Singing with Jesus – Psalm 8: You Are Here

 

 

8 To the choirmaster: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of David.

O I AM, our Lord, / how majestic is your name in all the earth! / You have set your glory above the heavens. / 2 Out of the mouth of babies and infants, / you have established strength because of your foes, / to still the enemy and the avenger. / When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, / the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, / 4 what is man that you are mindful of him, / and the son of man that you care for him? / Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings / and crowned him with glory and honor. / 6 You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; / you have put all things under his feet, / all sheep and oxen, / and also the beasts of the field, / the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, / whatever passes along the paths of the seas. / O Lord, our Lord, / how majestic is your name in all the earth! [1]

Like all men, I consider myself good at finding my way from one place to another in unfamiliar territory. I hate stopping to ask for directions. But occasionally, I wind up inside a mall or a huge hospital for a visitation and there are no geographic reference points. Then I have to stop and look at one of those maps and find the words, “You are here.”  Psalm 8 is a kind of map that shows us where we are. But it also tells us something about WHY we are here.

If you were planning on going the theater, you would likely be interested in knowing before you went who the author was, who the main characters were, what the basic plot of the play was, who is the director, and who are the stars.  Most humans, however, step out onto the stage of life without asking even the most basic questions. Psalm 8 is messiah David’s hymn to the greatness of God displayed in the Divine Drama of creation, fall, and redemption – the entire reason for life, the universe, and everything.

The hymn has four obvious parts: celebration of the surpassing majesty of God (vv. 1–2); confession of the insignificance of man (vv. 3–4); astonishment at the significance of man (vv. 5–8); and a concluding refrain that repeats the psalm’s first lines of celebration (v. 9).[2] It’s called a “Creation Psalm” and is frequently cited merely as a hymn about nature. But creation is not the main theme per se. The primary theme is the place of God’s people within God’s creation, a theme St. Author of Hebrews links to Messiah Jesus’ incarnation, humiliation, exaltation, and consummation of all things. Jesus identified himself as I AM in this psalm, infuriating the religious authorities in the temple.

CELEBRATING GOD

David’s hymn doesn’t begin with man; it begins with I AM (YHWH), our Lord (Adonai) and His surpassing majesty (in this context, “mighty to save”). I AM is God’s covenant name, the name he revealed to his elect people. David is praying as messiah/king on behalf of Israel, God’s covenant people. One scholar writes, “The royal poet is zealous for the establishment of God’s universal rule through his elect people who own I AM as their supreme lord (ʼadōnay)… Under this Sovereign, they establish a universal, just, and merciful kingdom, not a reign of tyranny.”[3]

By beginning with an exclamation of praise to I AM, David shows God’s people as the large supporting cast in the Divine Drama in which I AM is the author, director, and star character. So great is God’s glorious, majestic saving/preserving power that it is above the heavens. As amazing as his creation is, I AM’s glory cannot be contained by the visible universe or be fully revealed in it. There is nothing under the heavens that can adequately praise God.

When David looked up at the night sky he had no way of knowing it would take someone 150 billion years to cross the entire universe, traveling at the speed of light. The universe is made of up billions of galaxies. Our galaxy, the Milky Way, contains over 200 billion stars and enough dust and gas to make billions more. Traveling at light speed, it would take 30,000 years to reach the galactic center of our ever-expanding galaxy that rotates at 168 miles per second. Our planet, located on an outer arm of our galaxy, rotates 1,040 miles per hour and travels 24,901 miles per day. And yet this vast universe, with all its wonders, cannot contain the glory of the God who spoke it into existence.

ASTONISHED BY MANKIND

This glorious God gives his people the great privilege of praising him as their Covenant God and Lord. And that is the way in which the name of I AM is shown to be majestic (mighty to save) in all the earth. God’s saving majesty is displayed when the last, the lost, the least, and the little cry out in dependent praises to him. That’s what David means by the phrase babies and infants – a helpless people surrounded by a ruthless enemy (1 Sam. 15:3; 22:19; Jer. 44:7; Lam. 1:16; 4:4; Joel 2:16).[4] It was a descriptive metaphor for ancient Israel, surrounded by the superpowers of Egypt and Mesopotamia. And it’s an apt metaphor for the present-day church with political and spiritual powers lined up against it; we conquer by trust into our Messiah through prayer and worship.

