Tag Archives: Psalm 8

God’s Majesty, Man’s Glory

Have you ever heard someone praise another person, but the praise was completely over the top? If you ever want to here over the top anything, just listen to political or sports pundits. Nearly every one of these people make so many hyperbolic statements, it will make you sick. Trust me, things are never as bad or as good as these media pundits make it out to be.

That said, one particular political pundit has made a name for himself in the past few years concerning over the top praise, and that is Chris Matthews of MSNBC in his over the top praise of President Obama. Whether or not you share Matthews’s positive take on President Obama does not diminish the over the top nature of his praise. Examples of this abound, like when he compared President Obama’s second inaugural address to Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address and Lincoln’s Gettysburg address. “Matthews [also] praised [President] Obama for ‘rescuing’ the auto industry with the auto bailouts. . . . [and] The MSNBC host said [President] Obama did an ‘exemplary’ job in his response to Hurricane Sandy. In fact, Matthews said he ‘perfectly displayed bipartisan cooperation’ in the wake of Sandy.”

Now, I am not in the place to judge or publicly denigrate the President’s job in these areas, but when a pundit is making comparisons to one of our nation’s most famous speeches or using words like “rescue,” “exemplary,” and “perfectly,” I believe it is safe to say that Matthew’s praise is over the top.

Some may read the first part of Psalm 8 where God’s name is described as magnificent, illustrious, or glorious and think that this praise is a bit over the top. They may think of David as no more than a media personality over-hyping some story or personality. The truth, however, is that rather than being an overstatement of God’s majesty, this passage is an understatement. John Calvin says it this way, “David, by this exclamation, acknowledges himself unequal to the task of recounting [God’s wonderful works]. David, therefore, when reflecting on the incomprehensible goodness which God has been graciously pleased to bestow on the human race, and feeling all his thoughts and senses swallowed up, and overwhelmed in the contemplation, exclaims that it is a subject worthy of admiration, because it cannot be set forth in words.” In other words, David is only responding to all that he could say that is true of God.

God is deserving of praise, but that is not all. He is also worthy of our submission. Notice how David begins this exclamation of God’s goodness, he address “Lord, our Lord.” You may think that this is David being repetitive, but these are two different words that are both translated Lord. Pastor Leeds has pointed out to you before that English Bible translators have adopted the policy of using all caps when translating the name for God, Yahweh, while they will use lowercase to translate the word Adonai, or master. So David is saying, “Yahweh, our master, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”

There is significance in this statement. These two identifications of God are important because the first tells us God’s name. While the word general word for god could be used to refer to any god in the Old Testament (it is used to refer to Yahweh), when the Old Testament authors want to clarify who exactly the only God is they use His name, Yahweh. This is what the children of Israel called out at Carmel when God sent fire to burn up Elijah’s sacrifice in 1 Kings 18. Most of our English translations quote them as saying, “The Lord, He is God,” but they are saying, “Yahweh, He is God,” in contrast to Baal being god.

The title of master is also significant because it recognizes the required submission that must be displayed by humanity because Yahweh is Creator. Our proper response to this realization is to recognize his lordship over our lives. But there is one problem with both of these significances. In our fallen state we often make ourselves out to be god of our lives rather than worshipping and submitting to Yahweh as the only deserving master of our lives/agendas. However, I believe that David is calling us to and aiding us in seeing that we ought to worship and recognize Yahweh as only God and our Master. Psalm 8 reveals two realities that should move us to worship and recognition of Yahweh as only God and our Master.

1. The greatness of God’s majesty is seen in His creative power. 

The first reality that should move us to worship and recognition of Yahweh as only God and our Master is the greatness of God’s majesty seen in His creative power. David focuses in the beginning of this Psalm on what God has done in creation, and he does so by emphasizing two particular aspects.

    • shown in the arrangement of the heavens

First, he recognizes that God’s creative power is shown in God’s arrangement of the heavens. That is, on the astronomical wonders of our universe. David mentions the majesty of God displayed in the heavens twice in the first three verses of the Psalm. In v1 God has set his glory above the heavens illustrating his transcendence, and in v3 David considers the heavens, in particular, the moon and starts that God has set in place.

