Science in Christian Prespective



Is Mankind the Measure?
Old Testament Perspectives on Mankind's Place
in the Natural World

Philip Schafran

Northwest Baptist Theological College & Seminary
22606 76 "A" Ave.
Langley, B. C. CANADA V3A 8B8

In this paper I survey three areas: (1) what some prominent Old Testament theologians have said favorably about mankind's exalted role over the rest of creation, (2) recent accusations against evangelical Christianity for accepting and promoting an exalted view of mankind over creation, and (3) an examination of Gen. 1-2, Psalm 8, and especially Psalm 104, to demonstrate that while O. T. Scripture does give mankind an exalted position, this must be balanced with passages which place him on an egalitarian levelwith the rest of the natural world (Ps. 104).

In Psalm 104, I look at the interrelationship between the literary structure and themes of the poem which show that mankind is not viewed as dominant over creation or as a Lord over creation, but on an equal level with the natural world. What is in question in Psalm 104 is not strictly mankind's relationship to the natural world but Yahweh's relationship to the natural world, especially to those chaotic elements in the natural world (water, heavenly bodies, darkness, and animal life). Yahweh exercises his kingly rule over creation, not through mankind's dominance, but through his direct rule and intervention of his Spirit. Therefore, if evangelicals have seen mankind's role as one of dominance over creation, it is because of a misunderstanding and misapplication of Scripture.

Finally, in light of Psalm 104, I question whether we have read Genesis 1-2 and Psalm 8 properly, or whether there are other ways of reading these passages that promote a proper respect for a natural world.


Many have accused the Church of being the culprit for our environmental problems because she views mankind as superior over the rest of creation.1 This superiority is supposedly based upon a Hebrew understanding of creation that, in the words of Harvey Cox, "separates nature from God and distinguishes man from nature.2 One example of this superiority can be seen in the writings of Edmond Jacob. While Jacob does not represent the entire Church or speak for all theologians, I have chosen him as an example for those who would find evidence and accuse the Church of promoting the exploitation of the natural world.

Old Testament Scholar Edmond Jacob

For example, Edmond Jacob states concerning the relationship of mankind to the natural world:

"Affirmation of the unity of the world is already found heavily underlined in the Yahwist account of creation which refers all the works of creation to God their author on the one hand and to man as their beneficiary on the other, for before the creation of man the earth was a desert - it is drought and not water which constitutes the element of danger in this account - and the garden of Eden was only planted to put there the man whom Yahweh formed before the other works of creation (Gen. 2:8); what a commentator of a later period expressed in the words: "Thou wouldest make man the administrator of thy works, that it might be known that he was by no means made on account of the world, but the world on account of him" (Apoc. Baruch 14.18).3

One might not quibble with Jacob had he said that the "earth" is only ultimately temporary and not permanent but Jacob states that the "material universe" -  not just the planet earth - is only temporary and does not possess permanent worth.

Because Israel existed in an environment of pagan religions, where the natural elements were exalted to divinity, the desire among some theologians is to avoid any deifying of nature, by downplaying the importance and value of the material world. Jacob states,

"Man's superiority is shown in a general way over all nature. In the oriental world as a whole, nature was deified and the presence of gods and spirits in its midst induced men to make them harmless by devoting a cult to them. In Hebrew religion there is no bond between man and nature. Thus salvation for man will not consist in the adoration of nature but in dominion over it; in a sense man looks upon it with the eyes of god, although of course that does not mean that he knows all its secrets; God alone possesses absolute wisdom: Prov. 8:22; Job 28:12ff.; 38."5

This type of theological thinking has the potential of promoting a devaluation of the natural world or a perception that the natural world is not good, perhaps even has ominous elements in it that need to be subdued, dominated, or controlled. The mandate to dominate the natural world comes from God's commands in Genesis 1:26-28 which tell mankind to "rule" and "subdue" the natural world. Jacob pictures mankind's rule over nature, and especially the ominous elements of nature, as mirroring Yahweh's triumph over primordial chaos and bringing it into subjugation. Jacob states:

"Domination through struggle reproduces God's own action: the earliest traditions about creation of which we have traces in certain poetic texts represent it as a struggle and victory of Yahweh's over the powers of chaos, which have not, however, been totally destroyed but only bridled." 6

In other words, just as Yahweh struggled to dominate primordial chaos, so man struggles to dominate the natural world, especially the evil implicit in the animal world.

The Thesis of This Paper

What is at issue is how we perceive the natural world. Does the natural world exist mainly for the benefit of mankind, or does it have intrinsic value, or are both affirmed in Scripture? Does the Old Testament support a view of the natural world in which mankind is the measure or have we misread the Old Testament, especially Genesis 1 and 2? Is there evidence in the Old Testament for the intrinsic value and worth of the natural world apart from mankind that would provide a balance to the monarchical view represented by Jacob which sees the value of the natural world in serving mankind's utilitarian needs?

Whether the church has been rightly or wrongly criticized for contributing to environmental problems, I would argue that we have focused much attention on Gen. 1 and 2 for our understanding of creation to the neglect of the rest of Scripture.

