The title of this psalm reads, To the Chief Musician. On the instrument of Gath. A Psalm of David. It indicates the audience of the psalm (the Chief Musician), the author of the psalm (of David) and the sound of the psalm (the instrument of Gath). In this psalm David speaks of the glory of God, and how the glory of man and his destiny reflect upon God.
A. The plainly seen glory of creation.
1. (1) The glory of God in the earth and the heavens.
O LORD, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth,
Who have set Your glory above the heavens!
a. O LORD, our Lord: Here, David recognized both the covenant name of God (LORD) and the position of Yahweh to His people (Lord). It was a simple, straightforward, and common way to say that “Our God is our Master.”
i. “Yehovah Adoneynu; O Jehovah our Prop, our Stay, our Support.… The root dan signifies to direct, rule, judge, support. So Adonai is the Director, Ruler, Judge, Supporter of men.” (Clarke)
b. How excellent is Your name in all the earth: David also recognized that though the LORD was Israel’s covenant God, He was also God of more than just Israel. His name is excellent…in all the earth.
c. Who have set Your glory above the heavens: At the same time, the earth was not enough to measure the glory and excellence of God. His glory is above the heavens.
2. (2) The glory of God in His strength over His enemies.
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.
a. Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength: In the first verse, David considered the greatness of God by His evident power and glory in creation, both across the earth and in the heavens. Now, he considers that the power and glory of God can be seen in small children – babes and nursing infants – as God’s strength is evident in them.
i. David here touched on a familiar theme in the Bible: the idea that God uses otherwise weak things to display His glory and strength. 1 Corinthians 1:27 is an example of this idea: But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty.
ii. It is hard to think of anything more weak and helpless than a baby; yet the same God who can ordain strength out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants can give strength and support to me in the midst of my weakness.
iii. “The word here rather means a strength…that, out of such frail material as children’s speech, God builds a tower of strength, which, like some border castle, will bridle and still the restless enemy.” (Maclaren)
iv. “The praises of the Messiah, celebrated in the church by his children, have in them a strength and power which nothing can withstand; they can abash infidelity, when at its greatest height, and strike hell itself silent.” (Horne)
v. Significantly, Jesus quoted this passage to His indignant accusers in Matthew 21:16, as Jesus did wonderful miracles in the temple area, and as He received the praise of children who cried out Hosanna to the Son of David! (Matthew 21:15).
b. Because of Your enemies, that You may silence the enemy: The reason why God displays His strength in unlikely vessels is because it works to silence the enemy; Satan and his fellow adversaries have nothing to say when God works so mightily in an otherwise weak person.
i. One dramatic example of this is the story of Job. In it, God silenced the accusations of Satan against both God and Job by the way that He sustained Job with His unseen hand in the midst of profound weakness.
ii. In quoting this passage in Matthew 21:15-16, Jesus told His accusers who He was and who they were. Since the babes and nursing infants praise God in Psalm 8, Jesus identified Himself as God. In this, Jesus also identified the indignant scribes and teachers as the enemy and avenger described in this psalm.
iii. “Aha! Aha! O adversary! To be overcome by behemoth or leviathan might make thee angry; but to be smitten out of infants’ mouths causes thee to bite the dust in utter dishonor. Thou art sore broken, now that ‘out of the mouth of babes and sucklings’ thou art put to shame.” (Spurgeon)
B. The surprising glory of mankind.
1. (3-5) Though seemingly insignificant, man is crowned with glory and honor.
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.
a. When I consider Your heavens: David knew the value of simply considering the glory of God’s creation. He knew what it was like to look up into the starry sky and consider what a great God had made this vast, wonderful universe.
i. With the naked eye, one can see about 5,000 stars. With a four-inch telescope, one can see about 2 million stars. With a 200-inch mirror of a great observatory, one can see more than a billion stars. The universe is so big that if one were to travel at the speed of light, it would take 40 billion years to reach the edge of the universe. Considering the heavens makes us see the greatness of God.
