The Wartburg Project

February 21st, 2024

100. Translation of Psalm 104:4 - Winds and Blazing Fire

I noticed a strange thing while studying Psalm 104:4. The EHV and NIV translations seem to be exact opposites. How is this possible? And which one is right?

First let’s look at the two translations.


He stretches out the heavens like a canopy.
3He lays beams on the waters to support his upper chambers.
He makes clouds his chariot.
He travels on the wings of the wind.
4He makes his messengersa winds.
His ministers are blazing fire.

     2Or angels.


He makes winds his messengers;
         flames of fire his servants.

The note on this verse in the EHV Study Bible does address this issue, but we will expand a bit on that point here for those readers who do not have the study Bible.

The two interpretations above are both grammatically possible, because the Hebrew does not definitively determine which object to place first, in the main position, and which to place second, in the descriptive position, but the Hebrew word order is “he makes his messengers winds; his minsters fire of flame.” Messengers and ministers are in the main position; winds and fire are in the descriptive position.

This verse therefore can be understood in two ways:

  1. Winds and fire serve as God’s messengers (NIV).

  2. Wind and fire are a description of the speed and splendor of angels (EHV).

The parallelism of the psalm seems to allow either interpretation. The interpretation which identifies winds and flames as God’s messengers seems at first glance to create a better synonymous parallel with verse 3, which refers to winds and clouds, but it also creates a redundancy, since the text then would mention winds twice.

On the other hand, it would not be unusual to have verse 3 mention elements of the physical heavens and to have verse 4 shift to the inhabitants of the heavens, since these two forces are often set side by side in Scripture. For example, the term armies of the heavens may refer to either the stars or the angels or both.

See Psalm 148:1-4:

Praise the Lord from the heavens.
Praise him in the heights.
2Praise him, all his angels.
Praise him, all his armies.
3Praise him, sun and moon.
Praise him, all you bright stars.
4Praise him, you highest heavens
and you waters which are above the heavens.

The factor that seems to tip the scales in one direction is that Hebrews 1:7 applies this verse to angels.

About the angels he says: He makes his messengers winds
and his ministers flaming fire.

Like the invisible wind, the invisible angels can quickly go anywhere. God as the judge is a flaming fire, and God at times uses his holy angels to bring his judgment on the wicked (Acts 12:23). The angels are sometimes described as flaming fire (Ezekiel 8:2). The name seraphim means “burning ones.”

Since the grammatical construction and the poetic parallelism leave the answer to our question as a toss-up, it seems wise to give the tie-breaking vote to Hebrews 1. This is what the EHV has done.