For some time I had been planning to write about the use of Psalm 104 in creationists circles as evidence for a physical description for tectonic events following a world-wide flood. Specifically, versus six through nine of Psalm 104 have been suggested to be not a reflection on creation, as is the traditional reading, but on the Noahic flood. Verses 6 through 9 read (NASB):
“Thou didst cover [the earth] with the deep as with a garment; The waters were standing above the mountains. At Thy rebuke they fled; At the sound of Thy thunder they hurried away. The mountains rose, the valleys sank down, to the place which Thou didn’t establish for them. Thou didst set a boundary that they may not pass over; That they may not return to cover the earth.”
Now, much of what I wanted to say and an even more thorough examination of the text has been provided elsewhere. Rather than re-invent the wheel I would point to this article as a recommended read and for which I find myself in nearly complete agreement. I am speaking of the article “Flood Geology and Psalm 104:9” over at Genesis and Geology. The exegesis of this passage by creation scientists rarely goes beyond a face-value linguistic approach and mostly ignores a long tradition of interpretation of this passage. Here Phil Jones looks at some of the exegetical questions that have been raised by creationists regarding this passage and finds, using Scripture to interpret Scripture, that the traditional reading of these versus as poetic reflections of the creation remain the best interpretation.
To Mr. Jones excellent article I would reflect further on how creationists in general are apt to bring their own scientific worldview to the text when they interpret it. It is well known that the father of modern scientific creationism, Henry Morris, in looking for additional scriptural support for his flood geology model, appealed to Psalm 104 verse 8 for evidence that the Bible speaks about tectonic activity following the flood. Although it is obvious that Morris’s interpretation of Psalm 104 as at least partially about the Noahic Flood is not the traditional reading of this Psalm I assumed that some of the 17th and 18th so-called Scriptural geologists would have also been tempted to appeal to Psalm 104 to support their geological views. But, I’ve searched the books and writings of most of the classics and so far come up dry. Of course I may have just not searched thoroughly enough, but I think I know why I these commentators do not seem to have thought to use Psalm 104 in their cause. For Morris and young earth creationists following in his footsteps today the need to explain the volume of water covering the earth has been a special concern. In the 1700’s the flood geologists of the day rarely envisioned the entire geological column being formed by the flood but thought the earth looked very similar before and after the flood and simply was covered with water for a short time. They had little knowledge of the geological column, no appreciation for the vast quantities of fossils and certainly no concept of plate tectonics. As a result, the interpretation of Psalm 104:8 as referring to mountains rising and valleys sinking wouldn’t have occurred to anyone prior to plate tectonic theory and modern creationism’s need for a non-mountainous pre-flood world.
Most young earth creationists today believe the pre-flood world was relatively flat or hilly at most. After the flood, fast plate tectonics then formed the large mountains we have today pushing fossil-bearing rock 10s of thousands of feet above current sea level. For them, the flood never covered the mountains we have today because they didn’t exist but rather covered the “highest” hills of the pre-flood world. These beliefs about the geography of the earth have much less to do with the Scriptures than they do with modern scientific constrictions placed on the mechanisms of a global flood. The idea of a mountain free pre-flood world was already set in the minds of Morris and Whitcomb when they looked to the Scriptures for support. Upon finding Psalm 104 they thought they had a direct testimony to their physical model. The novelty of this interpretation is then precipitated by a modern scientific worldview and is opposed to all traditional understandings of this text. I think the irony here in the creation science use of Scripture is sufficiently clear. None of this is to say that a novel interpretation can’t be correct. I don’t think a literary analysis (like that of Jones in the article linked above) will hold up in this case but that is not to say that modern science doesn’t bring us greater insight into some passages. What strikes me about most creation science exegesis of Scripture though is that they nearly remove the spiritual meaning from the text in their desire for it to speak truth about the physical world. Their interpretation of Psalm 104 suggests special knowledge of the authors of the mechanisms by which God brought about the geography of the world after the flood and yet these passages couldn’t be truly understood for 2000 years after they had been written. Their desire to have Scripture support their science leads them, I believe, to twist the original intent of the text. To illustrate, if I could go back to the mountains being covered again, the audience of the Psalms would have certainly would have had a particular image of what a mountain was when they read about mountains. That conception would have been little different than what our view of mountains are today. But creation scientists are telling us that the author of Genesis (Moses speaking probably to the Israelites) when he spoke of the waters covering the highest mountains had in his mind small hills and believed the entire earth to have no tall mountains!? If he knew this to be true why not describe the events of the flood differently rather than in worlds that his audience would have certainly have taken in a different way?
“Did mountains really rise according to Psalm 104:8?” Charles Taylor CEN Technical Journal 12(3): 1998. – This is the most frequently referenced article by a young earth proponent supporting the interpretation that Psalm 108:6-9 is referring to events of the Noahic flood.