For the music director, according to the gittith style; a psalm of David.

A psalm of David – ‘The psalm seems to grow from awe-filled observation of the night sky—an opportunity the young David must have enjoyed on many occasions as a shepherd in the fields.’ (Wilson)

Spurgeon’s suggestion, that we may style this as ‘the psalm of the astronomer’, does not really capture the heart of the matter.  If it is a psalm for stargazers, then it is much more a psalm for soul-searchers. (Jacobson)

‘The significance of Ps 8 lies in its approach to Creation and its application to the Messiah. The biblical account of Creation was intended to help Israel praise the Lord as the sole Creator of everything in heaven, on earth, and in the sea. The NT applies the glory of humankind to the Messiah, as he has subjected everything to himself (Heb 2:6–9; cf. 1Co 15:27; Eph 1:22). In Jesus’ victory the Christian has received the glorious renewal of which the psalmist speaks (Heb 2:10–11)!’ (EBC)

Harper’s Bible Commentary concisely summarises the thought of this psalm: ‘humanity, which feels overwhelmed by the universe, if redeemed by the Lord, has this world at its feet.’

Wilson analyses the psalm as follows:

    1. ‘praise of the majestic power and protection of Yahweh displayed in creation (vv. 1b–2);
    2. ‘recognition of human frailty in the light of God’s creative power (vv. 3–4); and
    3. ‘astonished acceptance of divine empowerment of humans and their resultant responsibility (vv. 5–8).’

Following Wiersbe, we might offer the following outline: (a) created, 1f, 5a; (b) cared for, 3f; (c) crowned, 5-8.

Remarkably (Mays notes), this psalm is the only hymn in the OT which is entirely addressed to God.

‘When the Apollo 11 spacecraft journeyed to the moon in 1969, the leaders of the nations of earth were each invited to compose a message to be included on a small disk that was to be left on that heavenly body. Pope Paul VI—who was devoted to God, felt responsible for creation, and was the political leader of the Vatican—sent along the text of Psalm 8. How appropriate!’ (Jacobson)

8:1 O LORD, our Lord,
how magnificent is your reputation throughout the earth!
You reveal your majesty in the heavens above!

O LORD, our Lord – The psalm begins and ends with the same phrase. This is a poetic device knowns as ‘inclusio’, (cf. Ps 103:1,22) and serves as an announcement and reminder of the main theme. The adoration of this psalm is both reverent and intimate; the God whose glory fills the skies is our Lord. His praises are sung by the angels on high, yet echoed by the baby in the cradle, v2.

‘O LORD, our Lord’ translates the divine names yhwh and adonay.  ‘Knowing that the psalmist is in fact saying “O Yahweh, my Lord” makes a much clearer connection between Yahweh and the “majestic name” the psalmist exalts. The gift of God’s very name Yahweh to Israel in the Exodus event was an act of radical self-revelation by which he made himself known and accessible to the people he had taken as his own.’ (Wilson)

‘Our Lord’ is a brief but profound confession of faith.  The Jewish people are ‘his people and the sheep of his pasture’ (Psa 100:3).  And yet his name is to be know ‘in all the earth’.  He is both transcendent and immanent – his glory is ‘above the heavens’ and yet also shared with his earthbound creatures (see the next verse).  The psalmist is, apparently, praying alone, and yet he addresses ‘our Lord’.  Just as Jesus taught in the Lord’s Prayer (‘Our Father…’), even in solitary praying we are to remember that we belong to the people of God.

This address to God sets the scene for what follows.  But, as Jacobson says, ‘Psalm 8 is not just a poem about God. Psalm 8 is a poem about God and us and about our relationship with God.’

Magnificent – or ‘majestic’.  ‘The word “majestic” is a royal attribute denoting his victories (Ex 15:6), his might in judgment (1 Sam 4:8; Ps 76:4), his law (Isa 42:21), and his rule over creation (Pss 8:1, 9; 93:4). All creation reveals the power and glory of God’s name (Rom 1:20).’ (EBC)

Your reputation – your ‘name’ (NIV); ‘the works and words of the one whose identity and will are expressed through them.’ (Mays)

In all the earth – foreshadowing the major stress that the body of this psalm has on creation, and our place in it.  the whole creation is full of his glory. From man the head, to the wriggling worm, all creatures are supported and nourished by the divine bounty. Travel as high, or wide, or deep as we may, there is no place where God is not.

Israel’s God is the world’s God!

It is only when we have bowed before the glory of God that we can begin to answer the question, ‘What is man?’, and discover our own God-given glory.  It is only when we move from unaided reason to God-given revelation that this question becomes answerable.

