Grace Theological Journal 7.1 (1986) 57-80

[Cited with permission from Grace Theological Seminary;

digitally prepared for use at Gordon and Grace Colleges and elsewhere]




PSALM 104:1-9




Ps 104:6-9 is viewed as a reference to the flood of Noah, not the

original creation week. Support for this interpretation is drawn from

broad studies in the psalm’s setting, literary structure, and grammar.

Current literature on the psalm is brought into the discussion. The

conclusion is drawn that the psalm displays a unique cosmology and

a perspective including not only Yahweh’s creative power, but also

Yahweh s providential control in judgment and blessing. More specifi-

cally, Ps 104:8a speaks of the catastrophic tectonic activities associated

with the Genesis flood.

                                                *   *   *




PSALM 104 is a majestic hymn of praise which extols Yahweh as

creator and sustainer of the natural world. As a companion

hymn to Psalm 103, it calls upon the individual worshiper to add his

voice to the vast chorus of praise ascending to the very heavenly

dwelling place of God.

The specific issue for discussion in this study is the meaning of

vv 6-9. Most would argue that the psalm reflects the six day creation

week of Genesis 1, and that the specific reference in Ps 104:6-9

is to the events of the first two days of the week which culminate

in Gen 1:9. However, others have suggested that the Noahic flood

is in view, here, and that the psalm goes far beyond the limits of

Genesis 1.

Additionally, a specific problem is encountered in the translation

and interpretation of v 8a of the psalm. What is going up and down?

Is it the waters or the mountains? If the former is accepted, both

textual and imagery problems develop; if the latter, contextual prob-

lems arise.

The purpose of this article, therefore, is to determine if it is a

viable alternative to interpret Ps 104:6-9 as a reference to the Noahic

deluge. Additionally, it will seek to determine the best translation of

v 8a in light of syntax, imagery and context. A more general purpose

58                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


of this study, however, is to exegete Ps 104:1-9 taking into considera-

tion factors such as structure, setting, and literary history.

Essential to ascertaining the proper interpretation of Ps 104:6-9

is a broad analysis of the psalm in terms of its form, its setting in

Israel's liturgy, and its literary relationships with similar ancient Near

Eastern hymns. The first section of this study covers these areas. In

particular, of great significance is the analysis of the psalm to deter-

mine if, in fact, the six day creation week forms the organizational

skeleton, or if there are other structural analyses that would see the

psalm in a broader perspective. Then the second section supplies an

exegesis of vv 1-9 which is built upon the backgrounds and structural

framework determined in the first section. The first five verses are

included in this study in order to provide a preparatory textual

analysis for the treatment of vv 6-9.

It is shown that vv 5-13 form an independent stanza of the

psalm, with two subunits comprised of vv 5-9 and 10-13 respectively.

Therefore, for the sake of completeness, vv 10-13 and their relation-

ship to the previous subunit are summarized. The critical text for

analysis is vv 6-9. Therefore, while the psalm is analyzed in its entirety

for the purpose of ascertaining structure, the study basically limits

itself to the first nine verses. While a thorough analysis of the entire

psalm would obviously be profitable, a satisfactory solution to the

problems noted above may be determined within the parameters out-

lined for this study.


                                    THE SETTING OF PSALM 104

Several considerations must be taken into account when a study

of the setting of Psalm 104 is undertaken. These may be enumerated

as follows: (1) the question of the place of the psalm in the liturgy of

Israel, (2) its literary relationship to other similar ancient Near Eastern

hymns, (3) its literary relationship to the Genesis account of creation,

and (4) an analysis of the structure of the psalm itself.


The Psalm in Israel's Liturgy

Allen argues that on the basis of the initial and final self exhorta-

tion, as well as the personal references in vv 33-34, the psalm can be

characterized as an "individual hymn."l However, it has usually been

assigned a role in the corporate worship of Israel as a self exhortation

to praise which in turn was to inspire communal worship.2 Several


l Leslie K. Allen, Psalms 101-150, in Word Biblical Commentary, ed. David A.

Hubbard, et al. (Waco, TX: Word, 1983) 28.

            2 Ibid.

BARKER: THE WATERS OF THE EARTH                       59


have attempted to identify a specific setting for the psalm. Humbert

links the psalm with some kind of Israelite autumn festival parallel

with the Babylonian New Year Festival,3 though his position has not

been widely accepted.4 Craigie argues for the setting of the dedication

of Solomon's temple.5 He maintains that the psalm is firmly within

the indigenous Hebrew poetic tradition, and that a reconstruction of

1 Kgs 8:12-13 based on the LXX reflects the imagery of Psalm 104.6

The first two lines of the Kings passage as reconstructed are viewed as

reflecting Egyptian and Mesopotamian sun hymns7 with a polemic

intent. Additionally, he believes that the last two lines reflect the

adaptation of a Ugaritic Baal myth with, however, a retention of the

distinctive Hebrew theology concerning the temple as a dwelling

place for Yahweh. These same motifs are evident in Psalm 104; hence,

its association with Solomon's temple dedication.8 Nevertheless, the

evidence both for the reconstruction of the Kings text and the associa-

tion of Psalm 104 with Solomon's Temple dedication is rather tenu-

ous. Certainly, there is nothing that militates against an early date for

the psalm, but the attempt to be this precise is somewhat precarious.

Crusemann has contended for a late date and non-cultic setting for

the psalm based on the mixed nature of the form of the hymn (plural

summons, self exhortation, etc.).9 However, several lines of evidence

have been forwarded which favor a pre-exilic date. These include the

preterite use of the imperfect, the use of Oty;ha in vv 11 and 20, and

perhaps the usage of hz, as a relative pronoun in vv 8 and 26 (cf. rw,xE

in vv 16, 17).10

It should be noted that Psalm 103 opens and closes in the same

way as Psalm 104 and is attributed to David. Psalm 104 is untitled

except in the LXX which attributes it to David, and claims have

been made that the LXX should be accepted because of the com-

mon opening and closing invocations. However, the common struc-

ture is reason enough to explain their juxtaposition in the psalter and


3 P. Humbert, "La relation de Genese et du Psaume 104 avec la liturgie du Nouvel-

An israelite," RHPR 15 (1935) 22-27.

4 See in particular A. van der Voort, "Genese 1:1a 2:4a et Psaume 104," RB 58

(1951) 343-45.

5 Peter C. Craigie, "The Comparison of Hebrew Poetry: Psalm 104 in Light of

Egyptian and Ugaritic Poetry," Semitics 4 (1974) 19.

6 Ibid., 10, 19.

7 For examples of such hymns, see the "Hymn to Aton" (ANET, 369-71) and the

"Shamash Hymn" (ANET, 389-90).

8 Craigie, "Comparison," 10, 19.

9 F. Crusemann, Studien zur Formgeschichte von Hymnus and Danklied in Israel

(WMANT 32; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener, 1969) 301-2.

10 Cf. D. A. Robertson, Linguistic Evidence in Dating Early Hebrew Poetry (SBLDS

3; Missoula: Scholars, 1972) 42-43, 54, 63, 77; cf. Allen, Psalms, 29.

60                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


common authorship is in no way required.11  Thus, the hymn seems to

have been a companion hymn to Psalm 103 which then may very well

place it into the Davidic liturgical setting.


