Summary: Who are we and why are we here?
How Excellent is Thy Name: An Exposition of the 8th Psalm
The Book of Psalms served as a hymnbook to the Hebrew people. The songs of the people to God covered all the spectrum of events in life. There are psalms for times of trouble and grief. There are psalms crying out for deliverance. There are psalms of great thanksgiving and joy. There are psalms which prophesy the life of Christ and our final deliverance. There are psalms written by great men such as this one written by king David. There are psalms written by various priestly guilds. There are psalms written by people whose names are unknown to us. The 8th psalm which we are studying today is a song of contemplation, which is a form of prayer. In it, David reflects upon the greatness of God and His creation as well as his own part in it.
The 8th Psalm begins with the phrase: “O LORD, our lord.” The first LORD in caps is the name “Yahweh.” This is the name by which the God the creator introduced Himself to Moses at the burning bush. It is a covenant name of God reserved for his people as compared to the more generic “God.” He is God over all, but only Yahweh to His people. The second “lord” in small letters is a different word which has the idea of “master.” In it David is acknowledging the subordinate status to Yahweh as well as for all His people. In social terms, He is a benefactor and we are His clients. The more familial relationship is father-son.
“How excellent is Thy name in all the earth!” The Hebrew word “eretz” can mean the earth as a whole or the land of Israel. Seeing that Yahweh is a covenantal name, it seems to me that this refers to those in covenant relationship. His people understand His greatness. This is, of course not limited to the land of Israel, but to all people, everywhere who call upon this special name. This phrase elevates our thoughts from the affairs of this life on earth to the throne of God which sits above the heavens itself. Godly thought does not start on earth and then works its way upward to God, Rather it begins with God and works itself down to earth. It is God who defines who we are and not we who define who God is.
“Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength….” David now reminds us of our own vulnerability. Babies are totally dependent upon their mother for milk and to his or her parents for protection. This would seem to be the position of utter weakness rather than strength. However, when one’s benefactor is Yahweh, it is a position of utter strength. It is He who protects us. We are not defined by our incapacity but by his capability.
“When I consider the heavens, the work of thy fingers…” David now contemplates this capability of Yahweh. He reminds himself that God is the creator of all. Even in those days, the cosmos was seen as vast. Tie vastness of creation is even more evident to us today. How awesome the LORD is? To Him, it is just the work of His fingers. The God who did this has no limitations. The same God who made all this with His hands also sustains His creation. As the song goes: “He’s Got the Whole world in his Hands.” This and Psalm 119 are two of the psalms that talk about this handiwork of God. Usually, He is the one who is presented at the one who spoke all into existence, perhaps as an antidote to idolatry. Men manufacture things, as the word comes from the Latin “Hand Made.” But God is even greater. As great as creation is with the earth, the sun, the moon and the stars are, God is far greater. We worship the Creator and not creation.
“What is man that you are mindful of Him?” When one sees the vastness of Creation, it makes humankind seem pretty small. Scientists see us as a very small mass of organic material on a relatively small planet, in an average solar system surrounding an average star which is amongst millions in our galaxy in a universe with countless galaxies. Surely we are more significant than this! The world is much conflicted because it looks to the wrong place for meaning. We are nothing in a totally scientific cosmology, yet we still act as if we were important anyway. The earthly man does not look up to God for meaning. He tries to establish his own meaning, even though he knows he is meaningless.
Some might also say that God is so great that we are reduced to an insignificant detail. Why should he bother with such worms as us? But the psalm answers this directly. We are made a little less than the angels, the Hebrew text says “a little less than God.” The Bible tells us that we are created in His image. Even though the scholars are all over the map as to what exactly is this image, the important fact to take away is that we are significant to God. The Book of Hebrews comments eloquently on this. The proof of our significance is seen in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The God who created the heavens and the earth with His fingers is the One who took upon Himself a human body with human fingers. Hebrews directly associates this Psalm to Jesus Christ, the universal man. This is in agreement with the second Adam theology of the Apostle Paul in Romans 5. He stands for us all. He became sin for us without sinning. But we now also stand in His righteousness by faith. What more dramatic a statement can be made about our significance than that Christ died for us. He became for a short time a little less than the angels. When He ascended to the right hand of the Father to make intercession for us, we ascended with Him. We have been covered in His glory and honor. We await the day of His return to enjoy the full benefit of this. This motivates us in our struggles. But if we will only contemplate this, we will be lifted out of our sorrow. We should always reflect upon what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. We should also contemplate His exalted position. Finally, we should contemplate His return and our ruling and reigning with Him.