Lecture 9 - Psalm 8

Course: Psalms

Lecture 9: Psalm 8

I. Review

A dominant type of Psalm is the hymn of praise. We looked at the motifs which include the call to praise, what does it mean when God commands us to praise, the enthusiasm in which we ought to praise and who actually did the praising, choirs and all of Israel. It calls upon as we saw all of the world but he wants only those who live holy lives, today by the power of the Holy Spirit. He does not want the praise of the wicked as it is an abomination to him. In considering the cause to praise, we look at theology and the way to learn theology is from the people of God who are celebrating the attributes of God, the God of history, giving it back to God and it comes back to us as the Word of God and we hear theology in words of praise, which I think is the best way to learn theology. We see that it celebrates his eternal attributes, his deity, his eternity and what Hurst calls the Omni-competence and his omnipotence, his omnipresence and his omniscience, all which we depend upon but we can’t participate in. There are also his commutable attributes, namely his mercy, his faithfulness, his grace and love and these two together make God all Omni-competent and all-powerful, but note that without mercy, God could be a despot of what the gods of the pagans are. On the other hand, if he was all grace and mercy, he would not have the power to affect and bring it about. So we see a beautiful combination of the incommunicable and the communicable attributes. We talked about the incomparability of Yahweh and I believe any idea in regards to the evolution of religion is inappropriate for Biblical theology; that is, religion advanced from polytheism to monotheism, the worship of one God. A better understanding is to distinguish between the theological statement, that there is no other god and religious statement because the reality that people worship delusions of false gods. So God is incomparable to everything humans can imagine which is only an illusion. In regards to God and creation; the Bible used the myths of the world around them figuratively to show that God is the one who created the world and they used the language of myths to show that he conquered the chaos as the true God.

We talked about the songs of Zion and how they related to the Ugaritic text and Baal’s mountain was Mount Siphon and that was to Baalism what Mount Zion is to Judaism. It is where we meet with God on the mountain. It is where he has victory. In looking at things more specifically or narrowly, I picked out two Psalms of Praise: Psalm 100, a very famous Psalm. We saw that all the earth was to celebrate and come to God by knowing that the God of Israel is the true God and that his people are the sheep of his pasture and they are the mediators of the Kingdom of God on the earth. In the Old Testament for the Gentiles to come to God, they had to come to Abraham and to Israel and the Temple. In the Old Dispensation, Israel did not go out as missionaries to bring the world to God. Instead, they would come to Jerusalem like the Queen of Sheba where she met King Solomon. In the ancient world, ambassadors would come and be at Jerusalem and see the worship of the true God. The closest you come to any missionary work would be with Jonah going to Nineveh. A tremendous change took place in the New Testament where we have the command to go into all the world and preach the Gospel and tell all people about the media of Christ.

In the Gospel of John where the Greeks come to Philip saying that ‘we would see Jesus.’ Jesus now knows that the hour of death has come. Prior to that in the Gospel of John, Jesus said that his hour had not yet come. It is obvious that Jesus is on a time schedule. He knows that he is heading to his death and he’s saying that his hour has not yet come. But when the Gentiles came and said that we would see Jesus, Jesus said that now his hour had come. So how was this a signal to Jesus that his hour had come, that it was time for him to die? The Gospel would not go out to all the world until he had made an atonement for all the world. As at the beginning of John, John the Baptist says, ‘behold the lamb of God that will take away the sins of the world. Therefore the sacrifice had to be made for the whole world. With the final atonement made, Jesus then told them to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. So, we bring Jesus to the world, they don’t have to come to us. We now have a responsibility to bring the Gospel to all the World. And that is what we are talking about knowing that he is God. There was a change in dispensation at this point.

Psalm 100 is the first praise Psalm with Psalms 1 and 2 provided as an introduction. Psalm one is the wicker gate and it is for those who delight in the Law of the Lord. It is like the tree planted by streams of water. It is those who are righteous because they have delighted in the law, a new creation that they can enter into the Psalms that will lead to the celestial city. The 2nd Psalms is of a coronation liturgy and introduces us to the main character of the Psalm, the king. So Psalm 2 says, ‘I have set my king upon Zion, my holy hill and he is going to rule the entire earth. As for me, I will give you the heathen for your inheritance, the ends of the earth for your possession. And then we get Psalm 3, when David fled from Absalom and it begins, ‘Oh Lord, my Lord, how many are my enemies, how many rise up against me. Many are saying that there is no deliverance and no salvation for him God. So David is distressed and he is asking God to deliver him from this distress. Then in Psalm 4, we see the king is in crises with a drought. This distress continues in Psalms 5, 6 and 7. Now we come to Psalm 8. And we read:

II. Translation

Psalm 8

LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! you who have set your splendor upon the heavens.

