Psalm 8 Commentary: Psalm 8 is a reflective or meditative psalm. That just means, the author wrote it to reflect and meditate on something. In this case, the author is David, and he’s reflecting on nature. And in particular he’s meditating on man’s place in relation to nature.
Psalm 8 Commentary: Structure
Body of Psalm 8
The structure of this psalm includes three parts. The body of the psalm is probably the easiest to see. It basically consists of a meditation in Psalm 8:3-8. The psalmist is considering God’s creation. And in light of that, he’s struck with the smallness of man. And yet at the same time, he’s equally effected by the thought of man’s special place in God’s creation. So, that’s the body of Psalm 8.
Closing Meditation of Psalm 8
The closing meditation is found in the last verse — Psalm 8:9.
Introductory Meditation of Psalm 8
And so that leaves one last part: Psalm 8:1-2. This is where the psalmist introduces his meditation on the excellence of God’s name — or his reputation. And even here in the introduction you see a microcosm of the rest of the psalm.
Psalm 8:1 starts out speaking of God’s establishing his glory above the heavens. So, he’s thinking about creation – the heavens. And then he zooms in on two groups – very young children and God’s enemies. We’ll get into who these two groups are why the psalmist is focusing on them at this point, but briefly now we can at least recognize that the psalmist’s mind is – for lack of a better term – wandering from God’s general universal creation to his specific creation and sustaining of humans.
Do you see how that’s a microcosm of the rest of the psalm? Remember the main section of the psalm? The psalmist’s meditation in Psalm 8:3-8 – where he’s looking at the sky – at God’s vast creation – and then he focuses in on man within that creation. The same general thing is happening in both the introduction and the body of this psalm.
Psalm 8 Commentary: Implied Situation
So, now let’s focus on the implied situation of Psalm 8.
I think it’s nothing more than the psalmist looking up into a cloudless starry sky. Because it’s really the psalmist’s meditation of the heavens that get him pondering man’s place in God’s creation. He speaks of God’s glory ABOVE the heavens. Then he says “When I consider YOUR HEAVENS…” So, he’s considering or looking at the heavens. That’s what he was doing that resulted in him writing this psalm.
And wouldn’t David have had plenty of opportunities to look up at the night sky while he was shepherding his father’s flocks out in the pasture lands surrounding Bethlehem? And of course this was a day when there surely wasn’t much light pollution – you know, the kind you see from your home in the direction of a brighter city – where the light from that other city lights up the sky over your own head. There was – I’m fairly confident in guessing – no such thing back then.
So, anyway, that’s what motivated the psalmist to write Psalm 8 – looking up into a cloudless night sky.
Psalm 8 Commentary: Topic and Theme
Now, on to the topic and theme.
Topic of Psalm 8
While God’s creation is definitely in view all over Psalm 8 – I think the main issue is man’s place in that creation. So, I suppose that would be the topic of the psalm – Man’s Place in Creation.
Theme of Psalm 8
But then David expands on that a bit. He introduces some paradoxical facts about man’s place in creation. Like, somehow what comes out of the mouths of babies – weak as they are – is able to silence grown men. That seems absurd or self-contradictory. But it’s true. Or like the fact that God created vast galaxies and yet – to the psalmist’s amazement – God is concerned with such small creatures as ourselves. And these seemingly contradictory facts cause amazement in the Psalmist – “How majestic is your name!”
So the theme of Psalm 8 could be Amazement at Man’s Place in God’s Creation.
Psalm 8 Commentary: In the New Testament
Now, last thing before we get into the details of Psalm 8 – parts of this psalm are referenced several times in the New Testament. And at the end of the message we’ll review those.
But before we do that, we’ll attempt to explain the details of this psalm.
So, let’s start by reading Psalm 8:1-2 – the introduction of Psalm 8.
8:1 For the music director, according to the gittith style; a psalm of David. O LORD, our Lord, how magnificent is your reputation throughout the earth! You reveal your majesty in the heavens above! 2 From the mouths of children and nursing babies you have ordained praise on account of your adversaries, so that you might put an end to the vindictive enemy. (NET)
Psalm 8 Commentary: Superscription
So, we have a superscription that we’ll just deal with quickly. This psalm was used as a song. It’s written to the chief musician. He apparently was the director or supervisor of the music – probably at the Temple. And this psalm or song is to be played upon the Gittith, which is likely some sort of musical instrument. It’s lastly a psalm of David. Literally, it’s “to David”. But this most likely means that it was a psalm that David wrote.
Alright, so that’s the superscription to this psalm.
Psalm 8 Commentary: Introduction
Now for the introduction.
