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Friday, June 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 8

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary


Heading ‘For the chief musician, set to the Gittith. A psalm to/for David.’

‘Gittith may refer to a musical instrument named after its origin in Gath. The Septuagint, however, has ‘for the winepresses (gittoth)’ suggesting that it was sung in connection with the feast of Tabernacles, and as ‘gath’ means winepress it could possibly be right.

The psalm is a hymn of worship to the Creator, and a description of man’s intended higher status in that creation, exceeding that of the physical heavens and of all other created things, but only once he is returned to innocence.

Two sections of humanity are in mind, on the one hand the ‘innocent’ and on the other ‘the enemy and the avenger’. Man restored to innocence, as pictured by the innocent babe, is seen as the one through whom God’s final purposes will come to fruition, the establishment of righteousness. The enemy and the avenger, unless returning and being restored, are excluded from this hope of future blessing.

Verse 1

‘O YHWH our lord,

How excellent is your name in all the earth.

The psalm begins and ends with the same two lines. This is the first aim of the psalmist, to ascribe praise to YHWH, the One Who is the great and mighty Overlord over His people, the One Whose name and nature is revealed as excellent throughout all the world, by nature if not by man. Thus the splendour, the majesty, the overall excellence of His name is being declared (compare Psalms 148:13). ‘The name’ to Israel ever indicated the essence of the one to whom the name was applied. Here it is YHWH, ‘the One Who is’, ‘the One Who causes to be’, Lord of Being, Lord of Creation. And His name is all-excelling, majestic over all the earth (compare Psalms 104:1 onwards, where that majesty is clearly revealed), for He is Lord of the whole earth and is its Creator.

But the ascription of praise, which might at first sight appear only to stress the glory of His name, also stresses His close relationship with His people. He is not only ‘the Lord’, He is our Lord. The writer has a thrill of pride as he recognises that YHWH is their Lord, the Lord of His people. He has chosen them as His people, and they are uniquely His, and yet at the same time His excellence is revealed over the whole world. So the great Creator had become their Deliverer. There is here a contrast between the small (‘our’) and the great (all the earth’) which continues throughout the psalm.

Verses 1-2

You whose glory is spread over the heavens,

Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings you have established strength,

Because of your adversaries,

That you might still the enemy and the avenger.’

Setting Psalms 8:1 b with Psalms 8:2 maintains the parallelism, is equally in accordance with the text, ties in with the contrasts in the first four verses, and agrees with the idea that the psalm opens and closes with the same majestic statement. It would seem therefore the right translation.

The One ‘Whose glory is spread over the heavens’ (compare Habakkuk 3:3), which themselves speak of God (Psalms 19:1; Psalms 97:6), must be glorious indeed, yet the heavens in mind are but an ‘earthly’ revelation of His glory. As the psalmist studied the moon and the stars shining brilliantly from the night sky, full of wonder at their all pervading splendour, he was filled with awe. ‘The invisible things of Him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even His everlasting power and Godhood’ (Romans 1:20).

But, he adds, He has spoken even more emphatically through babes and sucklings. Each tiny baby, with his budding morality, with his ability to think and reason, with his coming ability to do good in the earth, and with his prospective mastery of the world, is a wonder of creation and declares the glory of God. Here under God is the prospective lord of creation. For he is to be crowned with glory and honour (Psalms 8:5), he is to be set over all living things, and in relation to the world he is indeed little less than God Himself (compare Genesis 41:40). He is the image of God, that which in its own way, while still innocent, reveals and reflects God. It is an idealistic view of man as Hebrews 2:5-10 brings out. It is depicting God’s final intention.

So the writer sees in the baby the image of what was before the fall and the image of what must be. Its innocent cry silences the enemies of God and strengthens God’s position as Overlord of all things. Here is the prototype of God’s purpose for man. Here is one who rebukes all who have fallen from that position. The babes and sucklings are not in opposition to God. They represent man in his obedience. They do not seek vengeance for fancied wrong. They have committed no sin. Their hearts are open. They are potentially the fulfillers of God’s purposes.

These are in stark contrast to ‘the adversaries’, those who oppose God. But who are these adversaries, ‘the enemy and the avenger?’ Psalms 44:16 depicts them as those who reproach and blaspheme. In that psalm they are the nations of the world who are not in submission to YHWH, those Who reject His name and rule. But there the contrast is with God’s people. Here, however, the contrast is with the innocent babe. Thus we must expand the idea to include all who are against God and who speak against His name, in contrast with this tiny child. He is a reproach and a rebuke to them all. He depicts what they might have been. And they are ‘stilled’. Their voices are silenced. Revealed innocence condemns them, for these babies are the prototype of what should be, and what should have been.

That is why Jesus regularly depicts those who would respond to Him and believe as themselves needing to become like the innocent babe (Matthew 11:25; Matthew 18:3-4; Matthew 19:14 compare Psalms 131:2), man restored to his innocence through faith. Thus the babes and sucklings in the end represent all who are true believers, restored to innocence and trust by the mercy of God. This must be so for otherwise the believers do not appear in the psalm, and it is finally dealing with the concept of ‘man’.

The words that follow must therefore be read in that light. They are not a paean of praise to man in general, but to man in ‘innocence’, man as restored to the favour and mercy of God. It is not ‘men’ who are to be ‘crowned’ but ‘God’s men’, God’s true people. Those who will still the enemy and the avenger. For that is why they were born.

It is, of course, true of all men potentially. But those who have risen against Him, those who have turned their backs on Him, are by their act excluded unless they repent and return to innocence. What is described, while potentially the lot of all men, can only actually be for those who are in submission to Him.

