Psalm 8: What Is Man That You Are Mindful Of Him?

Psalm 8, along with Psalm 139 [1], shows David quoting and meditating on quotations from the book of Job. There are three ways to account for these connections between David’s contemplations in Psalms 8 and 139 and the book of Job. One can claim that these connections are merely accidental and that there is no relationship between them, which seems a bit untenable because they are quotations (and because both Psalm 8 and 139 muse upon other parts of scripture in a self-aware fashion). One can assume that the author of the Book of Job took these scattered psalms and wrote an entire book to refute or complicate their pious views, which also seems untenable (though this has not stopped some from considering Job a very late work of the post-exilic period). Or one can assume that Job was a book of such antiquity that it was known in the time of David and that David saw it (as well as other old books, like Genesis) as fit for commenting on. This view makes the most sense, as it is likely that an author would write short commentaries on thought-provoking quotes from extant works rather than making short and scattered comments that a different author would feel the need to refute or complicate in a larger work. It is therefore this third view that is adopted in this blog, as it is the most reasonable behavior (and the most similar to the behavior of the author of this blog).

It is noteworthy to comment, before looking at the specific verses of this Psalm (which we will do shortly), the nature of this psalm. Psalm 8 is a reflection by David on creation and the place of man within that creation. This short psalm combines a reflection on both Genesis 1 and 2 looking at the connection between the fourth day of creation (where the sun, moon, and stars point out the festivals of God) and the dominion covenant of Genesis 2:26-28 which places mankind as the steward of God’s creation, along with a short reflection on Job’s contemplation of the place of man within creation. Combined, David’s reflections make Psalm 8 an eloquent psalm of praise for God’s plan of creation and the honored place of mankind within that creation. Ironically enough, David’s own psalm, itself a commentary on other parts of the Bible, was itself quoted later on by Jesus Christ (Matthew 21:15-16) and the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 2:5-9) with commentary.

Psalm 8, like many parts of the Bible, is organized in a chiasm. Psalm 8 begins and ends with praise for the excellence of God’s name (a and a’). Then, next, Psalm 8 comments on the strength and dignity of the role of mankind, even for babies and nursing infants, as stewards with dominion over God’s creation (b and b’). Finally, David reflects on the heavens (a concept introduced in verse one) and quotes Job in wonderment at the honor that God has given us, a glory that lacks little of God and that makes us only a little lower than the angels (b and b’), a concept that is considerably elaborated on in Hebrews 2. Therefore David’s reflection on the glory of God’s creation and man’s role in it leads us to reflect that the power and dignity of mankind is not because of we ourselves, but because we have been created in the image and likeness of God as his offspring. Therefore by proclaiming and praising the excellence of God, we affirm our own dignity as the children of God and also affirm the equality of all mankind under God.

Psalm 8:1 reads as follows: “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth, who have set Your glory above the heavens!” This introduction sets up the comparison between earth and heaven and points to God’s glory being above the heavens, which themselves are above the earth. There are some noteworthy comments that we can make about this verse that may often be overlooked. For one, the psalm begins with a reflection of two names of God (similar to Psalm 110:1 in the corpus of David’s contemplations). David begins Psalm 8 by saying, “O Yahweh, our Adonai,” which is to say, O Eternal, our Lord, pointing both to the personal name (YHWH) and title (Lord, ruler) of our God. Interestingly enough, David conceives of God in a plural sense, as “O Lord…who have set” indicates a plural being with a singular name, which ought to provoke us into thought as to the family of God and its importance in the plan of God.

Psalm 8:2 reads as follows: “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.” This is a curious verse. For one (especially in light of what is said in Psalm 8:6-8), it indicates that the strength and glory and dignity and dominion of mankind is given to humanity as a result of being human, even from our time in the womb, rather than being due to any strength or power on our part. Our dignity is because we are created in the image of God–which silences the enemy and “avenger” Satan, who envies our position in the family of God–and that dignity and dominion extends to all human beings and is not limited by race or ethnicity or class or gender or age.

