Human beings have a tendency to go to extremes; there is no better evidence of this than in their estimation of themselves. Some people think that man is the measure of all things. Other thinkers downplay the importance of humans, esteeming the species as just another class of animal, on the same level as a whale or a chimpanzee. Shakespeare summed up these extremes, famously putting these words into Hamlet’s mouth: “What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! how infinite in faculties! in form and moving, how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension, how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust?”1 In contrast to man’s see-sawing self-analysis, God rightly balances man’s true significance in the eighth Psalm. Unlike the humanistic viewpoint of modern times, the Psalm commences by focusing on God. If man is to rightly understand his place in the cosmos, he must first consider the character of his Creator. This lovely hymn begins and ends with the same phrase, causing one commentator to remark: “The exclamation which begins and ends this psalm, enclosing it as a jewel in a setting, determines its theme as being neither the nightly heaven with all its stars, nor the dignity of man, but the name of the Lord as proclaimed
by both.”2 Another adds: “It is like a jewel enclosed by, and encased in, two golden clasps. The Psalm concludes in the same spirit of worship with which it began.”3 In the first and last verses the excellency of the name of the Lord is brought out. He is Yahweh (or Jehovah), the Covenant making and keeping God (Ex. 3:14.) Furthermore, He is also Adonai, the Sovereign Master of the Universe. His name, which speaks of His authority, is said to be “excellent” or according to many authorities, “majestic.”4 It is great and worthy of praise. What is more, His glory is “set above the heavens” (v.1.) This opening sentence tells man that God is superior to anything in His creation. The Bulwark of Children’s Praise
The next sentence affirms the Creator’s incomparable power and wisdom through His usage of the “mouth of babes and sucklings.” The same God who made the heavens and earth cares for the smallest humans. What is more, in vanquishing His enemies He employs the “foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and…the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty” (1 Cor.1:26.) The praises of the most diminutive bring Him glory in the face of the opposition of this fallen world. As one Old Testament scholar comments: “The sound of the children is concrete evidence of God’s fortress on earth. The continuity of the human race is God’s way of assuring the ultimate glorification of an earth populated with a new humanity (Hab. 2:14.) The sound of
1 From Hamlet (II, ii, 115-117), see http://www.enotes.com/shakespeare-quotes/what-piece-work-man 2 Alexander Maclaren, The Expositor’s Bible: Psalms, Electronic ed., Rio, WI: Ages Software 3 J.M. Flanigan, What the Bible Teaches: Psalms, Kilmarnock, Scotland: John Ritchie Publ., 2001, 36. 4 See ASV, NAS, ESV, RSV, NIV; NET has “magnificent” in the text and “awesome or majestic” in the margin.
opposition is silenced by the babbling and chatter of children. What a contrast! What a King!”5 When the temple authorities questioned the actions of the children who were lauding the Lord Jesus, He defended them by quoting this verse. The chief priests and scribes were supposed experts on praise, but they completely missed their opportunity to adore and celebrate the Lord of glory. In simplicity, the children uttered their straightforward appreciation of Christ, thereby engaging in “…perfected praise” (Mat. 21:16.) Adults can become so sophisticated that they miss the obvious value of the Lord Jesus, but the babes perceive His worth. The Heavens declare the glory of God
When David meditated upon the heavens, he marveled that the Creator would take interest in such a small entity as man. Considering that there are a few thousand stars visible to the naked eye, it is not surprising that he was awed by the celestial spectacle.6 With the aid of modern telescopes, scientists now say that there are an estimated two hundred billion stars in our galaxy alone.7 Theories regarding the number of stars in the universe offer figures that are incomprehensible to human minds. Whether with the naked eye or through the aid of technology, a consideration of the immensity of the cosmos logically leaves men feeling very small. The same evidence points to a very large Creator (to put it mildly.) Thus, man is seen to be small when compared with the God who made the vast cosmos. Paradise Lost and regained
“What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?”, David asks. Since God is so great, one might assume that He would have nothing to do with such a small creature as man. Speaking of the Hebrew word (enosh) that is used in
5 Willem VanGemeren, Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms, Electronic ed., Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan
6 The estimates of scientists vary; see http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/question.php?number=258; http://www.answersingenesis.org/creation/v19/i2/stars.asp; http://www.phys-astro.sonoma.edu/courses/a231/how_many_stars.html
7 http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ask_astro/answers/980317b.html; for estimates of the number of stars in the universe see http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ask_astro/answers/970115.html & http://www.cnn.com/2003/TECH/space/07/22/stars.survey/
this verse to refer to man, the Hebrew scholar Franz Delitzsch commented: “it describes man from the side of his impotence, frailty, and mortality…”8 Nonetheless, the Almighty visits him in blessing. He “crowned him with glory and honour…and madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.” Although the Psalm speaks of these things in the past tense, the current state of man’s rule over the earth bears little resemblance to the idyllic scene envisioned by the sweet singer of Israel. Hebrews 2:8 draws attention to the apparent discrepancy in these words: “…in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him.” How does one explain this dichotomy? Because it describes the contrast between what God desired Adam to accomplish and the man’s failure to do this because of the Fall. Adam failed to develop the world into a God-honouring paradise. Even worse, he brought the planet into the bondage of sin, making misery and groaning the normal condition of the globe. In contrast to the disastrous disobedience of the first Adam, the Lord Jesus – whom Scripture dubs the “Last Adam” – brings about a program of glorification for the earth (1 Cor. 15:45.) Whereas, the first head of the human race unleashed the destruction of sin, Christ releases the imprisoned creation from its slavery through redemption. By dying the Lord Jesus ruined “him who had the power of death” (Heb. 2:14.) Additionally, He set the stage for the ultimate prosperity of the planet. The Lord Jesus will reign over the earth until all is brought under the direct rule of the Father. During this Millennial reign, the globe will be freed from the painful effects of sin – in other words, it will cease to groan. What is more, man will have his proper place: humble before God in human smallness, yet glorified with God through Christ. Human significance will be revealed in that the Son of God became a man, died for humankind, and rose again to glorify them. He did not relinquish His humanity after the crucifixion. Instead, the Lord Jesus entered into heaven as a perfect, glorified man. He is the forerunner of many glorified men and women who will one day reign with Him from heaven (Rom. 8:29-30; Heb. 2:10; 6:20.) Psalm 8 gives us the balanced view of humanity. In and of themselves, men are nothing great – how much smaller do they appear when compared to their Almighty Creator! Nevertheless, they have incalculable worth because they are created in the image of God with the purpose of ruling over the earth. They are not important because of their accomplishments. In fact, their works only created the disaster that has defiled this planet. Nor are they valuable because of their wisdom and technological advancement. Human ingenuity has only made it more efficient to slaughter people through greater firepower, nuclear bombs, and bio-chemical weapons. Neither does their significance stem from their artistic and cultural development. Modern art, music, and literature are saturated with moral filth, human perversion, and rebellion against the Lord. All of the things that men trumpet as being indicative of human greatness, actually turn out to be powerful evidence of human wickedness.
8 Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament: Psalms, electronic edition, available at www.e-sword.net
The value of humans to God is seen in that He gave His Son to suffer and die in order to ransom them. Through the redeeming and glorifying ministry of Christ their potential will one day be realized in the very scene of their fall. All of God’s intentions for His creation will be fulfilled. He will be victorious, and humans will be blessed.
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