Psalm 104:9 - Does it refer to the Original Creation or the Flood?
by Rich Deem

Introduction

The concept of a global Genesis flood can be easily eliminated from a plain reading of Psalm 104, which has been called the "creation psalm." The Psalm claims that the original waters of the earth (which initially covered the entire earth) would "never again cover the earth" (Psalm 104:9). Obviously, if this is a proper interpretation of the Psalm, the global flood interpretation must be false or else this verse must be false. This page is a Bible study of the first nine verses of this Psalm and how they should be interpreted according to the Bible.

Comparison to other creation texts

Since I claim that the Psalm describes the original creation, it would be good to compare Psalm 104 to the other creation passages in the Bible:

Verse Psalm 104 Other Creation Passages
2 He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1)
And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. (Genesis 1:3)
Who alone stretches out the heavens, And tramples down the waves of the sea; (Job 9:8)
Several creation passages refer to the expansion of the heavens1
3 and lays the beams of His upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds His chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. The One who builds His upper chambers in the heavens, And has founded His vaulted dome over the earth, He who calls for the waters of the sea And pours them out on the face of the earth, The LORD is His name. (Amos 9:6)
4 He makes winds His messengers, flames of fire His servants.  
5 He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved. In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. (Psalm 102:25)
My own hand laid the foundations of the earth, and my right hand spread out the heavens; when I summon them, they all stand up together. (Isaiah 48:13)
that you forget the LORD your Maker, who stretched out the heavens and laid the foundations of the earth, that you live in constant terror every day because of the wrath of the oppressor, who is bent on destruction? For where is the wrath of the oppressor? (Isaiah 51:13)
I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand-- I who set the heavens in place, who laid the foundations of the earth, and who say to Zion, 'You are my people.'" (Isaiah 51:16)
he who builds his lofty palace in the heavens and sets its foundation on the earth, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out over the face of the land-- the LORD is his name. (Amos 9:6)
This is the word of the LORD concerning Israel. The LORD, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the spirit of man within him, declares: (Zechariah 12:1)
He also says, "In the beginning, O Lord, you laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. (Hebrews 1:10)
6 You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains. So God made the expanse and separated the water under the expanse from the water above it. And it was so. (Genesis 1:7)
Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. (Genesis 1:2)
I was there when He set the heavens in place, when He marked out the horizon on the face of the deep, when he established the clouds above and fixed securely the fountains of the deep, (Proverbs 8:27-28)
Who has ascended into heaven and descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has wrapped the waters in His garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name or His son's name? Surely you know! (Proverbs 30:4)
When I made a cloud its garment, And thick darkness its swaddling band, (Job 38:9)
The One who builds His upper chambers in the heavens, And has founded His vaulted dome over the earth, He who calls for the waters of the sea And pours them out on the face of the earth, The LORD is His name. (Amos 9:6)
7 But at Your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of Your thunder they took to flight; And God said, "Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear." And it was so. (Genesis 1:9)
For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, (2 Peter 3:5)
The earth is the LORD'S, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it. For He has founded it upon the seas, And established it upon the rivers. (Psalm 24:2)
8 they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place You assigned for them. God called the dry ground "land," and the gathered waters he called "seas." And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:10)
To Him who made the heavens with skill, For His lovingkindness is everlasting; To Him who spread out the earth above the waters, For His lovingkindness is everlasting; (Psalm 136:5-6)
9 You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth. when he gave the sea its boundary so the waters would not overstep his command, and when he marked out the foundations of the earth. (Proverbs 8:29)
By the word of the LORD the heavens were made, And by the breath of His mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap; He lays up the deeps in storehouses. (Psalm 33:6-7)
...For I have placed the sand as a boundary for the sea, An eternal decree, so it cannot cross over it. Though the waves toss, yet they cannot prevail; Though they roar, yet they cannot cross over it. (Jeremiah 5:22)
"Or who enclosed the sea with doors, When, bursting forth, it went out from the womb...And I placed boundaries on it, And I set a bolt and doors, And I said, 'Thus far you shall come, but no farther; And here shall your proud waves stop'? (Job 38:8-11)

