We will behold God’s glory, not by means of his created, intermediary luminaries, but in the unveiled purity of God’s own transcendent light (Rev 21:23; 22:4-5). Those who have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, who are being sanctified by the Holy Spirit for a holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14), are being prepared for the conjugal vision of the divine king in his unmediated light. This is our “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13).
Psalm 104 celebrates God’s work of creation. It begins with a description of God’s work in creating the heavens and their inhabitants (vv. 1-4). It then moves to an extended discussion of God’s work of creating the earth and its inhabitants, including human beings, who have a special vocation as co-laborers with God in producing the varied fruits that bring joy and satisfaction to the human family (vv. 5-24). The psalm then briefly discusses the sea and its inhabitants (vv. 25-26), concluding with a description of creation’s utter dependence on divine benefaction for its continued existence (vv. 27-30) and a prayer that God would be glorified in and pleased with his works forever and ever (vv. 31-35). What caught my eye today while studying this psalm was its description of heaven’s supreme inhabitant (cf. v. 3: “his chambers”) in verses 1-2: “You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment.” What is happening here?
Psalm 104 comes toward the end of Book Four of the Psalms, a section of the biblical canon devoted to theme of divine kingship: Yhwh mlk–“the Lord is king/the Lord reigns” (Pss 93:1; 96:10; 97:1; 99:1; cf. Pss 102:12; 103:19). These psalms proclaim the name of the Lord by means of a “royal metaphor,” describing God in terms common to human kingship. Drawing upon a broad field of images associated with Ancient Near Eastern kings, Scripture portrays God by means of royal appellations (e.g., king, shepherd, etc.), royal qualities (e.g., long life, strength, etc.), and royal trappings (e.g., throne, clothing, etc.) (see Marc Zvi Brettler, God is King: Understanding an Israelite Metaphor). The latter are especially relevant to grasping Psalm 104:1-2, which speaks of the divine king’s clothing.
The Bible is remarkably reticent in describing God’s appearance because, strictly speaking, God has no visible form or likeness (Deut 4:12, 15-19). Strictly speaking, the divine king is invisible (Rom 1:20; 1 Tim 1:17). Nevertheless, the Bible, on occasion, does describe God’s appearance in metaphorical terms. One thinks of Isaiah’s vision of the divine king in Isaiah 6, of Ezekiel’s vision of the divine likeness in Ezekiel 1, and of Daniel’s vision of the Ancient of Days in Daniel 7. In each instance, Scripture describes God in terms of “royal trappings” (Brettler): as one seated on a throne, as one clothed in royal garb. Psalm 104:1-2 is an instance of this kind of metaphorical description.
According to Psalm 104:1-2, the Lord is “clothed” in splendor, majesty, and light. These “articles” of clothing emphasize the divine king’s transcendent glory, the awesome, awe-inspiring nature of his divine being, rule, and worth. In order to appreciate more fully the significance of God’s radiant royal attire, we must further consider Scripture’s broader association of divine glory with created and uncreated light. We must follow Scripture as it leads us up the ladder of heavenly lights to their divine luminous source (James 1:17).
We begin with the lowest heavens, which are the visible heavens that you and I perceive anytime we walk outside. Psalm 19 tells us that the visible heavens are in the business of proclaiming “the glory of God” (Ps 19:1). Though they have no words to speak (Ps 19:3), the regular cycle of the sun and the moon in their daily and nightly rotations declares the divine king’s faithfulness. The universal scope of the sun’s illuminating power declares the divine king’s universal sovereignty (Ps 19:2, 4-6). The sheer joy that the sun exhibits in running its divinely ordained course proclaims the divine king’s goodness (Ps 19:5). Without words, these visible lights serve as royal ambassadors, announcing the invisible glory of the divine king (Rom 1:20).