Psalm 104

My soul, bless the Lord! the Lord is most great,
With glory arrayed, majestic His state;
The light is His garment, the skies are His shade,
And over the waters His courts He has laid.

The majestic flow of these lines is well suited to the awe-inspiring words of Psalm 104.  This is the first stanza of the blue Psalter Hymnal’s only complete versification of Psalm 104—comprising fifteen stanzas in all.  Here, we take a look at the three settings of Psalm 104 in our songbook.

206, “My Soul, Bless the Lord!”

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the meter of this text (10.10.11.11.) makes it interchangeable with one of the tunes of “O Worship the King”—a hymn that also contains themes from this same psalm.  The text and tune blend perfectly, conveying the majesty of God and the exultant praise expressed by the psalmist.  The versification is fairly literal, easy to understand and closely tied to the original psalm text.  (Number 206 only contains verses 1-18; number 207 completes the psalm.)  The tune, HOUGHTON, is easy to learn, yet its meter also makes a switch to a more familiar tune such as LYONS a good alternative.  All in all, I can think of no good reason not to utilize this version of Psalm 104 in worship.

For congregational singing, I find that this version in the key of G doesn’t present any problems.  If you’d prefer the lower key of F instead, you can use the version in the gray Psalter Hymnal (number 104) or the 1990 Trinity Hymnal (number 126).

207, “The Seasons Are Fixed by Wisdom Divine”

This text is taken from Psalm 104:19-26, the remainder of the versification begun in number 206.  While the text is solid, the tune (ASPINWALL) is less than suitable in some respects.  Try playing a verse on an organ without rushing—the stretches of repeated notes make it nearly impossible to keep to the proper tempo.  The more percussive sound of a piano can help keep the beat, but the tune is also disturbingly high.  Try listening to a typical congregation singing the stretch of high E’s in the middle line…and you’ll immediately wish you hadn’t.

While the tune is less than ideal, there are still plenty of options.  Alternate tunes with the same meter aren’t hard to find (some of the easiest would be numbers 206 or 313).  Even if you want to keep the tune, you can probably play it successfully in the key of B-flat (gray Psalter Hymnal number 94), without the risk of congregants passing out from hyper-ventilation.  A bad tune should never prevent a solid text like this one from being sung!

208, “O Lord, How Manifold the Works”

In contrast to the triumphant power of the previous two songs, this versification offers a solemn and meditative rendition of Psalm 104.  Taken from vv. 24-26 and 31-35, the song focuses on our enjoyment—and God’s enjoyment—of creation, as well as the worship we give him in response to it.  The tune is quiet, evoking a prayerful sense of adoration.  Maybe number 208 could be sung in response to a particular part of the service, or as a psalm of application after a relevant sermon—for the message of Psalm 104 is applicable to the entire Christian life:

While life shall last, my thankful lips
A song to God will raise,
And while my being I possess,
My Maker I will praise.

–MRK

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