Introduction to the Psalms
The book of Psalms is broken down into 5 books and consists of 150 Psalms written by dozens of authors written over a 1,000-year span. Contrary to popular belief David did not write all the Psalms, but He did write the majority. Many note the author at the beginning of each Psalm. The Psalms are songs, prayers or poems offered to God that express a wide range in not the full range of human emotions. For example, there are Psalms that express joy, faith, happiness, anger, frustration, thankfulness, despair, loneliness, fear, grief and the list goes on and on. They represent a list of emotions that vary from the positive to the negative and they are unified by one element; the one and only God.
John Calvin articulated well when he wrote, “I may truly call this book an anatomy of all the parts of the soul, for no one can feel a moment of the spirit which is not reflected in the mirror. All sorrows, troubles, fears, doubts, hopes, pain, perplexities and stormy outbreaks by which the hearts of men are tossed have been depicted here to the very life.” C.S. Lewis writes, “Most emphatically the Psalms must be read as poems; as lyrics, with all incense and all formalities, the hyperboles, the emotional rather than the logical connections, which are proper to lyric poetry.” What both men are saying is the Psalms are meant to speak to the heart more than the brain. We are not merely meant to read them as intellectual observations as much as we are to see the raw emotion as they speak to our heart and souls. Many Psalms leave little doubt as to how the writer is feeling at that moment.
There are five types of Psalms represented in the Bible.
- Historical – Reflecting on what God has done in the life of the Psalmist or the nation of Israel.
- Messianic – Anticipation of what God is going to do through the Messiah; His suffering and His glory.
- Prophetic – What is yet to come.
- Penitential – Deep confession of sin and brokenness.
- Imprecatory – Imploring God to take vengeance on the enemies of his people.
These Psalms do reflect or stir a certain emotion and can be easily applicable in our lives today. However, we do need to be careful in reading, interpreting and applying certain Psalms to our everyday life (allowing our emotions to get the best of us). We need to pay attention regarding imprecatory Psalms which call down curses on the wicked because many of them were written specifically for the Jews and were appropriate only for the Jews but were not intended for believers of this Church age.
With this background, we now turn our attention to Psalm 8.
Introduction to Psalm 8
Is there something that has literally taken your breath away? Has something ever left you completely speechless when you encounter it? Have these things ever caused you to sit back and truly ponder the awe-inspiring things of this life? There are several things that come to mind for me… Sitting at the falls of Niagara I am reminded of the majesty of creation. Standing atop the multicolored formations of the Badlands in South Dakota I am awestruck at the beauty of God’s creation. Traveling along “The Rim of the World highway” in California and looking down the mountains into the valley literally takes my breath away.
I remember one evening shortly after I moved to the country in Wisconsin I went outside of our townhouse and looked up at the night sky. My jaw dropped as I gazed up into the sky and saw what seemed like an infinite array of stars that spanned the heavens for as far as the naked eye could see. I stared at the sky and I was reminded of how small I am in comparison to the massive universe that we live in.
I imagine that what I experienced this evening was like the thoughts and insights of a shepherd boy named David, the Psalmist for today’s passage, as he sat in the fields at night and pondered God, the universe (the heavens) and the meaning of life. I am convinced his words mirror the thoughts of millions of people as they search and ponder the purpose of life and seek answers to life’s most puzzling questions.
I can imagine this young shepherd David had many nights to watch over his flock to stargaze and ponder the questions of life. I would imagine that even as the King of Israel David was even more amazed at the mighty hand of God and his infinite glory as He kept watch over him and the nation of Israel. I wouldn’t be surprised if David asked God, “Why me? Why did you choose me of all people to be the leader of your nation? Who am I that you would choose me?” There were probably times when he asked God, “Why do you even bother with humanity? We keep letting you down and yet, you remain faithful.” His list of questions, I am sure, was lengthy at best.
Today we are going to look at one of those questions David had as we look at Psalm 8. It is uncertain when this Psalm was written, some speculate it was after David slew the giant Goliath, others say it was penned as he was in the fields watching his flock at night. Truth be told we have no clue as to when it was written, all do know is this is a hymn or Psalm of praise and adoration to God. It was intended to be a song that would help humanity celebrate the privileged place God has given to us in the created order. It is a Psalm that expresses wonder and awe at the majestic and magnificent nature of God.
The Psalm opens with “O LORD, our Lord” and this is a proclamation of the majesty of God's name and his authority over his life and over the nation of Israel.
LORD – YHWH (Yehovah) All capital letters is the proper name for God. In God’s name, his nature is revealed. In Exodus 3:13 -14, Moses meets the LORD on Mt. Sinai and says, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ What should I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God’s name is who He is; the Existing One; the One without beginning or end; the One who was not created, but has always been; the One who is I AM.
Lord – (awdone) – Capital “L” and lower-case letters is a reference to God’s position. Sovereign Master, general recognition of superior, king.
So, another way to read this first verse is “O Eternal One (YHWH) our sovereign master (Lord)…”
“how majestic” – (adeer) – Famous, great, excellent, glorious. The response of the psalmist to God is adoration and awe. To one who does not believe or know God His name instills fear and trepidation. His name is a power that is visible and is on display for everyone to see.
