The Bible opens with a majestic story of a God who fashions the world we know with mighty words of command. It would be surprising if the Psalms had no poetic reflections on that great founding story of the Bible. Dr. Bellinger and others identify Psalms 8, 19, 65, 104 and 148 as hymns that feature a creation theme.
Psalm 8 begins and ends with identical praises for God’s majesty over all the earth. These form a kind of poetic frame for the praises within. The technical term is inclusio, a Latin word used in the sense of bracketing or enclosing something. It is generally used for emphasis of the repeated line, but it is also used to draw attention to what is between the identical terms.
In this case, the inclusio suggests that God’s majesty is revealed in the main subject of the psalm: God not only creates the cosmos, but He also lifts humankind to an exalted place as God’s co-regent over the created order.
It is hard for a modern reader to see how the writer gets from verse 1 to verse 2. God sets His glory above the heavens. Then, somehow, the praises of children silences foes and avengers.
I suspect that the cries of babies are likened to praises to God for poetic effect. Children are a blessing from God in a holistic creation theology. The fact of having children shows the good blessing of a God who is watching out for your posterity. In other words, the cry of a believer’s babies shows even God’s enemies that God is in charge.
Musing on the blessing of having children brings further reflection about the wonder of mankind’s exalted place in the created order. Verses 6-8 rely heavily on Genesis 1 and 2 to describe humanity as the pinnacle of God’s creative work – a creature that is nonetheless empowered to rule over the other creatures in a Godlike way.
The psalm uses the creation account in a way that exalts God for his goodness and generosity to humankind for our place in the world.
Psalm 19 uses the idea of creation in a different way than Psalm 8. In this psalm the heavens themselves are said to speak God’s glory just by being what they are and do by God’s command. Verses 1-4a (the first half of verse 4) are a four-part step-ladder of repetition of the idea of the heavens speaking of God’s glory.
The second half of v. 4 begins a poetic description of the sun as an example of the above. The sun rises in the sky at dawn, glowing like a new husband from his wedding night. From dawn he tirelessly runs across the sky like a champion racehorse. The sun knows when to appear and where to go every day.
From there the writer goes to describe the magnificence of the law God gave to Israel. It begins with a series of five stair-step-parallels that describe the effect of observing God’s law in the life of a believer.
- The law of the LORD is perfect,
reviving the soul.
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy,
making wise the simple.
The precepts of the LORD are right,
giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the LORD are radiant,
giving light to the eyes.
The fear of the LORD is pure,
enduring forever. [NIV]
The fifth is not a direct reference to the law, but rather to the changed heart that results from a love of God’s law. it implies that the one with a changed heart will live forever.
To the modern mind it seems like a stretch to come here from a description of the glory of God’s creation, but the subject has changed less than one might think. The same God who orders the universe is the one who orders human life through His law. Life on earth is made possible because the other elements of creation work according to God’s will. It follows that human beings will only succeed to the fullest when they allow God’s will to order their lives, too.
From here we move to the desirability of keeping God’s law itself in verses 10 and 11. For the believer who pays attention to it, the law can warn of dangerous ways of living or of being. For Israelites the law could function as an early-warning system for potential personal or national disaster.
Musing on this great function of the law turns the psalmist inward to his own heart. No early-warning system can work if the warning is not heeded (vs. 12).
What might cause a warning not to be heeded? Verse 13 suggests a strong possibility: a willful heart. Working on the willfulness may not completely overcome sin in one’s life, but it should protect a believer from the worst of sins.
This “creation hymn” moves in such a way that it functions as a wisdom psalm. If we watch how God organizes the universe, we can see the wisdom in living according to ‘God’s ways.
Even though they are categorized as “creation hymns” each hymn in this category uses the creation account in unique ways and for unique effects. Psalm 8 exalts God for the place He gives humanity. Psalm 19 uses the creation’s order and harmony as an object lesson in following God’s revealed will in His law. I encourage everyone to read the rest of the psalms of creation to see the other creative ways psalm writers use the first story of the Bible in praise of God.