Psalms Lecture 3: Psalm 8

THE FOLLOWING ARE NOTES FOR LECTURES GIVEN AT NEW COLLEGE, BIRMINGHAM. I AM NOT AN EXPERT AND BOOKS WILL BE CREDITED TO SHOW WHERE MY INFORMATION IS COMING FROM. IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS, COMMENT ON THIS POST AND I WILL TRY MY BEST TO ANSWER.

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For the director of music. According to gittith.[b] A psalm of David.

Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?[c]

You have made them[d] a little lower than the angels[e]
and crowned them[f] with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their[g] feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

This psalm is written by David. The word “Gittith” no-one is clear on what exactly this means. It could relate to the place called Gath and the tune commonly sung there. It could also refer to an instrument, or even the song sung over Goliath of Gath. Another possibility is that it connects to the song for the winepress, a joyful hymn for the treaders of grapes. This term is also found in psalm 81 and 84, both of which are joyful hymns.

This genre tends to be labelled as “Corporate Praise”. You can see this with the phrase “our Lord/our Sovereign” incomparison to “my”. There is also some basis in the fact that it talks about the praise of people, here children and infants, rather than anyone one person alone. It is a hymn of praise for God’s exultation of the human creature, thanking Him for the care he has shown. It celebrates the glory and grace of God, repeats what He has done for us, and relates us as well as our world to Him.

It has also been suggested that it is a hymn of the Astrologer. Dr Chalmers says: “That moon, and these stars, what are they? They are detached from the world, and they lift us above it… It sees nature in the simplicity of her great elements, and it sees the God of nature invested with the high attributes of wisdom and majesty.” By pointing out the stars the author has emphasised the grace of God, because in comparison we are so small.

So separating it into sections seems remarkably simple.
Part A: 1-2 Praise of the Lord’s glory
B: 3-8 What is man?
C: 9 Praise of the Lord’s glory

This structure does two things:
Firstly, it emphasises the middle point, the authors rhetoric as he speaks about the creation and mans place in it, wondering at how God can care for us in comparison with the stars.
Secondly, this structure allows the author to praise and bring everything back to the main subject of this psalm: God. Although the questions seem about creation and mankind, they are more strongly pointing out God’s goodness to us, and His grace in what he has given us. By starting, and ending, the psalm with this praise section we are reminded of the point: God. We should not think of ourselves to highly to focus on us too much.

Part A: Notice the contrasts between the praise:
– the Lord’s name in all over the earth
– His glory is in the heavens
– Praise of children and infants

This is a major contrast, this isn’t an army of choirs singing his praise, the author is talking about the babbling of babies and singing of children. Over the entire range of size and significance the Lord is being praised.

Also notice the full stop. The Lord’s name is on the earth and His glory is in the heavens. That is separate to the effect of the young children’s praise. Their praise establishes a stronghold against God’s enemies.

Passages about the faith of children:

Matthew 18: At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.
“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Luke 18
15 People were also bringing babies to Jesus for him to place his hands on them. When the disciples saw this, they rebuked them. 16 But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 17 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”

Both God and Jesus put a great amount of power into the hands of children. Children are blameless, innocent, and often are able to show more faith because less has clouded them, so is it surprising that their praise counts for so much?

Some scholars have also connected this with the idea of the Santus of the Seraphim mentioned in Isaiah 6:3, as they are heavenly bodies and have often been pictured in a similar way to cherubs.

They cry to each other:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Their cries were said to shake the temple. In the face of the enemy, foe, and avenger, this continuous praise of faith devastates the doubt and slander of the enemy. It shows another example of how God often uses those we don’t expect, the weak, the sinner, the young, to do great things. David himself was ne of these examples against Goliath, Jesus as a poor carpenter was another, and these children’s voices emphasise that difference.

Part B. 3-8

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?[c]

You have made them[d] a little lower than the angels[e]
and crowned them[f] with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their[g] feet:
all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.

It has been pointed out that in the whole array of creation, only man can ask these questions and look at the scene with insight. In Isaiah 45 and 51 it shows that God did not plan a place of emptiness for His created mankind, he planed a home full of detail. Despite His expanse and greatness, He loved us enough to look at the tiny parts.

In a way David’s question is more rhetoric, he is not asking God IF He cares, but he KNOWs that God “is mindful of” mankind, and “cares for them”. This is confirmed with the next section:

we have been crowned with glory and honor, a little lower than angels (who are with God in heaven through all eternity), and have given us so much to care for ourselves. This in a way also shows us the fingerprint of God’s character on us. For He cared enough to create and plan and care for creation, but He gave us the responsibility also to care for His creation.

Note: “little” where it says a “little lower”, can sometimes mean “for a little while” which by itself suggests that we too will praise in the heavens and have that position one day.

This is also particularly powerful when seen as personal experience. Why could this be more personal to David specifically?

He was the young man who fought Goliath because he had faith in the Lord. He was crowned literally and given glory and honor, literally made a ruler over the land. That must have been both massively humbling and seen as great care from God.

Part C. 9

We return to praise. With the previous section reminding those in the congregation of what God has done, this final section of praise will be sung with renewed, fresh understanding. It also renews the main focus: God Himself. Despite our dominion over nature, we are given second place as Gods servant and worshipper.

As a final piece, I wanted to read a piece out from Spurgeon’s book which talks about the faith of children.

  • Kidner, Derek. Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Book I and II of the Psalms (Inter-Varsity Press, England, 1973).
  • Spurgeon, C. H. The Treasury of David, Volume 1, Psalm I to LVII (Hendrickson Publishers, Massachusetts).
  • Society of Biblical Literature. The Harper Collins Study Bible (New Revised Standard Version).
  • Walton, John H. Chronolgical and Background Charts of the Old Testament (Zondervan, Michigan, 1978).
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