In the remainder of my paper, I will comment briefly on Gen. 1-2, and then focus on Psalm 104 to show that while Old Testament Scriptures (especially in the early chapters of Genesis) do give mankind an exalted position in the natural world, this must be balanced with passages like Psalm 104 which place mankind on an egalitarian level with the natural world.

The choice of the word egalitarian "to be equal" or "have equality" can be misleading, but it is hard to find another word or concept that conveys a sense of equity, justice, and respect between mankind and the natural world. Its choice must be qualified. By egalitarian, I do not wish to exclude any hierarchical relationships within the natural world, including mankind's obvious hierarchy over animal and plant life in intelligence, societal roles and functions, communication, etc. However, I will argue that any hierarchicalism must stop short of dominance and exploitation over the natural world. An egalitarian view also includes a regal and royal position for mankind among living beings (Gen. 1 and 2), but I will argue that the role is positive in essence, not negative. It is markedly personal, rather than impersonal. It does not allow the natural world to be perceived as the object of human whim and desire. The egalitarianism or "equality" I would advocate between mankind and the natural world is based upon their common sharing of the goodness of the Creator and participation in his world. It is in contrast to a "monarchical" view that sees mankind, primarily in light of Gen. 1 and 2, as the lords of creation and has been equated with technology, exploitation, and consumerism. Psalm 104 pictures mankind and the natural world in a symbiotic, dependent relationship with each other and their Creator. Their value and worth are not based upon their utilitarian purposes, but on their place in the cosmos that Yahweh has created.

Genesis 1 and 2

It is in Gen. 1 and 2 that most theologians find support for the monarchical view of mankind over nature. The lines of evidence which are usually adduced7and a response to each include the following:

(1) The Lord God pronounces the sixth day very good while the first five days are only pronounced good Therefore, Yahweh's evaluation of the sixth day, which includes mankind's creation, is the highest he gives.

In response, both mankind and the natural world partake of the divine commendation, "and he saw that it was good." There is nothing inherently evil in the natural world that puts mankind at odds with it so that it needs to be "subdued."

(2) Mankind is given "rule" over the fish, birds, livestock, and creatures that move along the ground (Gen. 1:26,28). He is also told to "subdue" the earth (Gen. 1:28).

In response, though mankind is given "rule" over the fish, birds, cattle, and creeping things, they are considered with mankind a "living soul/creature" Both mankind and creatures partake of the same divine life. This is seen further in the Noahic covenant where Yahweh promises not to destroy the world again by water. Mankind is included in the "living creatures" who will be spared from Yahweh's curse. From Gen. 2:15 and Adam's role as a caretaker and tiller of the garden, we know that he understands his relationship to creation not in the pejorative sense of "rule" or "subdue," but in the sense of "mastery" and "settle.8 I translate the terms "rule" and "subdue" with "mastery" and "settle" respectively. This translation, I believe reflects a positive relationship between mankind and the natural world. The verb "work," is used in Gen. 2:15 and Ps. 104:14 to describe man's "cultivation" or "tilling" of the soil. The verb "cultivate" is used elsewhere in the O. T. for "tending flocks" (Gen. 30:31) and "protecting "bsalom" (2 Sam. 18:12).

(3) Mankind further demonstrates his monarchy over nature by "naming" the animals. This naming shows his right of mastery or responsibility for these animals.

In response, Adam, even given his position of "rule," has an intimate connection with the rest of creation, having been taken from the "earth" He is responsible for both oversight of the creation and finding his physical essence being defined by it.

(4) Only mankind is said to have been made "in the image of God" No other creature is given such an honorary description of its relationship to a deity.

In response, while Adam is made in the image of God, the preposition beth "in" can be understood as "as the image of God.9 Adam is the visible representative of Yahweh's rule to the rest of creation. The "image" has to do with something physical and visible rather than the nonphysical, invisible attributes or qualities of God reflected in Adam. This shows both mankind's privileged position and his inherent responsibility to represent his Creator before the rest of creation.

I believe, therefore, that in Genesis 1 and 2 there is evidence for a balancing of the monarchical view of mankind's relationship over the natural world with an egalitarian view of joint participation. It is debatable whether an exclusively monarchical view of mankind's position over the natural world is justified even within the early chapters of Genesis.

Psalm 104

I would like to focus on four specifics in Psalm 104, which I believe show that the Psalmist places the natural world on an egalitarian level with mankind. The four specifics are: (1) a literary similarity to other ancient Near Eastern hymns which exalt the natural world for its own sake as the creation of the deity; (2) the structure of the psalm that places both mankind and the animal world on an egalitarian level as workers for their daily sustenance; (3) wisdom influences within the psalm that celebrate the mystery and intricateness of the entire natural world, which includes mankind, but focuses on the fauna and flora of the natural world; (4) the relationship of Psalm 104 with Gen. 1 as an example of inner biblical exegesis of an earlier text, particularly the desire of the Psalmist to reflect on Gen. 1-2 to show the close connection between mankind and the earth with mankind as the cultivator and caretaker of the earth, not its subjugator.