The ancient world was, in its own way, as pluralistic as our own.  But ‘the LORD, the God of Israel and the Bible, is not just our Lord, he says, but the name, the only name, to be honoured in all the earth and even above the heavens. Little Israel is right, and the rest are wrong.’ (Wilcock)

You reveal your majesty in the heavens above! – ‘above the heavens’ (NIV).

8:2 From the mouths of children and nursing babies
you have ordained praise on account of your adversaries,
so that you might put an end to the vindictive enemy.

Children and nursing babies – that is, the weak and immature. The first describe children who are of an age to play in the street, and the second, infants who are not yet weaned.

Perhaps the psalmist means ‘even from the mouths of children…’ (rather than ‘especially from…’).

So then, (a) man in general, who begins, continues, and ends his days in frailty, and yet is given strength to overcome the enemy of souls; (b) David, who when but a youth was enabled to overcome Goliath; (c) the Lord Jesus, who assumed our weak nature, yet conquered Satan, 1 Cor 15:27; (d) the apostles, who were of humble origin and abilities, yet were mighty instruments in God’s service, Mt 11:25; (e) the children who cried ‘Hosanna’; (f) Christians who fight under God’s banner, Mt 18:3.

Marvel not, then, that the wonders of God are often more apparent in weak and foolish things than in the great and noble. This is true in the physical realm: the bee is not less wonderful than the elephant; it is even more so in the spiritual realm, 1 Cor 1. ‘Thus he declares not only that the human race are a bright mirror of the Creator’s works, but that infants hanging on their mothers’ breasts have tongues eloquent enough to proclaim his glory without the aid of other orators. Accordingly, he hesitates not to bring them forward as fully instructed to refute the madness of those who, from devilish pride, would fain extinguish the name of God.’ (Calvin, Institutes)

The praise of infants is characterised by imperfection and simplicity. What can we learn from this? ‘For years I never felt I measured up to all I thought the Lord wanted me to be, or all I thought I should be. Satan convinced me that since I wasn’t “perfect,” I had no right to minister to others. Then one day, my children brought me a bouquet of flowers they had picked. I hugged each child with joy. As I tried to arrange the flowers in a vase, I discovered my children had picked no stems, just blossoms. I laughed-I had been blessed with their gift of love, however imperfect. It was then I realized we don’t have to be perfect to be a blessing. We are asked only to be real, trusting in Christ’s perfection to cover our imperfection.’ Gigi Graham Tchividjian, “Heart to Heart,” Today’s Christian Woman. Cf. Php 3:12; 2 Cor 12:10.

‘The Lord only needs an army of praise-wielding infant warriors to “silence” these enemies!’ (CBC)

‘The cry of baby Moses ultimately brought Egypt to her knees, and the birth of Samuel was used by God to save Israel and bring David to the throne. Of course, it was the birth of Jesus that brought salvation to this world. Indeed, God has used the weak and helpless to praise Him and help defeat His enemies (1 Cor. 1:27). David himself was but a youth when he silenced Goliath and defeated him (1 Sam. 17:33, 42–43), and he brought great glory to the name of the Lord (17:45–47).’ (Wiersbe)

Your adversaries…the vindictive enemy – Jacobson understands this as a reference to the foes that God overcomes in his work of creation.  Cf. Ps. 74:13–14a, 16–17.

God meets the challenge of his enemies with the praise of children. Cf Mt 21:15-16 (where Jesus quotes this psalm on Palm Sunday) and 1 Cor 1:25ff.

In his Book of Martyrs, Fox tells how a believer called Lawrence was burned at Colchester. Too weak and injured to walk, having been cruelly treated by the Papists, he was carried in a chair to the fire. A number of children gathered round the fire, and prayed as best they could, “Lord, strengthen thy servant,and keep thy promise.” God answered the cry of these children and infants, and enabled Lawrence to die firmly and calmly for his Master.

George Wishart, the great Scottish Martyr, was once told by a Popish chaplain that he had a devil in him, but a child standing nearby cried out, “A devil cannot speak such words as yonder man speaketh.”

George Whitefield records in one of his letters the persecution he received when he first preached in Moorfields: ‘I cannot help adding that several little boys and girls, who were fond of sitting around me on the pulpit while I preached and handed me people’s notes though they were ofte pelted with eggs and dirt, thrown at me – never once gave way; but on the contrary, every time I was struck, turned up their little weeping eyes, and seemed to wish they could receive the blows for me. God make them, in their growing years, great and living martyrs for him who, out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, perfects praise.

