Cherished in God’s Eyes

| Psalm 8:1-9

The Point:  God values and cares for even the weakest among us.

How Majestic is Your Name:  Psalm 8:1-9.

[1]  A Psalm of David. O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. [2]  Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. [3]  When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, [4]  what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? [5]  Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. [6]  You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, [7]  all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, [8]  the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. [9]  O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!   [ESV]

Glory Condescending to Mankind. The praise of God for creation is a recurring theme in the book of Psalms. Although Psalm 8 focuses on aspects of creation, it does not praise nature, but the God who formed it – in fact, this is the only psalm in the collection that is addressed entirely to God. Accordingly, the admiration of nature by believers is an acknowledgment of the glory of God. The contemplation of the heavens leads to praise; and in the contemplation of the heavens, one senses the insignificance of a human. The praise that comes from such contemplation necessarily focuses on the divine plan of the creator to make mankind great, and even to make mankind able to offer praise and adoration to the creator. Since this hymn is a lyric echo of Genesis 1, it is not surprising to see how the emphasis on the creation of mankind as the climax of all creation has been carried over to this psalm of praise. There is a significant structure to the psalm that is obvious to the casual reader: the entire psalm is bracketed by the refrain of praise in verses 1a and 9, and in between these verses there are two considerations, the glory of God [1b,2] and the celebration of mankind [3-8]. At the center of the psalm is the affirmation of human power and authority; but the center [5] and the boundaries [1a and 9] must be read together, for either taken alone will miss the point. Human power is always bounded and surrounded by divine praise. God intended for humans to have such power and authority, but without praise to God humans only pervert and abuse that power. The psalm is not a messianic psalm. It speaks of the present, that is, that God by His grace has made mankind to rule over all creation. Humans are not divine, according to the psalm, but have been invested with greatness and its responsibilities. In the New Testament the psalm is applied on a higher level, reflecting a typological interpretation. The writer to the Hebrews reminds the reader that all things are not yet under such dominion [Heb. 2:6-9]. However, the fulfillment of the divine plan will be realized because the Son of God became man, a little lower than the angels, and He will eventually put all things under His dominion [1 Cor. 15:27].

1. The Lord’s Majesty: People must praise the majesty of the creator [1a].  The psalm begins with a direct address to the Lord, and this will be sustained through the entire psalm. The holy name (Yahweh) is used first, rendered here in English as usual with LORD. And then in apposition to it is the plural our Lord, i.e., our sovereign master or king. This clearly expresses the foundational meaning of the psalm, and indeed, of Scripture, that Israel’s God is the sovereign creator. The exclamation is the praise: how majestic is your name in all the earth? The name is the nature of the Lord, here probably emphasizing His sovereignty over all His creation. His nature is majestic in all the earth. The point is not that all people in the earth know the Lord or acknowledge His power and His glory, but rather that the faithful know and acknowledge that He is the mighty sovereign over all.

2. The Lord’s Power and Grace: People must acknowledge the power and the grace of the creator [1b-8].  A. The Lord uses weak things to confound the mighty [1b-2].  The center of the psalm is divided into two unequal parts, with the first focusing on the glory of the Lord [1b-2]. The fact that His glory is above the heavens explains why His name is majestic in all the earth. The word glory emphasizes the essence, the very person of God as majestic – He is the most important person in existence. But the glory of the Lord may also refer to phenomena of nature that witnesses to His power and majesty. The psalm is declaring that this God, whose majesty and power the heavens reflect, has glorified Himself in all the earth and in mankind in particular. More specifically to the content of the psalm, it is the glory of God to form a frail man from the dust of the ground and then entrust dominion over the earth to Him. Such power, such authority, is unique to the Lord who is indeed our Lord. The psalm then focuses on a specific aspect of the sovereign power of God in verse 2. The specific meaning of this verse is uncertain, as the variety of interpretations attest; but the general idea seems to be that God works through things that appear to be weak and insufficient. What comes from the mouths of children would be words; but they could be expressions of a child’s faith, expressions of praise for God’s creation or salvation, or even cries for help. Some such words by a child who appears to be insignificant will be attended to by God in His plan to establish strength to silence the wicked, especially if the cries are out of pain or terror. God can take what seems to be merely desperate cries and fulfill the need by destroying whatever threatens danger to the weak and innocent, or by guarding the weak from the wicked. In other words, some individuals may appear weak and vulnerable, but they have access to divine power – that is the way that God has ordered creation. God has chosen to use the weak things to confound the mighty. He does not need to use powerful people or eloquent speakers to silence the adversaries; rather, a simple cry for help will be heard by God and will overcome the world. This is the design of God to still the enemy and the avenger. Here, then, in God’s glorious creation, and under His sovereign majesty, the enemies of God exist and pose a threat to the righteous, especially the vulnerable. But God will bring the wicked to their end; and that victory will be a triumph of faith, no matter how small and simple the acknowledgment of God’s power may be. B. The Lord graces mankind with dominion [3-8].  The second and larger part of the body of this composition concerns the care and design that God has for mere mortals. This amazing observation is similar to the first, although now the psalm does not speak of God’s using what children say to establish strength, but of God’s entrusting humans with dominion over all creation. It begins in verses 3 and 4 with an observation. When the psalmist looks at God’s creation, the first feeling is a sense of being overwhelmed – people are just a tiny part of God’s creation. The psalmist sees all of creation as God’s finger work, the work of the divine craftsman. The fact that the text mentions only the moon and the stars may indicate that the psalmist was observing the night sky. Even if that is the case, the conclusion is still overwhelming – God is so majestic and powerful that he could create all of these things by a powerful decree. Why, though, should such a God occupy Himself with mere mortals? This is the wording of the questions of verse 4, but they are rhetorical questions, expressing amazement and wonder. The descriptions, man … son of man, are of humans, people in general, and not of males as opposed to females; they portray humans as frail and insignificant, especially when placed in the context of the expansive universe. The questions use two verbs that are very clear in their significance. The first is the verb you are mindful of him. The word is ‘to remember’; and it usually signifies acting on what is called to mind. The psalmist is amazed that the majestic God of creation thinks of him in such a way as to do things for him, to meet his needs. And the parallel verb makes the point even stronger: you care for him. The verb usually indicates divine intervention that changes the destiny of people. No matter how frail or insignificant people may seem, God intervenes in their lives to set in motion the plan He has for them. In verses 5 and 6 we have a description of just what God intended for mere mortals. First, the clarification is made that humans are not divine or supernatural beings. The text affirms that the Lord made man a little lower than the heavenly beings. Even though God made man lower than divine, He crowned him with glory and honor. The words glory and honor are words that usually refer to the divine majesty; the first stresses dignity and importance, and the second the external splendor. God in His grace has crowned mankind with these, the verb being carefully chosen to anticipate the dominion given to mankind in verse 6. This crowning is another way of saying humans are made as the image of God. The creation of humans and crowning them with glory and honor had a purpose, to make them have dominion over the works of God. In short, by God’s creation every human was given the commission and the capacity to rule over life on this planet. The rest of the psalm delineates this dominion, the territory and the subjects. These are the works of God’s hand that were put under the dominion of mankind. In the New Testament the apostles point out that because of the presence of sin, mankind has not ruled over God’s creation as intended. Creation is not in submission, but in chaos. The message in the New Testament explains how this plan will be fulfilled. By the incarnation, the Son of God took on mortal flesh and was made a little lower than the angels. He never ceased being divine, but He did empty Himself to become the second Adam. Even though all dominion and authority has been given to Him, we do not yet see all things put under His feet. That will happen at the end of the age. Paul emphasizes that He will not simply put created life under His feet. He will subdue things visible and invisible, and the last enemy that He will subdue will be death. Those who trust in the Lord will share in that dominion, for they will reign with Him [Rev. 5:11]. Then the human race will fulfill its destiny, in and through the new Adam.

