Flat Earth? – Psalm 104

The 4th book of Psalms

Psalm 104 is a hymn of praise to God the creator for the wonderful world he made. It has not always been seen like that.

Science or religion? There are some Christians who say we should not trust science and some scientists that say we should not trust religion. One of the proof texts for this is Psalm 104:2, stretching out the heavens like a tent, which has been taken as proof that the world is flat, against what science has been saying since the Ancient Greeks, who calculated the Earth’s circumference in the third century BC. Some said the Earth must be flat because the tent of the sky must be flat because it is a tent. Augustine and the medieval scholastics said that there should be no separate Science for Chistians that is different to the measured and observed knowledge of the scientists.

The red and orange sky of a sunset seen from across a bay.

The 4th book of Psalms, those 17 religious songs between psalms 90 and 106, have a theme, God is above us.

The layout is like this:

Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.

Book 4 answers the questions of Books 1-3 with the message that God is king.

O Lord My God, You Are Very Great

Bless the Lord, O my soul!

    O Lord my God, you are very great!
You are clothed with splendour and majesty,

    covering yourself with light as with a garment,
    stretching out the heavens like a tent.
He lays the beams of his chambers on the waters;
he makes the clouds his chariot;
    he rides on the wings of the wind;
he makes his messengers winds,
    his ministers a flaming fire.

He set the earth on its foundations,
    so that it should never be moved.
You covered it with the deep as with a garment;
    the waters stood above the mountains.
At your rebuke they fled;
    at the sound of your thunder they took to flight.
The mountains rose, the valleys sank down
    to the place that you appointed for them.
You set a boundary that they may not pass,
    so that they might not again cover the earth.

10 You make springs gush forth in the valleys;
    they flow between the hills;
11 they give drink to every beast of the field;
    the wild donkeys quench their thirst.
12 Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell;
    they sing among the branches.
13 From your lofty abode you water the mountains;
    the earth is satisfied with the fruit of your work.
14 You cause the grass to grow for the livestock
    and plants for man to cultivate,
that he may bring forth food from the earth
15     and wine to gladden the heart of man,
oil to make his face shine
    and bread to strengthen man’s heart.
16 The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly,
    the cedars of Lebanon that he planted.
17 In them the birds build their nests;
    the stork has her home in the fir trees.
18 The high mountains are for the wild goats;
    the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers.

19 He made the moon to mark the seasons;
    the sun knows its time for setting.
20 You make darkness, and it is night,
    when all the beasts of the forest creep about.
21 The young lions roar for their prey,
    seeking their food from God.
22 When the sun rises, they steal away
    and lie down in their dens.
23 Man goes out to his work
    and to his labour until the evening.

24 O Lord, how manifold are your works!
    In wisdom have you made them all;
    the earth is full of your creatures.
25 Here is the sea, great and wide,
    which teems with creatures innumerable,
    living things both small and great.
26 There go the ships,
    and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.[b]

27 These all look to you,
    to give them their food in due season.
28 When you give it to them, they gather it up;
    when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
    when you take away their breath, they die
    and return to their dust.
30 When you send forth your Spirit,[c] they are created,
    and you renew the face of the ground.

31 May the glory of the Lord endure for ever;
    may the Lord rejoice in his works,
32 who looks on the earth and it trembles,
    who touches the mountains and they smoke!

33 I will sing to the Lord as long as I live;
    I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
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 ESV UK using paragraphs from NIV

in protestant Christianity, Augustine’s principle of not having a separate science for Christians stood, Augustin’s teachings were a source in the theology of John Calvin. Even the 1978 Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy says: Inerrancy does not refer to a blind literal interpretation, and that “history must be treated as history, poetry as poetry, hyperbole and metaphor as hyperbole and metaphor, generalization and approximation as what they are, and so forth.” If even the Conservative Evangelicals say that, who is to take a verse from a Psalm (poetry) and make it a dogma disproving science? I certainly wouldn’t even think about it.

Psalm 104 is a hymn of praise to God the creator for the wonderful world he made. It mentions oceans, mountains and valleys, birds and wild beasts, the moon and the sun and plants from grass to trees. This is a joyful song full of poetry, not a book of lifeless theological facts. It retells the story of creation as a gushing forth of the springs, full of life and action. It is not the same as the story in Genesis, but does not contradict it, retelling it in a song of great joy. Like the sunsets in the Balearic Islands in Spain I have used in the picture above, God’s creation inspires joy in those who can see it.

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