Psalm 8:2 finds partial fulfillment in Matt. 21:14-16.

14 And the blind and the lame came to[Jesus] in the temple, and he healed them. 15 But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, 16 and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies / you have prepared praise’?[5]

Luther notes, the “children crying out in the temple” were not literal babies. It’s the same OT metaphor David uses in Ps. 8 to mean the weak (i.e. the blind and the lame, Matt. 21:14). “In a mystical sense, however, these are all the humble and those ignorant of boasting …like the Master Himself, who says, ‘I am meek and lowly of heart’ (Matt. 11:29), that is, a ‘suckling,’ without the sharp teeth of anger, and an ‘infant,’ without the noise of boasting.”[6]

It’s the same idea as Jesus’ phrase for believers, “little ones,” found 6 times in the Gospels (Matt. 10:42; 18:6, 10, 14; Mk. 9:42; Lk. 17:2). I used to think Jesus wasn’t talking about me. No, he was talking about new believers, or Christians with less theological training, or those who hadn’t achieved my level of superior outward behavior – people WAY farther down the sanctification ladder of American Evangelicalism. But the Holy Spirit IS talking about me, and you, and every other sinner who clings to Jesus with dirty hands. It may not be good American “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” doctrine, but it’s biblical doctrine: only the weak, the little, the last, the lost, and the least glorify God BECAUSE they are helpless.

27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.[7]

Do you see how Jesus “owns” the 8th psalm’s praise to I AM? He is claiming to BE I AM come to defeat the forces arrayed against God’s people (as foes… the enemy and the avenger, 8:2).   They are defeated through the worship and prayers of the helpless. In David’s day, foes were Egypt and Mesopotamia. In Messiah Jesus’ day, the hostile powers lined up against God’s helpless children were the very leaders of Israel. It was the duty of messiah David and Messiah Jesus to pray for YHWH to advance his kingdom: Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10).

GREATER GLORY

David sings, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, / the moon and the stars, which you have set in place….”[8] We might imagine young David, the shepherd boy, sleeping out under the stars thinking about the starry sky. When the psalmist thinks of the glory of God exceeding the greatness of creation, he is struck with how small man is by comparison. How small we are in this vast cosmic setting![9] It’s like being stuck in a giant hospital complex and looking for the sign that tells me where I am – little ol’ me versus giant building; little ol’ humanity versus a giant universe.

We tend to focus on the grandeur of the cosmos as God’s glory in this psalm. BUT God’s glory displayed in humble worship of him from the last, the lost, the least, and the little is the greater revelation! As the stars push back the darkness, so the lifted voices of the helpless saints push back the darkness of sin and death on earth as we plead for God’s Kingdom to fully come – and that is the greater display of God’s majestic redeeming glory than are all the stars of the universe.[10]

Where are you this morning? YOU ARE HERE, here where the glory of God shines brighter than the moon and stars. Worship is where God displays the defeat of his enemies as the good news of Messiah Jesus is sung, prayed, preached, and portrayed in the sacraments. St. Author of Hebrews, a scholar of the Psalms, teaches you what worship is:

22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. [11]

David continues to sing for us, vs. 4-5, “what is [weak, enosh] man that you are mindful of him, / and the son of man that you care for him? you have made [man] a little lower than the heavenly beings / and crowned him with glory and honor.” [12] As you read this section you realize David’s language track Moses’ order of creation in Genesis 1. And you are drawn back to the teaching that God made mankind to rule over the earth as one large garden-temple where man and God, heaven and earth, would dwell together.

That was the first way God crowned man with glory and honor. The glory God set above the heavens (8:1) came down to rest upon Adam (8:5) as God’s anointed king, the bearer of God’s image. When Adam rebelled, heaven and earth split apart, the glory of I AM returned to the heavens and only appeared again on earth in faint types and shadows – like David and Solomon as “little ‘m’ messiahs,” like the glory cloud that descended upon Solomon’s temple. Humans no longer perfectly reflected God’s glorious image even though they still had the mandate to rule the earth.