Ancient Near Eastern Literary Similarities

The first specific is that many biblical scholars have found a great deal of literary similarity between Psalm 104 and the Egyptian Hymn to Aten.10 Both hymns celebrate the natural world as the creation of deity. The Hymn to Aten was written in the Amarna period during the reign of Pharaoh Amunhotep IV (1400 B.C.). This Pharaoh's reform consisted of suppressing worship of the god Amun who had become attached to the ancient sun god Re, and to replace Amun-Re with Aten, the solar disc who was the universal creator god. Amunhotep IV (Amun is satisfied) changed his name to Akhenaten (the effective spirit of Aten). He also changed the capital city from Thebes to Akhetaten (Horizon of the Aten), that is, Amarna. Some historians hailed Akhenaten as the first monotheist.

The point I want to make is that both hymns are simply a celebration of the natural world in all its glory, especially its fauna and flora. Psalm 104 falls within an ancient Near Eastern literary Gattung that celebrates nature for its own intrinsic value and worth. Some parallels between Psalm 104 and the Hymn to Aten include:11

Both hymns mention the rise of the sun at daybreak. The hymn proclaims to the god Aten:

Hymn to Aten:

    At daybreak, when you arise on the horizon
    All the world, they do their work.12
    The psalmist proclaims Yahweh who has set in place the regularity of the sun:

Psalm 104:22-23:

    When the sun rises, they come home and crouch in their dens.
    Man then goes out to his work, to his labor until the evening.

B. Each poet also interrupts his survey of creation to proclaim the wonders of creation and the god who created it:

Hymn to Aten:

    How manifold it is, what you have made!
    They are hidden from the face [of man].
    O sole god, like whom there is no other!
    You did create the world according to your desire
    When you were alone.
    How effective they are, your plans,
    O lord of eternity!

Psalm 194:24:

    How many are the things You have made, O Lord;
    You have made them all with wisdom; the earth is full of Your creations.

C. The sustenance of creation by each god is also elaborated:

Hymn to Aten:

    You set every man in his place,
    You supply their necessities:
    Everyone has his food, and his time of life is reckoned.

Psalm 104:14-15:

    You make the grass grow for the cattle,
    and herbage for man's labor
    that he may get food out of the earth -
    wine that cheers the hearts of men,
    oil that makes the face shine,
    and bread that sustains man's life.

Psalm 104:27:

    All of them look to You
    to give them their food when it is due.

D. Both hymns also picture water flowing down the mountains:

Hymn to Aten:

    For you have set a Nile in heaven,
    That it may descend for them and make
    waves upon the mountains.

Psalm 104:6, 10:

    You made the deep cover the earth as a garment;
    the waters stood above the mountains.
    You made springs gush forth in torrents;
    they make their way between the hills.

E. Both hymns begin with the mention of light; Aten with sunrise, Psalm 104 with Yahweh wrapping himself in light:

Hymn to Aten:

    You appear beautifully on the horizon of heaven,
    You living Aton, the beginning of life!

Psalm 104:1b-2a:

    O LORD my God, you are very great;
    you are clothed with splendor and majesty.
    He wraps himself with light as with a garment;

F. Each mention the nighttime and a specific reference to lions that in Aten leave their dens at night, and in Psalm 104 "roar for prey," returning home at sunrise:

Hymn to Aten:

    Every lion is come forth from his den;
    All creeping things, they sting.
    Darkness is a shroud, and the earth is in stillness,
    For he who made them rests in his horizon.

Psalm 104:20-21:

    The lions roar for their prey
    and seek their food from God.
    The sun rises, and they steal away;
    they return and lie down in their dens.

G. Each hymn also speaks generally of beasts and birds, trees and plants, the sea and its life, and the ships that sail on it.

Hymn to Aten:

    All beasts are content with their pasturage;
    Trees and plants are flourishing.
    The birds which fly from their nests,
    Their wings are (stretched out) in praise to your ka.
    All beasts spring upon their feet.
    Whatever flies and alights,
    They live when you have risen for them.
    The ships are sailing north and south as well,
    for every way is open at your appearance.
    The fish in the river dart before your face;
    Your rays are in the midst of the great green sea.

Psalm 104:11-14, 25-26:

    They [springs] give water to all the beasts of the field;
    the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
    The birds of the air nest by the waters;
    they sing among the branches.
    He waters the mountains from his upper chambers;
    the earth is satisfied by the fruit of his work.
    He makes grass grow for the cattle,
    and plants for man to cultivate
    bringing forth food from the earth:
    There is the sea, vast and spacious,
    teeming with creatures beyond number,
    living things both large and small.
    There the ships go to and fro,
    and the leviathan, which you
    formed to frolic there.

Both hymns celebrate the universal presence of God in nature.

There are some differences. The Hymn to Aten never mentions the creation of the sun while Psalm 104 does. In the Hymn to Aten, darkness is the absence of the deity Aten, while in Psalm 104 it is the creation of Yahweh. The primordial light is equated with the heavenly bodies in the Hymn to Aten, while in Psalm 104 they are differentiated. In the Hymn to Aten, mankind's creation is depicted as semen growing in a woman, while Psalm 104 does not directly describe mankind's creation. Also, the intricacies of a chicken embryo are described in the Hymn to Aten, while Psalm 104 is not as detailed in its depiction of animal life.

The Structure of Psalm 104

The second specific is that the structure and outline13  of Psalm 104 do not have mankind as the central focus in the two sections which mention mankind specifically. Psalm 104 can be outlined14 with Yahweh's sovereignty over creation as the central focus. Yahweh is the king over the natural world and mankind is simply an illustration of the regularity of the natural world.