Ordained praise – or, ‘founded strength’; i.e., ‘set your strength on a firm foundation’ (NBC).

8:3 When I look up at the heavens, which your fingers made,
and see the moon and the stars, which you set in place,
8:4 Of what importance is the human race, that you should notice them?
Of what importance is mankind, that you should pay attention to them,
8:5 and make them a little less than the heavenly beings?

From the tiniest baby, v2, to the most far-flung galaxy, God is Lord of all.

‘It is worth stressing that throughout the entire poem, the Creator is addressed directly and intimately: your name, you have established, your heavens, you remember them, and so on. The vast expanse of the firmament impresses the psalmist deeply, but it does not overawe to the point where the personal dimension of faith is squelched. This hymn is a prayer to God, not merely a poem about God.’ (Jacobson)

When I look up at the heavens – Due to lack of light pollution, the night sky would have been all the more dazzling.  But we, will our knowledge of the size of the cosmos, have our own special reasons for being amazed by the power and wisdom of the Creator:-

‘Today, we can marvel at the heavens with more data than was available to David’s unaided eye. For example, we know that in one second a beam of light travels 186,000 miles, which is about seven times around the earth. It takes eight minutes for that beam to go from the sun to the earth. In a year the same beam travels almost six trillion miles. Scientists call this a “light-year.” Eight billion light-years from earth is halfway to the edge of the known universe. Within the universe there are a hundred billion galaxies, each with a hundred billion stars, on the average. In all the galaxies, there are perhaps as many planets as stars, ten billion trillion. These statistics take us beyond human comprehension. No wonder David asks, “What is man … ?”’ (Donald Williams)

We may learn great and important lessons from close observation of the natural world, if only we have a humble and teachable heart.

The worldly person sees God in nothing, not even in spiritual things; the spiritual person sees God in everything, even natural things. We see in the heavens indications of time and space on an immense scale. We see a vast universe utterly above our world, reminding us, perhaps of the world to come. But whatever astronomers discover of new stars and galaxies and planets, they are still God’s heavens: all we can do is discover what he has already placed there.

The work of your fingers – suggesting the ease and artistry with which God made the universe, notwithstanding its vastness. Cf. Ex 8:19. In Lk 11:20, it is the same ‘finger of God’ that Jesus employs to exercise his power over demons.

How vast is the known universe! And yet, how infinitely vast its Creator, whose ‘fingers’ made it.  What tiny specks we are in this vastness! And yet God

Broyles: ‘This image conveys God’s immense power as builder and artistry as craftsman.’

‘Though God does not have physical dimensions, the poet makes a striking point. In contrast to God, the heavens are tiny, pushed and prodded into shape by the divine digits; but in contrast to the heavens, which seem so vast in the human perception, it is mankind that is tiny.’ (WBC)

‘Many in Israel and among her neighbors worshipped the heavenly bodies as divine bodies. In this pagan conception, the heavenly orbs were endowed with sentience, power, and identity. Here, they are merely objects that testify to their Creator’s glory—indeed, the psalmist belittles them by calling them the works of your fingers.’ (Jacobson)

‘Great was the work of creation, but greater the work of redemption; it cost more to redeem us than to make us; in the one there was but the speaking of a word, in the other the shedding of blood. The creation was but the work of God’s fingers, Ps 8:3. Redemption is the work of his arm, Lk 1:51.’ (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, 209)

The moon and the stars, which you set in place – there is no mention of the sun, suggesting that this was a meditation at night-time. Night was made for rest, but when sleepless, I can think good thoughts.

God has put the heavenly bodies in their place.  What place will he find for us?

Here is a wonderful antidote to all the pride and self-glorification to which humanity is prone. What are our thoughts and fears, our troubles and joys, compared with the infinities of the universe? What are human abilities, human achievements, human kingdoms, compared with God, as set forth in the starry heavens?

Yet, the correct inference from the ordered heavens is not God’s remoteness, but his eye for detail, Isa 40:26ff. God did not plan an empty and meaningless universe, but a home for his people, Isa 45:18 51:16.

Here is a guide for ordinary people, who should learn to view the physical world with the eyes of faith; but also for men and women of science, whose studies will never make sense, or achieve their true ends, until the Creation is not only looked at, but also looked through, and the Creator glimpsed and worshiped.

