The Time Element of Psalm 104:5-9
Robert E. Gentet
Psalm 104, verses 5-9 have been used by Creationists in various ways. For some it is a parallel account to the original creation narrative in Genesis 1. Others say it speaks of the Genesis Flood Event of Genesis 6-8. Which does it describe – Creation or the Flood?
A primary rule of Biblical interpretation is how other Scriptures bear upon the verse or verses in question. For Psalm 104, it can be readily seen that the first eight verses are very similar to the words of Genesis One.
The entire Psalm 104 has been described as a hymn to the Creator. A hymnist views God's Creation from the beginning of time [based upon other Scriptures] to what he can see around him with his eyes (mainly verse 10 and following). The "light" of verse 2 reminds us of the first day of creation, where light appeared before the creation of the Sun three days later. The heavens and upper chambers, clouds, and wind of verses 2 and 3 (also verse 13) are similar to the separation of the waters described in Genesis 1:6-8 and the creation of the atmosphere, clouds, and rain (see also Genesis 2:4-6 that describe events before day 3).
The main dispute in Psalm 104 arises in verses 5-9:
"[Verse 5] He [God] set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.
[Verse 6] You covered it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains,
[Verse 7] But at your rebuke the waters fled, at the sound of your thunder they took to flight;
[Verse 8] they flowed over the mountains, they went down into the valleys, to the place you assigned for them.
[Verse 9] You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth."
Are these verses referring to Creation Week or to Noah's Flood? One group of creationists [Young Earth] cite these verses in connection with the Flood. The other group of creationists [Ancient Earth] view them as referring to the Creation Week. If all nine verses refer to Creation Week, Verse 9 would limit the later Noah's Flood to a local event.
Does verse 9 limit the Flood to a local event? The answer can only be found when we check other Scriptures to determine the meaning of each verse in Psalm 104. Verse 5 clearly refers to an event during Creation Week, the setting of the Earth upon its foundations. But, what is the meaning of verses 6, 7, 8 and 9?
When does the Bible indicate God rebuked the waters so that they "fled" and "took to flight"? Genesis 1:9 tells us that: "And God said, 'Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.' And it was so." This sudden event of dry land appearing on day three preceded the creation on the same day of plant life. It obviously had to be a strong rebuke to the waters that had completely covered the earth. They suddenly had to allow dry land to appear and the newly created plants to grow on this land.
There is no such command by God to the later Flood waters. Rather, the Bible emphasizes how the waters took considerable time to gradually go down. The Flood began on the seventeenth day of the second month of Noah's six hundredth year (Genesis 7:11). After the earth had been flooded for 150 days, the Bible tells us:
"And God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded...The water receded steadily from the earth...by the first day of the first month of Noah's six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth...by the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry" (Genesis 8:1, 3, 13-14).
The earth was not completely dry for seven months and ten days after the Flood waters began to abate. So up to verse 8, the context of Psalm 104 does not fit the context of the Flood, but rather what the Bible elsewhere describes as Creation Week events.
Now notice the important verse 9 of Psalm 104: "You set a boundary they cannot cross; never again will they cover the earth." Where does the Bible clearly have a parallel saying? You may search the first and second chapters of Genesis in vain and not find any reference where God sets a boundary for the waters to never again cover the earth. That promise is something God made after the Flood in Genesis 9, verses 11 and 15:
"I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth....Never again will be waters become a flood to destroy all life."
This is clearly a post-Flood promise from God that the Earth and all life will never again be destroyed by a flood. The Bible has interpreted itself.
The answer to the question of the time element of verse 9 becomes plain. A time hiatus exists between verses 8 and 9 in Psalm 104. Verse 8 is still describing Creation Week events and verse 9 leaps to the promise given after the Flood.
This should not seem strange when we remember that Psalm 104 is a creation hymn written by a poet using various parts of the Bible and simply looking at life around him. He hits the highlights of events during Creation Week and remembers in passing the great promise that God gave after the Flood. Then he proceeds to describe what he can personally see in creation, praising the wisdom and majesty of the Creator.
The local Flood idea has many problems and contradictions when viewed with the Bible and geology. A later article will explore these problems and give evidences of the Flood's universality.