The Psalm in Relation to ANE Hymnology

Recent scholarship has stressed the resemblances between this

psalm and Ahkenaton's Hymn to the Sun (14th C. B.C.).12 The refer-

ences to lions creeping about at night (vv 20-21; cf. lines 17-20),

man's daytime activities (vv 22-23; cf. lines 27-29), the contentment

of animals and birds (vv 11-14; cf. lines 30-36), activities of creatures

and ships of the sea (vv 25-26; cf. lines 37-40), the adulation of the

creator by creation (v 24; cf. lines 58-60), the dependence of man

upon God (v 27; cf. lines 66-67), waters and mountains (vv 6, 10; cf.

lines 66-67), and finally the life giving character of the divine being

(vv 29-30; cf. lines 108-9),13 all seem to indicate some kind of literary


Some have tried to prove a direct relationship between Akhena-

ton's hymn and the psalm.14 Breasted states, "The hymn of Ikhnaton

thus reveals to us the source of the Hebrew Psalmist's recognition of

the gracious goodness of God in the maintenance of his creatures,

even the most insignificant."15

While most commentators stress some kind of relationship, cau-

tion is usually expressed. Dahood and others posit a Canaanite

mediation of the hymn.16 It is postulated that the Phoenicians, because

of their close commercial and cultural contact with Egypt, brought

the hymn into their own literary history, and that the Hebrews

obtained it from the Phoenicians.17 Bernhardt argues, on the basis of

both theological and cosmological differences, that the relationship is

quite general. He maintains that there was a similar literary Gattung in

ancient Egypt and that it is not necessary to suggest that the psalmist


11 Allen, Psalms, 26.

12 ANET, 369-71.

13 Cf. ibid., 370-71; also Allen, Psalms, 29.

14 Crusemann, Studien, 287; James Breasted, The Dawn of Conscience (New York:

Charles Scribners', 1933), 366-70; A. Weigall, The Life and Times of Akhnaton.

Pharaoh of Egypt (revised; London: Butterworth, 1922), 134-36.

15 Breasted, The Dawn of Conscience, 368.

16 M. Dahood, Psalms III, 101-150 (AB; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1970) 33;

cf. Georges Nagel, "A propos des rapports du psaume 104 avec les textes egyptiens,"

Festschriftfur Alfred Bertholet, ed. O. Eissfeldt, et al. (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1950)

395-403; H.-J. Kraus, Psalmen (BKAT 15:2.5; Ausgabe, Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neu-

kirchener, 1978) 880; and Pierre Auffert, "Note sur la structure litteraire du Psaume

104 et ses incidences pour une comparison avec l' Hymne a Aton et Gen 1," RSR (1982)


17 Dahood, Psalms III, 33.

BARKER: THE WATERS OF THE EARTH                       61


had a specific knowledge of the Egyptian hymn.18 Craigie argues from

a similar angle, maintaining that common motifs, subject matter, and

intent will naturally result in similar hymns.19 As noted previously, he

finds parallels in other Egyptian sun hymns, a Mesopotamian hymn

to Shamash, and in particular, the Ugaritic Baal myth.20 However, he

maintains that this may well indicate an association of ideas rather

than a literary relationship.21 Craigie's thesis, particularly concerning

the Ugaritic Baal myth, is built heavily upon the reconstruction of the

1 Kgs 8:12-13 text, and upon the fact that Phoenician craftsmen were

used in the construction of the temple. This latter fact causes Craigie

to see the psalm as a polemic against the theology of Baal. This may

well be so, but it does not prove the literary dependence he seeks to


Kidner is aware of the various similarities between Ahkenaton's

hymn and the psalm, but also aptly notes the wide divergences

between the two, both in content and theology. He states, "Theologi-

cally, it displays the incalculable difference between worshipping the

sun and worshipping its Maker; indeed the psalm's apparent allusions

to this famous hymn seem designed to call attention to this very

point.”22  Hence, there is no reason to suggest literary dependence

upon these pagan hymns or borrowing of theological concepts and

ideas. A description by the psalmist of the natural world inevitably

leads to ideas and imagery common to religious expression but which

also can be used as an apology for the true God and a polemic

against false gods.


The Psalm in Relation to Genesis

That there is some relationship to the Genesis account of creation

is obvious. Sequences are largely the same and there is an overlap of

vocabulary.23  Kidner maintains that the psalm is modelled "fairly

closely" on Genesis 1 and that the stages of creation are starting

points for praise within the psalm.24

However, the nature and extent of this relationship is not so

obvious. Allen observes that there is a basic difference in style--the

psalm is exuberant and free while Genesis is schematic and logical.


18 K. H. Bernhardt, "Amenhophis IV and Psalm 104," MIO 15 (1969) 205-6.

19 Craigie, "Comparison," 13-15.

20 Ibid.

21 Ibid., 21.

22 Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150. in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, ed.

D. J. Wiseman (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity, 1975),367-68.

23 Ibid., 368.

24 Cf. Kidner's chart (Ibid.) and also Allen's brief discussion (Psalms, 31).

62                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


There are also some differences in the order of events, particularly

concerning men and animals.25

Humbert argues that Psalm 104 depends upon Genesis,26 while

van der Voort argues, on the basis of various differences and the use

of anthropomorphisms, that Genesis reflects the use of the psalm.27

Craigie and Anderson opt for a mediating position of a common

cultic origin for both texts.28 From a more conservative perspective,

one would have to acknowledge the priority of the Genesis text.29

However, of greater concern for this study is the commonly

accepted notion that the psalm reflects only the days of creation as

recorded in Gen 1:1-2:3. Fullarton argues that the sequence of the

creative days is "the most outstanding factor in the structure of the

psalm.”30 Kidner also develops his whole discussion around the days

of creation and says that later scenes in the psalm develop initial

glimpses with the result that there is a mingling and overlapping of

the creation days as described in Genesis.31 Yet as these various

analyses are examined, one quickly finds that the attempt to relegate

the psalm to such strictures is artificial. Some emend the text to fit

their preconceived structure,32 while others excuse sections that do

not precisely fit the pattern on the basis of an exuberant style or

poetic license.33

Therefore, one suspects that while Genesis 1 may be in view, this

does not exhaust the full intent and content of the hymn. Rather, it is

apparent that the psalm goes beyond the creation motif into a more

general motif of providential preservation of the world by God. This

not only explains statements regarding God's general preservation of

creation, but also explains references to the destruction of his creation

through the global catastrophe of the Noahic deluge, an integral part

of ancient Hebrew cosmology.


25 Allen, Psalms, 31.

26 Humbert, "La relation," 21.

27 van der Voort, "Genese 1:1 a 2:4a," 341-46.

28 Craigie, "Comparison," 18; A. A. Anderson, The Book of Psalms, vol. 2 (NCB;

Greenwood: Attic, 1972) 7 17.

29 Cf. Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 368; and F. Delitzsch, Psalms, vol. 3 trans. Francis

Bolton in Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament (reprint; Grand Rapids: Eerd-

mans, 1970) 127. It is far beyond the scope of this study to discuss the date and

authorship of the Pentateuch. A Mosaic authorship and 15th century B.C. date for the

Pentateuch is assumed for purposes of this study, which de facto results in the priority

of Genesis over most of the psalmic materials.

30 Kemper Fullarton, "The Feeling for Form in Psalm 104," JBL 40 (1921) 43.

31 Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 368.

32 As does Fullarton, "Feeling for Form," 48, who in turn accuses Gunkel, Staerk,

Duhm, Briggs and others of going too far in this regard.