ii. These great heavenly objects such as the moon and the stars are the work of God’s fingers. “Notwithstanding the amazing magnitude of the sun, we have abundant reason to believe that some of the fixed stars are much larger: and yet we are told they are the work of GOD’S FINGERS! What a hand, to move, form, and launch these globes!” (Clarke)
b. What is man that You are mindful of him: Considering the greatness of the heavens also made David consider the relative smallness and insignificance of man. David wondered why such a big, great God would be mindful of such small beings.
i. “We gave you but a feeble image of our comparative insignificance, when we said that the glories of an extended forest would suffer no more from the fall of a single leaf, than the glories of an extended universe would suffer though the globe we tread upon, and all that it inherits, should dissolve.” (Chalmers, cited in Spurgeon)
ii. God is so big that He makes the universe with His fingers; man is so small that he is dwarfed by the universe. Yet David did not doubt that God was mindful of man; he simply said “You are mindful of him” and only wondered why. Before we share David’s question, we should first share his assured confidence that God is mindful of us; He thinks of us and considers what we do.
iii. “Sorry, sickly man, a mass of mortalities, a map of miseries, a mixture or compound of dirt and sin…and yet God is mindful of him.” (Trapp)
iv. “David’s question can be asked with many nuances. In Psalm 144:3-4 it mocks the arrogance of the rebel; in Job 7:17 it is a sufferer’s plea for respite; in Job 25:6 it shudders at human sin. But here it has no tinge of pessimism; only astonishment that thou are mindful and thou dost care.” (Kidner)
c. And the son of man that You should visit him: Indeed, using the poetic method of repetition, David repeated the idea in a stronger way. Son of man is a title that emphasizes the “humanness” of man, and we might say that visit him is yet stronger than are mindful of him.
i. David was confident that God not only carefully thought about man, but that He had some kind of personal connection and contact with men (that You visit him). He thinks about us and acts in our lives.
ii. Morgan considered the use of the terms man and son of man as a “contrast between the stately splendor of the moon and the stars, and man – Enosh – frail man – and the son of man Ben-Adam – of apparently earthly origin. The contrasts are graphic.” (Morgan)
d. For You have made him a little lower than the angels: David saw that God made man a little lower than the angels, and this is evident in the way that man is beneath the angels in present glory, power, and nearness to God.
i. The word translated angels is Elohim, and most often refers to God Himself. There are some (such as Boice) who believe that David meant to say that man is a little lower than God, stressing the idea that man is made in God’s image.
ii. Yet the ancient translators of the Bible from Hebrew to Greek understood elohim here to speak of angelic beings; more importantly, that was how the writer to the Hebrews understood it. “The Hebrew for [angels] is simply ‘God’ or ‘gods’ (‘Elohim’). It may refer to angelic beings.” (VanGemeren)
iii. Significantly, David did not say that man was “a little higher than the beasts,” though one could say that is true. Theologians since Thomas Aquinas have noted that man is in a middle position between the angels and the animals: lower than the angels yet higher than the animals. Yet David rightly makes us look upward and not downward, though many think of mankind as more animal than angelic, David wrote that You have made him a little lower than the angels.
iv. “Although made in God’s image and ordained to become increasingly like the God to whom they look, men and women have turned their backs on God. And since they will not look upward to God, which is their privilege and duty, they actually look downward to the beasts and so become increasingly like them.” (Boice)
v. This very passage is quoted in Hebrews 2:5-9 to reinforce and build upon this exact point. In it he notes that man’s low estate relates only to this world, and not the world to come (Hebrews 2:5). More pointedly, the writer of Hebrews used this passage from Psalm 8 to show that Jesus really did add a genuinely human nature to His divine nature and thus also became a little lower than the angels.
e. You have crowned him with glory and honor: Though for a little while set lower than the angels, man’s destiny is one day to be crowned with a glory and honor that surpasses even the angels. It is the destiny of redeemed men and women to one day be lifted above the angels (1 Corinthians 6:3, Revelation 1:6, 5:10).