The second way God crowned humanity with glory and honor was by assigning mankind the position as mediators between heavenly beings and the animal kingdom. Angels have spirits but no bodies. Animals have bodies but no spirits. Man is midway on the scale of intelligent creation. This is exactly what Psalm 8 describes. Interestingly, the psalm describes man as a little lower than heavenly beings, not a little higher than animals. “…it is …humanity’s special privilege and duty to look upward to …God [me’elohim, “God” in Gen. 1:26 translated “heavenly beings” here], in whose image women and men have been made, rather than downward to the beasts. The result is that they become increasingly like God rather than increasingly beast-like in their behavior.”[13]

But since humans are born into Adam’s condition of sin, they refuse to look upward to God, and as a result, become like beasts. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, whose story is told in Daniel, turned his back on God, saying as he looked out over the great capital of his empire, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan. 4:30). Note those words of Ps. 8 (glory, majesty)? He was a classic example of sin-cursed man – a man curved inward upon himself; self-focused, self-glorifying, downward-facing.

He becomes a picture of mankind so inward-focused that they are more beast than image-bearer of God. As the last breath of self-praise left his lips, a voice came from heaven came saying, “This is what is decreed for you, King Nebuchadnezzar: Your royal authority has been taken from you. You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes” (vv. 31–32).[14]

That’s the perfect picture of man’s tainted glory. He still rules the earth; but he rules only for himself. There must be a greater glory of which the psalmist sings.

GREATEST GLORY: WE SEE JESUS

There is a final way God has crowned man with glory and honor. It is the greatest and most glorious way. It is the means by which we drive out darkness when we worship in weakness and humility as the last, the least, and the little of God’s Kingdom. God crowns his covenant people, weak and sinful thought they are, with glory and honor (8:5) by sending us another Adam (Son of man), another representative man (Ps. 1) to restore what the first Adam destroyed. Again, we return to our resident Psalms scholar, St. Author of Hebrews, who writes in Hebrews 2:5-9,

For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come…. It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, / or 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 death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. [15]

God crowned man with glory and honor by becoming a man born under obligation to keep the very Law he himself gave to Moses, and to suffer the death Adam and you and I deserve for looking inward and downward, rather than upward. God the Son permanently wedded himself to human flesh. He became the Seed of the Woman promised in Genesis 3:15. He obeyed God’s Law perfectly, suffered man’s curse infinitely at Calvary, defeated the curse of death eternally by rising from the grave on the third day, and ascended into heaven to be crowned with glory and honor (Heb. 2:9; Ps. 8:5).

Finally, you should realize Psalm 8 is an “already/not yet” hymn. In the “already,” we see the glory of the stars; we see the tainted glory of sin-cursed humanity; we see perfect glory of Jesus by which we drive away the darkness when we praise him out of our weakness and humility; we see the Man in Heaven crowned with glory and honor and fix our thoughts upon him.

In the “not yet,” we wait in trust for him to finally bring heaven and earth together again; we wait to see Jesus as he is and be fully like him; we wait for the Divine Extraordinary when man and God will live together and delight in one another perfectly and eternally. And we push against the darkness as we pray with Messiah, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Where are YOU really, this morning? Are you truly here crying out to God in humble dependence upon Messiah’s person and work? Or, are your thoughts somewhere else? Are you looking upward or inward this morning? Are you worshipping with us and the saints in glory on the heavenly Mt. Zion? Or, are you striving, like Nebuchadnezzar, to build your own “kingdom of me”?

 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 8:title–9.

[2] James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 1–41: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 67.

[3] Waltke, et. al., 260.

[4] Id., 261–262.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Mt 21:14–16.

[6] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 10: First Lectures on the Psalms I: Psalms 1-75, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, electronic ed., vol. 10 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 87.

[7] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 1 Co 1:27–29.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 8:3.

[9] Boice, 69.

[10] Waltke, et. al., 262.

[11] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Heb 12:22–24.

[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 8:5.

[13] Boice, 70, 71.

[14] Id., 71–72.

[15] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Heb 2:5–9.