John Nordin

October 15, 1990

Images in Psalm 104:1-9

I propose that the unifying image for Psalm 104, verses 1 to 9 is that of God as King. The entire psalm makes strong allusion to Genesis 1, but within the first 9 verses, a more evident image of King is present.

The selection of a unifying image must account for three types of material in this section: direct address or description of God (1-2a), God acting to create or order the cosmos (2b-6a) and God overcoming chaos (6b-9).

Because all three types of material are in this section, images strictly from nature are not encompassing enough. For example, it might be tempting to invoke the image of the potter and the clay as a summary for how the work of God can be seen in nature but this will not address the first and third sections. Likewise, a image of warrior may account for the battle with chaos, and we could think of the warrior at home building his dwelling (second section), but the language of verses 1-2a fits poorly here. Likewise, the image of clothing is used repeatedly, but it does not evoke the action of God.

I would now explain the image of King, as it fits the section. Verse 1 begins with praises to God, as kings are praised not only for what they do, but what they are: "your highness, your majesty." The garments of God are described in a vivid image, and clothing is a special sign of office for kings and other leaders. We even speak of a king or high official being invested. Further, two psalms that are explicitly about God as king also make reference to robes (45:8, 93:1).

Verses 2b-3a have God staking a claim to the entire cosmos by placing a house. Kings ride forth in procession, and God does so (3b-4), reminding one of a Greek King/God (isn't Zephyr the messenger of Zeus?). Psalm 45:4 extends this image. This section also demonstrates the authority of the king over lesser powers. Note how fire and flame are "ministers" -- as ministers of a king. Psalm 97:3 also uses fire as a supporting personification for the king.

With v5-6 we enter a section that seems to have the least to do with kingship. But it is the function of kings to direct that things be built, to order and to place things in their proper places.

The final section (7-9) is complex because water is an image that evokes many allusions: the flood, crossing the Reed Sea, and the mastery of chaos, among others. I only note here how mastery of chaos is one task for a king, as Psalm 74:12-14 makes explicit.