It is the same picture as that given by Hosea. ‘When Israel was a child, I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt’ (Hosea 11:1). Again it was an idealistic picture. It was the picture of an ‘innocent’ Israel in Egypt, God’s babe, whom He taught to walk, whom He bore in His arms, whom He drew to Him with the reins of love, whom He ‘healed’, whom He fed. But they fell from Him and rebelled against Him, and so He called on them to return to what that idealistic picture of what they had been when they were in Egypt. However there in God’s inheritance they refused to return and were thus handed over to Assyria (Hosea 11:1-4). It is only to man walking in innocence with God that the promises will be fulfilled.

Verses 3-5

‘When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers,

The moon and the stars which you have ordained,

What is man (’enosh) that you are mindful of him?

And the son of man (ben adam) that you visit him?

For you have made him but little lower than God,

And you crown him with glory and honour.

As the psalmist considers the glories of the universe, the beauty of the heavens as seen in the night sky, the glorious lights in that sky, it makes him ask, what is weak man in comparison with these? We today with our knowledge of the vastness of the universe have even more reason to ask that question.

‘The work of your fingers.’ God has shaped and moulded them and given them their glory, not literally but by His word (Genesis 1:0). They are His deft workmanship.

The words used for man stress his frailty and humanness. ’Enosh stresses his impotence and mortality (Psalms 103:15; Job 4:17 and often in Job). Ben ’adam stresses his earthly origin (compare Job 14:1). And yet God is mindful of him in his frailty, and visits him. The words denote His care for man, and His exaltation of him, once he is responsive through faith (in contrast with the enemies and the avenger).

But his answer to the question of ‘what is man?’ is clear and unequivocal. At his best man is ‘over all’. That is why in Daniel the true people of God are represented as ‘like a son of man’ while the nations are likened to wild beasts. The heavens have no dominion, but God has made man, when in his right mind, to be His regent, to stand on earth in relation to living creatures as little less than God. Man is a rational thinking and authoritative being, with a conscious relationship with God. He is a ‘king’, crowned with glory and honour. He is thus superior to the night skies. But not in himself, it is God’s appointment of him that has made him great. Man as he should be, restored to innocence, is great because God has destined him to greatness.

‘Little lower than God (or the elohim - the angelic spirits)’. He is below the spiritual heavens but above all else. Made in the same image as God and the elohim (Genesis 1:27), he is the contact between the spiritual heaven and earth. Note therefore that the ‘gods’ whom others worshipped, connected with the skies, are hereby dismissed. Man is greater than the gods.

‘And you crown him with glory and honour.’ The honour and glory with which he is crowned is described in the next verses. It is revealed in his domination under God of all living creatures. The psalmist sees believing man, and possibly especially as epitomised in the Davidic king, as the crown of earthly creation, (it is not likely that he had in view the enemy and the avenger), through whom will come blessing to the whole world, even peace and plenty and fulfilment (Isaiah 11:1-10).

But in the letter to the Hebrews this crowning is seen as finally being achieved through Jesus. Until Jesus came all things had not been put under man. The vision was not fulfilled. But Jesus coming as Representative man, was the only One perfect enough and innocent enough to deserve the crown. And taking on Himself the form of frail man, and coming here on our behalf, He did triumph and was crowned through triumphant suffering, so that He was made the perfect Saviour and true Representative of man through that suffering (Hebrews 2:9-10 compare Job 7:17-21), followed by His resurrection to glory and honour. This rather idealistic simple picture painted by the psalmist in its bare outline is there defined in terms of a fuller realism of suffering for sin, to be followed by a crowning and a glory that is all the greater. The psalmist was limited by the fact that this world was all he knew. The reality is of a far greater world yet to come.

Verses 6-8

‘You made him to have dominion over the works of your hands,

You have put all things under his feet,

All sheep and oxen,

Yes, and beasts of the field,

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

Whatever passes through the paths of the seas.’

The idea is based on Genesis 1:21-28; Genesis 2:19-20. The word in Genesis for ‘have dominion’ has the root meaning of ‘tread under foot’. Note that cattle, wild animals, birds and fish are all included, finally also including the great sea monsters (‘whatever passes through the paths of the seas’). He has in mind not only those that man has domesticated, or tamed, but the whole of living creation. That is man’s privilege, only partially fulfilled but it is his ultimate destiny (Isaiah 11:6-9).

To the psalmist this was the height of attainment. A world restored to innocence with righteous man, walking in submission to God, ruling over all creation.

But this idealistic picture finds its greater final fulfilment through Christ when as ‘the last Adam’, ‘the second man’, all things are put in subjection under His feet (1 Corinthians 15:27; 1 Corinthians 15:45; 1 Corinthians 15:47) in the final Kingly Rule of God (1 Corinthians 15:50) in the far superior new creation. What God intends for restored man is better far than man could ever dream.

Summary of the Thought.

That the writer is not just celebrating the special position of mankind as a whole comes out in his mention of the adversaries, the enemy and the avenger. What he has in mind is therefore believing man, righteous man, man when true to God. It is they, as first pictured in terms of babes and sucklings, who have dominion and rule under God. It is they for whom God has foreordained glory. Thus the writer in Hebrews is not unduly overextending the passage when he sees it as fulfilled in Christ, the representative man and Saviour, the only One Who was finally truly innocent.

Verse 9

‘O YHWH, our lord,

How excellent is your name in all the earth.’

This repetition of Psalms 8:1 again summarises a main purpose of the Psalm, to give glory to Israel’s God (and ours), and especially for the final restoration that He will bring about when He will be all in all.

Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 8". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/psalms-8.html. 2013.
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