Nature Psalms

This lesson examines "nature" type psalms and how they are designed to not only highlight the beauty of creation but also how the creation serves to honor and reveal the power of God.
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Review: Most psalms are examples of lyrical poetry. The 150 psalms contained in the book of Psalms deal with different subject matter. These can be grouped into nine general categories.

In the previous chapter we studied the Wisdom psalms and the three sub-types in this category: experience (like proverbs, called mashals, maskil), character (answer the question, "How should the righteous man live?"), and ethical (answer the question, "Why?" or "What is right?").

Nature Psalms

There are many Psalms which comment on the greatness of God as creator of all things and the majestic results of His handiwork. These are referred to as Nature psalms.

so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
- Matthew 5:45

The Bible declares that God works for man's benefit through the things that He has created. In Genesis 2:2-3 it says that God "rested" from all His work, this does not mean He stopped altogether, but that He completed His initial creative activity. Since that time, however, He continues to bless man through what He has already made.

In Colossians 1:16, Paul says that everything was created by God through Christ, and in verse 17 he says that all these things are continuously "held together" by Him as well. This means that God retains a present active involvement in maintaining the universe and the life within it. If God actively maintains the creation through Christ, then our prayers for sustained or restored health, protection and blessing from the elements, for food and other necessities are not in vain but exactly in line with a God who controls everything in the universe and who hears prayers. This is the difference between divine providence (God working within the context and through His creation) and miracles (God working outside the norms of His creation). The Nature psalms celebrate the reality of God's creation and His continued activity within it.

Psalm 8

The psalmist comments on God's greatness as it is displayed in His creation and man. He introduces these two manifestations of God's glory in verses 1-2.

O Lord, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth,
Who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens!
- Psalms 8:1

The two words "Lord" are not the same in Hebrew. The first "Lord" means Jehovah, God's name (I Am). The second "Lord" means sovereign lordship. The Lord's excellent character is witnessed to by the heavens as well as by the creation. To see the beauty of the creation is to see the greatness of God.

From the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have established strength
Because of Your adversaries,
To make the enemy and the revengeful cease.
- Psalms 8:2

The second witness of God's glory is in the humble state of man, especially when, as a child, he recognizes and appreciates the handiwork of God. The simplicity of a child's understanding of God's creative work has the power to silence unbelievers, scoffers and opponents of revelation. This phenomena is seen in Matthew 21:15-16 where Jesus refers to this idea after the children witnessing His entry into Jerusalem begin to praise Him.

15But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that He had done, and the children who were shouting in the temple, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they became indignant 16and said to Him, "Do You hear what these children are saying?" And Jesus said to them, "Yes; have you never read, 'Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies You have prepared praise for Yourself'?"
- Matthew 21:15-16

The author of the psalm in question now goes back to expand the idea of God's glory seen in the universe. This is done to establish a basis for further reference to man's position later on.

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
- Psalms 8:3

Here, he reaffirms that the heavens, all of them, are the direct result of God's conscious creation. (Note the use of synonymous parallelism.)

Now the author goes back to expand the idea of the creation of man and how after the mighty heavens are created, God judged that man, who seems so small and insignificant in comparison, should be the crown of His creation. In this the author sees how glorious God truly is.

What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
- Psalms 8:4

When the author sees the moon and stars and power of nature, and then looks at man he wonders out loud why God has a constant place in His mind for him. Man is so small and yet God constantly cares for him. Why?

Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty!
- Psalms 8:5

David answers his own question: man's greatness is found in the fact that in comparison to everything in nature, God has made man to resemble Himself more than any other thing great or small. Man's value is not in size, strength or power but in his resemblance to God. Nothing else in creation (whether in the heavens or here on earth) has this position. This is man's glory and honor.

6You make him to rule over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
7All sheep and oxen,
And also the beasts of the field,
8The birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea,
Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.
9O Lord, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth!
- Psalms 8:6-9

Man's glory and honor is attested to by the fact that he is the head of all creation. He is the frailest in creation but rules over it. Note, not to exploit creation for his own interest but to manage creation for God's glory. This total submission will ultimately be manifested when Christ comes (I Corinthians 15:27-28). For the author, this is a wonderful paradox (that the fantastic and powerful creation which glorifies God is in subjection to its frailest member in whom is the image of God). This contrast is in itself a cause for praising the wisdom and greatness of God, and this he does in verse 9.

Note several interesting things about the construction of this psalm:

  • Synonymous parallelism in verse 6.
  • Synthetic parallelism in verses 7 and 8 (line completing previous ones).
  • Verses 1 and 9 are similar (refrain in a song).
  • The perfect balance of ideas: praise in verses 1-2, creation in verse 3, man in verses 4-5, creation and man in verses 6-8, praise in verse 9.