Now, the way that the intro starts sounds a little redundant in English – “Oh Lord, Our Lord.” But it isn’t redundant in Hebrew. Look at that first “Lord”. It’s in all caps. That’s the translation’s editors’ way of translating the Hebrew word that consists of four Hebrew letters. In English it would be: Y, H, W, and H. We’d pronounce it like YAH-WEH. Sometimes it’s translated into English as “Jehovah”. This is the name that God used to reveal himself to Moses at the burning bush. It’s also been said to be his covenant name. The name means something like “I AM” and it testifies to God’s eternal and never-ending existence.
And it’s that God that’s being addressed in this psalm. David is speaking directly to this eternal covenant-keeping God.
Next, David recognizes his relationship with YAHWEH. That’s the second “Lord” we see in this psalm. It’s the word “Adon”. You may have heard the word Adonai. It means “my master”. So, David is recognizing that this YAHWEH who keeps covenant and always has been and always will be – he holds authority over David. He’s David’s “Lord” or “Master”. And not only DAVID’S Master – but do you see the pronoun? “Our” master. But he’s the master of ALL Israel. And really, by extension he’s master of the entire universe and all that’s in it – as we’ll hear through the rest of this psalm.
And so, it’s to this God that David expresses amazement. He says “How excellent is thy name!” in the King James Version. The “how” there isn’t indicating a question – right? The “how” is a note of exclamation and wonderment. It’s amazing to David that God’s name is so excellent.
Let’s think about that statement. What is God’s name? Well, if we’re talking about what God is called, then it would be YAHWEH like we just saw. But that’s not what David’s talking about here. In this context, God’s name is his “reputation” or “renown”. He’s known universally for certain acts and characteristics – or at least he should be to anyone who has eyes to see.
And this reputation – this name of his – is “excellent”. That word is used elsewhere in the Old Testament of the waters that consumed Pharaoh and his army as they chased Israel through the Red Sea after the Exodus. Those waters were mighty, strong, powerful.
This word is used of kings – who are typically known for their strength and power.
Or like a mountain in Psalm 76 – mighty, powerful, unmoveable.
Or like a massive tree – again, unmovable, strong, powerful.
That’s God’s reputation and renown in all the earth. He has a reputation of strength and power and might. That’s what he’s known for.
Well, let’s ask ourselves – is he worthy of such a reputation? The answer to that question starts in the second line of verse 1. He has set his glory above the heavens.
So, in other words, God has put something somewhere. What then has he put or established? It says his glory. There’s a word for God’s glory that’s typically used — KABOD. This word though is different — HOD. This word is what Moses transferred to Joshua when Moses was passing off the scene. It was his authority. It’s also what the Lord gave to King Solomon. Again, authority is in view there. So, God has established his authority.
And he’s done so “above the heavens”. There are a few things that the word “heavens” can represent. We see it used at least two different ways in this very psalm. It’s used later in this psalm as the area in which birds fly – or the atmosphere of the earth. It’s also used of the place where the moon and stars reside. And those are two different realms – wouldn’t you agree? But Psalm 8:1 is speaking of a place BEYOND those two areas. God has established his authority ABOVE those regions. In a place that the human eye cannot even see.
Let me ask you – does God live in outer space? Does he live in the earth’s atmosphere? This statement here in Psalm 8:1 and others throughout the Scripture indicate that there’s a place beyond even the vast and measureless expanse of what we know as the universe. And it’s in this place that’s unseen to the human eye – that’s above the heavens – where God’s authority is established. And you know that if it’s established there, no power anywhere is going to be able to throw it off.
I’d say that earns him a reputation of strength and power and might!
Psalm 8 Commentary: God’s Authority on Earth
And it’s clear that God’s authority and power and might reach down even to this lowly earth from Psalm 8:2.
Now, I’ll say at the outset that this verse is really hard to interpret. Several resources I consulted mentioned Psalm 8:2 and had a note along the lines of “this verse is very difficult to understand”. I read several commentaries. And they had things to say about this verse. So, I read them. But I came away with no greater understanding of what this verse meant. The commentaries tend to discuss the verse but don’t really do a great job of explaining what it means. I just want to let you know what we’re up against.
But, here we go!
God is pictured as doing something in this verse. He’s “ordaining strength” in the King James Version. “Ordaining” is like “establishing”. You could picture it like laying a foundation – firm and established solidly in the ground. It’s not going to move from its present location. That’s the way this word is used elsewhere.
And so, God is “laying” something or “firmly establishing” something unmovable.
What is it? It’s “strength”. Like a strong solid tower to which people go and flee for safety. That’s what God is doing – firmly laying down strength.
How is he doing this? He’s using the most insignificant of human creatures. Babes and sucklings. The youngest and most helpless – the most feeble of human creatures.
And he’s viewed as using a particular part of the bodies of these young children – their mouths. Now, the mouths of babies don’t usually produce anything noteworthy. Maybe some spit-up. Usually things are actually going INTO their mouths – like milk. And at best, what’s coming out of their mouths is babbling or crying.