Isn’t this is appropriate? Alexander Van Humboldt says it best I think when he says, “The mere thought that [the stars] are so far beyond and above everything terrestrial–the feeling, that before them everything earthly so utterly vanishes to nothing–that the single man is so infinitely insignificant in comparison with these worlds strewn over all space–that his destinies, his enjoyments, and sacrifices, to which he attaches such a minute importance–how all these fade like nothing before such immense objects; then that the constellations bind together all the races of man, and the eras of the earth, that they have beheld all that has passed since the beginning of time, and will see all that passes until its end; in thoughts like these I can always lose myself with a silent delight in the view of the starry firmament.” Truly, the vastness of the universe presents to us a small glimpse of the greatness of the majesty of God because all of this, as David mentions, is the work of his fingers, which one commentator points out is a “most elaborate and accurate . . . metaphor from embroiderers, or from them that makes tapestry.” Something that would require great order and arrangement which David also emphasizes in the phrase “set in place.” One author notes that here “the Psalmist seems to have a reference to the very beautiful order by which God has so appropriately distinguished the position of the stars, and daily regulates their course.”

So, look up at the sky and see first and foremost the majestic creative power of our God, who has arrange the heavens in their beauty and regularity as a show of the artistic nature of his embroidery.

    • established in the mouths of infants

David also recognizes that God’s creative power is shown in God’s use of the mouths of infants to silence his enemies. This is amazing to consider. The remarkable nature of such a statement has led many commentators to search for alternate figurative meanings for this text, but John Calvin would have none of it. He stands adamant that, “the meaning . . . is, that God, in order to commend his providence, has no need of the powerful eloquence of rhetoricians, nor even of distinct and formed language, because the tongues of infants, although they do not as yet speak, are ready and eloquent enough to celebrate it. . . . David, therefore, has the best reason for declaring, that although the tongues of all, who have arrived at the age of manhood, should become silent, the speechless mouth of infants is sufficiently able to celebrate the praise of God. . . . To express the whole in a few words: so early as the generation or birth of man the splendor of Divine Providence is so apparent, that even infants, who hang upon their mothers’ breasts, can bring down to the ground the fury of the enemies of God. Although his enemies may do their utmost, and may even burst with rage a hundred times, it is in vain for them to endeavor to overthrow the strength which manifests itself in the weakness of infancy.”

Wow! Might I just add that we see the enemies of God “[doing] their utmost” and “bursting with rage . . . to overthrow the strength which manifests itself in the weakness of infancy” in abortion? What better illustration is there of the enemies of God raging against the strength of the infant and their own desire to have no God or Master than their destroying of human life before it is even born and can display “the splendor of Divine Providence.” But although they have succeeded in silencing some of those infant tongues which do not yet speak, with each new birth the enemies of God are reminded again of the praise of God.

May we who have arrived at the age of manhood ever join the tongues of those who do not yet speak to celebrate the majestic creative power of God.

2. The kindness of God’s mercy is seen in man’s image-bearing glory.

David doesn’t stop with the creative majesty of God’s power, as he goes on to show a second reality that drives us to worship and recognition of Yahweh as only God and our Master, the kindness of God’s mercy seen in man’s image-bearing glory. When David mentions the arrangement of the heavens in v3 he is moved to question why God would show such mercy to give man glory. Let’s look at both that mercy and that glory

    • the mercy of remembering frail children of dust

First, God shows his kindness in the mercy of remembering frail children of dust. When David questions why God would think or care for man the terms he uses are not flattering. The first term he uses emphasizes the frailty of man; this emphasizes how relatively weak and slow we are in comparison to the rest of creation. Even the fastest man cannot outrun a cheetah; the strongest man is no match for an elephant, and our most powerful bomb has no comparison to a category EF-5 tornado like the one that swept through Moore, OK earlier this week. The second term, son of man, seems to be a reference to our origin out of dust, not something that makes us particularly worth loving or caring for. Again Calvin notes the reality of how far short of worthiness we fall, “God, with very good reason, might despise them and reckon them of no account if he were to stand upon the consideration of his own greatness or dignity.”

In this we see God’s mercy. While we may think pretty highly of ourselves, we would do better to think in terms that Isaac Watts referred to himself in his hymn “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed,”  wondering why God would devote Jesus’ sacred head for such a worm. We have nothing to bring to God that makes us desirable or worthy of his love and affection; rather, we have done much to deserve his wrath and fury, but he has chosen to look in favor upon us in granting that we might bear his image in creation, which is the second illustration of God’s kindness to men, the glory of granting dominion over creation.