‘Franklin D. Roosevelt used to have a little ritual with the famous naturalist, William Beebe. After an evening chat the two men would go outside and look into the night sky. Gazing into the stars, they would find a faint misty patch near one corner of the great square of Pegasus. One of them would recite these word: “That is the spiral galaxy of Andromeda. It is larger than our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It is 2 million light years away. It consists of 100 thousand million suns, each as big as our sun.” They would pause, and Roosevelt would finally say, “Now I think we feel small enough. Let’s go to bed.” (David Watson, In Search of God)

‘Eugene Cernan, one of the astronauts who enjoyed the exciting adventure of walking on the moon, said with wonder, “Our world appears big and beautiful, all blue and white! You can see from the Antarctic to the North Pole. The earth looks so perfect. There are no strings to hold it up; there is no fulcrum upon which it rests.” Contemplating the infinity of space and time, he said he felt as if he were seeing earth from God’s perspective when it was created.’ Cf. Job 26:7.

Of what importance is the human race? – This question is ‘the axis on which this poem pivots’ (Jacobson)

The word signifies humanity in its frail, earthly existence.  Notice that the psalmist does not limit his enquiry to those of his own nation, but rather extends it to all of humanity.

Mays notes that the question is not framed in abstract or absolute terms.  The Psalmist does not ask, merely, ‘What is man?’  He does not approach the question from a philosophical or scientific angle (important though they might be in their own way).  He asks, ‘What is man, that you, Lord, should remember and visit him?’  ‘The human about whom the psalm asks is the God-remembered and God-visited mortal.’

Carl Sagan: ‘As long as there have been humans we have searched for our place in the cosmos. Where are we? Who are we? We find that we live on an insignificant planet of a humdrum star lost in a galaxy tucked away in some forgotten corner of a universe in which there are far more galaxies than people.’

The question invites the answer: ‘Nothing! In such vastness, it is inconceivable that human beings have significance or meaning; it is inconceivable that God, if there is a God, could remember each human being or give attention to each person. The poet deliberately creates this sense of despair, first, in order to make the positive answer to the question, when it comes (vv 6–9), all the more powerful.’ (WBC)

‘Out of this whole array, from stars to sea-creatures, only man can look at this scene with the insight to ask such a question, even in doubt; therefore it already points to its answer.’ (Kidner)

Broyles says that this question ‘is not primarily anthropological but theological: “that you are mindful of him.” In other words, in view of God’s glory that has been set on the heavens, why does God preoccupy himself with mere mortals? The question is rhetorical and cannot be answered. This psalm expands our perspective to the heavens to see that God has other alternatives for his attention and delight, namely the vast and well-ordered heavens (as implied by “the work of your fingers …” which you have set in place). And yet it is humankind that he is mindful of, and care[s] for. In the midst of innumerable possibilities—as many as the stars of the heavens—God’s interest in us remains undistracted. Egocentric humans need not be reminded that we are the center of the universe, but we do need to be reminded that our place at the center is a surprise: “what is man that you are mindful of him?”’

The question may be asked in a number of ways: (a) it may mock the arrogance of the rebel, Ps 144:3-4; (b) it may plead respite from suffering, Job 7:17; (c) it may shudder at human sin, Job 25:6. But here, it expresses utter astonishment at God’s mindfulness and care of man.

‘What is man’, whether we consider the brevity of his life, the limitations of his faculties, the smallness of his impact upon the scheme of things, the frailty and error of his best efforts, and the stupidity and malice of his worst efforts? Yet the Lord is ‘mindful of him,’ and ‘cares for him.’

The question gains still more astonishment when we compare the length of man’s stay here on earth with the (supposed) age of the physical universe: if the supposed four-and-a-half-billion-year history of the Earth were to be measured in proportion to one year, man did not appear until 8.30 pm on December 31.

The question, ‘What is man?’, together with the answer given in v5ff, teaches us something about true humility. We are taught by Scripture to feel unworthy, but not worthless. ‘When we look at the vast expanse of creation, we wonder how God could be concerned for people who constantly disappoint him. Yet God created us only a little lower than himself or the angels! The next time you question your worth as a person, remember that God considers you highly valuable.’ (Handbook of Bible Application)

‘From his side, God shows in Isaiah 40:26ff. that the right inference from his ordered heavens is not his remoteness but his eye for detail; and adds in Isaiah 45:18; 51:16 that he planned no meaningless and empty universe, but a home for his family.’ (Kidner)

‘In Psalm 144:3f. it mocks the arrogance of the rebel; in Job 7:17 it is a sufferer’s plea for respite; in Job 25:6 it shudders at human sin. But here it has no tinge of pessimism; only astonishment that thou art mindful and thou dost care.’ (Kidner)

‘Oh, the grandeur and littleness, the excellence and the corruption, the majesty and meanness of man!’ Pascal, 1623-1662.’