I. Yahweh, shows his sovereignty over creation by incorporating the natural world into his royal realm (1b-4).

II. Yahweh shows his sovereignty over the earth by covering the earth with water, subduing the chaotic waters, and using them to nourish His creation (5-18).

III. Yahweh shows his sovereignty over creation by appointing heavenly bodies to regulate the seasons and days of animals and mankind (19-23).

IV. The Psalmist praises Yahweh for his manifold works throughout the earth which reflect his wisdom (24).

V. Yahweh shows his sovereignty over creation by controlling the chaotic waters, filling the vast sea with life, and turning Leviathan into a playmate (25-26).

VI. Yahweh shows his sovereignty over creation by sustaining all life by his Spirit (27-30).

VII. The Psalmist praises Yahweh's majesty and calls for His glory to continue while Yahweh the king rejoices in His works (31-32).

VIII. The Psalmist vows to sing praises to the Lord of Creation all his life but calls for sinners to be consumed from the earth (33-35ab).

The first section which mentions mankind, verses 13-16, falls in the very center of the poem. Its central topic is Yahweh's sovereignty over the earth which he demonstrated by subduing the chaotic waters (no mention of him having created them!) and using them to nourish the earth. The second section which mentions mankind, verses 19-23, demonstrates Yahweh's sovereignty over creation by appointing heavenly bodies to regulate the seasons and days. The key word here is "for the seasons" The rest of the section is a series of specific illustrations on how the sun and moon regulate the animal world and man. Key terms are used to express the regulation of the natural world by the moon and sun. The sun knows "its setting or going down" darkness becomes "night" all forest life roams under the cover of "night" the sun "rises" to mark the end of the day; man goes out to his work "until evening"

The specific illustration demonstrating the regulation of the moon and sun is the interplay between mankind and the lion. The lion hunts at night and rests in the day; mankind rests at night and "tills" the land in the day. Here man and animal are placed on an egalitarian level as workers from the natural world who illustrate how wonderfully the sun and moon regulate the cycle of time. The lion is said to "seek" its prey from God. The word for "seek" is used 220 times in the O. T.15 It assumes a personal identity for the subject and involves a conscious act with a specific goal in mind. In theological usage, God is the most frequent object of seeking. Figuratively, the verb can mean "to ask." What the Psalmist is picturing for us is that lions, who not only instinctively hunt their prey because they are predators, are also conscious of their Maker's provision of their daily sustenance.

It should not surprise us that the lion is described as having intelligence because Psalm 104 has features of wisdom literature. Wisdom literature attributes the origin of wisdom to the creation of the world (Isa. 40:19ff; Jer. 10:12; 51:15; Ps. 104:24; Job 28:23-27; 38:36ff.; Prov. 3:19), and in at least three passages "wisdom" is attributed to certain animals, clearly in the sense of innate intelligence (Prov. 6:6-8; Job 12:7-9; 30:24-28). In Prov. 6:6-8, "wisdom" is gained from the observation of nature. The sluggard is urged to "go to the ant" and learn its ways. In Job 12:7-9, Job replies to Zophar that all of creation can tell him that God does what he pleases in allowing affliction in a pious person's life. This is, of course, metaphorical language. Job 30:24-28 mentions four creatures who are small in stature but extremely wise: ants, badgers, locusts, and lizards. In Job 39:13-17, the ostrich is mentioned as a particular case from the animal world which is deprived of "wisdom" so that it forgets where it has laid its eggs.16

Wisdom Elements in Psalm 104

The third specific, just mentioned, is that Psalm 104 is a hymn which contains wisdom elements17 Why Bray lists Ps. 37 and 49 as wholly wisdom psalms; Ps. 51, 90, 104, 107, and 111 as containing wisdom elements; and Ps. 19 and 119 as relating the concept of wisdom to the law. Besides the obvious mention of "wisdom" in verse 24, which is only mentioned in six other Psalms (Ps. 37:30; 49:4; 51:8; 90:12; 107:27; 111:10), there are other indications of wisdom influences. " wisdom psalm focuses on the intricacies of the world as we know it.18 It is illustrated by the lists, the onomastica or catalogues of the fields of knowledge, which are found in the Wisdom of Solomon 7:18-20 and 1 King 5:13 (Eng. 4:33).19 In these lists Solomon catalogs and focuses on the different fauna and flora to be found in the natural world.

But it goes beyond just cataloging the natural world. It seeks to uncover the underlying "order" and "mystery" of the natural world. "Wisdom" theology is firmly rooted in creation. Several texts place the origin of "wisdom" at the time of creation (Isa. 40:13ff; Jer. 10:12; 51:15; Ps. 104:24; Job 28:23-27; Prov. 3:9).