33 As does Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 368.

BARKER: THE WATERS OF THE EARTH                       63


The next logical step, therefore, is an analysis of the structure of

the psalm to determine whether it can be structurally limited to the

creation narrative.


Literary Analyses of the Psalm

As Allen observes, little specific work has been done on the

structure of the psalm.34 Paragraph divisions are usually assigned on

the basis of apparent thought changes with little regard for internal

textual criteria.35

An early analysis was suggested by Fullarton who manipulated

the material in order to fit in the first five days of the creation week

of Genesis. He states, "The key to the analysis is, of course, the first

chapter of Genesis.”36 He is rather free in his handling of the text,

transposing vv 16 and 17 to fit between vv 11 and 12 in stanza 3

(vv 10-12),37 and suggesting that v 18 was added when the last part of

stanza 4 (vv 13-15) was lost.38 Obviously there is a measure of arti-

ficiality here, since there is no attempt to establish the structure from

internal textual data.

Kidner also maintains that the psalm is structured around the

creation week.39 Day 1 is seen in v 2a; day 2 in 2b-4; day 3 in 5-9

with elaboration in 10-18; day 4 in 19-23 and perhaps 24; day 5 in

25-26 (but only the sea); and day 6 is "anticipated" in 21-24 and

discussed in 27-28 (and perhaps 29-30) in terms of "food appointed

for all creatures.”40  As noted previously, he recognizes that the days

of Genesis overlap and mingle and that the days of creation are only

starting points for the creation drama.41 Yet there is still a measure of

artificiality in his attempt to impose the structure of Genesis 1 on the


Recently, however, two studies have suggested structural formula-

tions for the psalm. Alden postulates a ten-strophe chiastic structure

shown by the following pattern:42


34 Allen, Psalms, 31.

35 E.g., G. R.Driver, "The Resurrection of Marine and Terrestrial Creatures," JSS

7 (1962) 22; cf. also E. Beauchamp, "Structure strophique des Psaumes" RevScRel 58

(1968) 199-223.

36 Fullarton, "Feeling for Form," 45.

37 Ibid., 47.

38 Ibid., 48.

39 Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 368.

40 Ibid.

41 Ibid.

42 Robert L. Alden. "Chiastic Psalms III: A Study in the Mechanics of Semitic

Poetry in Psalms 101-150," JETS 21 (1978) 201.

64                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


I           A Bless the LORD, O my soul.

2-14                B God's creation of the land and what is on it.

15                                C The benefits to man

16- I 8                                     D The benefits to animals

19a                                                      E The moon

19b                                                      E The sun

20-22                                     D Animals work at night

23                                C Man works in the daytime

24-32              B God's creation of the seas and what is in them.

33-35 A Bless the LORD, O my soul.


He observes that the B stanzas are long, but notes several key terms

that seemingly tie them together.43 The major criticisms of this analysis

are the relative imbalance of the various stanzas and the rather novel

determinations of the boundaries of the stanzas.

Allen has suggested a five-strophe structure with subdivisions of

the central three units.44 His analysis may be schematized as follows:


A vv 1-4

B vv 5-13

b1 vv 5-9

b2 vv 10-13

C vv 14-23

c1 vv 14-18

c2 vv 19-23

B' vv 24-30

bl vv 24-26

b2 vv 27-30

A' vv 31-35

Several factors that Allen notes need to be emphasized. First, the

term hWafA ends strophe A and begins strophe A'; it also ends strophe

B and begins strophe B'; finally it stands in the middle of strophe C

(v 19). Second, the divine name hvAhy; in strophes A and A' serve to

indicate their complementary nature. Third, the repetition of the terms

MdAxA and hdAbofE in both vv 14 and 23 indicate an inclusio, marking the

limits of the central strophe (C). A similar phenomenon is observable

with the repetition of the term Cr,x, in vv 5 and 13, again indicating an

inclusio and marking the limits of strophe B, as well as a central

instance of the term at v 9. Additionally, a clear theme dominates

strophe B as indicated by the fourfold repetition of the term MyrihA.

Finally, clear indications of a new thought are observable by the

exclamation at v 24 (beginning strophe B') and the expression of the

wish at v 31 (beginning stroph A,).45


43 Ibid.

44 Allen, Psalms, 32.

45 Ibid.

BARKER: THE WATERS OF THE EARTH                       65


Allen's presentation is quite convincing, especially in light of the

fact that it essentially retains the more traditional subdivisions (such

as in BHS), yet puts them into structural perspective. Allen concludes,

"The common exegetical divisions are thus vindicated by and large,

but their role within the overall structure has hitherto been missed.”46

This particular analysis has clear implications for the present

study. As noted earlier, commentators have insisted that the psalm

essentially reflects the six day creation week of Gen 1:1-2:3. How-

ever, while the events of the six day creation week may be reflected in

the material, these events are not the skeleton upon which the psalm

is constructed. The hymn goes beyond the stricture of Genesis 1 into

a statement of Yahweh's general relationship to the world, both as

creator and sustainer (cf. Col. 1:16-17). When the artificial limiting of

the scope of the psalm to the creation event in Israel's cosmology is

removed, God's general providence throughout history can be seen.

This opens the way for seeing vv 6-9 in particular as a reference to

the great deluge of Genesis 6-9.

For purposes of this study, therefore, Allen's structural analysis

has been adopted and applied directly to the verses under study.



It may be stated in summary that although the date and pro-

venience of the psalm are uncertain, there is no reason to relegate it

to the post-exilic era.

Second, although there are resemblances to other ancient Near

Eastern hymns, there is no convincing evidence to suggest that the

psalm is either directly or indirectly dependent upon such sources.

Rather, similarities arise from common imagery and intent. The

theology of Psalm 104 is vastly different from the other ancient Near

Eastern materials and one must conclude that there was an autono-

mous literary development. This is not to say that the hymn was

composed in a vacuum, but that the theological concepts are founded

in the moral and ethical monotheism of the Hebrew faith.

Third, there is an obvious literary relationship to the Genesis

account of creation. However, from a structural analysis, it is clear

that the psalm cannot be restricted to the scope of Genesis 1. Rather,

the psalm describes the creative and providential acts of Yahweh in

the world.


46 Ibid.

66                                GRACE THEOLOGICAL



As stated at the outset, the primary purpose of this study is to

determine the significance of the psalmist's statements concerning

Yahweh's activities in relation to the waters described in vv 6-9. It

has already been established structurally that the psalm speaks of

more than the creation week of Genesis. Now it becomes necessary to

examine the text in detail to determine more precisely the intent of

the psalmist.


An Outline of the Psalm

Based on Allen's analysis, the following broad outline has been



1A. Prologue: Yahweh is introduced as the majestic and sovereign

  God of the created universe (vv 1-4)

2A. Stanza 1: Yahweh uses the waters of the earth both to destroy

 and to sustain the creation (vv 5-13)

1b. The waters of the earth once covered the earth but now are

       established in their place (vv 5-9)

2b. The waters of the earth now provide for all of Yahweh's creation

      (vv 10-13)

3A. Stanza 2: Yahweh providentially controls and provides for the

            world of man (vv 14-23)

lb. This providential care extends to the vegetation of the earth

      by which provision is made for man's joy and strengthening

      (vv 14-18)

2b. This providential care extends to the control of the heavens by

      which both human and animal activities are regulated (vv 19-23)

4A. Stanza 3: Yahweh is in total sovereign control of the world, both

             in its creation and in its sustaining (vv 24-30)

1b. This sovereign activity created the waters upon and in which

       ships and living creatures exist (vv 24-26)

2b. This sovereign activity determines life and death for all of         

      creation (vv 27-30)

5A. Epilogue: Praise to Yahweh for his powerful creative and provi-

 dential activities (vv 31-35)


Outline of Verses 1-13

Since this study is primarily concerned with vv 6-9, a more

precise outline has been developed for the prologue and first stanza.