Psalm 19

1The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
2Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night reveals knowledge.
3There is no speech, nor are there words;
Their voice is not heard.
4Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their utterances to the end of the world.
In them He has placed a tent for the sun,
5Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber;
It rejoices as a strong man to run his course.
6Its rising is from one end of the heavens,
And its circuit to the other end of them;
And there is nothing hidden from its heat.
7The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.
8The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.
9The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether.
10They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
11Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.
12Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults.
13Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins;
Let them not rule over me;
Then I will be blameless,
And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.
14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
- Psalms 19:1-14

This is an interesting psalm because it demonstrates two categories of Psalms in one single poem: a Nature psalm in verses 1-6, and a Word psalm in verses 7-14. The author is balancing two ideas in this poem in order to make one point. In verses 1-6 he shows that man can acquire knowledge of God through the physical universe and uses a Nature style psalm to say this.

In verses 7-14 he concludes that man can also acquire knowledge of God through instruction from the Law, and uses a Word type psalm here. His point is that one can know God from the physical or the moral realm and that without the light from the sun or the light from spiritual revelation, all life would fail.

The heavens are telling of the glory of God;
And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.
- Psalms 19:1

Here he personifies the heavens as someone who is, by sheer presence, making a declaration about God's glory and power. Today we are able to count and measure the stars and so our awareness of them only magnifies this declaration (Jewish mathematics at that time could not count as far as we can with today's math).

Day to day pours forth speech,
And night to night reveals knowledge.
- Psalms 19:2

This declaration of glory goes on from day to night to the following day as each array of moon and stars is followed by the great sun in order to continue this declaration without ceasing. (Note the synthetic parallelism.)

3There is no speech, nor are there words;
Their voice is not heard.
4Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their utterances to the end of the world.
- Psalms 19:3-4b

The celestial bodies do not speak words or make any kind of noise we can hear but their witness is universal, everyone sees them and the message is the same for every language.

In them He has placed a tent for the sun,
5Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber;
It rejoices as a strong man to run his course.
6Its rising is from one end of the heavens,
And its circuit to the other end of them;
And there is nothing hidden from its heat.
- Psalms 4c-6

The greatest of witnesses is the sun which the author says is like a bridegroom in his brilliance and beauty. The sun was not to be worshipped but rather a mighty witness each day, as it crossed the sky (tent), of God's presence and power, visible and needed by every creature.

This thought of light from the sun serves as a bridge to the next passage where the author describes the light that comes from Scripture.

Summary and Lessons

Nature psalms usually point to the creation as a whole or some part of it as a witness to God's wisdom, greatness and power. These psalms are excellent sources for:

  • Examples of praise for God's creation.
  • Scripture passages that are useful to demonstrate and confirm the idea of creation (that this is how this world came to be) and God's ongoing work within creation (it is necessary to pray for good crops, rain, protection, etc. The world is not just on autopilot).
  • Scriptural reminders that the creation was brought into being for two main reasons:
    1. To be a witness for the glory of God (that is why there are billions of stars).
    2. A witness of what God has done to sustain man's physical life and well-being.

After the fall of man the creation became less of a witness. The negative physical effects of the world-wide flood on the earth during Noah's time, and man's poor stewardship of the environment since has diminished the original glory of God's creation. However, we can still see God's presence in the mighty array of the heavens, and the revelation of Jesus Christ as the Son of God has become for us the new witness of not only God's power but His eternal purpose as well.

Discussion Questions

1. Match the correct word with the statement

______ 1. Hebrew for Praises
______ 2. Song of Praise
______ 3. Wrote oldest Psalm
______ 4. Lessons/parables
______ 5. Part of a line of poetry
______ 6. Greek word for "praise"
______ 7. Writer of Psalms
______ 8. Group of Psalms
______ 9. Expressive poetry
______ 10. Wisdom poetry

2. Answer TRUE or FALSE

  1. _____ David is the author of the Book of Psalms
  2. _____ Psalms is the most quoted book in the New Testament
  3. _____ A woman wrote a psalm
  4. _____ Certain psalms are repeated in the Old Testament
  5. _____ The Book of Psalms is divided into 10 sections
  6. _____ The Book of Psalms was once used as a songbook in the church
  7. _____ A "PAEAN" is a song of lament
  8. _____ Many psalms have a pronounced rhyme scheme
  9. _____ MASKIL is a literary device used in the psalms
  10. _____ Acrostics were psalms that used each of the 24 letters in the Hebrew alphabet

3. Circle the correct word

  1. The main literary device used in the Psalms is ( assonance / parallelism ).
  2. The Psalms can be divided into ( five / nine ) categories.
  3. "How should a good man live before God?" is a question asked by ( experience / character ) psalms.
  4. Psalms that celebrate the wonder of God's creation are called ( praise / nature ) psalms.
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