Holman QuickSource Guide to Understanding CreationPsalm 104 describes the creation of the earth in the same order as that seen in Genesis 1 (with a few more details added). It begins with an expanding universe model (reminiscent of the Big Bang) (verse 2, parallel to Genesis 1:1). It next describes the formation of a stable water cycle (verses 3-5, parallel to Genesis 1:6-8). The earth is then described as a planet completely covered with water (verse 6, parallel to Genesis 1:9). God then causes the dry land to appear (verses 7-8, parallel to Genesis 1:9-10). The verse that eliminates a global flood follows: "You set a boundary they [the waters] cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth." (Psalm 104:9) Obviously, if the waters never again covered the earth, then the flood must have been local.

There are a number of figures of speech used in Psalm 104 that clearly refer to the original creation as opposed to the flood. The reference to the boundaries of the deep are a clear reference to the original creation (Proverbs 8:29, Psalm 33:6-7, Jeremiah 5:22, and Job 38:8-11). There are no references to "boundaries" in any of the flood references. A second figure of speech is the idea of the earth being covered by a garment, which is only found in the creation passages, and never in the flood passages (Proverbs 30:4, Job 38:9). In addition, there are no references to the mountains rising and the valleys sinking (Psalm 104:8) after the flood, although these events could be clearly linked to the setting of the boundaries of the sea as described in Genesis 1 and Job 38.

Biblical commentaries

There are a number of biblical commentaries, nearly all of which support the interpretation that Psalm 104:9 refers to Genesis 1. Most of these commentaries are from Christians who support a young-earth interpretation. The context makes it clear that the subject is the creation of the earth - not its judgment. All the verses before verse 9 clearly refer to the original creation. What do the commentaries say about Psalm 104?

Commentary Comments
The inscription of the Syriac version of Psalm 104 "a psalm of David, when he went to worship before the ark of the Lord with the priests; and as to us, it teaches us confession and prayer; and intimates to us the constitution of the beginning of the creatures; and declares some things concerning the angels."
Septuagint "a psalm of David concerning the constitution of the world;"
John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible2 "for it treats of the creation of all things, of the heavens and the earth, and of all creatures in them; and of the providence of God in taking care of them.
Psa 104:6 - Thou coverest it with the deep as with a garment,.... This refers not to the waters of the flood, when the earth was covered with them, even the tops of the highest mountains; but to the huge mass of waters, the abyss and depth of them, which lay upon the earth and covered it as a garment, at its first creation, as the context and the scope of it show; and which deep was covered with darkness, at which time the earth was without form, and void, Gen 1:2"
Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible3 "Psalm 104 - God's majesty in the heavens, The creation of the sea, and the dry land. (1-9)"
John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible4 "Psa 104:6 - The deep - In the first creation, Gen 1:2, Gen 1:9."
Adam Clarke's Commentary5 "The majesty and power of God manifested in the creation of the heavens and the atmosphere, 1-3; of the earth and sea, 4- 9"
The Treasury of David (Charles H. Spurgeon)6 "Verse 6. Thou coveredst it with the deep as with a garment. The new born earth was wrapped in aqueous swaddling bands. In the first ages, ere man appeared, the proud waters ruled the whole earth. The waters stood above the mountains, no dry land was visible, vapour as from a steaming cauldron covered all. Geologists inform us of this as a discovery, but the Holy Spirit had revealed the fact long before."
Treasury of Scripture Knowledge This sublime poem on the works of God in creation and providence, is ascribed to David...
John Darby Psalm 104, which celebrates Jehovah as Creator requires very few remarks.
Geneva Bible Study Notes The prophet shows that we do not need to enter into the heavens to seek God, for as much as all the order of nature, with the propriety and placing of the elements, are living mirrors to see his majesty in.
Keil and Delitzsch The first decastich begins the celebration with work of the first and second days...

Even though these YEC understand that the verses refer to Genesis 1, they fail to understand the implications of that reality - the Genesis flood must have been local. Both John Gill's commentary and the Treasury of David (Spurgeon) recognize that these verses refer to Genesis 1, but then state that God made an exception to the rule when He flooded the earth. This idea makes no sense, since the verse clearly states that the original waters of the deep would never again cover the earth. In essence, these commentaries state that the verse is false. I can't accept that idea, since I believe in the inerrancy of the scriptures.

