I wonder who wrote Psalm 104, and when? Whoever and whenever, it is a radically revolutionary piece of theology, something of a poetic hand grenade tossed into the milieu of religious beliefs and myths that dominated the Mediterranean world.
In that world, an endless array of divine agencies were held responsible each for a particular form of creation or condition in the environment. Each nation and tribe had its own pantheon of gods with enough cross fertilization to create combinations and permutations to challenge any mathematician. It’s an easy thing to assume that they simply invented these deities to explain mysteries that would someday become plain old boring scientific facts. Maybe so, at least in part, but I also suspect, as with Otto, that all those myths were also tinged with an authentic sense of the divine.
And that brings me to the radical poet of Psalm 104. He, or perhaps she, in thirty-five brief stanzas, praised the God of Israel as the singular creator and sustainer of all creation, including the ebb and flow of environmental conditions. The psalm reflects a holistic understanding of creation with appreciation for the place of every creature and every condition. Even the dreaded sea monsters are made not to be feared but to be appreciated as evidence of God’s sense of humor and joyfulness. The God of Psalm 104 is not capriciousness nor does he required propitiation. What he has done he has done beneficently, and the appropriate response is simply praise and thanksgiving. There is no longer any need or place for a pantheon of gods. They are not only displaced, they are eliminated as having never existed. They were never more than shadows, vague indicators of the greater truth revealed by God through the people of Israel.
I imagine that the kind of thinking revealed in this psalm would have been seen as a great offense and real threat to nearby peoples, if they were aware of it at all. I also imagine that more than a few Israelites had their doubts when they first heard it.
What of our own day? Fundamentalists of every stripe in every religion have a hard time with new and radical revelation. They are easily offended and threatened, and react accordingly. On the other hand, just because some idea is promoted as a new revelation doesn’t’ make it so. It may not even be new. Then there are those who are unwilling to consider the divine at all in any form. As the second letter to Timothy says: “…The time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires…” (2Tim. 4:3)