What is man?

Contrast the dignity of which this psalm sings with the meaningless that atheism leads to:

“Life has no meaning:
a struggling in the gloom.
And the senseless end of it
is the insult of the tomb.”

‘That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins–all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be safely built.’ (Bertrand Russell)

Mankind – ‘The son of man’ – mortals; humanity in contrast to the heavenly beings.

Notice – (NIV: mindful of) – has a ‘compassionately purposeful ring’ (Kidner).

Pay attention – (NIV: care) – likewise signifies God’s active concern. Wonder of wonders! – the God who made heaven and earth cares for me.  This thought is not expanded here, but see Psa 1:6.

In view of the vast tracts of space and time of the cosmos, will God keep his eye on us?  Will he even notice us?

A little less than the heavenly beings – ‘A little’ can mean ‘a little while’ both in Heb and Gk, and this appears to be the sense in Hebrews.

<em>Elohim</em> - 'God' or 'angels'?

‘Heavenly beings’ (NET, NIV84, TNIV, ESV)


‘Angels’ (AV, NKJV, NIV).

Longman refers to the decision to translate as ‘angels’ as ‘a failure of nerve’ (and perhaps also an unnecessary attempt to harmonise with Heb 2:5-10).  He says that the LXX was ‘renowned for unnecessarily tempering shocking texts.’

The most obvious translation of elohim (‘heavenly beings’) is ‘God’, making the verse an allusion to the image of God, Gen 1:26.  According to Craigie, ‘the translation God is almost certainly correct, and the words probably contain an allusion to the image of God in mankind and the God-given role of dominion to be exercised by mankind within the created order.’

However, the LXX renders it ‘angels’ (cf 1 Sam 28:13; Ps 82:1 6-7) and this is followed in Heb 2:7,9.

‘The word…is rendered ‘God’ (RSV) or ‘divine’ (Moffatt), yet the familiar AV rendering ‘angels’ remains arguable.’ (NBD)

Modern thinking would describe man as ‘a little higher than the animals’, but Scripture teaches that we are ‘a little lower than God’.

‘This phrase plays on the ancient Near Eastern concept of the heavenly luminaries as divine beings…Many among Israel’s neighbors and indeed among Israel worshipped sun, moon, and stars as deities. In the first stanza, the psalmist spoke of these as the work of God’s fingers, that is, mere objects. The psalmist, who stands far down on the earth and looks up at the distant heavens, playfully asserts that human beings are, in fact, just a little lower than the true heavenly beings (meaning angelic beings such as seraphim and cherubim).’ (Jacobson)

‘The generic human being is an official in the administrative arrangement of the kingdom of God. The species is under God’s dominion and has been given dominion. Its nature is constituted in relations, and humankind is known for what it is when it is understood in terms of this pattern of relationships. The psalmist who composed this hymn was thinking about the human being in the same way as Gen 1:26–28 and Gen 2:19–20 do…What the psalmist has added is the description of the human in terms of royal rank, visualizing the concept “dominion” in terms of royal theology and interpreting the notion of the “image of God” by the process of ordination and enthronement…On the authority of the Genesis passages, the psalmist has put the entire race in the status of a king.’ (Mays)

These verses fairly describe man’s position before the Fall, but they are also used by the NT to set forth the Lord Jesus, as representative man. In order of dignity, man stood next to the angels, and in his incarnation, Jesus was made ‘a little lower than the angels’. In Eden, man was given command of all creatures, and now Jesus is Lord over all creation, Eph 1:22. But our lost dignity will be restored, and we shall reign with him. In the meantime, let not created things reign over us.

Thomas Goodwin emphasis that man is presented here are he was originally intentioned by his Maker.  Fallen man does not have perfect dominion over all things.  We see here, then, (a) unfallen man; (b) the perfect Christ-man; (c) redeemed man.

Wiersbe: ‘When Jesus ministered here on earth, He exercised the dominion that Adam lost, for He ruled over the beasts (Mark 1:13; 11:1–7), the fowl (Luke 22:34), and the fish (Luke 5:4–7; Matt. 17:24–27; John 21:1–6). Today He is on the throne in heaven and all things are “under his feet” (1 Cor. 15:27; Eph. 1:22; Heb. 2:8).  The phrase means “completely subjected to Him” (47:4; Josh. 10:24; 1 Kings 5:17). Through the exalted Christ, God’s grace is reigning today (Rom. 5:21) so that God’s children may “reign in life” through Jesus Christ (v. 17). He has made us “kings and priests to His God and Father, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Rev. 1:6). By faith, “we see Jesus” (Heb. 2:8–9), crowned in heaven, and that assures us that one day we will reign with Him and receive our crowns (Rev. 20:1–6).’

