The Worship of the King
Scripture: Psalm 104:1–35
1 Bless the LORD, O my soul!
O LORD my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendor and majesty,
2 covering yourself with light as with a garment,
stretching out the heavens like a tent.
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;
4 he makes his messengers winds,
his ministers a flaming fire.
5 He set the earth on its foundations,
so that it should never be moved.
6 You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
the waters stood above the mountains.
7 At your rebuke they fled;
at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.
8 The mountains rose, the valleys sank down
to the place that you appointed for them.
9 You set a boundary that they may not pass,
so that they might not again cover the earth.
10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
they flow between the hills;
11 they give drink to every beast of the field;
the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
12 Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell;
they sing among the branches.
13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
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
15 and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
16 The trees of the LORD are watered abundantly,
the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 In them the birds build their nests;
the stork has her home in the fir trees.
18 The high mountains are for the wild goats;
the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers.
19 He made the moon to mark the seasons;
the sun knows its time for setting.
20 You make darkness, and it is night,
when all the beasts of the forest creep about.
21 The young lions roar for their prey,
seeking their food from God.
22 When the sun rises, they steal away
and lie down in their dens.
23 Man goes out to his work
and to his labor until the evening.
24 O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures.
25 Here is the sea, great and wide,
which teems with creatures innumerable,
living things both small and great.
26 There go the ships,
and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.
27 These all look to you,
to give them their food in due season.
28 When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
30 When you send forth your Spirit, they are created,
and you renew the face of the ground.
31 May the glory of the LORD endure forever;
may the LORD rejoice in his works,
32 who looks on the earth and it trembles,
who touches the mountains and they smoke!
33 I will sing to the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
34 May my meditation be pleasing to him,
for I rejoice in the LORD.
35 Let sinners be consumed from the earth,
and let the wicked be no more!
Bless the LORD, O my soul!
Praise the LORD!
This psalm begins with words of self-encouragement, “Bless the LORD, O my soul!” The psalmist is trying to stir himself up to worship the Lord, but it is not because he is apathetic and feels guilty for his emotionless feelings toward the Lord. Not that that is always unnecessary; the psalmist elsewhere says, “Why are you downcast . . . hope in God!” (Psa 42:5). But here the circumstances are different. He is reminding himself why he does this, why the worship of God is so important. And he doesn’t just want to go through the motions of worship. He wants to see it rising up from within, from his soul, from his heart, from his life.
We have just finished our series on the kingdom of God, but before we transition to our next sermon series, I want to add one more message to the last one. We can and we should dig deeper into the reality of the kingdom of God, but there is a danger in doing so. We should not be captivated by the reality of the kingdom as much as we are by the king of the kingdom.
To be captivated by the king means to be rooted in worship. By “worship” I mean, yes, what we do corporately once a week. But I mean more than that. I mean the reality of worship every moment and every day. A proper worship of God depends upon a proper vision of God and his activity in the world. We must be convinced that this God we worship is great, that he is near, and that he is blessed.
The Lord Is Great
First, in order to worship God as we should, we need to have a sense of the greatness of God. So long as God remains small, worship will be more duty than delight. We will go through the routines of worship without knowing the realities of God’s greatness.
This psalm begins with a direct address to God in verse 1, “O LORD my God, you are very great!” Greatness is one of God’s attributes, but how do we know that God is great? What does that mean?
The word itself has lost something of its meaning because of overuse. We describe lots of things as great, so the word has become a bit subjective. What is great to me might not be great to you. Some people think cilantro is great; others for genetic reasons say it tastes like soap. But when we speak of the greatness of God, this is not something that can be left to personal taste. It may be that some here this morning are simply overwhelmed with the greatness of God while others here honestly just don’t see it at all. But the psalmist is not so interested in this psalm of describing why God is great to him. God is great whether anyone ever notices or not.
So perhaps a better word to describe this attribute of God is the word transcendent. The idea is also captured by the word holy, which speaks of God as being in a category all by himself, distinct, separate, other. God is not like anything or anyone else we’ve ever met. We must be careful about trying to compare God to anything. When God delivered the people of Israel out of Egypt, they sang, “Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Exo 15:11). Or in the words of our psalm this morning, this God is not just great, he is very great.
An Exercise of Greatness
The difficulty of grasping the unique greatness of God, a greatness to which nothing can be compared, should not keep us from trying to see what can’t be seen. We need an exercise in transcendence. We are used to seeing common things, but we long to see great things. We hunger for it. It’s a hunger that only God can satisfy. The story of human sinfulness is the tragedy of trying to satisfy that hunger with something other than God. These are the idols we pursue, the other gods that wow us with their greatness. But they can never satisfy us. Yet we keep on trying. You’ve been trying this week, and so have I. More power. More pleasure. More things.
