End Time in the Book of Revelation is ‘there is no more sea.’
But in this psalm, the sea is fruitful as well as frightening: the chaotic, overwhelming aspects to life and none the less held in the hands of the creator and life-giver.
Verses 27 – 30 illustrate how God preserves all life through the life-giving power of his Spirit. Here is a religious interpretation of the rhythm of living and dying, which characterises all the natural world.
And at the centre of the poem is the psalmist meditating, praising, worshipping. There is a point of silence and waiting – the still point of a turning world – from which to contemplate God, the giver of all things.
Then, strangely, in the middle of this context of worship, there is a jarring note about sin (verse 35). There is no cheap optimism which shuts its eyes to the dark side of life. The psalmist is not unaware that there is misery, struggle, injustice in the world. He even speaks of God’s thunder (v. 32). As Kidner puts its ‘there is a time to fight as well as a time to sing.’ (IVP 1975). But he does so in the context of awe and worship.
Fundamentally, it is the psalmist’s desire that God’s joy in the creature, and the creature’s joy in God should come together (v. 34) which leads to his strong plea that everything which stifles thanksgiving and dims God’s glory should be removed (v.35). Nothing should get in the way of worship.
Thomas Traherne wrote:
‘Till you see that the world is yours, you cannot weight the greatness of sin, nor the misery of your fall, nor prize your Redeemer’s love. One would think these should be motives sufficient to stir us up to the contemplation of God’s works wherein all the riches of his Kingdom appear.’ (Centuries p. 58).