Christians can see in these verse the lowly position assumed by Christ, followed by his universal dominion. Human nature is glorified in the person of the Lord Jesus. On Christ as the principal subject of this psalm, see Mt 21:16; 1 Cor 15:27; Heb 2:6-7.

Why ‘a little lower than the angels’, rather than, ‘a little higher than the beasts’?

‘It could have been written the other way around. If man really is a mediating being, as the psalm maintains, it would have been equally accurate to have described him as slightly higher than the beasts rather than as slightly lower than the angels. But it does not, and the reason it does not is that, although men and women have been given a position midway between the angels and the beasts, it is nevertheless humanity’s special privilege and duty to look upward to the angels (and beyond the angels to God, in whose image women and men have been made), rather than downward to the beasts. The result is that they become increasingly like God rather than increasingly beast-like in their behavior.’

‘Western society has lost sight of God. It no longer sees man as a creature made in God’s image, whose chief end is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” It has eliminated God from its collective conscience. But then, because it no longer looks to God to derive its sense of identity and worth from him, it looks in the only other direction it can look. It looks downward to the beasts and derives its identity from the animal kingdom.'(Boice)

You grant mankind honor and majesty;
8:6 you appoint them to rule over your creation;
you have placed everything under their authority,
8:7 including all the sheep and cattle,
as well as the wild animals,
8:8 the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea
and everything that moves through the currents of the seas.

Notice that the dignity of mankind is God-given: ‘You grant…you appoint…you have placed…’.

Jacobson: ‘Even though the topic is the worth of human beings, the poet stresses the actions of God…What gives human beings dignity and value is not anything that humans have done for themselves, but rather something that God has done for them. Our worth comes to us from outside of ourselves (extra nos). That which God confers upon us is the key to our status, not that which comes from inside of us.’

You grant mankind honor and majesty – (NIV: ‘You…crowned him with glory and honour’).  And this, after humankind’s disastrous rebellion.  Our God-given dignity has been marred, but not obliterated.  It is gloriously exhibited in the incarnate Son of God, and is being remade in us according to his image.

‘Nowhere is human dignity more strongly affirmed than here.’ (Grogan)

You appoint them to rule over your creation – Cf. Gen 1:26. ‘Man was given the high position of ruling over the earth but forfeited it when he sinned. Yet he will regain that position in Christ, who will subject all things to himself when he comes again.’ (Ryrie)

‘Humanity’s position over creation was granted before the Fall (Ge 1:28), but it was not taken away after the Fall (Gen 9:1–3, 7). Human beings are God’s appointed governors (vassals) over creation. Their function on earth is to maintain order, to shine God’s light on creation, and to keep a beneficent relationship with all that God has created on earth and in the sea. The Great King has appointed the human race to maintain dominion over creation and not be controlled by creation.’ (EBC)

‘God holds us responsible for how we use his creation. God gave human beings tremendous authority-to be in charge of the whole earth. But with great authority comes great responsibility. If we own a pet, we have the legal authority to do with it as we wish, but we also have the responsibility to feed and care for it. How do you treat God’s creation? Use your resources wisely because God holds you accountable for your stewardship.’ (Handbook of Bible Application)

‘The faithful response to God’s grace in honoring humankind with such “dominion” is not hubris (“It’s all ours to do with as we wish”) but humility (“How amazing that we are entrusted with such gifts!”). In its original setting the psalm cannot be referring to a manipulative dominion, such as is possible with modern technology, but a spiritual dominion that draws its power from humankind’s primary relationship with God.’ (James Gertmenian, in Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol 3)

‘To this end man was invested with “dominion over the works of God’s hands,” that, as the priest of nature, he might walk through the aisles of her vast cathedral, and lead the whole choir of earth in chants of thanksgiving and joy. It is his office to gather the inarticulate praises of this dumb world into his censer, investing them with his own intelligence and thought, and lighting them at the fire of his own devotion; and then, as the voice of nature, to pour forth the flood of praise forever upon him who has created all for his own glory.’ (B.M. Palmer, Theology of Prayer)

You have placed everything under their authority – NIV: ‘You put everything under his feet’.  This expression suggests royal authority, as in Psa 110:1.