We need a vision of God and his greatness, his transcendence. In the first four verses, the psalmist goes through an exercise to help him see the greatness of God. He speaks of God in majestic, regal terms. Just look at his royal robes. What does God as king wear? He is robed with light, an aura of majesty that is infinitely brighter than the sun. You look, but you can’t really see without going blind. This is God’s greatness.
Now look at his palace, the place where this king lives. He stretches out the heavens like a tent (v. 2). And, “he lays the beams of his chambers on the waters.” The word “chambers” is translated “lofty abode” in verse 13. Where does God live? It’s kind of hard to say, because “the highest heaven cannot contain” him, as Solomon observed (1 Kings 8:27).
Ok, so what about his entourage? How does this king travel? “He makes the clouds his chariot; he rides on the wings of the wind” (v. 3). The glory of God, the testimony of his greatness, “goes out through all the earth” (Psa 19:1-4). You can’t really ever see God or his greatness, because it is everywhere.
So if God’s greatness is like this, indescribable, incomparable, then what is the point of an exercise like this? What’s the point of worshiping a transcendent God?
It’s to help us get the focus off of ourselves. That’s what we need, not just once a week in corporate worship, but day by day in quiet meditation. Worship is about centering our attention, even our imagination, on the great reality of God. It’s one reason why worshipers of God through the centuries have wanted to build great cathedrals, a way of pointing us toward the transcendent realities of a God.
But whether you worship in a cathedral or on your couch, in a sanctuary or on your sofa, we desperately need worship to be centered on God and not us or on any other created thing.
The Lord Is Near
But only the God of the Bible can do this, because he is unique in another way. This God who is great, who is far above everything there is, is also a God who is not far away at all. He is great, but he is also near.
As Near as Far
When we think of God’s transcendence, of his greatness, we might be tempted to think that he is an abstract deity, unconcerned with the world we inhabit. But this is not the case at all. The word immanent means that God remains in the world. So while we are right to meditate on the transcendence of God, we also must meditate on his immanence. Yes, God is exalted high above everything. But he is also as near as he is far.
This is what the psalmist ponders in the bulk of Psalm 104. He meditates on the creation of the world described in Genesis 1. Because the earth is a special place in creation. This planet is a picture, however faint, of God’s transcendence and immanence. We live on just a tiny fraction of all that exists, and yet this is a planet teeming with life and abundance.
So in verses 5-9, we are reminded of how God brought dry land out of the chaotic waters that covered the earth in the beginning. With a word he rebuked the waters and they receded, forming continents and mountains and ocean depths. We are right to be curious and investigate how God might have done it, but we are never to lose sight of the Maker as we study the mechanism.
In verses 10-18 we reflect on how God turned the earth into a hospitable place for life. God created a world that sustains life, the life of the wild in verse 10-13, as well as the lives of domesticated animals and human beings. Verse 15 speaks of the products that are made from the raw elements of the earth—wine, oil, and bread as the ancient exemplars of this. And the point is that God ensures that his earth is filled, Spurgeon noted, not only with necessaries but also with luxuries, “that which furnishes a feast as well as that which makes a meal.” The splendor of God is evident not only in the sight of the stars so far above us, but also in the taste of the delicacies in good food or drink or in the comforts of a hot shower after a stressful day.
In verses 19-23, we are invited to ponder the “gentle pull” of night and day on all living creatures of earth. Here is, as one commentator writes, “another subtle shade in the Creator’s design; a regularity that brings no monotony but only enrichment, and a built-in safeguard of the balance of work and rest which is one of his best gifts.”
The Riches of God
If we’ve learned anything from our study of the kingdom of God, it should include the understanding that God’s kingdom is not something irrelevant to the daily routine of our embodied existence. It is this earth, complete with its tangible reality, that is his primary focus. What we find in the Bible is a God who is very much concerned with his world and especially with the people in it. His plan is not to come and take us out of this world and into eternity, but to re-assert his sovereign rule over every part of it, redeeming it and restoring it forever.
And this is why the climax of the Bible and the story of the world, is the entering of God himself into time and space in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. The fully-human God who came to reconcile us to God by his own achievement on our behalf.
This Jesus is the long-awaited “Deliverer” who came to “banish ungodliness” and take away sins forever (Rom 11:26-27). It is how God made a way to unite heaven and earth again. The transcendent God came closer to us than we could have ever imagined when he took on our flesh and shared with us in our humanity.