i. “Little can sometimes mean ‘for a little while’ in both Hebrew and Greek, which is the sense probably implied in [Hebrews].” (Kidner)
ii. “A little lower in nature, since they are immortal, and but a little, because time is short; and when that is over, saints are no longer lower than the angels.” (Spurgeon)
iii. God’s glory is above the heavens; yet He put this same glory and honor on man as a crown. “This is an effective way of identifying man with God and of saying that he has been made in God’s image, reflecting God’s glory in a way other parts of the creation do not.” (Boice)
iv. As the writer of Hebrews points out, it seems that this divine call and gift given to man of great dominion over the whole earth is tragically unfulfilled; fallen man seems so weak and incapable of dominion over his own thoughts and desires, much less crowned with glory and honor. Yet, as Hebrews properly says, but we see Jesus (Hebrew 2:9).
v. “In Him we have had the full revelation of the greatness of man. But we have seen more than that. We have seen Him ‘crowned with glory and honour, that by the grace of God He should taste death for every man.’ That vision creates our confidence that man will at last realize the Divine purpose.” (Morgan)
vi. “Satan is no doubt filled with scorn of man when he looks at him and measures him with himself. ‘Is this the creature that is to be set over all the works of God’s hands, made of earth and water, phosphates and metals? I am nobler far than he. Can I not flash like lightning, while he must creep about the world to find himself a grave?’” (Spurgeon)
2. (6-9) The dominion of man and the excellence of God.
You have made him to have dominion over 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.
O LORD, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth!
a. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands: David understood the mandate given to Adam and His descendants at creation (Genesis 1:26-28 and 9:2). By both God’s decree and through superior ability, man indeed has dominion over the other creatures and resources of the earth.
i. “In this section of the psalm, allusions to the first chapter of Genesis are inescapable, which shows that David was thoroughly acquainted with this book.” (Boice) Perhaps this knowledge of God’s word came from David’s mother, whom he twice in Psalms refers to as a maidservant of the LORD (Psalm 86:16 and 116:16).
ii. As part of this authority, mankind has the responsibility to wisely manage the creatures and resources of this earth in a way that gives God glory and is good for man. It means that it is wrong to see man as merely part of the ecosystem (thus denying his God-ordained dominion). It is also wrong for man to abuse the ecosystem, thus making him a bad manager of that which ultimately belongs to God (Psalm 24:1). The mandate of dominion asks man to use the creatures and resources of the earth, but to use them wisely and responsibly.
b. You have put all things under his feet: Here, David developed the idea introduced in the first line of Psalm 8:6. The dominion of man extends to all things, including sheep, oxen…beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea.
i. The Apostle Paul quoted this passage in 1 Corinthians 15:27. Paul quoted it in much the same way that the writer of Hebrews did in Hebrews 2:5-9, showing that this promise of dominion is now only incompletely fulfilled among men. Yet it will be ultimately fulfilled in Jesus, the ultimate Man, and will be one day also completely fulfilled in His resurrected followers.
ii. In light of all this, it is a great tragedy when a man is captured and held in bondage by the things of this world. We were born to have dominion over such material things, instead of being in bondage to them.
c. O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth: When David thought about how vast a dominion God had given to man, it made him praise God all over again. That this humble creature – humble in light of the majesty of the universe, humble in light of its present standing under angelic beings – should be given such authority is a demonstration of both the excellence and the goodness of God.
i. David understood that the position of man in creation says far more about the glory of God than saying anything about the glory of man. Understanding it all should make us praise God, not man. “For man’s dominion over nature, wonderful though it is, takes second place to his calling as servant and worshipper, to whose very children the name of the Lord has been revealed.” (Kidner)
ii. There are three wonderful and important truths about man found in this psalm; when these truths are denied or neglected, man never is what God made him to be.
·God made man.
·God made man something glorious.
·God made man for a high and worthy destiny.
iii. All three of these principles are rooted in what God has made man; they do not exist nor are they fulfilled from the plan or work of man. That is why this glorious psalm about man is even more so a psalm about God. “The most striking feature of Psalm 8…is its description of man and his place in the created order. But the psalm does not begin by talking about man. It begins with a celebration of the surpassing majesty of God.” (Boice)
iv. “He made us to have dominion by the word of creation. He made us kings unto God by his blood. His name shall, therefore, be honoured through all the earth.” (Meyer)
v. “Even thou, silly worm, shalt honour him, when it shall appear what God hath done for thee, what lusts he hath mortified, and what graces he hath granted thee.” (Spurgeon)
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org