    • the glory of granting dominion over creation

In spite of our frailty and origins from dust, God cared for us in such a way as to create us in his image and be his representative here on earth. Here John Calvin notes, “The Psalmist confirms what he has just now said concerning the infinite goodness of God towards men, in showing himself near to them, and mindful of them. In the first place, he represents them as adorned with so many honors as to render their condition not far inferior to divine and celestial glory. In the second place, he mentions the external dominion and power which they possess over all creatures, from which it appears how high the degree of dignity is to which God hath exalted them.”

Lets consider first how God has adorned us with so many honors as to render our condition not far inferior to divine glory. He does this by making us a little lower than the heavenly beings, and crowning us with glory and honor. I believe this entire section is a direct reference to Gen 1:26-28; here we see the image of God being gracious granted to man. God made man the very pinnacle of creation in granting him to take part in his image. This is what separates us from the beasts and gives us the ability to experience the second benefit that Calvin mentioned,

The external dominion and power which we possess over all creatures. This is where the passage gets particularly interesting because this passage is quoted in two New Testament passages to emphasize the fact that all things are not actually in subjection under the feet, not of man in general, but of Christ in particular. First, in 1 Cor 15:25-28, we are told of Christ that “he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Then Paul goes on to quote Psalm 8 as having said God put all things under his feet. So clearly the reference is to Christ and all his enemies have not been put under his feet, as death has not yet been defeated completely.

The second passage of consequence Heb 2:5-9. In this passage the author references Christ as being made a little lower than the angels to illustrate the humility that Christ pursued in becoming human, and he mentions that at present we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. What are we to make of these Christological references?

These passages bring to light a very important truth that is revealed in these verses. We must understand that this passage must be referring to man’s pre-fall condition in the Garden of Eden. There, man was given all authority and dominion over all the works of God’s hands; all things were put under his feet. But as Rolland McCune reminds us, “Sadly . . . the original dominion mandate was ruined by the fall. This is seen, for instance, when the author of Hebrews says that the eschatological kingdom will be ruled not by angels but by men, supporting this assertion by noting man’s original place in God’s universe. There was nothing created that was not put in subjection to him, the author asserts. However, to this the author adds, “But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him.” The fall into sin ruined this original dominion and man awaits the eschaton for the resumption of complete dominion.”

And this resumption of complete dominion is fulfilled ultimately in the rule and reign of Christ in the last days when he will take back the dominion that man has lost, but lest we lose this important point that the author of Hebrews seems to be making throughout his epistle, that dominion still belongs to man. It was lost by the first Adam, but redeemed by the last Adam. Although we do not see the full dominion restored, we see it partially in Christ’s work on the cross and will see it in its finality restored when we rule and reign with him in his kingdom.

In this truth we see the grand magnificence of this passage which not only preaches the greatness and majesty of God, but also the need and provision of the gospel. As one author notes, “Divine design [that is in making man to be crowned with glory and honor and having all things in subjection under his feet] is not frustrated for God himself has become man, and by the incarnation and sacrifice on Calvary that is restored which by the first Adam was lost . . .  and some day, in millennial glory, the groaning creation shall sing under the rule of Christ.”

So what difference does all this make to us? Well, first of all let’s remember that the focus of this passage is on God and what he has done (notice the repetition of you focusing on what God has done), and we can’t overstate our praise of God. Our first response ought to be one of praise of God as we have provided opportunity even this morning in the service. Be in awe of God, be in awe of his love, be in awe of his care, and praise him. 

Also, let’s remember that because we were made by him, we ought to submit to him. He is the Master and God, so he makes the rules. We have no right to our lives and to decide what to do. We aren’t in charge; God is. So instead of submitting to what you want to submit to, things like money, sports, pleasure, or your cell phone, submit to God and experience his freedom.

Finally, remember that the plan of God is not thwarted. If he can still the enemy and avenger with the mouth of infants and restore the wreckage of sin-cursed humanity, then he is worthy to be trusted and depended on. He is worthy of us to declare as Yahweh, our Master, the one whose name is majestic in all the earth!

This is a transcript of a sermon preached May 26, 2013 at Trinity Baptist Church, Fond du Lac, WI. You can listen to the audio here