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Old-earth creationists such as Hugh Ross claim Psalm 104:6–9 refers to the Creation Week, but a closer look shows otherwise.
Hugh Ross and other old-earth creationists claim that Psalm 104 is a creation account, and, therefore, it should be used to help us understand Genesis 1.1 In particular, since the psalm mentions death of creatures (Psalm 104:29) and carnivorous behavior in some animals (Psalm 104:21), these authors argue that there was animal death and carnivorous animal behavior in God’s very good creation (Genesis 1:31) before Adam sinned.2
Most of the psalm speaks of the creation as it appears to the psalmist at the time he is living and writing.We would disagree that it is a creation account as Genesis 1 is. Two verses in the psalm (Psalm 104:5, 19) refer to the events in Genesis 1. But most of the psalm speaks of the creation as it appears to the psalmist at the time he is living and writing. This is evident in the way the subject matter is described (particularly the present tense verbs). Also the psalm mentions Lebanon (Psalm 104:16), ships (Psalm 104:26), and wicked sinners (Psalm 104:35), none of which existed during the Creation Week.
Another reason to reject the claim that Psalm 104 is a creation account is that, contrary to what many old-earth proponents believe, Psalm 104:6–9 clearly refer to Noah’s Flood, not to the third day of Creation Week. This is seen in the allusion in v. 9 to the rainbow promise in Genesis 9:11, which is also referred to in Isaiah 54:9. God made no such promise at the end of Day 3 of Creation Week. If He had made such a promise in Genesis 1, the global Flood of Noah’s day would have been a breaking of His promise.3
As a comment about Noah’s Flood, Psalm 104:6–9 sheds important additional light on the geological effects of the Flood. And on this point, some of the Bible translations are misleading.
In particular, the KJV, NIV, NKJV, and NRSV translations of Psalm 104:8 are not accurate. Referring to the waters, the latter three translations say something similar to the KJV, which reads, “They go up by the mountains; they go down by the valleys unto the place which thou hast founded for them.” Here the translators take they and them to refer to the waters mentioned in verse 6. While this is grammatically possible, there are several problems with this understanding of the Hebrew.
First, this translation does not make sense in the context. Verse 7 says the waters hurried away at the Lord’s rebuke—after they had completely covered the mountains of the earth (v. 6). If the waters are fleeing away from above the mountains, then they are not going uphill over the mountains.
Secondly, they and by (or over, as in similar translations) are not explicitly reflected in the Hebrew text (which is identical behind all the translations). There are no Hebrew prepositions before mountains and valleys. The pronoun they is reflected in the endings on the Hebrew verbs, which are in the third person plural form. So, the verbs themselves do not tell what the subject of each verb is. But they in verse 8 is clearly referring to them at the end of the verse. The most likely nouns to which them refers are the antecedent nouns closest to them, which is not the waters of verse 6, but the mountains and valleys of verse 8.
Third, while someone might consider the Septuagint (LXX)4 supportive of the above translations, it is not. For one thing, the LXX translates all the verbs in verses 6–8 in the future tense in contrast to all the English translations discussed above and below. Furthermore, in verse 8 the Greek grammatical form of the nouns mountains and valley could be understood as either nominative or accusative. In other words, from the Greek form of the nouns alone and the verbs associated with them, we cannot be sure if those nouns are the subjects of the verbs in this verse or the objects of the verbs. Only context can answer the question for us, and the LXX version of this passage is simply not clear and should be rejected as inaccurate.
For these reasons, we conclude that the ESV, HCSB, and NLT translate Psalm 104:8 correctly—in a way similar to the NAS, which reads, “
The mountains rose, the valleys sank down to the place which You established for them.” In other words, the subject of the verbs is not the waters referred to in verse 6. Both verbs at the beginning of verse 8 have a separate subject: the mountains and the valleys, respectively. Thus, verse 8 is referring to tectonic movements in the earth’s crust during the recessional stage of Noah’s Flood and not to any events on Day 3 of Creation Week.