And yet in some way, that babbling or crying is pictured as something that God uses against his enemies. In particular he uses what comes out of babies’ mouths to cause the enemy and the avenger to “be stilled” or to “cease”. That’s a word related to the Hebrew word “Sabbath” – which speaks of rest and ceasing from labors.
So, this firmly-established strength causes these guys to cease or stop or rest from their opposition to God. Somehow.
So what does this mean? What’s in view here?
I think it’s something like this. God has a reputation for strength and power. He’s sovereign over everything. That authority of his is untouchable – higher than the heavens. And that authority that he wields over his creation from outside of his creation allows for even the smallest most insignificant things – babblings and cryings of babies – to confound and cause to cease the fiercest of his enemies. In other words, God is so powerful, that if he wants to stop his opponents, he could use the unimpressive mouths of the weakest of his human creatures to do so. That’s how strong God is. That’s the extent of his authority. It’s sort of hyperbolic, but I think that’s what it’s saying.
And in case you’re wondering, I’ll remind us that I’ll talk at the end about this verse and how it’s used in the New Testament.
Psalm 8 Commentary: Main Meditation
Now, with the introduction dealt with, let’s go on to the main meditation of this psalm in Psalm 8:3-8.
8:3 When I look up at the heavens, which your fingers made,
and see the moon and the stars, which you set in place,
4 Of what importance is the human race, that you should notice them?
Of what importance is mankind, that you should pay attention to them,
5 and make them a little less than the heavenly beings?
You grant mankind honor and majesty;
6 you appoint them to rule over your creation;
you have placed everything under their authority,
7 including all the sheep and cattle,
as well as the wild animals,
8 the birds in the sky, the fish in the sea
and everything that moves through the currents of the seas.
Psalm 8 Commentary: Verse 3
Now, the psalmist relates what he was doing that led to the writing of this psalm. He was “considering the heavens”. He was simply “looking” up into the heavens. That’s the simple meaning of the word “consider” in the KJV. He was merely looking at the heavens from his low vantage point on the earth.
Now, these heavens are not simply THE heavens. They’re said to be GOD’S heavens. They’re uniquely YAHWEH’s. They belong to him.
Well, why’s that? It’s because they’re pictured as the “works of God’s fingers”. Obviously, God created the heavens. And so it’s as if he fashioned them with his very fingers. God doesn’t have physical fingers of course, but we’re given this very picturesque image of God’s relation to the heavens. He crafted them like an artist would a painting. And isn’t that what it looks like when you peer into space? These pictures that the Hubble Telescope give us – for example – they’re beautiful. Now, I doubt David could see these far-off galaxies and other features out far into space, like we can. But what he could see caused him to marvel at God’s craftsmanship in relation to the heavens.
And then he thinks particularly of the things that God put in those heavens. The moon and the stars. God “ordained” them. This is a different word than we had of what God did through the crying and babbling mouths of babies. This action that God took with the moon and stars isn’t like “laying a foundation”. It’s like “establishing a regular order of things”. From our perspective the moon and the stars appear in regular orderly patterns in our night sky. They’ve been “ordained” in that manner.
Now, I mean, really think about this. Let’s not be unaffected by this psalm. Think about how awesome the moon is. The fact that it’s out there. That it’s just the right distance from earth to affect tides and other things – but not too much. The fact that much of the time it provides light to the earth at night. It was used by ancient cultures to mark months and seasons. Now, for a human, how much work would it take to create the moon? How many dollars would you need to raise to create a moon? What kind of technology or equipment would you need to construct it? Yeah, we can’t make a moon.
Not to mention the stars! Most of them are so far away that you could never even hope to reach one in several lifetimes, even in our modern spacecraft. Stars appear in various areas of the universe, they come in different colors, different chemical makeups. I think they all give off their light by burning. How did that happen? What natural secular explanation can there be for a countless multitude of balls of burning gas all over the universe? Each so unique. Each so far away – and yet we can see many of them. How would you make a star? That’s an absurd question. It can’t be answered. Only God could do it.
This is all very awesome. God surely is very powerful. Truly, his reputation of power and might are well-founded. There’s nothing outside of his strength to accomplish. His creation is truly awesome.
Psalm 8 Commentary: Verse 4
And then the psalmist turns his focus downward. And that’s the direction this psalm takes, after all. We start by thinking of what’s ABOVE the heavens. Then we look AT the heavens. And now the psalmist ponders what’s on the earth – BELOW the heavens. Man, in particular.
In light of the expansive mighty heavens, what is man? Of what significance is this puny creature that we are? The creature that – at its best – is pictured as being brought to nothing by the weak unimpressive mouth of weak unimpressive babies. What is man?