Jacobson notes how  the psalmist has subtly woven in a downwards descent:-

v. 1b above the heavens

v. 3 heavens … moon and stars

v. 5a but a little lower than heavenly beings

v. 5b crowned them (a reference to the head)

v. 6a hands

v. 6b feet

Now, having descended to earth, the direction changes from vertical to horizontal:-

sheep and oxen → beasts of the field → birds → fish → whatever passes the paths of the seas

The trajectory is from domesticated animals, which share space with humans, to those that are least hospitable to us, and which live in places of chaos.  But, says Jacobson, ‘God has placed even these wild and unknown creatures under our care.’

‘The powerful message of this psalm is that God does not merely care about human beings, but values them so much that they are given a role in God’s economy.’ (Jacobson)

‘The conclusion to be drawn from this is that in the second stanza of the psalm, the concept of royalty is extended from God the creator king to humanity in general, who are anointed as the royalty responsible for creation.’ (Jacobson)

‘This psalm reminds us that our supremacy in the natural world did not result from our own efforts or from something inherent in nature but from God’s deliberate choice.’ (Broyles)

This is applied to Christ in Eph 1:22; 1 Cor 15:27; Heb 2:6-10. ‘There are two principles on which the application of this passage of Psalm 8 to Christ may be explained. The one is that the Psalm is a prophetic exhibition of the goodness of God to Christ, and of the dominion to be given to him. There is nothing, however, in the contents of the Psalm to favor the assumption of its having special reference to the Messiah. The other principle admits the reference of the Psalm to men generally, but assumes its full meaning to be what the apostle here declares it to be, viz., that the dominion which belongs to man is nothing less than universal. But this dominion is realized only in the Man Christ Jesus, and in those who are associated with him in his kingdom. This latter mode of explanation satisfies all the exigencies both of the original Psalm and of the passages where it is quoted in the New Testament.’ (Hodge, Commentary on Ephesians).

As Kidner remarks, the NT opens up other angles on this teaching.  James 3:7f tells us that we can tame everything but ourselves.  According to Heb 2:8 everything is not yet subjected to man, but Jesus is already crowned with glory and honour.  Paul, in 1 Cor 15:27f, looks forward to the fall of the last enemy and the handing back of all power to the Father.  Kidner concludes: ‘as ever, the coming of Christ revealed a whole landscape on the horizon to which the Old Testament was pointing.’

The three great realms of earth, sea and sky are alike included in humankind’s co-regency.

The paths of the seas – It is gratuitous to claim that this verse discloses knowledge of ocean currents, long before they were discovered and mapped scientifically.

‘Our greatness is thus in being made little less than God and being placed in this world to exercise His sovereignty over the planet. Both in nature and vocation, we are given divine glory.’ (David Williams)

‘God didn’t just make us; God made us both a representation and representatives of the reign of the LORD to the other creatures. The status belongs to the role per se, not to individuals or groups. It can be carried out only in identity with the whole and ultimately fulfilled only by the entire species.’ (Mays)

We know ourselves truly only as we know God

‘We only know our greatness in relationship to God. This knowledge does not come through “general revelation” in creation itself, but through “special revelation.” The God who makes Himself known makes us know ourselves in Him. Calvin, in his Institutes, asserts that there is no proper knowledge of humankind apart from the knowledge of God.’ (David Williams)

Christ the head of the new humanity

As Mays remarks, this psalm defines mankind’s God-given role in the world; it does not consider how effectively that role has been carried out.  Its perspective is the original purpose of God for humankind, and prompts us to consider his ultimate purpose.  Accordingly, the NT will interpret this psalm in the light of Christ.

‘We do not presently see the order of creation as we look at this world. Humankind, made to be a little lower than God, by declaring itself to be its own god, has become a devil. This world that was created to be ruled by us has been raped by us instead. Thus Psalm 8 points beyond itself to the redemption given in Christ.

As the second Adam, the head of a new redeemed race, Jesus has defeated sin, Satan, and death. He will reign, as Paul writes, “Till He has put all enemies under His feet,” and even death itself will finally be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:25). Again, Paul tells the Ephesians that Christ now reigns, having “put all things under His feet” (1:22). And Hebrews 2:5–9 sees Psalm 8:4–6 in the process of being fulfilled in Christ to whom all things have been made subject.

