A Bible Lesson on Psalm 8

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

This is a lesson on a passage not in the current ISSL schedule, Psalm 8.

Kidner calls this “an unsurpassed example of what a hymn should be, celebrating as it does the glory and grace of God, rehearsing who He is and what He has done, relating us and our world to Him; all with a masterly economy of word and in a spirit of mingled joy and awe.”  The Psalm begins and ends where indeed all that is begins and ends, with God.

Psalm 8:1 O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

O Yahweh, our Sovereign, O Jehovah, our Lord/Adonai, O I AM, our Ruler and King, how majestic is your name in all the earth.  The first 4 words of the Psalm name the personal name of the only self-existent One and acknowledge His kingship.  How grand is your name in all the earth; not any name of a “god,” but the name of the only God, the I AM, the self-existing and self-defining One.  How majestic is Your person.  You have set your glory above the heavens.  David looks back to creation and sees in it the great glory of God.  God stands above and outside of His creation, and something of His great power and person is revealed to all in that creation.

2 Out of the mouth of babes and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.

This is apparently a hard verse to translate and to interpret exactly.  But there is somehow the notion here, that there is a knowledge of God’s greatness even in the nursery.  And that’s appropriate.  Little ones are evidence of, and testify to the glory of God.  That evidence and testimony ought to silence every one of God’s enemies, all those who hate Him.  Jesus points to this verse on Palm Sunday when the religious leaders want the kids to be quiet and everyone to stop shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David.”  It’s evident in the sky and in the nursery that the God of the Bible is to be praised in all He is and all He has made.  That truth is enough to still or put to flight any foe that is paying attention at all.  It is enough to still or put to flight the enemies of God, those who (unlike the babes and infants that raise their voices in praise) would speak contrary to God’s great glory are not to be listened to, but rather put to silence.  The kids on Palm Sunday had it right, not the enemies of Christ who would have silenced them.

David looks up and has his breath taken away.

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?

The first lie we humans believe about ourselves is that WE are somehow at the center of all things.  We implicitly presume that we are both self-existent and in charge of all.  But that’s obvious foolishness if we will be at all honest and look around.  All we have to do is look up at the nighttime sky and think for a second about the vastness of the universe and our silliness is revealed for what it is.  What is an individual human being among the billions on earth?  What are the billions on earth in comparison to all that is?  Yet God is “mindful” of individual humans.  God’s attention/remembering in the Scriptures always carries with it movement towards the object.  He’s not just aware of us individually in some abstract or disinterested way.  He is mindful/at work on our behalf, just as a human parent is mindful of his or her kids individually.

This psalm simply turns upside down conventional human understanding of both the littleness and the bigness of man.  Standard human thinking would be that our littleness would make it impossible for any “god” to care for us individually, and that our personal bigness would make us masters of our own ship.  Neither is true and this Psalm says so.  It’s the God who is mindful of us who put us in this vast universe He made.  And we have a place here because and only because He’s given it to us.

How can it be that the God of creation would care for individual human beings?  The creation shows God’s glory, but neither it, nor unaided human reason can answer the question posed in verse 4.  Only His revelation of Himself and how things really are, as recorded in the Scripture, can teach us that

5 Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.

The Scriptures tell us that we are made “in His image.”  Unique in creation, you and I bear the likeness of our Creator.  His glory is above the heavens, but that glory is not only above the heavens, it is in you and me.  The word rendered “heavenly beings” here in the ESV (and “angels” in others) is “Elohim” … it’s a word that in the OT is sometimes a name for God Himself.  We’re not little “gods,” but have been made in His image, and as such have been most highly honored and blessed!  We somehow stand in creation between heaven and earth.  But our sight is above, not below.  The verse doesn’t say “a bit higher than the beasts,” it says “a little lower than the heavenly beings.”  When humans understand who God is and who they are, their view is upward, and there is a nobility in them.  On the other side of this, when humans fail to recognize God, and fail to see their right relationship to Him, their gaze turns downward, life loses any real glory or honor, and becomes the existence of a dumb animal.

Of all beings on earth, only humans, made a little lower than the heavenly beings, even have the ability to ask the question in verse 4.  Only we (when we look up) have the God-given opportunity to know our Maker.

6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet,

A careful look at the tenses in verses 5 and 6 tells us about the present status of human beings in God’s creation.  You made [perfect] him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crown [present] him with glory and honor.  You make [present] him ruler over the works of your hands.  You put [past] everything under his feet.

In creation, man was made in the image of God and given authority over the earth and the animals.  Presently, by God’s great grace and kindness, we’re here as stewards and caretakers because He in creation gave us that role.  We’re far more than just slightly advanced apes.  We’re image bearers and appointed governors.  And by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, David even foreshadows the true “Son of Man,” Jesus, at the end of time, reigning over all.  The writer of Hebrew applies this verse thusly:

Hebrews 2:7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor,  

8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.

9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.  

10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.

11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers,

You and I bear the image of God.  We live in this amazing world recognizing that by all appearances we are nothing.  But we also live in the wonder that in truth, we are brothers and sisters of God’s own Son, Christ Jesus!!!  This is amazing, simply amazing.

We’re here in this vast universe He created as His stewards, keepers of His estate.

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.

The wonder of it all can only bring David back to where he started.  The right focus is on God, not on me, and certainly not on “how I feel” about the truth.  With remarkable economy of expression, upon contemplating how things are, David states again what he said in verse 1.

9 O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.  Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

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