This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Bible: Celebrate creation and Creator

“Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy!” Our texts for the five Sundays in January are psalms. The one theme that holds these five psalms together is praise for some aspect of creation — earth, sea and sky.

Reta Halteman Finger

In these days as carbon dioxide warms our planet and raises sea levels, I’m all for focusing on creation. We have things to worry about that the psalmists never did. Indeed, each line about “springs gushing forth in the valleys” or “you provide the people with grain” should remind us of how precious is our one and only world and how we honor our Creator by properly caring for it.

Nevertheless, it seems a bit odd to glory in God’s creation during our Northern Hemisphere’s coldest and most dormant month of the year. “Frost” and “snow” are mentioned only three times in the psalter, since only the highest mountains around Palestine regularly get snow in the winter.

Perhaps the creation psalms are a good reminder that before long plants will “bring forth food from the earth” (Psalm 104:14) and birds will build their nests in the “cedars of Lebanon” (104:17).

Our New Year’s text is Psalm 33:1-9. Choosing only nine stanzas out of a total of 22 is a clue that this psalm is about more than the natural world. It is a call to the inhabitants of the earth to praise and fear only one God. In superior wisdom, love and justice, the word of Yahweh created the heavens “and all their host by the breath of his mouth.” Verse 9 reiterates the method of creation: God “spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.”

Thus Psalm 33 echoes the creation account in Genesis 1, in which God simply speaks — “Let there be . . .” — and things appear in their proper order. Rather than challenging our current theory of evolution, unknown at the time, ancient Hebrews insisted on the oneness and superior power of their God over the gods of other nations. Compare, for example, the Babylonian Enuma Elish, where various gods represent different aspects of the natural world. In this account, the male god Marduk murders his mother Tiamat, who represents chaotic water, and violently splits her body into ocean and sky.

Israel’s God, on the other hand, is Oneness beyond gender. After calling the stars of heaven into existence, Yahweh peacefully “gathered the waters of the sea as in a bottle; he put the deeps in storehouses” (33:7).
Verse 7 also illustrates the literary structure of the entire psalm, which uses synonymous parallelism. Each stanza has two lines, both of which say the same thing in different ways. Take time to enjoy the artistry. In a class, you can divide the group in half and recite the poem antiphonally.

Psalm 96 is another hymn of praise with much the same structure and sentiment. The call to worship tells the audience to sing “a new song.” The context appears to be a festival in which Israelites are coming to the temple with their offerings (96:8). This parallels the opening of Psalm 33, which also calls people to sing a “new song,” though with lyre, harp and other stringed instruments.

The Lord “is to be revered above all gods.” Why? Because “all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.” Like Psalm 33, this hymn blends Yahweh’s justice and righteousness with his creative power, this time over sea, field and trees of the forest. Compare the content and creativity of these two psalms, which use different images to convey a similar message.

Reta Halteman Finger is retired from Messiah College, teaches Bible part-time at Eastern Mennonite University and has written Of Widows and Meals: Communal Meals in the Book of Acts.

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