1 A. Prologue: Yahweh is introduced as the majestic and sovereign

  God of the created universe (vv 1-4)

1b. Invocation (v la)

2b. A statement of Yahweh's greatness and majesty (v 1bc)

BARKER: THE WATERS OF THE EARTH                       67


3b. A description of Yahweh's greatness and majesty (vv 2-4)

1c. Yahweh's regal attire (v 2a)

2c. Yahweh's regal tent (v 2b)

3c. Yahweh's regal chambers (v 3a)

4c. Yahweh's regal chariot (v 3b)

5c. Yahweh's regal walk (v 3c)

6c. Yahweh's regal messengers (v 4)

2A. Stanza 1: Yahweh uses the waters of the earth both to destroy

and to sustain the creation (vv 5-13)

1b. The waters of the earth once covered the earth, but now are

      established in their place (vv 5-9)

1c. The earth is founded (v 5)

2c. The earth undergoes a deluge of water (vv 6-9)

      1d. The waters cover the earth (v 6)

       2d. The waters flee from the surface of the earth (vv 7-8)

       3d. The waters are established in their place (v 9)

2b. The waters of the earth now provide for all of Yahweh's creation

(vv 10-13)

1c. The act of Yahweh in providing water for sustenance

(v 10)

2c. A specific statement from grateful recipients for such

            provision(vv 11-12)

3c. A general statement of the creation's satisfaction for God's

            care (v 13)

Textual Analysis

PROLOGUE: Yahweh is introduced as the majestic and sovereign God

of the created universe (vv 1-4)


Invocation (v la)

The anonymous introductory phrase hvAhy;-tx, ywip;na ykirEBA is repeated

at the end of the psalm (v 35) forming an inclusio. This establishes the

psalm as a hymn of praise to Yahweh, with particular emphasis upon

individual praise as indicated by the term ywip;na.47 The term wp,n, is

probably best rendered by the term "person" or "self," or even simply

by the personal pronoun.48 Hence, the psalmist is calling upon himself

to praise Yahweh. At the same time it should be remembered that the

psalm was in all likelihood sung as a corporate expression of praise in

temple worship.49

The term ykirEBA, a piel imperative from j`raBA, means to "bless, praise,

salute."50 Oswalt states that to bless in the OT means "to endue with

47 Ibid., 28.

48 Bruce K. Waltke. "wpanA," TWOT 2:590.

49 Allen, Psalms, 28.

50 BDB, 138.

68                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


power for success, prosperity, fecundity, longevity etc.”51 However,

when used in acknowledgement of Israel's covenant God, the emphasis

is upon praise for Yahweh and his saving activities on behalf of Israel or the

individual worshiper.52 Hence, the psalm begins with a personal invocation

for praise for Yahweh's mighty and majestic acts in theworld of man.


A Statement of Yahweh's Greatness and Majesty (v 1bc)

This unit is identifiable by the usage of two perfect verbs (TAl;daGA,

TAw;bAlA; note the following participles in v 2). After an. introductory

self-appropriation of Yahweh as the psalmist's personal God,53 the

psalmist makes a straightforward attributive statement, dxom;. TAl;daGA,

followed by a metaphorical statement, TAw;bAlA rdAhAv; dOh. The terms dOh

and rdAhA seem to have been chosen for their literary assonance and

contain clear royal connotations (cf. Job 40:10; Ps 96:6). Thus royal

imagery is consistent with the descriptions that are to follow (cf.

vv 2-4). Delitzsch observes rdAhAv; dOh is not the glory that belongs

to God (as Jude 25), but rather it is the glory that he has put on.54

The psalmist is seeing the greatness of Yahweh in terms of his ac-

tions rather than his essential being. His actions, however, reflect his

essential being, particularly his sovereignty over the universe. The

metaphorical usage of Tw;bAlA effectively anticipates the subsequent

descriptions of the divine theophany as covered and housed by the

components of nature.


A Description of Yahweh's Greatness and Majesty (vv 2-4)

Following a clear statement of the greatness and royal majesty of

Yahweh, the psalmist employs six participles to describe his God.

These participles not only indicate further characteristics of Yahweh,

but the change from the perfect (v 1b) to participles (vv 2-4) deline-

ates separate structural units within the prologue.

Allen sees hF,fo as parallel with TAw;bAlA and observes that there is a

problem created by the participial form. He argues that the synony-

mous content of 1c and 2a point to a bicolon, and so suggests the

proposed emendation hF,f;Ta based on haplography. He states that

such a change "while not essential, would ease the problem.”55 How-


51 John N. Oswalt, "j`raBA," TWOT 1:132.

52 Josef Scharbert, "jrb," TDOT 2:286, 293.

53 DSS 11QPs reads vnyhvlx making it more of a communal statement; cf. J. A.

Sanders, The Dead Sea Psalms Scroll (Ithaca: Cornell University, 1967) 160.

54 Delitzsch, Psalms III, 128.

55 Allen, Psalms, 26. The emendation comes from H. Gunkel, Die Psalmen (HKA T

2.2.4; Ausgabe, Gottingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1926) 454; Kraus, Psalmen,

879; and Crusemann, Studien, 287, n. 2. Cf. also BHS apparatus, 1183.

BARKER: THE WATERS OF THE EARTH                       69


ever, Allen has failed to take into account the nature of the six

participial statements as introduced by 1bc. If one recognizes the

statement and preparatory metaphor (as discussed above), there is no

difficulty in taking the text as it stands.


Yahweh's Regal Attire (v 2a). As light was the first creation after

the initial creation of an unformed and unfilled chaos (Gen 1:1-2), so

the psalmist portrays the creator, first and foremost, as royally clad in

light. The term hFafA means to "wrap oneself, enwrap, envelop one-

self.”56 In Ps 104:2a, then, Yahweh is portrayed as almost totally

controlled by or identified as light (cf. Jer 43:12). Hence, this funda-

mental element of the natural world is relegated to merely being a

part of Yahweh's garb-one may see the first hint of a polemic against

the common sun worship that surrounded the Hebrews.

The term for garment here, hmAl;Wa, often rendered hlAm;Wa,57 means a

"wrapper" or "mantle," usually referring to the outer cloak.58 Dahood

notes hmAl;Wa.Ka literally reads ''as the garment," but observes on the

basis of Pss 55:23; 85:13; 89:48; and 90:16 that the article may serve as

a substitute for the pronominal suffix.59 Hence, with Dahood (contra

KJV and NASB) the line should read in the third person, "who is

robed with the sun [1] as his garment.”60 This accords well with the

third person configuration of the subsequent lines.