Von Rad states:

"The "wisdom" is intrinsic to the natural world and must, therefore, signify something like the "meaning" implanted by God in creation, the divine mystery of creation.20

Hermisson says this of Psalm 104:

If Solomon made proverbs "from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall" (I Kings 5:13), one may find in the psalm the same assignment of beings to their local and temporal realms: the badger to the rocks, the stork to the cedar trees, the lion to the night, and man and his work to the day. Naturally, then, there is more here than the mere compilation of creatures and environments. The meaningfulness of such coordination becomes evident, too; in this world and its manifold spaces everything is well arranged ecologically. There is even more; everything fulfills its purpose in this world, as is shown especially by the statements about the beneficial effects of water from springs and from Yahweh's heavenly chambers.21

In Job 28, another wisdom poem, the idea of wisdom is that:

Wisdom, the order given to the world by God, is the most precious thing of all. But while man has eventually found a way to all precious things, he does not find the way to the mystery of creation. Only God knows its place, for he has already been concerned with it at creation.22

Psalm 104, following the order of the six days of Gen. 1, concludes the fifth day with a summary statement that focuses on the wisdom of God to be found in all of creation. The Psalmist says in verse 24, "How many are your works, O LORD! In wisdom23 you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures."

What is being celebrated in this hymn, especially due to its wisdom elements, is not the exaltation of one part of creation over another, but a panoramic survey and detailing of the multi-textured complexity and wonder of the natural world as the product of an "lmighty Creator. Mankind is one color in this variegated tapestry. Mankind is not the center of attention and the focus of awe and wonder. Yahweh as the Lord of Creation is praised. Wisdom, which is found in creation, turns toward mankind and invites them to consider the natural world in all of its splendor. Psalm 104 and other Scripture must balance our theology of mankind and the natural world, and balance the emphasis of the early chapters of Genesis.

Psalm 104 and Genesis 1

The last specific has already been mentioned, but now can be discussed in depth. It is that Psalm 104 and Gen. 1 are related in that they discuss the natural world by following the poetical order of the six days of creation.24 Psalm 104 is a later reflection and commentary on Gen. 1 and perhaps a correction of misconceptions that an Old Testament individual could derive from reading Gen. 1 and 2.25 Therefore, Psalm 104 deliberately invites us to contemplate its reflection of Gen. 1 and 2. This reflection is seen not only in following the order of the six days of creation, but in three other ways: (1) sharing vocabulary unique only to Psalm 104 and Gen. 1 and 2; (2) sharing vocabulary, but not necessarily unique vocabulary; (3) using inner biblical exegesis or scribal glosses to connect the two texts closely (much like the homiletical commentary of Psalm 8 upon Gen. 1 and 2).

The similarities between Psalm 104 and Gen. 1 in following the order of the six days of creation are as follows:

(1) Both mention Leviathan and the Tanninim, but Leviathan is not primordial and ominous in Gen. 1, but only a member of the Tanninim.

(2) Both Leviathan and the Tanninim are mentioned late in their respective narratives, which underscores submission to God (Gen. 1).

(3) Both Gen. 1 and Psalm 104 begin with a creation of light and detail the six days of creation in the same order.26
   " firmament (Gen.1:6-8), rafters in the lofts of the water (Ps. 104:3-4).

    Dry land appears (Gen. 1:9-10), earth is established on its foundation (Ps. 104:5-9, 10-13).

    Vegetation sprouts (Gen. 1:11-13), springs that gush forth (Ps. 104:7-18).

    Making of sun, moon, and stars (Gen. 1:14-19), sun and moon as markings (Ps. 104:19).

    Creation of animals and man in Gen. 1:20-30, no parallel in Ps. 104.

    Fruits and plants assigned to man as food (Gen.1:29-30), Ps. 104 is a meditation on the dependence of all life on     Yahweh.

There is a considerable amount of common vocabulary shared between Gen. 1 and Ps. 104. Particularly striking are the expressions "for the seasons" found in the Old Testament only in Ps. 104:19 and Gen. 1:14 (in reference with the luminaries), and the old poetic form "beasts" of the earth found in Ps. 104:11-12, 20 and Gen. 1:24 "part from Ps. 104 and Gen. 1 hayeto is attested only in poetry in the Old Testament (Ps. 50:10; 79:2; Isa. 56:9; Zeph. 2:14).

Other shared (but not unique) vocabulary between Psalm 104 and Gen. 1 is shown in the table below:


Shared Vocabulary


"deep":Gen. 1:2; Ps. 104:6 used in both contexts of the watery chaos which had to be subdued
"wind, spirit" Gen. 1:2;     Ps. 104:30 Yahweh's spirit is the one who energizes creation
"Tanninim/Leviathan"     Gen. 1:21; Ps. 104:26 since Psalm 104 mentions "Leviathan" rather than the "Tanninim," the writer is interacting with views which see Leviathan as the tannim par excellence and an adversary of Yahweh
"to serve": Gen. 2:5, 15; 3:23; 4:2, 12 [verbs or infinitives] and Ps. 104:14, 23 [nouns], used in both contexts of man's cultivation of the earth
"create": Gen. 1:1, 21, 27; Ps. 104:30) used in Psalm 104 of the life creating power of Yahweh
"face of the earth,": Gen. 6:7; 8:13; Ps. 104:30,

recalling both the flood due to human pride and the Spirit's work over the "face of the earth"

"dust,": Gen. 2:7; 3:9; Ps. 104:29, man is viewed as returning to the dust with the rest of the natural world and totally dependent upon Yahweh
"creatures which creep,"27 Gen. 1:24-26; Ps. 104:25, used in Psalm 104 to refer to all animal life on the earth,, though found in a context dealing with aquatic life
"birds of the heavens,": Gen. 1:26; Ps. 104:12, translated "birds of the air" and refers to birds which fly across the expanse of the sky above the earth (cf. Gen. 1:20).
"herbage, foliage,": Gen. 1:11-12,, 29-30; Ps. 104:14 the plant life provided for food and for man's cultivation
"to the place [assigned for them]":Gen. 1:9; Ps. 104:8 to refer to Yahweh's subduing and confinement of the chaotic waters..


