“He causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man: that he may bring forth food out of the earth; and wine that maketh glad the heart of man, and oil to make his face to shine, and bread which strengthened man’s heart.” Psalm 104:14-15
Psalm 104 has been called a poet’s version of Genesis 1.
The psalm begins with a description of God as very great, clothed with honor and majesty, brilliantly covered with light. This beautiful picture of God arises out of His work as Creator. He works upon the waters above the firmament, making the clouds and the wind, and creating the angels. He also established the earth out of the water below the firmament, and then separated the waters from the dry land. The psalmist takes time to describe God’s creation of the waters on the earth: the oceans and seas, the springs, rivers and lakes. The psalmist speaks of the Creator’s purpose for the waters: “to give drink to every beast of the field” (v. 11). God waters “the hills from his chambers: the earth is satisfied with the fruit of thy works” (v. 13).
Then comes our text.
After our text the psalmist speaks of Jehovah’s creation and use of trees, of high hills, of the moon and the sun, of the darkness of night and the light of day. Then he interrupts himself to praise Jehovah: “O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches” (v. 24).
At this time of the year, the people of God in the United Stated of America have a national holiday called Thanksgiving Day. Our fellow-saints in the more northern climes of Canada celebrated their Thanksgiving Day in October. We pause when the harvest is gathered to give thanks. As the spiritual climate in the United States deteriorates, the thanks is often not to the sovereign God who provided the harvest, but only a general expression of gratitude. Instead of blessing and thanking God, people use the Thanksgiving holiday as a time for feasting, family and friends, and football.
But the sincere and godly Christian knows that the bountiful harvest is from the God who made the seed and then made it to sprout, grow, and bear fruit. The sovereign Creator gave the harvest. In addition, the sincere and godly Christian sees the physical harvest to be a picture of the spiritual blessings of salvation.
Are you thankful? Are you thankful only now at the time of Thanksgiving Day? Are you thankful for some things but not all things? Are you thankful at all times and in every situation of your life?
Genuine thanks is not limited to good times, nor ought it to be restricted to a good harvest. Genuine thanks is to be given at all times and for all things. In heaven we will be praising God, not just for some things, but for who He is and for everything He did in history and in our earthly lives.
Our text declares that God “causeth the grass to grow.” He causes it to grow for beast and for man. This declaration humbles man. Man, for all the skills and talents he has been given, is unable to make anything grow. Man works to till the soil and plant the seed, but it is God who causes it to grow (cf. Mark 4:26-29). God causes the grass in the untended prairie and on the mountain side to grow. Man sows and ploughs in vain if God does not produce the harvest.
That the grass grows for cattle and man clearly demonstrates the extent to which God cares for His creatures along with His elect. God cares for each lowly sparrow, appointing to each his portion; and we ignore them. Divine power is used equally for the feeding of the beasts of the field as for the nurturing of His adopted children. Our heavenly Father not only provides for us, but also for our servants—the cattle and the grass that feeds the cattle, so that both can serve us. When we, with a devout eye, look at a field or a forest or examine a single blade of grass, then we are to see the Lord Himself walking in the fields and forests. Be thankful!
God’s purpose for the grass is that “He may bring forth food out of the earth.” Grass for the cattle; and cattle and grain for man. These are the foods God brings out of the earth. We, living on the earth, have our food right near us. The ground, which is well suited to bury us, is used by God to feed us. How great is the God who from the grave finds the support of man’s life, and who out of the cursed ground brings forth the blessings of bread, wine, and oil!
The good things that God produces in abundance supply our needs and even our unnecessary desires. God provides “bread which strengtheneth man’s heart” and “wine that maketh glad the heart of man.”
First, God brings forth bread. Bread is the staff of life, the most indispensable and necessary means of nourishment for humans. In its great variety of forms, bread sustains human life. Bread strengthens man physically. And bread strengthens man’s heart. It affects us psychologically and spiritually. Consider what happens when man is starving. His physical strength weakens, but his courage also dissipates. God made man to be one—physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Starving prisoners of war not only lost physical strength, but also were affected psychologically and spiritually. When bread is again received, strength is restored and spirits are revived.
Praise God for bread! May our mouths and hearts be full of His praises, both now and in eternity.
Besides the necessary bread, God also gives us unnecessary luxuries: wine and oil. He furnishes us often with a feast, which includes wine. Wine has the ability to cheer the heavy heart (Prov. 31:6). Wine, in moderation, can accompany celebrations, refreshing one’s spirit.
We do pray that man would always be wise enough to know how to use this gladdening product of the vine. Man, also the Christian, can easily turn God’s good wine to ill, and debase himself with it. When that happens, man, not God, bears the responsible blame. For this, man deserves to be miserable because he turns even good things into bad, and blessings into cursed addictions.
But when wine is used as God intends in creating it, then wine is something for which we are called to be thankful!
Along with wine, God gives us ornaments (outward adornments): “oil to make his face to shine.” We learn that Easterners often used perfumed oils. The most familiar psalm praises God, for “thou anointest my head with oil” (Ps. 23:5). Reflect on the words of Solomon in Ecclesiastes 9:7, 8, “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart; for God now accepteth thy works. Let thy garments be always white; and let thy head lack no ointment.” Naomi urged Ruth to wash and to anoint herself in preparation for meeting Boaz (Ruth 3:3). They put an oil on their faces to make them shine for beauty and as an indication of their joy.
Again, as with wine, so with oil, moderation is so very important. And just as important is motivation—not for self but to enhance what God has given.
When we use God’s gifts aright, then He is to be praised and thanked for all the ornaments of joy and gladness.
The Psalm begins, “Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great.” May harvest time provide us with a special opportunity to bless our God. Bless Him for the countless gifts He gives for the body and for the soul.
Let us realize how prone we are to forget Him as the source of all things. No wonder the previous psalm admonishes us not to forget all His benefits (Ps. 103:2). So easily we forget His continuous flow of gifts to us. Forgetting Him and thinking about ourselves, we make selfish and excessive use of His gifts. And we do that by using them as ends in themselves. We do that when we use them for our personal pleasure. The more bountiful God is to man, the more man ought to be grateful. Most of us are surrounded with bounties, with an abundance of things that are not basic to life and absolutely necessary. With our depraved natures, against which we have to struggle all our life long, we are most likely to abuse and pollute God’s benefits. In lavishing upon us the more abundant supply of good things, God appoints the law of moderation. He puts our self-control and self-denial to the test.
The oil and wine are so that we may rejoice before our God (cf. Lev. 23:40). The oil and wine are so that our minds may be exhilarated under the sense of gratitude, and so that we may be rendered more active in the service of our God and Father. With the apostle Paul we have to “know how to abound” (Phil. 4:12). When we are bridling our lusts, then we know that God would have us to enjoy pleasures in moderation. Then we are able to use bread, the wine and oil with a free and good conscience.
While the ungodly wallow in pleasures without discerning the Giver, may we use the necessities and the luxuries with which we have been gifted with joyful and grateful moderation.