The final answer to the question “What is man … ?” is given in Christ, the head of a new humanity. It is Christ who has restored this fallen creation, Christ who will return and consummate all things in Himself. As God comes to this earth in His Son, the greatness of God and the grandeur of the cosmos are met in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.’ (David Williams)

Here is Wilcock’s summary: ‘That authority is given to man first in the person of Adam.68 It is renewed to Noah after the flood, and later embodied in the kingship of David and his successors. While in a broad sense it has never ceased to be the responsibility of the human race in general, it really ‘comes true’—is ‘fulfilled’, to use the biblical term—in Christ, the true Man, Saviour, and King. Of course ‘we do not yet see everything in subjection’ to him, says Hebrews 2:5–9 NRSV. But because of his crucifixion (says Hebrews) and resurrection (says Eph. 1:19–22), that glory is already his, and one day we shall see it revealed—shall see everything, even death, ‘under his feet’ (says 1 Cor. 15:24–27).’

What are we worth?

‘The bank vault of human worth, according to this psalm, is not located in our own existence, but rather in the twin sources of the God who created us and the creation over which that God has directed us to exercise responsibility: We are valuable because God values us and because God has commanded us to value creation!’ (Jacobson)

8:9 O LORD, our Lord,
how magnificent is your reputation throughout the earth!

Craigie (WBC) notes that this psalm does not teach that God is revealed in nature.  Contemplation of the world around us (and the worlds above us) does indeed prompt a sense of awe and insignificance, but gives no indication of our significance.  Knowledge of our role in the universe comes from special revelation.

From eternity to eternity

The Gospel Transformation Bible points out that hints of God’s plan of salvation can be found in this psalm:

(a) Creation is clearly in view, as this Psalm sings of God’s ‘glory above the heavens’, v1, and the celestial bodies which he ‘set in place’ (v3).  Cf. Gen 1:26f

(b) The Fall is alluded to in the references to ‘foes’, ‘enemy’ and ‘avenger’, v2.  Cf. Gen 3:1-24.  We are reminded that the Fall defaced, but did not obliterate, God’s image in us, and that he still dignifies us as stewards of his creation.  Cf Gen 1:28-31.

(c) Salvation from the adverse effects of the Fall was promised in Gen 3:15, 18f.  Heb 2:6-8 will refer back to this psalm in order to show that this salvation was effected by Christ, the perfect representative man.

(d) Consummation is anticipated in this psalm.  We are taught in Scripture that the One through whom all things were created (Jn 1:3; Heb 1:2) enables even the weakest to participate in the blessings of redemption (1 Cor 1:26-31) and God’s marred image in us is finally restored (Col 1:15).  Christ’s enemies will be finally overcomes, and his name will indeed be majestic in all the earth, v1, 9.

Fulfilled in Christ

‘David understood that the glory and authority articulated in the psalm had not yet been realized in history. “The historical reality, according to Paul and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, is—and will be—fulfilled in the risen Christ” (Craigie 1983:110). “We have not yet seen all things put under their authority” says the author of Hebrews (Heb 2:8) about the truth of Psalm 8. “What we do see is Jesus, who was given a position ‘a little lower than the angels’; and because he suffered death for us, he is now ‘crowned with glory and honor’ ” (Heb 2:9). As “the Son of David” (Matt 21:15), he suffered verbal opposition (as in Pss 3–7) from his enemies, opposition that was silenced with the words, “You have taught children and infants to give you praise” (Matt 21:16). But more than that, he “suffered death for us” (Heb 2:9). But suffering was his path to “glory and honor.” As surely as Jesus suffered and was crowned with glory and honor for us, we too will experience the glory and honor held out in Psalm 8, but only at the end of the path of the suffering of Psalms 3–7.’ (CBC)

The responsibility of royalty

‘the psalm casts human beings in royal terms, depicting them as the crown of God’s good creation. But the sense of being royalty is not that human beings have the right to do whatever they want with creation, like toddlers who wreak havoc and destroy because they know no better. Rather, to be royalty in the Old Testament means to be called to a higher standard of responsibility. The message of this psalm is that we human beings, in the words of Limburg, are called to the “responsibility of royalty.” God has placed all things under our feet not so that we may walk all over them, but so that we might tend and care for them, as Adam was instructed to do in the garden.’ (Jacobson)

In the rest of Scripture

Gen 1:26-28 establishes humankind as God’s viceroy over all creation.

According to Gen 3 man’s role is fatally damaged, but not obliterated.

The promise of worldwide rule is given to David and his line, Psa 2:8f; Jesus is rightly honoured as ‘son of David in Mt 21:16, quoting Psa 8:3.

The risen Christ is the second Adam, under whose feet all things have been placed, 1 Cor 15:20-28; quoting Psa 8:6.

Heb 2:5-9 looks back to Psa 8 in order to teach that we do not yet see all things subject to human rule, but we do see Jesus as the guarantor and representative of a people who will share with him in governing the world.  Cf. 1 Cor 6:2.