Dahood further calls rOx "an accusative of material-with-which";61

hence the rendering "who is robed with. . . ." However, to translate

rOx as "sun" seems rather bold since there is nothing in the context to

demand this translation and the evidence adduced by Dahood for this

translation is less than convincing.62 Habel observes that "light is the

theophanic mode of self manifestation which both reveals his presence

and veils his holiness.”63

Yahweh's Regal Tent (v 2b). The psalmist next describes the

abode of the royal creator in terms of a tent curtain. The term hfAyriy;,

while communicating the panoramic sense involved in the idea of

heavens, reminds the worshiper of Yahweh's presence in the taber-

nacle. Hence, the stretching out of the heavens as a tent not only


56 BDB, 741.

57 Cf. ibid., 971.

58 Ibid.

59 Dahood, Psalms III, 34.

60 Ibid., 31.

61 Ibid., 34.

62 Ibid. The only text that could in any way support Dahood's suggestion is Job

31:6 where there is a clear context of moon and sun. Such a context is not present in

Psalm 104.

63 N. C. Habel, "He Who Stretches out the Heavens," CBQ 34 (1974) 422.

70                                THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


speaks of Yahweh's creative act but also directs attention to his

personal abode. Such a phrase serves to portray Yahweh ''as the

creator who pitches the heavens to be an overarching tent within

which he appears in luminous splendor.”64

Based on his suggestion that hF,fo should be emended to hV,f;Ta,

Allen assumes haplography again and emends hF,On to hF,Onh in accor-

dance with BHK, BHS, and Kraus.65 However, Allen's' first sugges-

tion was shown to be questionable; thus to have an anarthrous hF,On

accords well with the anarthrous hF,fo. Dahood further observes, "In

ofeh and noteh are present fine rhyme and assonance. Hence the

recommendation of BHS to add the article to noteh (hannoteh) may

be declined without qualms.”66

Yahweh’s Regal Chambers (v 3a). The description of the great

Yahweh, clothed with honor and majesty, continues by means of

hymnic participles. However, at this point the participles become

arthrous (forming the basis of some of Allen's suggestions). Yet

Delitzsch aptly notes the fact that determinate participles alternating

with anarthrous participles (cf. Isa 44:24-28) indicate no more "than

that the former are more predicative and the latter more attributive.”67

The imagery portrayed here is that of a celestial palace whose

foundation beams are laid in the waters. Presumably, based on the

context of "light" (2a), "heavens" (2b), "clouds" (3b), and "wind" (3c),

the waters are heavenly waters (cf. Amos 9:6). Kidner observes, "The

dizzy height of 'the waters above the firmament,' or the clouds, is

pictured as but the base of God's abode, and this insubstantial support

quite sufficient for the ethereal lightness of His palace."68

The term hr,qAm;ha is apparently a denominative verb coming from

hrAOq meaning "rafter" or "beam.”69 Both ideas, however, seem to

derive from the verb hrAqA meaning "encounter, meet, befall.”70 Hence,

the rafter or beam is that which meets or encounters some kind of

structural support.

Dahood attempts to link the Hebrew term with a Ugaritic term

qryt and Akkadian term qaritu, both meaning "granary.71 Hence, he

suggests the translation, "Who stored with water his upper chambers."

This, he argues, is congruent with the imagery of v 13. Additionally,


64 Ibid.,423.

65 Kraus, Psalmen, 879.

66 Dahood, Psalms III, 33.

67 Delitzsch, Psalms III, 128.

68 Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 369; cf. Delitzsch, Psalms III, 128-29 for similar


69 BDB, 900.

70 Ibid., 899.

71 Dahood, Psalms III, 34.

BARKER: THE WATERS OF THE EARTH                       71


he adduces Job 37:9 in which hrAqA occurs (normally translated "cold"

from rraqA; cf. KJV and NASB). He translated this text, "Out of the

chamber comes the tempest, and flowing waters[?] out of the store-


While Dahood's suggestion is plausible, the major argument

against it is that to make this simply a statement of Yahweh storing

water in the upper chambers would destroy the imagery describing

Yahweh's regal chambers and thus the polemic involved. Additionally,

as Habel notes, "these chambers are constructed 'in' the waters as

might be expected from similar motifs pertaining to celestial store-

houses or firmaments (Gen 1:6-8; Amos 9:6; Job 38:22).”73 Hence,

the more traditional rendering will be retained.

The term vytAOy.lifE is derived from the common verb hlAfA, and has

the idea of a roof chamber or upper chamber (cf. Judg 3:23-25; 2 Kgs

4:10; 23:12; etc.). Hence, the picture is that of Yahweh's heavenly

palace placed in the sky. His abode is above the celestial waters.


Yahweh's Regal Chariot (v 3b). Dahood argues that the force

of lfa in the phrase HaUr-ypen;Ka-lfa j`l.eham;ha (v 3c) extends to MybifA-Mw.Aha

ObUkr; (v 3b) resulting in the translation "who sets his chariot upon the

clouds."74 He is attempting to distinguish between Yahweh being

transported by the clouds and Yahweh driving his chariot across the

heavens.75 However, the suggestion is grammatically unprecedented,

and additionally, Baal is called "the Rider of the Clouds."76 Yahweh

is the true master of the heavens; it is he who rides the clouds.

Yahweh’s Regal Walk (v 3 c). Again, polemic imagery is being

used here. Yahweh is master of the storm. The prepositional phrase

HaUr-ypen;K;-lfa clearly speaks of Yahweh as creator and portrays his

majestic and regal dominion of the atmospheric elements. The iden-

tical phrase appears in Ps 18:10[11], in a context of Yahweh's majesty

of the created world. Hence, celestial forces are subjects of the divine

creator an sovereign.77

Yahweh's Regal Messengers (v 4). The final description of

Yahweh has, in contrast to the previous five descriptions, a dual

predicate to the initial participle hW,fo. The predicative phrases are


72 Ibid.

73 Habel, "He who Stretches out," 423.

74 Dahood, Psalms III, 34.

75 Cf. S. Mowinkel, "Drive and/or Ride in the Old Testament," VT 12 (1962)


76 ANET, 132.

77 Habel, "He who Stretches out," 422.

72                                GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


very similar and clearly hW,fo is implied from the first line to the second.

However, several problems are apparent. First, Fhelo wxe is appar-

ently improperly coordinated with vytAr;wAm; in terms of number. Dahood

attempts to reconcile this by taking wxe and Fhelo as two separate

nouns coordinated by asyndeton ('fire and flame' [cf. Joel 2:3]).78

Similarly HHS suggests an emendation to FhalAvA wxe.79 Dahood rejects

the insertion of the v; on the basis of meter.80 Probably the best

suggestion comes from Allen and others who suggest that wxe may

have been considered a collective noun.81

Second, wxe is usually regarded as a feminine noun, and thus Fhelo

is improperly coordinated with respect to gender. 11QPsa eliminates

the problem by reading tFhvl.82 However, since improper coordina-

tion of gender is not all that infrequent in the Hebrew text,83 it would

seem best to allow the MT to stand.

