O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens. Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength because of thine enemies that thou lightest still the enemy and the avenger. When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visits him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast round him with glory and honor. Thou modest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands: thou hast put all things under his feet: All sheep and oxen, yea, and all the beasts of the field; The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea, and whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas. O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!-Psalm 8, KJV
The Center of the Universe
When I was a teenager, I drew a cartoon for my grandmother she kept on her fridge for the last twenty years. She doesn’t keep it because she thinks the artwork is of particular value. My grandmother keeps a cartoon picture of my cousin Craig and me holding the sun and the earth while planets orbit around us. My grandmother loves that picture because it still makes her laugh. “Gramma,” as Craig and I affectionally call her, knew we had imagined ourselves to be the center of the universe as young men. That cartoon was drawn for her fridge over twenty years ago to be a constant reminder of who was most important. So she leaves it there on her fridge because it is funny.
Would you believe that Psalm 8 hints at you being the center of the universe? I know, I know, that can’t be. Can it? That’s actually the language used by Mark Futato, author, pastor, professor, and Hebrew scholar, in his commentary of Psalm 8. He wrote;
“Human beings are the center of the universe! … What are human beings that you should care for them? Psalm 8:5-8 focuses on the earth. The earth is the sphere where people, having been crowned with royal glory and honor, exercise their dominion over the sheep, cattle, wild animals, birds, and fish. … By placing the question in between the heavens and the earth, the psalmist provides an implicit answer to his own question: ‘Mere mortals’ are the center of the universe! The heavens and earth revolve around us. The explicit affirmation of human dominion underscores our uniqueness and central position in creation. As the center of the universe, we are the objects of God’s thoughts and care. While we are the center, we are not thereby the ultimate, however.”
What does Dr. Futato mean to communicate? Indulge me for a moment as I try to point out his logic in two steps. Step 1, look at Psalm 8:1 and 8:9 with me. Psalm 8 :1 says, “…who hast set they glory above the heavens.” Now, look at 8:9 and read, “in all the earth!” Do you see the poetical structure that Futato is referring to? He sees the beginning of the Psalm as referring to the heavens and its end to the earth. Step 2, notice the in-between heaven (8:1) and earth (8:9) is the question of the Psalmist (8:4) “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man that thou visitest him?” Futato wants us to see the LORD’s incredible love and grace for us “mere mortals” is central to David’s Psalm.
The point of Futato’s argument isn’t to inflate our own self-worth, and that is why he ends the thought upon “we are not thereby the ultimate.” God is ultimate. Man is in view here in Psalm 8 as the central focus of God. Consider this. The Creator and sustainer of all things, visible and invisible, is interested in you. Read that last sentence again, and replace the word “you” with “me.” Now, repeat that sentence with feeling, and add an exclamation point. Amazing right? That feeling of humble awe is exactly what Dr. Futato is driving at.
Adding that exclamation point can help us as readers to better grasp the message of Psalm 8:4. If you are like me, you’ll tend to read Psalm 8:4, “what is man,” in a way that reminds us of the lyric “a wretch like me.” John Newton immortalized the comparison of God’s amazing grace and our moral wretchedness in his famous hymn ‘Amazing Grace.’ However, Psalm 8:4 is not aiming at this same comparison. Old Testament scholar Hans-Joachim Kraus wrote, “The words ‘What is man’ should be followed not by a question mark but, in keeping with the context, by an exclamation point… The exclamation introduced by (‘what’) expresses boundless astonishment.” David isn’t trying to say that we are worthless wretches to be discarded, but we are valued people who are upon the mind of our Glorious LORD who visits and will exalt us. That is astonishingly good news.