Indeed, this verse was quoted by Jesus Christ in Matthew 21:14-16: “Then the blind and the lame came to Him in the temple, and He healed them. But when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that He did, and the children crying out to the temple and saying, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant and 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 babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise’?”” Here we see a lot of ironies. For one, the lame and blind are considered to be the infants and nursing babes of God. As believers we are the unborn children of God, conceived by His Spirit as a new creation, who are supposed to be nurtured in the womb of the Church of God so that we may be born in the spirit at the last trumpet into the Family of God. And yet those who were supposed to nurture these believers instead condemned them for quoting Psalm 118:26 to the Son of David, the Messiah, the Lamb of God and the (future) Lion of Judah, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Therefore Jesus Christ, as the Son of David, quoted to these ungodly and corrupt leaders the words of David in Psalm 8:2, showing that these lame and blind men, looked down upon by the leaders of Judah, were themselves the very children of our Heavenly Father Himself. Thus Jesus Christ used this passage to give honor and glory to those who were looked down on by the human leaders of their time, as they had given Him the honor and glory that was due Him as our Lord and God in the flesh. It is further of interest that the blind could see more than the leaders and teachers of Judah who fancied themselves to be blessed with understanding of God’s ways.

Let us comment at some length at the theme of reversal that Jesus’ use of this psalm in Matthew 21:16 and how it relates to the Psalms and the worldview of the Bible as a whole. The Jews in the Second Temple period, just like the Church of God, has often been corrupt and hierarchical in its nature, considering only some human beings as worthy of dignity and honor and dominion by virtue of wealth or class status or family origin. By disrespecting those will illnesses and disabilities, the poor and needy of their society, and by failing to see their brethren as their equals, the leaders of Judah disrespected and dishonored the God in whose image and likeness their poor and exploited brothers (to say nothing of the Gentiles!) were made. Therefore, the leaders of Judah by and large dishonored and disrespected Jesus Christ when He walked the earth because they did not sufficiently respect God to give honor to all mankind. We must learn from their example, lest we make the same errors ourselves and suffer the same condemnation. It should be noted that the reversal of expectations by which God gives glory to the least of these and not to those who fancy themselves to be elites is found many places in scripture, including the Psalms (Psalm 113), prophets (1 Samuel 2:1-10), and in the Gospels themselves (the Magnificat of Mary in Luke 1:46-55), all of which directly point to God raising the poor and needy to positions of honor and dignity and rejecting wealthy and corrupt elites who saw themselves as needing nothing and knowing God’s ways completely. We should take the Bible’s frequent commentary on this as a warning for ourselves so that we do not imitate the example of the corrupt seed of Satan but rather imitate Christ.

Psalm 8:3-5 reads: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honor.” Here David, in considering the glory and honor of God, points out that it is a wonderful thing that God, who formed the broad and wide heavens, which mankind uses to determine time (the sun for the day, the revolution of the earth around the sun for the year, the moon for months) and that God used to determine His own holy time in his appointments with mankind on the Sabbaths and Holy Days, which themselves also show His plan for all mankind to have the opportunity to be a part of His family. Here again, we should note, David points out that God has clothed all mankind with glory and honor by being created in the image and likeness of God.

It is here where David quotes the book of Job, Job 10:12 to be precise, to comment on the place of mankind within the creation of God. Here we see that Job (which reflects often on the balance between the imminence and transcendence of God) and Genesis 1 and 2 (which share the same concerns, pointing both to the glory of God and the immensity of His creation as well as the intimacy of His behavior and concern with mankind). As in Psalm 139, here David uses a quotation from the (presumably extant) book of Job to comment on his concerns about the dealings of God and man, reflecting on God’s infinite power and glory, which He has shared with all mankind in lovingkindness (grace) that we do not deserve, simply for being created in His image and likeness. Our praise and wonder at God is increased when we recognize the importance of mankind in the plan of God, and therefore recognizing the proper place of all mankind in God’s plans as His unborn children makes us praise and appreciate God even more for doing so given the immensity and scope of the creation that He has made, and it also leads us to love and honor our fellow man to a greater degree.