Finally, the major problem is that of determining the direct object

of the participle hW,fo. Contextually it seems clear that tOHUr and wxe

Fhelo should be direct objects so that the psalmist would be continuing

to see nature as Yahweh's instrument: "He makes the winds his

messengers, Flaming fire his ministers" (NASB). However, the LXX

grammatically reverses the sentence:   [O poiw?n  tou>j  a]gge<louj  au]tou?

pneu<mata kai>  tou>j  leitourgou>j au]tou? puro>j flo>ga. Additionally,

the author of Hebrews cites the LXX rendition in Heb 1:7. Kidner

sees no contextual difficulty with this rendering which has the psalmist

looking beyond the natural order of things to the heavenly host.84 He

further argues that the normal word order favors the LXX and notes

that the argument of Heb I :7ff. is based on this rendering.85

Yet as Allen notes, the LXX rendering is contextually improb-

able.86 The psalmist is describing how the sovereign God of the

universe is master of all natural forces and how he uses them to

enhance his glory or to perform his service. Hence it would seem best

to render v 4 with NASB. The LXX, therefore, with its tendency to

spiritualize and elevate the supernatural, took the verse in the alterna-

tive sense, and the author of Hebrews, in making his point concerning


78 Dahood, Psalms III, 35.

79 BHS, 1183.

80 Dahood, Psalms III, 35.

81 Allen, Psalms, 26; cf. GKC, 463. Delitzsch observes that this word has no plural

(Psalms III, 129).

82 Cf. Y. Yadin, "Another Fragment (E) of the Psalms Scroll from Qumran Cave

11 (11QPsaa)," Textus 5 (1966) 1-10.

83 Cf. GKC, 459-67.

84 Kidner, Psalms 73-150, 369.

85 Ibid., 369, n. 2.

86 Allen, Psalms, 26.

BARKER: THE WATERS OF THE EARTH                       73


Christ and the angels to his readers, used a text known to them. That

Christ and the apostles used the LXX, even in places where it is at

variance with the MT, is a well known fact. Apparently, they felt that

they could make their point without compulsion to correct and clarify

the difference between the Hebrew and Greek texts. McCullough

observes that the author of Hebrews in particular may have deliber-

ately used the version known to the local church to which he was

writing in order to avoid confusion or opposition.87 Thus, there is no

evidence that would demand an adjustment of the more natural and

contextual rendering of the MT in favor of the LXX or its citation in

the NT.



Ps 104:2-4 describes Yahweh's greatness and majesty. It is inter-

esting to note that the terms used in this description (upper waters,

clouds, wind, and flaming fire [lightning]) collectively portray a com-

mon thunderstorm. This serves both to heighten its polemical value,

and to prepare the worshiper for the description of the watery cata-

clysm which follows in the subsequent stanza.


STANZA 1: Yahweh uses the waters of the earth both to destroy

and to sustain the creation (vv 5-13)

As noted in the outline, this stanza may be divided into two

smaller units, the first discussing the use of water to destroy the earth

in the past, and the second indicating the use of water to sustain the

earth in the present. The parameters of this study necessitate emphasis

upon the first subunit.

The scene changes from the heavens to the earth. In the prologue

Yahweh is praised as the sovereign of the heavens which serve as his

celestial tabernacle.88 Even the storm with its wind, lightning, clouds,

and waters is mastered by him. In this stanza Yahweh is portrayed as

sovereign of the earth. The connection between the two is that the


87 John C. McCullough, "The Old Testament Quotations in Hebrews," NTS 26

(1980) 379. To go into the occurrences and ramifications of the use of the LXX in the

NT is beyond the scope of this study. A selected bibliography, particularly for Hebrews,

is included by S. Kistemaker, The Psalm Citations in the Epistle to the Hebrews

(Amsterdam: Van Soest, 1961); K. J. Thomas, "Old Testament Citations in Hebrews,"

NTS (1965) 303-25; G. Howard, "Hebrews and the Old Testament Quotations," NovT

10:2-3 (1968) 208-16; and James W. Thompson, "Structure and Purpose of the Catena

in Hebrews 1:5-13," CBQ 38 (1976) 352-63.

88 Cf. Habel, "He who Stretches out," 417-30 for thorough discussion of this


74                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


rain and storms portrayed in the prologue provide the water by which

Yahweh's activities are performed in the following stanza.


The Waters of the Earth Once Covered the Earth,

But Now are Established in Their Place (vv 5-9)


Two movements are observable in this stanza. The first (v 5) is

introductory, and establishes the setting for the new scene. The second

(vv 6-9) is descriptive, and elaborates upon Yahweh's use of the

waters to destroy the earth.

The Earth is Founded (v 5). A significant change in verbal aspect

is seen in the term dsayA. Since this is a Qal perfect, it interrupts the

participal chain of vv 2-4. Most commentators want to repoint the

term to dseyo as supported by LXXA, LXXL, and the Targums89 and

thus continue the hymnic participles. However, there is a major shift

of scene from the heavens to the earth. The psalmist has highlighted

this shift by a break in the verbal pattern. Thus, there is justification

to retain the pointing of the MT.

The metaphorical expression hAyn,Okm;-lfa Cr,x,-dsayA (cf. Ps 24:2; Job

38:4-6) typically has been understood to reflect a primitive cosmol-

ogy, namely, "the world, like a floating saucer, is anchored 'upon the

seas.'”90 This would seem to be particularly apparent in Ps 24:2a,

"He has founded it [the earth] upon the seas." However, this kind of

thinking fails to take into consideration two factors. First, as Craigie

observes, Yam and Nahar represented a threat to order in Canaanite

mythology, and Baal's victory over them resulted in his kingship. The

psalmist here, however, shows that Yahweh is the creator of the

ordered world.91 This, in turn, is linked with Yahweh's kingship. It

was Yahweh who was the creator. It was Yahweh who brought order

out of chaos.

Second, the cosmology known to the psalmist would be that of

the Genesis account. To go to Ugaritic or other ancient Near Eastern

materials to derive the basis for the Hebrews' conception of the

creation and existence of the world, and to ignore Israel's own literary

sources is unwise. Hebrew cosmology includes a seven day creation by


89 Dahood, Psalms III, 35; Allen, Psalms, 26; Kraus, Psalmen, 879; and BHS, 1183.

90 Peter C. Craigie, Psalms I-50, in the Word Biblical Commentary, ed. David A.

Hubbard, et al. (Waco: Word, 1983) 212. Cf. A. R. Johnson, Sacral Kingship in

Ancient Israel (Cardiff: University of Wales, 1955) 52; L. I. J. Stadelmann, The Hebrew

Conception of the World: A Philological and Literary Study (AnBib 39; Rome: Pontifi-

cal Biblical Institute, 1970) 126-30; and T. M. Ludwig, "The Traditions of Establishing

the Earth in Deutero-Isaiah," JBL 92 (1973) 345-57.

91 Craigie, Psalms, 212; cf. also Craigie, "Comparison," 10-21; and Anderson,

Psalms 2, 720.

BARKER: THE WATERS OF THE EARTH                       75


divine fiat, a flood destruction of that creation by an all powerful

God, and a present providential maintenance of the post-flood world.

This becomes an essential factor in understanding any apparent

link to Canaanite literature. First, one must acknowledge that there

may well have been a common pool of imagery used by various

peoples. Second, even if literary links can be demonstrated, Canaanite

literature was not the basis or source for Hebrew thought. Rather, if

it is cited, it is cited for polemical purposes to exalt Yahweh and his

great acts above any other deity that might vie for the Hebrews'

allegiance. The ethical monotheism of the Hebrew people was vastly

different from the surrounding religions, and the thought of religious

or cosmological. dependence is extremely difficult to maintain.

Thus, while polemical aspects of this phrase may be granted, it is

firmly rooted in the Hebrew traditions of a supernatural creation and

the providential maintenance of the world. Since the foundations of

the world were laid by divine fiat, the world was as permanent as the

God that established it, namely, df,vA MlAOf FOmTi-lBa (Ps 104:5; cf.