Conclusion Top of page

Psalm 104 clearly is a discussion about creation, not the flood. Did God stretch out the heavens (Psalm 104:2) in Genesis 6-9 (the flood narrative)? Did God set the earth on its foundations (Psalm 104:5) in Genesis 6-9? If it were talking about the flood, there would be a reference to judgment. There isn't any. There is no reference to the world being destroyed. These are all things that one would expect to see (and does see) in virtually every other biblical passage that mentions the flood.


Related Pages Top of page


A Matter of Days by Hugh RossA Matter of Days by Hugh Ross

Dr. Ross looks the creation date controversy from a biblical, historical, and scientific perspective. Most of the book deals with what the Bible has to say about the days of creation. Ross concludes that biblical models of creation should be tested through the whole of scripture and the revelations of nature.

Peril in Paradise: Theology, Science, and the Age of the Earth Peril in Paradise: Theology, Science, and the Age of the Earth by Mark S. Whorton, Ph.D.

This book, written for Christians, examines creation paradigms on the basis of what scripture says. Many Christians assume that the young earth "perfect paradise" paradigm is based upon what the Bible says. In reality, the "perfect paradise" paradigm fails in its lack of biblical support and also in its underlying assumptions that it forces upon a "Christian" worldview. Under the "perfect paradise" paradigm, God is relegated to the position of a poor designer, whose plans for the perfect creation are ruined by the disobedience of Adam and Eve. God is forced to come up with "plan B," in which He vindictively creates weeds, disease, carnivorous animals, and death to get back at humanity for their sin. Young earth creationists inadvertently buy into the atheistic worldview that suffering could not have been the original intent of God, stating that the earth was created "for our pleasure." However, the Bible says that God created carnivores, and that the death of animals and plants was part of God's original design for the earth.


References Top of page

  1. The following verses refer to the creation of the universe as God stretched out the heavens.
    • Who alone stretches out the heavens, And tramples down the waves of the sea; (Job 9:8)
    • Covering Thyself with light as with a cloak, Stretching out heaven like a tent curtain. (Psalm 104:2)
    • It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. (Isaiah 40:22)
    • Thus says God the Lord, Who created the heavens and stretched them out, Who spread out the earth and its offspring, Who gives breath to the people on it, And spirit to those who walk in it, (Isaiah 42:5)
    • Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, "I, the Lord, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself, And spreading out the earth all alone" (Isaiah 44:24)
    • "It is I who made the earth, and created man upon it. I stretched out the heavens with My hands, And I ordained all their host." (Isaiah 45:12)
    • "Surely My hand founded the earth, And My right hand spread out the heavens; When I call to them, they stand together." (Isaiah 48:13)
    • That you have forgotten the Lord your Maker, Who stretched out the heavens, And laid the foundations of the earth; That you fear continually all day long because of the fury of the oppressor, As he makes ready to destroy? But where is the fury of the oppressor? (Isaiah 51:13)
    • It is He who made the earth by His power, Who established the world by His wisdom; And by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens. (Jeremiah 10:12)
    • It is He who made the earth by His power, Who established the world by His wisdom, And by His understanding He stretched out the heavens. (Jeremiah 51:15)
    • The burden of the word of the Lord concerning Israel. Thus declares the Lord who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him, (Zechariah 12:1)
  2. John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible
  3. Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible
  4. John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible
  5. Adam Clarke's Commentary
  6. The Treasury of David
  7. John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible: "That they turn not again to cover the earth; as they did when it was first made, Psa 104:6 that is, not without the divine leave and power; for they did turn again and cover the earth, at the time of the flood; but never shall more."
    The Treasury of David: "Verse 9. Thou hast set a bound that they may not pass over; that they turn not again to cover the earth. That bound has once been passed, but it shall never be so again. The deluge was caused by the suspension of the divine mandate which held the floods in check"

http://www.godandscience.org/youngearth/psalm104.html
Last Modified May 21, 2007

 

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