The Gospel at 35,000 Feet
I have read the average cursing altitude for a commercial airline is about 35,000 feet. I have had the exhausting privilege of traveling with my entire family on commercial airlines like many others. If you have flown on a commercial jet with small children, you have likely been asked about the landscape below your plane. “Those cars look like ants”! Children’s curiosity is sometimes impressive because they seem to be interested in things we take for granted. At the cursing altitude of 35,000 feet, a person can see entire lakes, forests, and mountains. Everything, from that height, looks so different than the way we normally view things. Here in Psalm 8, we are given a very high view of the Gospel. Reading Psalm 8 is a little like seeing the landscape at 35,000 feet and feeling like “you can see everything from up here.”
The famous Westminster Shorter Catechism begins with a fundamental question that is not commonly asked in our modern culture. It’s as if the Westminster theologians began their questions not on the street level but at a cruising altitude. That first question is, “What is the chief end of man?” The required response is, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.”
Let’s try to dig into the text and see this high view of the gospel for ourselves. I want to encourage you to follow along in your Bible as I try to point out the gospel from Genesis to Revelation that is contained in this one Psalm of David. We will see this meta-narrative of the gospel in four acts. (1) Creation (2) Fall (3) Redemption (4) Glory
God’s glory transcends both heaven and earth (8:1), and we, therefore, praise Him. The Creator who made all things visible and invisible was intentional and purposeful (8:3) in all the works of His mighty hands. Humanity, represented in Adam, was originally created with dominion (8:6) over the animals and the earth. Better still, Adam was made in the image of God and therefore crowned (8:5) with glory and honor.
Despite being created good, Adam rebelled in followed the subtle plan of our enemy (8:2). Furthermore, our greatest enemy is death, and we cannot overcome these enemies alone (8:2). God promised to overcome all our enemies (8:2) in a redemptive act by a second Adam figure (8:5) because He has set His gracious love upon us (8:4).
The Eternal Son of God took upon Himself mortal flesh (8:4-5) and obeyed all the Father’s will. Because of His obedient life and death, the Eternal Son was resurrected and ascended to His glorious throne (8:6) as the God-man.
He now reigns over all the earth as we await His return when all things are put under His feet (8:6), and He will judge all the peoples of the earth (8:2). When He returns, his people’s final enemy (8:2), death, will be finally destroyed once and for all. All those who put their trust in Him will praise Him forever (8:2) and ever. We will live evermore in a state of glory (8:5-6) in a new heaven and new earth (8:7-9). Amen.
This four-act play is clearly seen in Psalm 8, but not without the further revelation of the New Testament. This is not misusing the text of Psalm 8 because the New Testament authors interpreted Psalm 8 as revealing the gospel of Jesus Christ. Humanity, in Psalm 8, is center stage in the “theater of God’s glory”! Reading Psalm 8 on this side of redemptive history is a wonderful blessing that we ought to cherish. O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!
The New Testament authors sometimes used the Old Testament scriptures in ways that not all modern Bible interpreters appreciate. As we looked at the landscape of redemptive history in the last section, we allowed the New Testament to control parts of our interpretation in Psalm 8. For example, we said, “The Eternal Son of God took upon Himself mortal flesh (8:4-5) and obeyed all the Father’s will.” How did we come to that conclusion? We interpreted Psalm 8:4-5 based on Hebrews 2:6-9.
Why should we allow the New Testament to control our interpretation of the Old? There are several good reasons, but let’s focus on one of them. As New Testament believers, we ought to allow the New Testament to control our interpretation of the Old Testament because the New Testament authors were writing the very words of God. Therefore, whenever an apostle interprets an Old Testament passage, they must be interpreting it correctly because they are being carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Let’s consider Jesus’ own use of Psalm 8 in the record of His ‘Triumphal Entry.’ In Matthew 21, you will find the account I intend to use. Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the back of an ass to fulfill the prophetic words of Zechariah 9:9. Next, Jesus cast out all the commercialization that had infected the Temple and quoted Isaiah 56:7. Many sick, blind, and lame came to Jesus and were healed in the Temple. Children who watched Jesus work miracles in the Temple presumably rehearsed the words they heard the multitude crying, “Hosanna to the son of David,” as Jesus rode down the Mount of Olives. These children were praising God and Jesus as God’s Messiah as the religious leaders became angry. As the chief priests and scribes expressed their displeasure with Jesus’ implicit acceptance of such honors, He then quoted Psalm 8:2 to assure the religious leaders that He was, in fact, receiving their praise as their Messianic King.