From the mouth of children and nursing infants you have laid the foundation of strength on account of your foes, to eliminate the enemy and the avenger.

When I consider your heavens, the works of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,

what is a mere mortal [ אֱנ֥וֹשׁ ]that you are mindful of him, a common human being [ 84 [בֶן־אָ֜֗דָם that you care for him?

You made him lack a trifle from heavenly beings, and you crown him with glory and honor.

You cause him to ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet:

all flocks and herds, and even the wild animals;

the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,

the one that swims the paths of the seas.

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

This is the first Praise Psalm and it seems to me that we should consider this very famous praise psalm. Afterward, Psalms 9 and 10 are something of a lament where 11 is somewhat of a thanksgiving Psalm along with 12 and 13. Psalm 14 speaks on the depravity of man. There is none that do good, none that do right before the Lord. We have all gone astray. It is interesting because Psalm 8 and 14 match each other. Psalm 8 is how great man can be. You have put everything under his feet and then Psalm 14 tells us how bad humanity is. Psalms 15 -24 has its own unity which I will discuss later on.

So Psalm 8 starts off with a tetragrammaton: YHWH, otherwise LORD. We think the vowels are ‘a’ and ‘e’. It is normally translated LORD and then our Lord in lower case which is Adoni while the other Adonai is used for YHWH which means our master. Note that the writer of the Book of Hebrews chapter 2 in the New Testament uses and adapts the psalm to refer to the career of Jesus Christ. It says, ‘now it was not to the angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. It has been testified somewhere: what is man that you are mindful of him, the Son of Man that you care for him? You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, 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. 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 his death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

This Psalm has an ‘inclusio’ of its theme. It begins and ends with ‘I AM’s name majestic in All the Earth.’ Instead of a call to praise, it is a declaration to praise. The declaration says that all the earth is now praising the Lord. The theme is developed into two stanzas in an alternating parallelism, first talking about the order of creation and the splendor of God in that creation. From there, he moves to the order of history and redemption and how God eliminates the evil from the earth. Then we have the glory of God in Heavens and Splendor in Mortals’ rule of all the earth. Look at the following:

A. The inclusion of theme and alternating parallelism to develop the theme

I. Theme Stated: I AM’s Name Majestic in All the Earth v. 1a [ 2a]

II. Theme Developed: vv. 1b-7 [2-8]

A. Splendor in Heavens and “Infants” defeat God’s foes vv. 1b-2 [2b-3]

1. Creation: Displays Glory in Heavens v. 1b [v. 2b]

2. Redemption: Uses “Mouths of Infants” to Annihilate Wicked v. 2 [v. 3]

B. Glory in Heavens and Splendor in Mortal’s Rule of All the Earth vv. 3-7 [4-8]

1. Glory in Heavens at Night and Stoops to Help Mortals v. 3-4 [4-5]

a. Creation: Glory in Heavens at Night v. 3 [4]

b. Redemption Stoops to Help Mere Mortals v. 4 [5]

2. Crowned Mortals to Rule all the Earth: vv. 5-6 [6-7]

a. Mortals Crowned with Splendor v. 5 [6]

b. Mortals Commissioned to Rule All the Earth v. 6 [7]

3. Ruled Creatures vv. 7-8 [8-9]

a. Land Creatures v. 7 [ 8]

b. Air and Water Creatures vv. 8 [9]

III. Theme Restated: I AM’s Name Majestic in All the Earth v. 9 [10]

B. Chiastic Structure pivots on the human being

A InclusioN: How majestic your name in all the earth (verse 1a)

B First Quatrain: Splendor upon the heavens (verse 1b)

C Second Quatrain: Work of your fingers . . . you have set in place (verse 3)

X. Pivot Quatrain: You made a mere mortal almost a divine being and care for him to empower him to rule all creatures [cultural mandate] (verse 4)

C.’ Third quatrain: Work of your hands … you put (verse 6)

B’ Fourth quatrain: birds of the heavens (verse 8)

A’ InclusioN: How majestic your name in all the earth (verse 9)

Man rules over the earth and brings everything under his dominion. So we go to the order of creation to the order of redemption and back then to the order of creation with more details to the night sky and then the order of redemption of mankind bringing everything under the dominion of his feet. This is the basic structure of the Psalm.