Psalm 104 and Inner Biblical Exegesis

Psalm 104 is an example of inner biblical exegesis where the writer is reflecting on the original intent of Gen. 1 and 2 and giving a homiletical commentary on these chapters. Michael Fishbane has researched the phenomenon of inner biblical exegesis and has settled on three means which are employed by biblical writers to distinguish between the received text and scribal annotations:28 (1) a formal indication through technical terms in the Masoretic text; (2) comparison of parallel texts within the Masoretic text or between the text of the Masoretic text and its versions, that is, the Septuagint or the Samaritan Pentateuch; (3) redundant and disruptive features in the Masoretic text which are also explanatory in nature.

We have already mentioned two technical terms used only in Gen. 1 and Psalm 104 "for the seasons" and "beasts") which show the organic connection between the two texts. Also, the pattern of Psalm 104 following the order of the six days of Gen. 1 shows their connection. I believe we can also see redundant and disruptive features in the Masoretic text in the two sections which deal with mankind. In verse 14 we read, "He makes grow/spring up grass for cattle, and foliage for cultivation of man." The participle "grow/ spring up" does double duty for the nouns "grass" and "foliage." Both nouns are followed by nouns introduced by the lamed preposition. The first lamed introduces the indirect object, "He makes grass spring up for cattle." The second lamed preposition introduces a purpose clause, "He makes foliage spring up for cultivation."

What appears to be a scribal gloss is the addition of "of the man." It is an explanation of who is doing the cultivation, and is probably being glossed because of the occurrence of "man" in verse 23, "Man goes out to his work, to his cultivation until evening," and the occurrences of the verb and infinitive construct and in Gen. 2:5, 15; 3:23; 4:2, 12. The editors of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia concur with understanding ha adam as a transposition to verse 14.29 This leads to my second observation of internal redundancies and disruptive features. In verse 23, we read, "Then man goes out to his work and to his cultivation until evening." The occurrence of "to his cultivation," appears to be redundant after "to his work" Yet it is was probably glossed again because of its occurrence in verse 14 and the accompanying use of the root 'abd in the early chapters of Genesis. The 3 + 3 Hebrew meter found throughout the poem would also require adding "to his cultivation" to balance both colons. It is interesting that the Septuagint renders both verbs by the same Greek word "work" (ergon), the first by the neuter form, the second by the feminine form. They apparently failed to see much difference between the two verbs, except  the first possibly being more general and generic and the second more specific.

The point I am making is that these two apparent scribal glosses show the desire of the scribe to bring Psalm 104 into conformity with Gen. 1 and 2, and to do so in the specific passages dealing with mankind. In both examples, the point of the scribe is to associate very closely the idea of the cultivation of the earth with mankind. When the scribe/Psalmist reflects upon Gen. 1 he reflects upon the passages which show mankind's nourishing of the earth and not his subjugation and rule. Or to put it another way, the psalmist views mankind's subjugation and rule over the earth in the same manner as Adam understood it: one of cultivating, nourishing, and tending.

Why the differences between the Psalm 104 and Gen. 1? I would like to suggest three reasons:

(1) Ps. 104 is portraying creation with a Chaoskampf "Battle with Chaos" motif, with God as king and warrior. It is following an Old Testament tradition which views creation as a time of Yahweh's struggle with primordial chaos, personified as water.30 This is largely missing from Gen. 1.

(2) Psalm 104 is a Wisdom psalm where the point is to celebrate the natural world, while Gen. 1 is much more didactic and formulaic: The differences31 between Gen. 1 and Psalm 104 are as follows:

Gen. 1

Psalm 104

Narrating a sequence.

No claim to a narrative sequence (although a parallel with the days of Gen. 1 is found).

Process of creation.

Panorama of creation didactic tone.

Not praise, but order is the concern.

Praise for wisdom of creation is the end point.

Creation is the end.

Creation is the starting point (to contemplate the wisdom of God).

Presence of #7 (God rests on the seventh day).

Absence of #7. (Unless one sees the number 7 in verses 28-30 in seven lines of concluding poetry celebrating God's providence (cf. Fullerton,, p. 55 who sees the number seven in these verses).

(3) Psalm 104 is a homiletical reflection upon Gen. 1, which incorporates elements from Gen. 1, and seeks to focus on mankind's relationship to the earth.


The four points I have made about Psalm 104 placing mankind on an egalitarian level with the natural world are:

1. The common ancient Near Eastern literary genre which Psalm 104 shares with the Hymn to Aten, shows that the natural world is worth celebrating for its own intrinsic value and worth as the creation of the Deity.

