Praying the Psalms: Psalm 8

The Psalms are not just songs, but prayers. By studying the Psalms we can learn how to better pray and engage in communion with God. Each Thursday I’ll be posting a commentary and prayer guide for the Psalms to help us learn and practice prayer. God is majestic. There is no one like him as he rules with absolute authority as King over the universe. As Psalm 8 begins it calls us into a benediction of praise over the majesty of God. Yet, as the Psalmist writes he not only sings concerning the majestic rule of God but his praise is deepened as he reflects on the majestic rule he has given humanity over creation.

There are many who think of humanity as a parasite upon the world and a cause of ecological disaster. In the eyes of a secular culture, human beings are animals of no greater value than a dog or a gnat. Human dignity and value is under attack continual today and David reminds us in the psalm of praise about the majestic rule of God who sets his loving attention on humanity and exalts humanity above the created order as his special image bearer’s.

Commentary

v. 1 - The psalm is structured using a literary device called an inclusio. The Psalm opens and closes with the same phrase, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” This inclusio functions as a structural bracket wrapping its content in its theme. In the case of Psalm 8, that theme is the majestic name of the LORD.

The beginning of the psalm directs our attention to the object of praise, the LORD himself. Anytime in the OT that you see the word ‘lord” in all capital letters, it signifies that the Hebrew refers to the very personal name of God given to Moses at the burning bush. This name is Yahweh (יְהוָ֤ה). The scribes would not even write this holy name fully out due to its sacredness. This Psalm is addressed to Yahweh who is “our Lord”. This personal pronoun emphasizes that although Yahweh is the Lord over all, he is the personal Lord to David and his people. David praises the majestic name that is above every name. He calls forth in a benediction of praise to the God of Israel.

v. 2 - God rules over all. Out of the mouth of babies and infants refers to Israel herself, God’s chosen people. God by his power has taken a weak and impotent people like Israel and has set them up over the mighty nations of the earth. God has taken that which is weak to shame the strong to prove where true strength really lies, which is not in man’s ability but in the dexterity of God’s omnipotence.

What a theme that recurs through out God’s redemptive story. God has a habit of taking the world’s values and turning them on their head. This is the very essence of the Gospel and at the very heart of our savior Jesus. In Jesus’ weakness and frailty in his crucifixion was used by God conquered to bend his pulsing strength as he conquered sin and death. It was the lowly servant Jesus whom God exalted and gave the name that is above every name (Ph 2).

v. 3–4 - David turns his attentions to thinking about man’s place in God’s world. As David lays on his back on a cool evening on the Judean plain he gazes in the thick darkness, losing himself in the grandeur of the moon and stars. God has created each of these and has put them all in their place. If we need to be reminded of our smallness all we need to do is simply look up on a clear night. The heavenly bodies remind us how tiny we really are in light of the universe.

As we live in the 21st century, certainly our understanding of our smallness is greater than David could ever have imagined. Through telescopes, satellites, and space ships we have discovered that the universe is bigger than we can even imagine. Lightyears engulf the distance between these celestial gaseous bodies. Despite all our advancement and progress we have only increased our own awareness of our smallness.

As David looks up into the sky to look at the stars, he asks a simple but pointed question, “What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” Have you ever asked yourself that question? As we gaze upon the billions of stars and the galaxies we have yet to even discover, why would God set his attention on our galaxy in a tiny little planet called earth, and why would he choose to display his glory by loving and redeeming tiny little human beings like us? The God who put in place the expanse of the universe simply by speaking it into existence has set his attention on us. The God who is transcendent over all and who rules over all sets his attention on you and me as the object of his divine love.

Notice that David is left speechless after he asks this questions. Indeed, it is one of the unspeakable mysteries of God. Why did God choose us? Why did he set his attention on me? Why does he love us so? Especially as we consider not just our smallness but our sinfulness! We are wicked people who have rejected God and gone our own way. Rather than worshiping the creator we have worshiped his creation. We are rebels, traitors, and enemies. Yet, the creator God sets his love on us and provides an avenue for our redemption through Jesus.

Why does God do this? Sure we can come up with theological reasons such as to display the glory of God, and certainly that is true — yet God’s mindfulness of us cannot be fully explained. The most humbling truth in the universe is that God is mindful of us and cares for us.

v. 5–8 - Even though man is so small and tiny in the grand scheme of God’s creation, God has given humanity dignity, worth, significance, and dominion. Harkening back to Genesis, David reflects on how every human being is made in the image of God. God has designed humanity to reflect his own glory and praise in our life. In v. 5, David makes an astonishing claim, that God has made human beings just a little lower than God himself. Some translations say “lower than the angels” or “lower than the heavenly beings”. The hebrew text says Elohim (אֱלֹהִ֑ים) which was a generic word for God in hebrew language. The septuagint, the greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures softened the intensity of the language and says, “angels”. We can understand their impulse to do so. Did God really create us just a little lower than himself? That seems like an incredible claim! Yet, I believe that is exactly what David is teaching us here. To be made in the image of God means that we are created so uniquely and so wonderfully that we are given authority and dignity just a little lower than God himself.

God in his majestic rule over the earth delegates his rule to humanity, his vice-regents created in his image. He has “crowned him with glory and honor”. Even though we are low, we are exalted and given prestige and position over God’s creation. God has placed all things under the feet of humanity from sheep to oxen, from birds to fish, all of it is under the dominion of humanity.

This is crucial for us to remember as we live in a world who seems to be more concerned about a starving dog than an aborted human baby. To attack the sanctity of human life is to attack the image of God. Every human being at every stage of development has intrinsic value because they are crafted in the womb as God’s image bearers.

Although every human being has been made in God’s image, due to sin we are broken image bearers. We are mirrors who need to be repaired. God mends us and restores us to our original perfect design through the cross of Christ. Jesus, the new man, exemplifies true humanity. Fully God and fully man, Jesus through his death gives birth to a new people under his headship. Jesus the true Adam, the true Israel, the true David restores us to the glory and honor we were created for as we come to him in faith. God’s love for humanity runs so deep that in his love for us he provided a way for our salvation and redemption. The divine rule of God has exalted humanity and lifted us up to glory.

v. 9 - The inclusio closes as the psalm is bracketed in its primary theme, the majesty of God. Yet, now having reflected on all that God has done in his rule and through exalting humanity, the last verse has a humbling intensity to it. Why would God choose to use the weakest of humanity, the babes and infants of humanity, to make his own? Why would God take small and sinful humans and bestow them with such honor and dignity that he sets his love on us? Why would he delegates to us his divine authority over his creation? Why would God take sinful man and redeem and restore us through Jesus? As we ponder such questions we are left with but one refrain, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

Prayer Guide

  • Praise God for his majestic name in how he choose the weak to shame the strong
  • Praise God for the huge and beautiful world he has made
  • Praise God for his attention on you as an object of his care and love.
  • Praise God for how he has exalted you through Jesus Christ to the praise of his glorious grace