Ps 33:9).

The Earth Undergoes a Deluge of Water (vv 6-9). A major

element in Hebrew cosmology was the Noahic flood described in

Genesis 6-9. Since the psalm cannot be restricted to the scope of the

creation account in Genesis 1 and 2, it is not surprising that a

reference to such a catastrophic event would be found in this psalm.

Hence, the psalmist proceeds to describe this event.

The waters cover the earth (v 6). The masculine pronoun on

Otys.iKi probably refers to the feminine noun  Cr,x, and may be explained

either by the phenomenon of attraction (cf. 1 Sam 2:4), or by a

reversion back to a basic masculine form as the discourse proceeds

(cf. Exod 11:6; 2 Sam 17:13; Ezek 2:9).92 Allen suggests, however,

that the O may be an adaptation of an original h A regarded as an

archaic h a. Thus, MOhT; is the subject and the form should be rendered

htAs.;Ki. This results in vv 6a and 6b being synonymously parallel.93 This

latter view is speculative and problematic; in either case the sense is


The term MOhT;  basically means a large body of water (cf. Pss

77:16; 107:26; Isa 51:10; 63:13; Ezek 26:19; Jonah 2:5). The attempt to

link MOhT; with Tiamat of the Enuma Elish story is well known,94 but


92 Delitzsch, Psalms III, 130.

93 Allen, Psalms, 26.

94 Cf. D. W. Thomas, ed., Documents from Old Testament Times (New York:

Nelson, 1958) 19; also H. G. May, "Some Cosmic Connotations of Mayim Rabbim

'Many Waters,'" JBL 74 (1955) 9-21; and L. R. Fischer, "Creation at Ugarit and in the

Old Testament," VT 15 (1965) 313-24.

76                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


has been generally rejected. Linguistically, MOhT; cannot be derived

from Tiamat. The root merely refers to deep waters and this meaning

was kept in Hebrew but divinized in animistic Akkadian thought and

perhaps also in Ugaritic thought.95 The psalmist is merely stating that

the earth was covered by a deluge of water, so much so that the

waters stood "MyrihA-lfa," This latter term reflects Gen 7:19-20, and any

attempt to relate it to Genesis 1 in order to avoid the flood account

must be considered rather arbitrary.

There is an interesting interchange of perfect and imperfect verbs

in this verse as well as throughout the rest of the stanza. The account

is initiated with the perfect verb Otys.iKi (completed action96) and then

followed by a series of imperfects (incomplete action97) until v 9

where the perfect verb is re-introduced to terminate the discourse.

That there is a literary intent behind this seems clear. The psalmist

sets the scene in motion with waters covering the earth. He then

heightens the drama by verbs of incomplete action (imperfects) denot-

ing the waters as "standing," "fleeing,""hastening away," etc. He then

concludes the unit with another perfect verb, making the statement

that a boundary has been set, thus indicating the completed and final nature

of this act. Thus, while the worshiper is aware of the historical setting of the

psalm, he is also allowed to enter into the drama of Yahweh's activity on earth.

The waters flee from the surface of the earth (vv 7-8). An

example of synonymous parallelism is observable in v 7 with both

lines of the verse introduced by a causal Nmi,98 and with j~tarAfEGa parallel

to j~m;fara lOq and NUsUny; parallel to NUzpeHAye. The term rfaGA simply indicates

"a check applied. . . through strong admonitions or actions.”99 To

read the word in the sense of "war cry"100 is too narrow a meaning

for what the parallelism or context of the verse entails. The construct

phrase j~m;fara lOq may well be taken as an adjectival phrase101 and

probably is best rendered "thunderous voice."

A major exegetical problem occurs in v 8. The question concerns

the subjects of UlfEya and Udr;ye. Is the subject of both verbs MyimA (v 6) so


95 R. Laird Harris, "MhatA," TWOT 2:965-66; also R. Laird Harris, "The Bible and

Cosmology," JETS 5 (1963) 11-17; and W. White, "Tiamat," Zondervan Pictorial

Encyclopedia of the Bible 5:744-45.

96 Ronald J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax: An Outline (2d ed.; Toronto: University of

Toronto, 1976) 29.

97 Ibid., 30.

98 Ibid., 55.

99 Harold Stigers, "rfaGA," TWOT 2:170.

100 A. Caquot, "'rfg," TDOT 3:49; cf. also A. A. Macintosh, "A Considera-

tion of the Hebrew rfG," VT 19 (1969) 471-79.

101 Cf. Thomas O. Lambdin, Introduction to Biblical Hebrew (New York: Charles

Scribner's, 1971) 69.

BARKER: THE WATERS OF THE EARTH                       77


that v 8 continues the discussion of the activities of the flood waters, or are the

subjects MyrihA and tOfqAB;, respectively so that v 8 creates an interlude or

parenthesis describing the means by which the waters returned to their place?

Sutcliffe has argued for the former possibility. He says that the

psalmist is describing the ordering of the world in terms of his own

experience. Thus, when he thinks of places destined by God for the

waters, he is also reminded of the fact that springs are found in the

mountains. Thus, even though water naturally flows downwards, it

nonetheless gushes out high in the mountain regions.102 Sutcliffe trans-

lates the verse, "They go up to the mountains, they go down to the

valleys to the place thou hast established for them."103 His major

objection to seeing "mountains" and "valleys" as subjects is that the

context is describing the activity of waters.104

Clifford, although he also understands "waters" to be the subject,

effectively answers Sutcliffe's particular objections. He notes that the

context (vv 8b, 9) is speaking of what confines the cosmic waters, not

the water supply of Palestine.105 Allen further observes that the

scenario presented in those verses, in light of OT thinking, must be

understood to refer to the ocean (cf. Gen 1:9).106 Thus, Allen, who

takes MyimA to be the subject of these verbs, concludes that the verse is a

reference to the helterskelter movement of ocean waters as they leave

the mountains (cf. v 7).107

Dahood views the mountains as celestial mountains and the

valleys as the nether chasms. He observes that MyrihA in v 6 refers to

mountains on earth, but suggests that it may legitimately be taken as

something different in v 8.108 However, Dahood's whole scenario is

based upon a mythical concept of a three-tiered universe which is

illegitimate in light of Hebrew cosmology (see above). Additionally,

Clifford has demonstrated that Dahood's transfer of scenes from earth

to heaven is contextually improbable.109

Grammatically, the verse can be taken either way. MyrihA and tOfqAB;

can be taken as accusatives of place after verbs of motion,110 or as

subjects following their respective verbs.111 Thus, the argument is

reduced to one of context and interpretation.


l02 Edmund F. Sutcliffe, "A Note on Psalm CIV 8," VT 2 (1952) 14.

103 Ibid.

104 Ibid.

105 Richard J. Clifford, "A Note on Psalm 104:5-9," JBL 100 (1981) 88.

106 Allen, Psalms, 27.

l07 Ibid.

l08 Dahood, Psalms III, 36-37.