Verse 25 of Psalm 104 sounds much like Paul’s praise at the end of Romans 11. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” (Rom 11:33). The psalmist says to God, “O Lord, how manifold are your works!” We have just begun to scratch the surface of the riches of the God who is as near as he is far.
The Lord Is Blessed
If we put these first two truths about God together, that he is transcendent and that he is imminent, we are led to a third truth about God, one which is a natural and necessary conclusion from the first two. You see, if God is high above his creation, so high above that he is distinct and independent of it, then that means he does not need anything from it, indeed, he cannot gain anything from it. But add to that his immanence, the fact that God does in fact create a world, a rich and beautiful world, which suggests to us that there is even more to God’s bounty than we can imagine, and what does this tell us about God? What kind of a being must he be if he is transcendent over all he has made and yet nearer to it than we can imagine? What can we say about such a being? We can say that the Lord is blessed.
The Blessedness of God
To say that God is blessed is to say that God finds full and unending delight in himself and in all that reflects his character. God is no idolator; he does not delight in anything more than he delights in himself. So God has never experienced the disappointment of looking for satisfaction in something or in someone other than himself. God has never been let down, because he does not put his hopes for one second in anyone or anything that can let him down. How blessed is he!
Now what does this tell us about how we should worship God? It means we dare not think of the worship of God as something we do for him, as if he needed anything. The proper worship of God can never put God only in the objective position, a God to be worshipped. This God is also in the subjective position, a God who acts, a God who gives. It is God who gives to us, not us to him. It is more blessed to give than to receive, and the blessed God knows this more than anyone because he is a God who gives and gives and gives again.
The Gospel of the Blessed God
Now getting this attribute of God is more important than you might think. Consider what Paul says about the blessedness of God in 1 Timothy 1:11, when he refers to “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God.” Without the blessedness of God, we do not have a Christian gospel.
The perspective of Christian worship is that we come to receive from God rather than to give anything to him. In verse 27, the psalmist speaks of creation’s dependence on its creator. “These all look to you, to give them their food in due season.” This is the posture of the heart prepared for worship. We come to receive from God what he decides to give us. And when he gives—notice verse 28—when he gives and we receive, we are filled with good things. The blessed God is a cheerful giver, and we receive much from his bounty.
But how tragic it is for anyone to not receive from the blessed Lord! How much we miss when we do not come with empty hands to the worship service of God. For God to hide his face, as verse 29 says, is to remain empty-handed, not self-sufficient. The result of such poverty is “dismay,” which translates a Hebrew word that means to be “horrified,” to be out of one’s senses, at the impending doom. The only way to speak of such poverty is in the language of death, as the verse clearly says. Oh, how great is human pride that credits ourselves with anything that we possess, when the Bible (and even a little moment of honesty) clearly shows us that we’ve got nothing unless it has been given to us from the blessed God. We are dependent creatures through and through.
If we can see this truth and embrace it, we are prime for the Christian gospel. In verse 30, the psalmist reflects on what happens when God sends forth his Spirit. Creation! Life! When we read that the earth in the beginning was dark and void, we are meant to ask how is it that there could ever be life. But we do not have to wonder long, for “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’” and the rest is history (Gen 1:2).
Christian worship is centered on this giving of life from the life-giving Spirit of God. Wherever there is death, there remains hope, so long as the Spirit of God hovers nearby. And when God sends his Spirit, he still creates. Here in the Old Testament we find the remarkable language of a new creation, of God renewing the face of the ground through the sending of his Spirit.
A God Far and Near
Who is this God who is transcendent, yet immanent? He is Jesus. Who is this God who is blessed, rejoicing in his work of creation and new creation? He is Jesus, the word of God, who is God and was in the beginning with God. And what now should I do? Bless the Lord! Sing in praise. Meditate on him. He is our delight and affection.
O worship the King all-glorious above,
O gratefully sing his power and his love:
Our shield and defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise.
O tell of his might and sing of his grace,
Whose robe is the light, whose canopy space.
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
And dark is his path on the wings of the storm.
Your bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air, it shines in the light;
It streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
And sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.
Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In you do we trust, nor find you to fail.
Your mercies, how tender, how firm to the end,
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend!
 בהל, Ludwig Koehler, Walter Baumgartner, and Johann Jakob Stamm, The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, (HALOT), CD-ROM Edition, trans. M. E. J. Richardson (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1994-2000), 111.