III. Exposition

A. The First Stanza

1. Theological Reflection

In reflection, I want to show how necessary it is to praise the name of God, for if we don’t praise God, he will die. Even though I don’t believe he will die but yet it is true. Here we need to discuss the difference between epistemological knowledge and ontological knowledge. Ontological knowledge is the way things actually are especially when it comes to the knowledge of God whereas epistemological knowledge is the way humans know. Ontological knowledge is absolutely certain where epistemological knowledge is always incomplete, it is relative and that how humans know. So something may have happened that we don’t know but God knows it. For us not knowing is epistemological knowledge but it is ontological knowledge in that God knows it. So, ontologically God exists but what good is it if nobody knows it. If nobody knows it, he doesn’t exist. So if we all stop praising God, then he would die because no one would know that there was God. But the problem with this is that it makes God’s existence dependent upon me and we know that is wrong. So the solution to this is in Luke 19:37-40. ‘When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen. Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, teacher rebuke your disciples! I tell you, he replied, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’ If humans don’t praise him then the stones will praise; God cannot die. He will always have a people to praise him. He called you can me for his praises. As we praise God, people know that he exists. This is the theological reflection on the theme of the psalm.

2. Theme

The theme is developed within the first stanza with the splendor in the heavens. There are two parts here: God’s rule over heavens is immediate; his rule over earth is mediated through human beings. God rules through us. The second idea is that children illuminate the enemies. He has a tremendous splendor of a glorious righteous king. It is also the moon and stars that reveal his handiwork and greatness. A better translation is: he put his glory upon the heavens. What we call the sky and referred to as heavens and their phenomenological way of looking at it. It is translated the firmament in Genesis 1 and dome or vault in modern translations. The sky is looked upon as a transparent crystal dome holding up the water above it. It is purely phenomenological; it is the way it appears. For example, in Egypt it shows the sun in a boat going across the waters above. This is phenomenological way of speaking about God. His glory is upon that dome, the heavens with the water above it. If this was true in David’s world, how much more true is it in our world? It is utterly beyond all comprehension. Our galaxy alone is incomprehensible being a hundred thousand lightyears across. Travelling at the speed of light, it would take you a hundred thousand years to cross it. And now with the Hubble telescope there are more galaxies than sand on the sea shores! The problem for many people is that Jupiter is six times larger than the earth. From the edge of our solar system, the size of the earth is the size of a pixel on the TV screen. It is that small. And from the edge of our galaxy, it could not be seen even with the Hubble telescope, it is that small. And what about us and the things around us, our houses, our cars and towns, etc. they are only micro-organisms. Not only that, the speed of the earth at the equator is a thousand miles per hour. The earth is revolving around the sun at 66,000 miles per hour to complete the circuit in one year. And the sun is revolving at the same time. The galaxy is spending around its center at a hundred and twenty kilometers an hour. And the great mystery of space, it is expanding at 1.8 the speed of light. We now have more knowledge of this splendor that anyone before us had.

The way I view it all: the earth is a stage and on this stage, a drama is being played out between right and wrong, justice and injustice, truth and falsehood, Christ and the devil, the church, and the world. Great spiritual issues are being played out on this earth and I think nowhere else. And that gives tremendous significance. This is the stage within the whole cosmos where a spiritual struggle is being played out and we are part of that play. We are going to conquer evil and injustice and delusions and lies. That is what we are doing in this play.

3. Incomprehensible

On the basis of the hypotheses of the Big Bang and of evolution, some secular and Christian scientists have abducted the anthropic cosmological principle. According to this principle, physical qualities such as a strong nuclear force constant, a gravitational force constant, the expansion rate of the universe, the average distance between stars, and the values of other physical quantities had to be so precise to effect thinking creatures who could reflect upon their origins. Accordingly, the best explanation is that there was this intent and design from the beginning. Nobel laureate professor Seven Weinberg, though a sceptic notes, life as we know it would be impossible if any one of several physical quantities had slightly different values.’ Roger Penrose, professor of mathematics at Oxford University and Wolf Prize winner for his analytic description of the Big Bang, finds these quantities so fine-tuned for life that an intelligent ‘Creator’ must have chosen them. You can’t talk about earth being old or new because you can’t prove it either way. I think the earth was in Chaos and already here when God began his work. Another big question these days is where the energy is coming from for all this to happen. How can we comprehend space within something that isn’t space? Einstein said, ‘what is incomprehensible is that it is comprehensible.’