Why is God mindful of us? He remembers us – like he remembered Noah in the ark. He doesn’t forsake us and leave us all to our own in the midst of this overwhelmingly vast creation of his. And he could, couldn’t he? He could leave us all alone. But he doesn’t. He doesn’t forsake us.
So, he remembers man – Enosh, is the word. And he visits “the son of man” – or the Ben Adam – the son of Adam. That’s you and me, the children of Adam – his descendants. God visits us – like he visited Sarah and fulfilled his promise of a child to her. He doesn’t leave us alone. He comes and helps us in our need. He’s constantly reaching out to redeem his fallen creation. And those whom he has redeemed, he’s constantly checking up on and helping and leading and meeting our needs.
Psalm 8 Commentary: Verse 5
But it’s not because we’re so great. No. We’re nothing. We’re helpless in this vast creation.
He’s made man a little lower than the angels. Literally, than “Elohim”. That’s a word for God, but it’s also used of heavenly beings – angels, in particular. So, YAHWEH has created man to be just a little lower than God himself – or at least than his angels.
And you might think – boy, we’re missing out on something. We’re a little LOWER than God. Well, remember – it’s just a LITTLE lower. Which is actually quite a privilege, given how high and exalted YAHWEH truly is.
And it’s even more clear that this statement is meant to express the true privilege that is ours as humans made in God’s image with the next statements that David makes of man. He’s crowned us with glory and honor – or weightiness and fruitfulness. He makes us fruitful and productive in all areas of life – generally-speaking for mankind.
Psalm 8 Commentary: Verse 6
Further, God’s caused us to rule over the works of his hands.
Isn’t that quite a deal? He made it. He did all the hard work – the work we couldn’t possibly do. And now, we rule over it. And this word “works” is the same as in Psalm 8:3. There it was talking about the heavens and all the things in them. But now here, included with those works are what David will talk about in the next several verses.
And it’s very interesting that we’ve gone from hands to feet. The works of God’s HANDS – which we’ll see in the following verses – he’s appointed to be under our FEET. That’s quite a privilege!
Psalm 8 Commentary: Verse 7
Well, what has he put under our feet or under our authority? What has he given mankind the right to manage and control and dispose of in the way he sees fit to do?
Sheep and oxen, to begin with. These are domesticated animals in the first line of Psalm 8:7. And not only the DOMESTICATED ones, but also the WILD ones – the bests of the field. The ones in the open field. The wild untamed beasts. They’re ours as well.
Psalm 8 Commentary: Verse 8
Then Psalm 8:8 – the highest AND lowest of creatures, speaking in regard to altitude. Birds in the high heavens and fish in the low deep sea.
By the way, this guides us in thinking about environmental issues, doesn’t it? And this guidance is from YAHWEH, so it’s completely balanced and correct. Ruling over the works of God’s hands requires us as mankind to not abuse his creation. At the same time, it also flies in the face of the more extreme views of certain people calling themselves environmentalists. We are given divine authority for elevating mankind over other creatures. We’re not to abuse the creation. But at the same time we’re not to elevate the place and importance of anything else in the creation above mankind – those made in God’s image and given dominion over what he himself created.
Psalm 8 Commentary: Verse 9
And the last verse – Psalm 8:9 – is simply the second half of an envelope that encompasses all of Psalm 8:1-9. It’s the conclusion to the matter. YAHWEH, our Master, what a reputation of strength, power, and might you have – and with good reason!
Psalm 8 Commentary: In the New Testament
Now, let me briefly cite the places where this psalm is used in the New Testament.
Jesus references Psalm 8:2 when he comes into Jerusalem and the children are singing to him. The Pharisees tell Jesus that it’s not right for the children to be calling him the Son of David – the coming king. And then Jesus references this verse as justification for what they’re doing. Only, Jesus references the way the Septuagint translates this verse. In the Septuagint, it says that God has “perfected praise” – rather than “ordaining strength” – through the mouth of babies.
Then we have Hebrews 2:6-8. Here, the author of Hebrews is just coming from chapter one where he’s made a big deal of Jesus’s not being an angel – of being better than the angels. Of being “the son”. He then makes an application and exhorts his readers to pay attention to what they’ve heard. And then in Hebrew 2:5 it seems like the author is getting back to his drawing a distinction between Jesus and angels. He says that God hasn’t subjected the world to come to ANGELS. But instead – and then he references Psalm 8:4-6, speaking of the dominion which God gave to man. Only, in Hebrews, it seems like the author is speaking of not this world like Psalm 8 has been pretty obviously discussing. He’s talking about I think the new heavens and the new earth. And it’s not just man in general that’s viewed as having dominion over this new creation. Rather, it is the son of Adam – the second Adam – who will with his human believing brothers and sisters – so to speak – rule over this new creation of God.