“is your name” – reputation, glory, fame. The name of God is an extension of himself.
David acknowledges that God’s fame and reputation are visible for all to see throughout creation. Even in Romans 1:20 the Apostle Paul acknowledges the visible glory of God for all to see. The glory and splendor of the invisible God can be seen throughout creation. God has revealed himself to us through creation, this is called general revelation. When we look around, we don’t see creation as God, but we see God and his attributes in creation.
“You have set your glory…” – Splendor (magnificence), majesty, vigor (strength)
The planets, the stars, the seemingly limitless universe give only a partial view of how very great God really is. Yet sophisticated men shrug off the evidence as if it didn’t exist. God is exalted above them all and to know his glory is to know him as he really is at the core of his being.
As the psalmist looks up into the sky he is in awe of the beauty of God’s creation. He looks at the night sky and is in wonder of the creative work of God’s hand. They all belong to God and are a result of God’s handiwork. He gives God credit for all that is around him. The beauty that surrounds us is authored by God and to give anything other than Him credit is plagiarism.
David realizes the “smallness” of man in comparison to the expanse of the universe. He is in awe to know that in our “smallness” God still remembers us. He is not a distant God who is far off. God doesn’t just acknowledge us, but we are on his mind and He thinks about us.
No branch of science proclaims God’s greatness and man’s insignificance more eloquently than astronomy. The simple fact that distances must be reckoned in light-years (the distance that light travels in a year) illustrates the point. Light travels 186,000 miles per second, and there are 31.5 million seconds in a year, so light travels roughly six trillion miles in a single year! Yet some stars are billions of light-years from the earth. No wonder we call such computation astronomical.
One would almost imagine that God is too busy running the universe that he would have the time to take part in any of our lives. Sometimes we have the tendency to think of Him as a busy and distant father who is so involved in his work of running the “big things” that he has little time for His family (children). David knows better though; God is not too busy for us. We are always on his mind.
“son of man” – emphasizes the frail mortality of the human. David’s question is, “Why does an infinite God even care about mortal man?” The answer is found in Jesus… Jesus referred to himself as the son of man. In fact, this term is Jesus' favorite self-designation, and it indicates the true meaning of his identity and ministry:
- It indicates that he is the humble servant who has come to forgive common sinners (cf. Matt. 9:6);
- It indicates that he is the suffering servant whose atoning death and resurrection will redeem his people (16:13, 27–28);
- It indicates that He is the glorious King and Judge who will return to establish God's kingdom on earth (25:31; 26:64).
“care for him” – This means pay attention, to visit, to look after. God cares so much for humanity that he became human, the lowest of humans and gave his life as a ransom so we could forever be in fellowship with our loving Creator.
“You have made him…” Talking about humanity. We are created by God. We are not an afterthought or an accident of nature, but we are a beautifully crafted creation of God. (Genesis 1:26-27)
“a little lower” … in the created order we are created a little lower than the divine beings. This is a position of distinction and honor. God has placed humanity in the highest position of honor over all earthly creatures. We are a little lower than heavenly beings, but God has put us in a place of honor. If we are not in awe of the fact that God cares for humanity, then certainly it is awe-inspiring to know that we are exalted to a place of honor.
“crowned with glory and honor” … God has placed on our heads the right to be his Kingly representatives. We have the honor of bearing the image of God since we are made in his likeness. We represent God… Let that sink in a bit. I would imagine this would help you determine how you live your life here on earth.
“You have given him dominion…” God has appointed humanity to have authority and rule over His creation. This does not mean abusive, careless and dictatorial authority but as one who is lovingly and carefully tending for someone else’s belongings. (Genesis 1:26-28)
If it wasn’t enough to be thought of and cared for by God, and placed in a position of honor, we are also given charge to care for His creation. He has entrusted us with all He has created.
I am truly amazed by God and this Psalm reflects my heart. In the scope of the eternity, the universe and even this small sphere we live on called earth we may seem so small and insignificant. Regardless of how we may feel God doesn’t see us as this way. He sees us as His beautiful children, whom He has loved so much that He sent His son Jesus to the earth to redeem us from the shackles of sin, and as a result, He has entrusted everything to us. He has done this not because we are worthy, but because He is good.
On the many evenings when going outside and looked up at the sky and saw a full moon with millions of stars spread across the sky and my only thought was, or sit at an evening sunset at the beach this Psalm comes to mind... “When I consider your heavens, the works of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” I am constantly in awe when I consider God and his handiwork. I am blown away when I think about how the God of this universe and all of creation has you and me on his mind and He has invested everything in us because we are His children. When I think of these things, I can’t help but respond in praise and worship as David does at the beginning and the end of this Psalm… “O LORD our Lord how majestic is your name in all the earth!”
My challenge to you today is to take some time this week and go out in the evening and look up to the heavens and consider how great our God is! Thank Him, praise Him and give Him the worship He deserves because He has entrusted you with his wonderful creation and He has crowned you with glory and honor because you belong to Him.
 MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments (Ps 8:1). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
 MacDonald, W., & Farstad, A. (1997, c1995). Believer's Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments (Ps 8:3). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.