Jesus’ quotation of Psalm 8:2 in Matthew 21:16 was; “Yea: have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise”? Here is where some readers get tripped up. Psalm 8:2 says, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength…” Did Jesus misquote David? No, Jesus didn’t misquote David. Interestingly enough, Jesus seems to be quoting from the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament.
Robert Godfrey explains this surface-level discrepancy that looks like a misquotation. He says;
“This verse introduces a provocative subordinate element to the dominant themes of God as the King of creation and man as the crown of creation. We can call this element the chorus of creation.
This chorus of creation reminds us that the Creator’s praise in this psalm arises from a fallen world. God has enemies even in the midst of the splendor of His beautifully ordered creation. These enemies seem strong, bent on vengeance against God and His people. But they will eventually be silenced. God’s enemies are not silenced directly by God’s coming judgment. Rather, the triumph of God in silencing His enemies comes through children, the very weakest of His agents. The cause of God succeeds even when children and infants are His champions. And their weapons of victory are not arms or bullets, but praises offered to God.”
Godfrey helps us see that whether using the Hebrew (Masoretic) text or the Greek (Septuagint) translation, Jesus did not misquote David in Psalm 8:2. God will establish His strength in overcoming His fierce enemies through the praises of weak children. He uses the foolish things of this world to confound the strong. Amen.
What is an anthropomorphism? This is when the Bible uses strictly human characteristics and projects them on God. The Bible uses anthropomorphic language to speak about God analogously. The Bible uses strictly human characteristics to talk about God, but not because God is actually like us. The analogous language of anthropomorphisms is helpful but not precise. Anthropomorphisms are figurative, but they teach us something true about God. We might turn to several examples, but let’s stick to the example we have in Psalm 8:3.
Consider David, under divine guidance, writes these words, “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers…” Let’s press the issue. Does God have fingers? Are His fingers so big that they grabbed hold of each celestial body and uniquely placed them in the heavens? Didn’t God create by speaking in the Genesis account? God commanded the things that were not in existence to come into being. Remember, the author of Hebrews tells us that God created out of nothing. Is it possible that David is wrong? Does David imagine God to be a giant-like man who has actual fingers and fashioned the night sky with His divine anthropomorphic hand? Certainly not. David was using figurative language in poetry to communicate something wonderful and beyond our limited understanding.
What does the anthropomorphic language of Psalm 8:3 teach us? Let me suggest that David’s language of God having fingers, as it were, to be a beautiful way to illustrate the ease of God’s creative act. God did not need to “put His back into it” as it were. God’s beautiful heaven that we admire on cloudless nights was easy for God to create. Also, the language may beautifully illustrate the care and design of the night sky. When we think of someone who works with clocks, we might imagine them working very delicately with their fingers as they put everything in just the perfect place so that all works together perfectly by skillful design.
Does God have fingers? No. The 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith states:
“The Lord, our God, is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of Himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but Himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; who is immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, every way infinite, most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him, and withal most just and terrible in His judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.”
The highlighted parts are meant to draw your attention to a few of the statements that would deny a literal interpretation of God’s “fingers” in Psalm 8. There are many other places that Biblical authors employ anthropomorphic language to teach us about God analogously. This language is good, and we ought to continue to learn how to identify these figures of speech because the truth they intend to communicate is far more beautiful than a simple mental image of a hand, nose, foot, arm, eyes, mouth, or wings.
Why does theology matter? There are many ways we might answer that question. We might contend that theology matters so that we can defend and propagate our faith or because we ought to be students of God’s book. I think both of these options are good ones, but let me suggest another. In my opinion, the best answer is; theology matters because it inspires doxology. Theology is meant to enter your mind and enliven your heart with praise for God. May our hearts burst with love for the LORD our God.