There is here a textual variant between the Hebrew and the Greek and Aramaic translations that is worthy of comment. The Hebrew reads in verse five that mankind lacks little of God, but this was translated in both Aramaic and Greek meaning that meaning that mankind has been made a little lower than the angels (but not much lower even now). Both meanings are true and reflect important aspects of God’s plan. We lack little of God because He has created us in His image and likeness, and as believers given His Holy Spirit, we become a new creation that will eventually, at the return of Jesus Christ, be born into His family as the brothers and sisters of our Elder Brother. We are created a little lower than the angels (even if it is our destiny to be God’s children, a higher place than the angels, who are God’s servants) because we are mortal beings of flesh and blood, rather than beings created of spirit, and our power at this time is considerably less than the angels.

It is noteworthy that the author of the Hebrews takes this passage and points out its implications in our future glory. Hebrews 2:5-18 contains a long commentary on several passages (including Psalm 8:4-6) showing that the world to come will be ruled over the children of God, who have (like Jesus Christ) lived in the flesh, been redeemed by His sacrifice, and will be raised by Him into life incorruptible as the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ. Again, we see the pivotal importance of Psalm 8 in explaining the purpose of God in creating mankind, a purpose and plan that all human beings are a part of, without any need for corrupt and ungodly identity politics by which some people are honored and respected at the expense of others, as is so commonly done in our present evil world.

Psalm 8:6-8 reads: “You have made him to have dominion over the the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen–even the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas.” Here again we see an important aspect of God’s plan for mankind. All of mankind has been given dominion over the earth and the creatures in it. This points to an inequality between mankind and the rest of creation, making mankind the rulers over the earth (as the stewards of our Heavenly Father), but an equality between mankind, since all have been given this dominion and rule–young and old, men and women, rich and poor, Israelite and Gentile. We were created and born to rule–all of us, and not only corrupt elites.

It is also clear, though, that not all things have been put under our feet at this time. This is because of our own frailty and wickedness. If all things are to be under the feet of humans as human beings as a result of the first covenant between God and mankind in Genesis 2:26-28, there is no matter of human life, be it politics or culture, that is beneath the interest and competence of the believer. Additionally, our authority over creation is directly tied to our place as the viceroys of God on this earth, subject to His authority and limited in our conduct by His commandments. Therefore our power over the earth does not make us despots and tyrants, free to desecrate and destroy the creation of God, but rather it makes us all stewards charged with the responsibility of tending and protecting and showing loving concern for God’s creation as we use this physical creation to learn and apply God’s ways and develop our capacity for godly rule in preparation for our place as kings and priests in the world to come.

It is in reflection of the glory that God gives to mankind so that we may fulfill His purposes that leads David to conclude his contemplation of God creation and the place of mankind within that creation just as he began. Psalm 8:9 reads: “O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth!” God’s granting of honor and glory and dignity to all mankind serves to increase His glory by showing His love and divine providence even more clearly to His unborn children, who have been created to learn power and glory as mortal beings in preparation for our birth into glory and immortality as the sons and daughters of God Most High, creator of heaven and earth. Therefore we all ought to praise the Eternal for His blessings and the honor that He has given us, seeing as we have done nothing to deserve it, nor can we do anything to repay God fully for all He has given to us simply by virtue of being created in the image and likeness of our Father above.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/08/10/was-david-familiar-with-the-book-of-job-the-enigma-of-psalm-139/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Christianity, Church of God, History, Music History, Psalms and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Psalm 8: What Is Man That You Are Mindful Of Him?

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