Psalm 8

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

In all the earth – 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.

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 infants – that is, the weak and immature. 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 abilites, 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.

…to silence the foe… – God meets the challenge of discord with what is weak and immature. Cf Mt 21:15-16 1 Cor 1:25 ff.

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?
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.

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

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

Your heavens – 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.

‘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 – 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.

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.

What is man? – this 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)

Mindful – has a ‘compassionately purposeful ring’ (Kidner).

Care – likewise signifies God’s active concern. Wonder of wonders! – the God who made heaven and earth cares for me.

The heavenly beings elohom – the most obvious translation is ‘God’, thus making the verse an allusion to the image of God, Gen 1:26. But 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)

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

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.

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.

You made him ruler – 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)

‘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)

You put everything under his feet – 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).

‘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)

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.

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