3. The Lord’s Majesty: People must praise the majesty of the creator [9].  The first verse of the psalm is now repeated to close the psalm, and even though the psalm has focused on the glory and dignity of mankind’s dominion over the earth, the ending of the psalm reminds us that praise is to be given to the Lord. The fact that we have been given the capacity and the privilege to reign over the earth – the fact that we were even created, is by God’s grace and goodness. Like the shepherds in the field at the birth of the Savior, gazing into the heavens and hearing the host of angels, we too must always sing “Glory to God in the Highest.”

Message and Application.  The psalm certainly inspires the reader to praise the majesty of the Lord God, and the substance of the praise of this psalm is distinct. The message of the passage can therefore serve as the substance of the praise, but it will also inspire theological reflection on the teachings included here. It portrays God as the majestic Lord of all creation, who delights in using things that are weak to confound the mighty when the things that are weak call out to Him, either in prayer, or in praise, acknowledging His majestic nature. There are a number of ways that the message of this psalm could be expressed in an exposition. One that is workable is: God has chosen to display His majesty by enabling weak and vulnerable mortals to play a part in carrying out His plan for creation. This could be extended to specify that He uses the cries of the weak and vulnerable to display His strength on their behalf and that He uses mere mortals to have dominion over creation. The exposition itself will explain this. The point that the book of Hebrews makes is that whatever dominion humans have over the creation today is not what God had intended in creation. Through the incarnation of the Lord the plan of creation will be fulfilled, so Christians reading this psalm will offer even greater praise to God for His amazing plan to perfect creation through the Son. The psalm will still bring comfort in its teaching that God’s power can be accessed through the simplest cries for help, and the psalm will still bring believers amazement that God should choose to use humans to rule over creation. Believers will need to discover the capacities that have been given to them and how to use them correctly to do the will of God in this world. The psalm is a reminder that we are here on earth with divinely ordained responsibilities. These ideas will be better understood in the light of the incarnation; for by being born into the human race and suffering as a human, Jesus was able to demonstrate the power of God to overcome the world. In His second coming He will display that power in His glorious reign. Then as the redeemed reign with Him they will realize their full potential.”  [Ross, pp. 287-298]. 

Questions for Discussion:

1.         Describe the structure of this Psalm. What theme brackets the main message of the Psalm [see 1a, 9]? Meditate on the following statement by Ross: “Human power is always bounded and surrounded by divine praise.” What happens when mankind does not follow this truth?

2.         What is the meaning of God’s glory in verse 1b? How did God set His glory above the heavens? In what way did God crown mankind with glory?

3.         What does the Psalmist say about mankind in verses 2-8? Why does such a majestic and sovereign God concern Himself with mere mortals [4]? What is the meaning of verse 5? What does it mean for mankind to exercise dominion over creation? How can you exercise that dominion today? (In exercising dominion over all of God’s creation, mankind has the responsibility to see that all of creation fulfills its God-designed purpose of giving all glory and honor to the God.)

References:

Psalms, volume 1, James Boice, Baker.

Psalms, volume 1, John Goldingay, Baker.

A Commentary on the Psalms, volume 1, Allen Ross, Kregel.