Psalm 104 - Let sinners be consumed

1) Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honor and majesty,
2) wrapped in light as with a garment. You stretch out the heavens like a tent,
3) you set the beams of your chambers on the waters, you make the clouds your chariot,
you ride on the wings of the wind,
4) you make the winds your messengers, fire and flame your ministers.
5) You set the earth on its foundations, so that it shall never be shaken.
6) You cover it with the deep as with a garment; the waters stood above the mountains.
7) At your rebuke they flee; at the sound of your thunder they take to flight.
8) They rose up to the mountains, ran down to the valleys to the place that you appointed for them.
9) You set a boundary that they may not pass, so that they might not again cover the earth.
24) O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
34) May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord.
35) [Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more.] Bless the Lord, O my soul. Praise the Lord!
Psalm 104 (NRSV)
Pentecost, verses 24-34, 35b
Proper 24, Sunday between October 16 and October 22, Year B, verses 1-9, 24, 35c

Now it would be very natural to take "Bless the Lord, O my soul," as the tag line for this psalm. It starts the psalm and it ends the psalm. It is in character with all - or almost all the psalm. One of the lectionary's major deficits is that it passes over (ignores) many of the violent, difficult, unseemly bits of the Biblical book, and sometimes does the same when omitting verses "for brevity."

That's not really the case with Psalm 104. Most of the omitted verses marvel over God's majesty in the natural world, and at God's providence for God's creatures.
  • You make springs gush forth in the valleys... giving drink to every wild animal...
  • You cause the grass to grow for the cattle...
  • [You] bring forth food from the earth,... and wine to gladden the human heart...
  • Yonder is the sea, great and wide,...and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it...
  • [All creatures] look to you to give them their food in due season...

Which makes those first two parts of verse 35 all the more jarring. What a great world you've created God. Now "Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more." And then it continues just like a good Southern gentlelady: Why, bless the Lord!

Verses 28-32 hint at a less idyllic view of the world. God's favor gives life, but when God hides his face, his creatures die and return to dust. For reasons unexpressed and probably unknown, God looks upon the earth and it trembles, the Lord touches the mountains and they smoke. The psalmist quietly expresses concern: "May my meditation be pleasing to him..." and "May the Lord rejoice in his works..." If I am not on God's good side, if God's works of creation are not cause for rejoicing, then what wrath will God unleash?

We live life in conflict between different understandings of God and God's work in the world. We see the goodness, yet also notice that things are not right in our world and in ourselves. We live between fear of a hostile world and a hostile God, and trust in one whose immense power is rooted in love, justice, and mercy.

Can it be that we have less tolerance for sinners than does the Most High God?

We have just reviewed, in a praiseworthy manner, God's bountiful hand in ordering a world in which even the lions (enemies of sheep and shepherd) have their place. "The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God" (v21, also 22).

We are right, emotionally, to have no patience with evil, which seeks to destroy the goodness God is bringing into being. Yet the psalm itself recalls (v6-9) how God orders the world, preventing the destruction of another great Deluge. We do well to observe God's righteous response to wrongdoing, which is not principally about destruction, so much as turning, re-shaping, healing, and transforming the "rough edges" of the world into a beautiful new creation.

May my meditation be pleasing to God, for I rejoice in the Lord.


Credits:
Unattibuted, Klickitat River, Public domain.
eatTV, Outstanding in the Field, Lobachsville, Pennsylvania, 2012.

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