109 Clifford, "A Note," 88.

110 GKC, 373, per Allen, Psalms, 27.

111 GKC, 455. Terrien is incorrect when he states that Udrye is a masculine verb;

therefore, tOfqAB; (feminine plural) must be its indirect object (S. Terrien, "Creation,

78                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


Fullarton takes the line as parenthetical.112 He maintains that

v 8a offers an explanatory note as to how the waters fled to their

established places (vv 7, 8b). He is supported textually by the LXX,

Vulgate, Peshitta, and, more recently, RSV, NAB, and NASB. Thus,

such a rendering is a clear viable alternative.113

As Allen and Clifford have demonstrated, Sutcliffe's suggestions

create more problems than they solve. However, Allen's alternative

of flood waters moving over mountaintops and down into valleys

depends upon necessary grammatical elements not present in the text

(cf. "over" and "into" in the NIV) and upon imagery that violates the

natural order of things (waters moving up and down mountains).

Hence, it seems best to read the line in its normal verb-subject syn-

tactical pattern and to recognize it as an explanatory parenthetical

line. The antecedent of Mh,lA (v 8b) is then taken to be MyimA.

With this interpretation, the cataclysmic events of the Noahic

deluge can be understood better. Massive tectonic activities charac-

terized the latter part of the flood year with tremendous orogenic

events. Mountain chains were thrust up and deep valleys and ocean

basins were formed, the latter providing reservoirs for the massive

amounts of water accumulated on the surface of the earth during the

flood year. Whether this tremendous orogenic activity occurred in

situ or as a result of the cataclysmic movement of continental plates114

is not elucidated in this text. However, the tectonic interpretation is

completely consistent with the descriptions found in Genesis 6-9

(particularly Gen 7:11), and provides helpful information concerning

this global catastrophe.115

The waters are established in their place (v 9). The psalmist

now concludes the discussion of the Noahic deluge with a reference to

the covenant with Noah described in Gen 8:20-22 and 9:11-17. That

this psalmic statement cannot be a reference to Gen 1:9 (as Anderson

maintains116 is evidenced by the fact that, according to Hebrew cos-


Cultus, and Faith in the Psalter," Theological Education 2 [1966] 116-28). The gender

of a perfect 3 pl. verb is common.

112 Fullarton, "Feeling for Form," 52, n. 8.

113 Cf. also Ludwig, "Traditions of Establishing the Earth," 351.

114 Such a suggestion has been made by Stuart Nevins, "Continental Drift, Plate

Tectonics, and the Bible," Acts and Facts, Impact Series no. 32, 5 (February 1976) 3;

cr. also David G. Barker, "Biblical Evidences for Continental Drift," Bible Science

Newsletter 15:10 (October 1977) 2-3.

115 To go into the arguments, evidences and mechanisms for a global flood is

beyond the scope of this study. The reader is referred to two basic texts: John C.

Whitcomb, Jr. and Henry Morris, The Genesis Flood (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and

Reformed, 1962); and Joseph C. Dillow, The Waters Above: Earth's Pre-Flood Vapor

Canopy (Chicago: Moody, 1981); as well as the voluminous literature on the subject

particularly produced by the Institute for Creation Research.

116 Anderson, Psalms 2, 720.

BARKER: THE WATERS OF THE EARTH                       79


mology, the waters did return to. cover the earth. The promise that

such would never occur again was not given in Genesis 1 but in

Genesis 9.

A significant parallel passage occurs in Isa 54:9 where a similar

reference is made to waters not covering the earth again. It is notable

that the first reference to this promise is in the clear context of the

Noahic flood (Gen 8:21-22). Hence, even though the Noahic flood

does not occupy a prominent place in the written record of the Hebrew

Scriptures, it was a matter of general knowledge to the Hebrew people.

The imagery of flood waters confined permanently within set boun-

daries is taken from the Genesis 6-9 context.117

It is instructive to observe that the psalmist emphasizes the per-

manence of the boundary grammatically in three ways. First, he

returns to the perfect form of the verb. Second, lUbG; is placed in

emphatic position (TAm;Wa-lUbg;).118 Third, this verbal clause governs both

parallel relative clauses introduced by lBa and is an emphatic descrip-

tion of permanence. To view this as description of Gen 1:9 creates

serious theological and historical difficulties.

Summary. The psalmist includes all of Hebrew cosmology in

his psalm of praise to Yahweh, including the Noahic deluge. The first

unit of the second stanza of the hymn is clearly marked by a change

in verbal aspect and includes two parts: the setting of the unit (v 5)

and a description of the destruction of the earth via a global flood

(vv 6-9).

The text of major concern for this study (vv 6-9) is demon-

strated to be (1) a description of the flood of earth subsequent to

initial creation (vv 6-7, 8b), (2) a parenthetical note describing the

tectonic mechanism that moved the waters to their present place

(v 8a), and (3) a reference to the promise of Genesis 8 and 9 which

assured the boundary of the global seas.


The Waters of the Earth Now Provide

for All of Yahweh's Creation (vv 10-13)

The psalmist now turns from the destructive role of the waters in

Yahweh's providential care of the earth to their constructive role.

Allen states that the psalmist now "proceeds to describe how water,

the potential enemy of terrestrial life, has been harnessed to become


117 Johns has argued that the Isaiah reference finds its strongest parallels with Job

38:4-30 and Prov 8:22-31 (Warren H. Johns, "The Rebuke of the Waters," Ministry

[May 1983] 26). It is acknowledged that the imagery of Job 38:10-11 and Prov 8:29

point to Gen 1:9. However, a significant difference lies in that both speak of creative

declarations governing the normative activity of the seas under Yahweh's providential

hand, and not a decree preventing inundation of water in future earth history.

118 GKC, 455; Williams, Syntax, 96.

80                    GRACE THEOLOGICAL JOURNAL


its means of sustenance, serving God by serving its creatures.”119 This

unit may be divided into three movements: first, the act of Yahweh in

providing water for sustenance (v 10); second, a specific statement of

grateful recipients of such provision (vv 11-12); and third, a general

statement of the creation's satisfaction with Yahweh's care (v 13). The

first and last movements are grammatically distinguished by the third

masculine singular form of the verbs with their antecedent as Yahweh,

in contrast to the central movement which commences with a third

plural form of the verb with its antecedent being the "springs" of v 10.



In light of the purposes and parameters of this study, several

conclusions may be drawn. First, this psalm is unique among ancient

Near Eastern hymns in terms of its theology and cosmology. Any

apparent links with other ancient Near Eastern literature are due to a

common pool of imagery for describing a sovereign deity and the

natural order of things and / or to a polemic against foreign deities

that would vie for the Hebrews' allegiance.

Second, a structural analysis of the psalm demonstrates that the

scope of the psalm reaches far beyond the creation week of Genesis 1.

It includes the totality of Yahweh's relationship to his world, both as

creator and sustainer.

Third, in light of the broader cosmological perspective of the

psalm and the similar citation in Isa 54:9, vv 6-9 clearly point to the

Noahic deluge of Genesis 6-9 rather than the creation account of

Genesis 1. To relegate these verses to the creation account creates

serious theological and historical problems, especially in light of the

emphatic statements regarding the finality of the determination of the

oceanic boundaries. Recognizing that Ps 104:6-9 refers to the Noahic

flood provides an acceptable alternative to the more traditional


Finally, in spite of the apparent contextual incongruity, v 8a is

best taken as a parenthetical line descriptive of the mechanism of the

retreat and settling of the waters behind their final boundaries. It was

the mountains that went up and the valleys that went down. This

provides valuable insight into the catastrophic tectonic activities of

the flood year.


119 Allen, Psalms, 33.


This material is cited with gracious permission from:

            Grace Theological Seminary

            200 Seminary Dr.

            Winona Lake,  IN   46590

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: