September 20, 2009

Psalm 8: Crowned with Glory and Honor

1 O LORD, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth,
Who have set Your glory above the heavens!

2 Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants
You have ordained strength,
Because of Your enemies,
That You may silence the enemy and the avenger.

3 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
4 What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
5 For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.

6 You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
7 All sheep and oxen—
Even the beasts of the field,
8 The birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea
That pass through the paths of the seas.

9 O LORD, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth!

When he was young David kept sheep. He was with his sheep on the hills at night, and the sheep were safe with him. No doubt at night David must have contemplated the enormity of God’s creation: the moon and the stars in the sky. God made them all, and looking at the stars and moon and all creation, David knew that God is strong and powerful.

But in this psalm David also acknowledges that God had enemies. These enemies fought God. They also hurt the people of God, and David felt very small when he looked at what God had made. Contemplating the creation around him and above him, David felt that he was not that important; he felt very small compared to the earth and the heavens. But David also knew that God would make His people strong.

There are many Psalms that have the praise and worship of God as their central theme. The one for us today is Psalm 8.

God is worthy of our praise. We read in Revelation 4:11: “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for you created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.”

Notice that Psalm 8 is bracketed at either ends by the same assertion “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” David is asserting that our God is awesome, amazing, wonderful, beautiful, and awe inspiring. When David says “how majestic is your name in all the earth” we need to understand that for David to speak of God’s majestic name this means that David personally knows and experiences God, a relationship between him and God exist.

Why does David proclaim the majesty of our God? The center part of Psalm 8 makes it clear why David wrote that God is so wonderful, amazing, majestic, and excellent and therefore praiseworthy.

God’s Majesty Above His Creation (1)

In Psalm 8, David praises the greatness of God. We know from the context of the rest of the psalm that he is referring to God’s majesty as evidenced by His creation.

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth” David proclaims. Why? “You have set your glory above the heavens”—as glorious and majestic as the created heavens are, how much more majestic is God, who created them.

David uses the term “Yahweh,” which means “the existing one,” that is, the only existing God, when he says “O Lord.” “Yahweh” in Hebrew has no vowels and no one knows how the name for God should be pronounced. In fact, the name of God is still a mystery. In the Jewish tradition, the fact that it cannot be accurately pronounced is considered a gesture of respect, that mere man should not even pronounce the name of God. We get the pronunciation of “Yahweh” because the tradition was to combine the unpronounceable name with the vowels from another reference for God, “Adonai,” my lord or master. The reason for this was that by using the vowels from another word, one could refer to God in speech without actually speaking His name, which would be disrespectful.

David uses this term “Adonai” in his second reference to God: “our Lord.” So the opening of the psalm literally reads “O God, our Lord” or “O God, our Master.”

God’s Strength in Dealing with His Enemies (2)

Verse 2 seems out of place, as David goes from talking about the majesty of God to this reference in verse 2 to children’s praises and God silencing His enemies. But verse 2 does describe something of the majesty and power of God: “Out of the mouths of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength.” This verse may also be translated “You have perfected praise” or “You have established praise.”

One evidence of God’s majesty is His strength. He is able to silence the enemy 100 percent of the time. God is more powerful than all those who oppose Him and more powerful His chief enemy, Satan, who seeks to take us from God for himself. And verse 2 also is a prophecy fulfilled in Matthew 21:14-17:

14The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they were indignant. 16"Do you hear what these children are saying?" they asked him. "Yes," replied Jesus, "have you never read, 'From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise'"? 17And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.

God’s Majesty Is Seen in His Creation (3)

David speaks in verse 3 of the majesty of God as seen in His created heavens. We can only be more in awe today, knowing so much more about the vastness of God’s creation. When we look up at the night sky, we know there is far more out there than anyone can see or really comprehend. In our galaxy alone, there are more than a billion stars, and we are just an average-sized galaxy among billions of galaxies!

There is an inconceivable number of stars and planets. They are traveling at speeds beyond our ability to understand and are at distances from us that are barely imaginable . . . and all of it is a tribute to the majesty of God the Creator and Sustainer.

David elaborates on this point in the opening verses of Psalm 19:

1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.

3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.

4 Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, 5 which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

The beauty and the complexity of the created order ought to lead us into the praise and worship of God.

God’s Care for His People (4)

In verse 4, David’s point is that despite the vastness of creation and the seeming insignificance of people, God still takes care of His people: “What is man that you are mindful of him…?” David uses the word that means “mortal man” or an “individual” or single person. “…And the son of man that You visit (care for) him?” David uses another term for “man” in this phrase that means “mankind,” a people or a nation of people. His point is that God takes care of His people, who seem so small and insignificant compared to the vastness of His creation.

God's Love for His People (5)

Despite the vastness of His creation and the seeming insignificance of mankind, God created us only a little lower than the angels. “A little lower” refers to our inherent abilities; unlike the angels, we cannot appear and disappear at will; we are different in that we lack the powers God has given to His angels.

The Bible never defines what an angel actually looks like or list angels’ powers and abilities. It does tell us, however, what their functions are, as we see in Psalm 103:20–21:

20 Praise the LORD, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. 21 Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will.

So we know that angels “do His word,” are His ministers (servants), heed His voice, and do His pleasure. Because of His love for His people, God sends His angels to minister to us, guide us, and protect us. Hebrews 1:14 calls angels “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation.” Psalm 91:11 further defines angels’ purpose: “For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.” From Psalm 91 we get the idea of the “guardian angel.” Jesus furthers this idea in Matthew 18:10: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, that their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven.”

God Delegated Authority to Mankind to Exercise Dominion Over His Creation (6-8)

As a people who bear God’s image, whom God loves and cares for, and to whom God has given dominion over the earth, we have an incredible responsibility. God has entrusted to our hands an amazing task, along with some pretty amazing abilities as human beings. As God exercises careful and holy dominion over the whole universe, we who bear his image and who inhabit this earth are to emulate Him, within the scope of our abilities, in the way He exercises His dominion.

Dominion means management or stewardship; the responsibility to lead and care for. Taking care of this world is our job as humans. Because of sin human beings have not been perfect at this task. Many would say we have been failures in the assignment of managing the earth and its resources. Perfect dominion over the earth will exist only when Christ returns to rule. Meanwhile, in our exercise of dominion over this earth we must turn to Christ and his wisdom and strength. In Jesus alone can we fulfill the incredible creation mandate that God has given to us.

God’s Majesty (9)

Once again, David turns to his expression of God’s majesty (verse 9): 9 “O LORD, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth!”

David opens and closes with this expression of God’s majesty. And in between his opening and closing, he explains what he means by “How majestic is Your name”:

1) He is above His creation

2) He deals with His enemies with strength

3) His majesty is seen in His creation

4) He takes care of His people

5) He demonstrates His love for His people in that He created us a little lower than the angels and has crowned us with glory and honor

6) And He has given us the responsibility of managing the earth, a part of His creation.

Finally, whenever anyone disparages us for taking God’s word literally, remember Psalm 8:6-8:

6 You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
7 All sheep and oxen—
Even the beasts of the field,
8 The birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea
That pass through the paths of the seas.

In the mid-19th century, Matthew Maury, an American scientist, was intrigued by the last part of verse 8: “And the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas.” Maury was appointed the superintendent of the United States Naval Obseratory in 1842. He believed in Scripture literally and wanted to find these “paths of the seas” in order to help ships’ captains in their navigation. In the course of his duties, he uncovered an enormous collection of thousands of old ships' logs and charts in storage in trunks dating back to the start of the Revolutionary War.

Maury pored over these documents to collect information on winds, calms, and currents for all seas in all seasons. In 1847 and 1848, Maury published wind and current charts of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. He was the first to identify and chart the ocean currents, including the Gulf Stream. He was convinced that these are the “paths of the seas” he read about in Psalm 8. His publication, Pilot Charts of the United States Navy, is still in use.

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