2. The structure of Psalm 104 shows that Yahweh's rule over the natural world is the focus of the poem not mankind's rule. Mankind is found only in sections which illustrate the regularity of the heavenly bodies and the provision, which Yahweh has made to sustain all of the natural world. Mankind and the animals are co-workers for daily sustenance within the regularity of the natural world.

3. The wisdom elements in Psalm 104 show that the natural world has order and meaning placed in it from the time of creation, and that the natural world exists not only to provide for mankind, but also to invite mankind to ponder its wisdom and richness, especially its fauna and flora.

4. The relationship between Psalm 104 and Gen. 1 concerning structure, vocabulary, and inner biblical exegesis, shows a desire by the psalmist to reflect and concentrate on the close association between mankind and the cultivation of the earth. He has understood the Genesis mandate to "rule" and "subdue" not in an exploitative sense, but in a symbiotic relationship of "mastery" and "settling." Mankind are not just kings over creation, but servants who participate in creation by being caretakers of the earth.

It is my hope that this look at Psalm 104 will lead to a closer examination of our theology of creation and perhaps provide a balance between Scriptural affirmations of mankind's mandate to master the natural world and his responsibility to do so with humility and an ethic of caretaking.



1I am not arguing that this is the position of the historic Christian church or that most theologians would subscribe to this, only that the church has been accused of being part of the environmental problem and Jacob represents this thinking. For examples both pro and con on the relationship of the Church to environmental problems see Robin Attfield, "Christian Attitudes to Nature," Journal of the History of Ideas (1983):369-385; John Austin Baker, "Biblical Attitudes Toward Nature," In Man and Nature, Edited by Hugh Montefiore (London: Collins, 1975):87-109; Susan Bratton, "Christian Ecotheology and the Old Testament," Religion and Environmental Crisis 6 (1984):195-209; Calvin DeWitt, The Environment and the Christian: What Can We Learn from the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Publishing Co.,1991); William Dumbrell, "Genesis 1-3, Ecology, and the Dominion of Man," Crux 21 (1985):16-26; Ron Elsdon, Bent World, (Downers Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1981); James McPherson, "Towards an Ecological Theology," The Expository Times 97 (1986):236-240; Carolyn Merchant, The Death of Nature, (San Francisco: Harper Collins Publishers, 1980):164-190; A. R. Peacocke, "On the 'Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,'" in Man and Nature (1975):155-158; Francis Schaeffer, Pollution and the Death of Man (Wheaton:Tyndale House Publisher, 1970); Lynn White, "The Historic Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis," Science Magazine. March 10, 1967; Loren Wilkinson, "A Christian Ecology of Death: Biblical Imagery and the Ecologic Crisis," Christian Scholars Review 5 (1976):319-338 and Earthkeeping in the 90's: Stewardship of Creation, (Grand Rapids:Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991):216-236.

2Harvey Cox, The Secular City, (New York: MacMillan, 1965):22.

3Edmond Jacob, Theology of the Old Testament (New York:Harper and Row, 1958):147.

4Jacob, p. 149.

5Ibid., p.153.

6Ibid., p.170.

7cf. Bernhard W. Anderson, "Creation and Ecology," American Journal of Theology and Philosophy 4 (1983): 14-30. Reprinted in Creation in the Old Testament, Edited by Bernhard W. Anderson (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984):152-171, for a balanced perspective on mankind's role to the natural world in the early chapters of Genesis.

8These terms are pejorative outside the book of Genesis, but I argue they are positive terms within the early chapters of Genesis because of contextual considerations. For used pejoratively outside Genesis cf. Est. 7:8 "rape"; 2 Sam. 8:11 "subduing an enemy; for used pejoratively outside Genesis cf. Isa. 14:2 "rule over oppressors; Lev. 26:17 "rule over slaves." An example of a term used negatively in Genesis but positively outside the book is in Gen. 3:1 where the serpent is called "crafty" and its cognates). In the book of Proverbs the word is positive with the meaning of "prudent" (Proverbs 1:4, 8:5, 12; 12:23; 13:16; 14:8,15,18; 15:5; 19:25; 22:3; 27:12). It is applied to the "prudent" person who is seeking after God's wisdom.

Adam understands his role as a "caretaker." This can be seen from Gen. 2:15, where Adam is placed in the garden of Eden "to work it" (`bad) and "to take care of it" I follow the understanding of Rabbi Samson Hirsch (The Pentateuch, Judaica Press, 1982 pp. 29-32) in understanding radah not as "rule" but rather "mastery" over living creatures and kabas not as "subdue" but rather "acquiring," or "settling" referring to taking possession and settling property which is the prerequisite for familial and societal life. Because the earth only is in view with kabas, I prefer to translate it "settle." This fits the context of the first couple and their descendants spreading out to settle down throughout the earth.

9This is known as the beth essentiae with a translation such as "as, in the capacity of, consisting of." For a grammatical discussion see Gesenius' Hebrew Grammar, Oxford Press, 1978, section 119i.

10For further discussion see Peter Craigie, "The Comparison of Hebrew Poetry: Psalm 104 in the light of Egyptian and Ugaritic Poetry," Semitics 4 (1974):12-15; Jon Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil: The Jewish Drama of Divine Omnipotence (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988):60-65; and R. J. Williams, "The Hymn to Aten," in Documents from Old Testament Times Edited by D. W. Thomas (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, 1958):142-150.