One constant that requires fine-tuning has to do with the energy of the Big Bang. Weinberg quantifies the tuning a one part in 10120. Michael turner, a widely quoted astrophysicist from the University of Chicago, describes that tuning with a simile, ‘the precision is as if one could throw a dart across the entire universe and hit a bull’s-eye one millimeter in diameter on the other side. Matter would not exist as we know it if the proton was any different than being 1.836 larger than the electron. Were the earth any closer to the center of the galaxy, we would be destroyed by radiation. Even the moon stands as a break stopping the earth rotating faster than it is. The earth’s reflectivity has to be perfect; if it wasn’t then photosynthesis would not take place and life would not exist. Aristotle even saw this in his day saying, ‘should a man live underground, and converse with the works of art and mechanism, and afterwards be brought up into the day to see the several glories of the heaven and earth, he would immediately pronounce them the work of such a Being as we define God to be. Paul gives a theological element to this, ‘the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

4. Elimination of Evil

Having spoken about the greatness of God and earth as being a stage, how does God eliminate the evil? From verse 2 we read, ‘from the mouth of children and nursing babies you have laid the foundation of strength to eliminate your foes, to eliminate the enemy and the avenger. This is a hyperbole to describe the kingdom of God’s unique character of humility. A mouth cannot lay the foundation, but refers to the petitions and praises of the Psalm. The mouth obviously has to be a figure of speech. Children and nursing babies is a metaphor for people who are no stronger or greater than children. So it is from petitions and praises of people who are weak. Luther interprets the children and nursing babies as a figure, a metaphor, or hyperbole to describe the Kingdom of God’s unique character of humility. Unless you become like a little child, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God. So it is people who are not depending upon themselves. They are not claiming any strength in themselves, instead, all of their strength is in the Lord. It is their petitions and their praises and strength is a metonymy for citadel or a place of protection. So, even the Gates of Hell cannot prevail against it. It is expounding upon figure of speech upon figure of speech to get across a point. So mouth is petitions and praises and children are the weakness of those who offer up human weakness and faith and they are strong and thus eliminate the foe and the self-avenger. To me, this makes wonderful sense. The avenger is the faithless who do not petition God to avenge the wrong. They are strong in themselves, so they avenge themselves whereas the church doesn’t avenge itself, it depends upon God and lives in faith that God will right the wrong. So we are engaged in a spiritual battle of faith verses force where God is the victor. We will win through faith and that is the struggle: faith and unbelief. Today, the darts of unbelief are being thrown at us.

Psalm 149: Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the saints. Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King. Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with tambourine and harp. For the Lord takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation. Let the saints rejoice in this honor and sing for joy on their beds. May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edge sword in their hands, to inflict vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, to bind their kings with fetters, their nobles with shackles of iron, to carry out the sentence written against them. This is the glory of all his saints. Praise the Lord.

B. The Second Stanza

We now look at the second stanza verses 3-7: When I consider your heavens, the works of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is a mere mortal [ אֱנ֥וֹשׁ ]that you are mindful of him, a common human being [ 84 [בֶן־אָ֜֗דָם that you care for him? You made him lack a trifle from heavenly beings, and you crown him with glory and honor. You cause him to ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and even the wild animals. This is an alternating parallel that re-enforces and expands the first stanza. The nation’s celebration of God as Creator and Ruler is now narrowed down from our people to the king and heavens have been narrowed down to the moon and stars and from the elimination of enemies to rule over all the earth. So in summary we have the first stanza talking about the order of creation: majestic splendor upon heavens and the order of redemption: majestic through answer prayer and then we have the second stanza showing the order of creation: Majestic splendor of moon and stars and order of redemption: majestic through caring for the meek. So we see the majestic is elaborated on in these two stanzas.

1. Glory in the Heavens

In this second stanza, we have his ‘glory in the heavens at night’ and then in verses 3 and 4, he stoops to help mere mortals. He then crowns the mortals to rule. So there is the crowning and then the ruling. In the following verse, ‘When I consider your heavens, the works of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, Weiser says when man gazes up at the illimitable expanse of the heavens studded with stars, the difference between God and man is revealed in all it magnitude, and the whole contradictory quality of that difference is made manifest. God is the owner as it is the work of his fingers. He owns it by creation, it is his product. God set it in place denotes permanence, firmness. Now comes verse 4 stating, ‘what is a mere mortal that you are mindful of him, a common human being that you care for him, a common human being that you care for him?’ Note that there are four words for man in Hebrew: enosh – man in weakness, adam – human being which is a generic term, ish – an individual within society and lastly, gibbor – a strong man. Enosh came out of Seth and it is when man became to call upon the name of the Lord. He recognizes the weakness of man. Adam refers to human beings and ish is individual and the gibbor is the strong man. So in verse 4, it is saying: what is this man that you are mindful of him? The phrase, ‘mindful of him’ really means to remember him; that he commissioned man to rule the earth and his creation. Next is the son of man which simply means human being. This enosh is used in Job 25:5-6, ‘if even the moon is not bright and the stars are not pure in his eyes, how much less man (enosh), who is a maggot, and the son of man, who is a worm!’ In the last of the verse, ‘you care for him’ where care is Paqad in Hebrew meaning to visit. This is to take careful notice of one’s situation and to act appropriately, not to come into someone’s presence. When God committed to his human image the rules of his creation, he did not abandon them. Implicitly, by his ‘taking careful’ not of his vice-gerent’s situation and acting appropriately ‘he visits’ with salvation those who in child-like meekness depend on him.

