Theme: The Majesty of God
In this week’s lessons we look at how mankind is described in relationship to God, and note how the Lord Jesus Christ fulfills this psalm.
Scripture: Psalm 8:1-9
It would be difficult to say anything negative about any one of the psalms, since each is a part of sacred Scripture and is given to us by God for our benefit. Yet we cannot escape feeling that some of them stand out above others. This is true of Psalm 23, probably the most beloved psalm in the Psalter. It is true of the very first psalm, Psalm 19, Psalm 100 and more. It is also true of Psalm 8, to which we come now.
C. S. Lewis called Psalm 8 a “short, exquisite lyric.”1 Derek Kidner, who has written an excellent two-volume study of the psalms for InterVarsity Press, says, “This psalm is an unsurpassed example of what a hymn should be, celebrating as it does the glory and grace of God, rehearsing who he is and what he has done, and relating us and our world to him, all with a masterly economy of words, and in a spirit of mingled joy and awe.” He adds rightly that “the range of thought takes us not only ‘above the heavens’ (l) and back to the beginning (3, 6-8) but, as the New Testament points out, on to the very end.”2 Its theme is the greatness of God and the place of man within God’s universe. I call it, “Our God, Our Glory.”
The hymn has four obvious parts: 1) celebration of the surpassing majesty of God (vv. 1, 2); 2) confession of the insignificance of man (vv. 3, 4); 3) astonishment at the significance of man (vv. 5-8); and 4) a concluding refrain that repeats the psalm’s first lines (v. 9).
The most striking feature of Psalm 8–and its dominant theme, if we count verses–is its description of man and his place in the created order. But the psalm does not begin by talking about man. It begins with a celebration of the surpassing majesty of God, and this places men and women within a cosmic framework. It is a way of saying from the very outset that we will never understand human beings unless we see them as God’s creatures and recognize that they have special responsibilities to their Creator.
One responsibility is to praise God, of course, which is what David does. Indeed, he does it grandly, beginning the psalm with two great names for God: Jehovah (or Yahweh) and Adonai (“Lord”), literally rendered “O Jehovah, our Adonai.”
In later ages of Israel’s history, the Jewish people considered the name Jehovah to be so sacred that they would not pronounce it. So when they came to it in their reading of the Old Testament, as here, for example, they would say Adonai instead. In fact, when the Masoretes came in time to provide the vowel pointing for the consonantal text, they wrote the vowels for Adonai whenever the name Jehovah occurred as a reminder of what should be said. So when he read this verse, the pious Jew would Say, “O Adonai, our Adonai,” meaning “O Lord, our Lord.”
There is none of this belabored piety with David. Jehovah is his God. So he begins with that name, maintaining that Jehovah is so majestic and his glory so great that the latter is “above the heavens.” This means, as David’s son Solomon would later say in his great prayer at the dedication of the temple: “The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built” (1 Kings 8:27)! The reason the creation, wonderful as it is, cannot exhaust the glory of God is that God is its maker. So although creation expresses his glory, revealing his existence, wisdom and great power, as well as other attributes, it is only a partial revelation of the surpassingly greater God who stands behind it. If God has set his glory above the heavens, it is certain that nothing under the heavens can praise him adequately. Yet this is what men and women have the privilege of doing. In fact, even infants and children can and do, according to verse 2.
Review the four parts of the psalm. From the lesson, what is its most striking feature?
How is mankind properly understood from this psalm?
Reflection: Which of the psalms stand out for you, and why?
For Further Study: The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals has a special offer on this series. Until the end of this month, you can order James Boice’s three-volume commentary set for 40% off the regular price, plus get free shipping.
1C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1958), p. 132.
2Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary On Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), pp. 65, 66.