11Craigie also notes the similarity of Psalm 104 to the Hymn to Shamash in Mesopotamia.

12The translations here follow James B. Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts Related to the Old Testament (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969):328-29, and Levenson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil:61-62.

13Leslie Allen, Psalms 101-150, from the Word Biblical Commentary 21 (Waco: Word Books, Publisher, 1983):28-32; F. Crusemann, Studien zur Formgeschichte von Hymnus und Danklied in Israel WMANT 32. (Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1969):195ff; K. Fullerton, "The Feeling for Form in Psalm 104," Journal of Biblical Literature 40 (1921):43-56.

14The outline is my own.

15Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, s.v. by Siegfried Wagner, II (1975):229-241.

16R.N. Whybray, The Intellectual Tradition of the O.T. BZAW 135. (Berlin: A. Topelmann, 1974):7.

17Bernhard Anderson, "Mythopoeic and Theological Dimensions of Biblical Faith," in Creation in the Old Testament. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984):13; Hans-Jurgen Hermisson, "Observations on the Creation Theology in Wisdom." In Israelite Wisdom: Theological and Literary Essays in Honor of Samuel Terrien. (Missoula: Scholars Press, 1978):47ff; Whybray, pp. 93-98; Gerhard von Rad, Wisdom in Israel (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1972):144-176.

18The distinction of J.W. Rogerson, "The O.T. View of Nature: Some Preliminary Questions," Oudtestamentische Studien 20 (1977):69-70 between viewing nature in terms of its material world and collective objects rather than the regulative power underlying the observable phenomena of nature is made in this paper. The former belongs to nature while the latter belongs to the scientific or religious realm.

19Hermisson, p. 47; cf. von Rad, p. 288.

20von Rad, p.148.

21Hermisson, pp. 48-49.

22von Rad, p.148.

23cf. Prov. 3:19 and Job 28:25-27 which place this wisdom from the time of creation.

24John Day, God's Conflict with the Dragon and the Sea: Echoes of a Canaanite Myth in the Old Testament (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985):51; Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books 3-5 of the Psalms in Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (London:Intervarsity Press, 1975):368; Levenson, pp. 55-58.

25Shemaryahu Talmon, "The Biblical Understanding of Creation and the Human Commitment," Ex Auditu 13 (1987):114ff, comments on this inner biblical human hubris within the early chapters of Genesis.

26Derek Kidner outlines the Psalm this way:

    Day 1 (Gen. 1:3-5) light; Psalm 104:2a
    Day 2 (Gen. 1:6-8) the 'firmament divides the waters; Ps.104:2b-4
    Day 3 (Gen. 1:9,10) land and water distinct; Ps. 104:5-9, (+10-13?)
    Day 3 (Gen. 1:11-13) vegetation and trees; Ps. 104:14-17, (+18?)
    Day 4 (Gen. 1:14-19) luminaries as timekeepers; Ps. 104:19-23, (+24)
    Day 5 (Gen. 1:20-23) creatures of sea and air; Ps. 104:25,26, (sea only)
    Day 6 (Gen. 1:24-28) animals and man (anticipated in Ps. 104:21-24)
    Day 6 (Gen. 1:29-31) food appointed for all creatures; Ps. 104:27-28, (+29, 30)

" See John Day, p. 51 for a comparison between Psalm 104 and Gen. 1. He lists the common order as:

    Ps. 104:1-4 Creation of Heaven and Earth cf. Gen. 1:1-5
    Ps. 104:5-9 Waters pushed back; cf. Gen. 1:6-10
    Ps. 104:10-13 Waters put to beneficial use; Implicit in Gen. 1:6-10
    Ps. 104:14-18 Creation of Vegetation cf. Gen. 1:11-12
    Ps. 104:19-23 Creation of Luminaries cf. Gen. 1:14-18
    Ps. 104:24-26 Creation of sea creatures cf. Gen. 1:20-22
    Ps. 104:27-30 Creation of living creatures cf. Gen. 1:24-31

27Ps. 104:25 uses this word rather than seret "swarming creatures." Both of these words are used in parallel contexts in Genesis (8:17; 7:21, 23). It would seem, however, if the Psalmist was emphasizing the creatures associated with water only, he would have used seret, since it is associated with water in Gen. 1:20-21. Instead, he uses remes, which is always used with of creatures on the earth (Gen. 9:3), rather than the sea. Perhaps he chose remes because Gen. 9:3 uses it to refer to all animals inclusively or because of the earlier use of the verb in verse 20.

28Michael Fishbane, Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985):42-43.

29Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia, edited by K. Elliger and W. Rudolph. (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgessellschaft, 1967):1184, n.14a reads "huc tr," "transposed words to this place."

30For a discussion of the Chaoskampf motif in the Old Testament and ancient Near East see John Day, God's Conflict with the Dragon and the Sea: Echoes of a Canaanite Myth in the Old Testament and Carola Kloos, Yhwh's Combat with the Sea: A Canaanite Tradition in the Religion of Ancient Israel. (Leiden:E.J. Brill, 1986).

31Levenson, pp. 57-58.

From PSCF 47 (June 1995): 92-102.