2. Theological Reflection

What is man? How you think about yourself is fundamental to your being. The most powerful of all spiritual forces is man’s view of himself, the way in which he understands his nature and his destiny; indeed, it is the one force which determines all the others which influence human life. This is according the Emil Brunner. If you think of yourself as an animal, your behavior will reflect that. If you understand that you are a creation of God and you destiny is heaven that will totally alter everything about your outlook on life. I think what you think about God is all important. Without revelation, thoughtful people tend to demi grate us themselves. Aristotle defined man as a political animal. According to Burke, we are religious animals. For Schopenhauer, a pessimistic philosopher answered the question, ‘who are you’ by saying, ‘I would to God I knew.’ He had no idea who he was. Franklin says that we are a tool using animal. For Gilbert, we are nature’s sole mistake. For Robert Louis Stevenson, man is a devil but weakly feted by generous beliefs. This is a very negative view. So we have gone from an animal to a devil, losing all dignity. This attitude is from famous people in society, but this is not what David says. It is God, and not animals, who is man’s closest relative. C.S. Lewis said at the crowning of Queen Elizabeth in 1952, he said the placing of that huge and heavy crown on her young and inexperienced head symbolized the human situation and humility. God has crowned us with a crowned us with a crown to rule and we are inexperience and young and incapable. We need God to enable us. We are a little lower than angels but we see Jesus crown king, above the angels and all creation.

So the mortals are crowned with splendor in verse 5 and they are commissioned to rule. ‘You made him lack a trifle from the heavenly beings and you crown him the glory and honor.’ Heaven beings may refer to God here. But the actual word, ‘Elohim’ can mean heavenly beings. If we use it in a sentence such as ‘an Elohim’, this means a divine being. The Septuagint translated it as angels. This is used in Samuel with the witch at Endor where the King said to her, have no fear; what do you see? The woman said to Saul, I see a divine being coming up out of the ground.’ The Mortals are commissioned to rule all the earth in verse 6, ‘you made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet. ‘Rule over works of your hands’ is a paraphrase of ‘and let them rule over the fish….’ from Genesis 1:26. This includes everything being put under the feet of man. This is an elaboration or reflection of the cultural mandate from Genesis 1 and 3 to subdue the physical world and to subdue the spiritual world. What should have happened in Genesis 3, they should have brought the serpent under their feet but the opposite happened. Apart from God, the spiritual forces fighting us are stronger than our own. They lost the battle in Genesis 3 because they did it in their own strength. We cannot conquer in our own strength; we have to depend upon God. In the physical realm, it is amazing what we have achieved in terms of communication, energy, medicine and travel. But in regards to the spiritual, we are failing; these things are destroying people by using these things for evil.

In verses 7-8, we have the ruled creatures, ‘all flocks and herds (life), and the animals of the wild (death), birds in the sky, fish in the sea (life) the one that swims the paths of the seas (death). This includes the clean and the unclean where the animals of the wild are the unclean and the flocks and herds are clean. All flocks and herds produce life but the animals of the wild produce death. The one that swims the paths of the seas is the Leviathan, the evil one and he matches the animals of the wild, the death. This is from Canaanites mythology. He is chaos and evil. So we are to rule over the forces of life and the forces of death. The one that swims the path of the sea is singular whereas all the others are plural.

IV. Conclusion

The theme is restated as God’s majestic in all the earth. This sets the psalm’s boundaries and sounds it theme from verses 1 and 9. The rest of the psalm develops that theme in two stanzas, first pointing to God’s splendor seen in his creation and then by pointing to the grandeur of humankind, who by their dependence upon God fulfill their mandate to rule over all the earth. The psalm paradoxically praises God by celebrating the grandeur of the mortal. The poet’s vision encompasses the whole drama of human history from the creation to the eschaton, from the triune-God’s original commission to human beings to rule the earth from Genesis 1:26-28 and then to the consummation of that mandate when human beings will have put all thing under encompassing vision and is fulfilling it through his church.