Summary: Year C. The Holy Trinity Sunday Psalm 8 June 10th, 2001
Year C. The Holy Trinity Sunday Psalm 8 June 10th, 2001
Title: “Ecology,” is really a matter of morality.”
This is a Song of Praise, sung by an individual but framed by a choral refrain verses two and ten. The main reason given for the praise is the “glory and honor” God has bestowed on humankind, God’s regent in the governance of creation.
This psalm would be appropriate for many cultic occasions even though it most probably was non-cultic in its origins. It would be best suited for an evening service, since there is reference to the moon and stars but none to the sun and light. There is no chance of being able to date this psalm’s composition. It clearly has affinities with Genesis 1-2:4a, especially 1:26, “Let us make man in our own image, after our likeness. Let them have dominion over the fish…birds…cattle…wild animals…”)
The structure of the psalm is “outer-inner.” On the edges, verses two and ten, the first and last verses, God is praised for his glorious name. Inside, verses three to nine the paradox of humankind is expounded: though small and fragile, humanity is “second-in-command” in ruling the world, made so by God’s wisdom. The refrain in verses two and ten could have be sung by the choir after each line or chanted continuously, sotto voce, while the lines were sung.
Verse one, the heading of the psalm reads, “For the leader; “upon the gittith.” A psalm of David. “Gittith” possibly refers to the type of melody to which the psalm was to be sung or to the musical instrument to accompany it.
In verse two, “Lord, our Lord,” the first “Lord” translates the Hebrew yhwh, God’s name. It was not pronounced as such when read. Rather ‘adonai, “my Lord” was substituted out of reverence for the name of God. The second “Lord” translates the Hebrew ‘adonainu, “our Lord,” God’s title with the plural pronoun. Together they make quite a solemn sound.
How awesome is your name: The reason for the praise of God is his “name,” which means himself, his very being, in all his character, characteristic ways of doing, and uniqueness. The word name in the Bible really means, “nature.”The psalmist is less impressed by the glory of creation than by the glory of the creator to which it points and which it reveals. The name of God is the sacramental bearer of the divine reality.
You have set your majesty above the heavens: Both God’s “name” and his “majesty” are poetically synonymous. His majestic name both permeates the earth and transcends the heavens.
In verse three, out of the mouths of babes and infants: The text is obscure and the point is not entirely clear. It seems to be saying that God performs his great deeds, “you have drawn a defense against your foes,” through apparently in humans’ eyes and estimation, insufficient means babes and infants, so that his power may be revealed all the more plainly, “to silence enemy and avenger”. Or, another way of putting it, God is so powerful that the “power” of his enemies is broken even by the voice of mere children. Babes symbolize human weakness and humility. They are devoid of arrogance, yet have a strength greater than that of the arrogant because they speak God’s name with a trust and sense of awe denied to God’s enemies. This is one of those instances where the text seems to have a clear general direction but the actual words do not quite take you there.
In verse four, your heavens, the work of your fingers: God is pictured as a potter molding his creation with his mere fingers, bearing his fingerprints, his personal mark, fashioned with an ease and grace incomparably superior to humans.
The moon and the stars: The original inspiration for this poem-prayer must have happened at night. There is no sun or sunlight mentioned in this prayer. For most, nighttime was a scary time. For the psalmist this night was an awesome time wherein he connected with the awe of God in his creation and in humanity.
In verse five, “what are humans,” this is both a rhetorical question and an exclamation of wonder. Under the vast expanse of the heavens the psalmist becomes so aware of the frailty of his own humanness, so small in such a large “container,” so frail amidst such powerful forces. Humans must be to the universe as small bugs are to humans- inconsequential in the great scheme of things.
“That you are mindful of them,” The verb in Hebrew is zakar, “remember.” Humans, by comparison, hardly think of the little critters until and unless they get pesky or bite. God is ever conscious of every human person. How so?
“Mere mortals,” This translates the Hebrew ben-‘adam, “son of man.” It is poetically synonymous with “man” or “humans” in 5a. That word in Hebrew is ‘enosh, a term for both man and woman as frail earth-creatures. “Son of man” is also gender-inclusive.