Theme: What Is Man?
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
Psalm 8 is quoted a number of times in the New Testament, on one occasion by Jesus. He had entered Jerusalem in triumph on what we call Palm Sunday. While he was in the temple area, healing the blind and lame who came to him, the children who had observed the triumphal entry continued to praise him, crying, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” This made the chief priests and teachers of the law indignant. But Jesus replied, referring to Psalm 8, “Have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’” (Matt. 21:16)? If these leaders of the people had been indignant before, they must have become nearly catatonic now. For by identifying the praise of the children of Jerusalem with Psalm 8, Jesus validated their words, showing them to be proper. (He was, indeed, the “Son of David,” the Messiah.) He also interpreted their praise as praise not of a mere man, which a mere “Son of David” would be, but of God since the psalm says that God has ordained praise for himself from children’s lips. Jesus also placed the scribes and teachers, who resisted his claims to be the unique Son of God, in the category of the “foe and avenger,” identifying them as God’s enemies.
The bulk of the psalm is about man, however, as I said. And the first thing that is asserted about man is his insignificance in the vast framework of creation. This grows out of the opening verses. For when the psalmist thinks of the glory of God exceeding the greatness of creation and thus thinks of creation, he is struck with how small man is by comparison.
I suppose this beautiful section of the psalm grew out of David’s memory of lying in the fields at night staring at the stars, in the days when he cared for his family’s sheep. Not many of us have this experience today. Most of us live in cities, where light from the cities blocks out most of the stars’ light. But if you live in the country, you know how majestic the heavens really are. This was especially true for David. In the east the air is very clear, and for those who look up at them the stars seem to be almost overwhelming in number and to hang nearly within reach of the outstretched arm of the observer. “What is man that you are mindful of him?” asks David when he recalls the stars’ vast array.
Sometimes we experience this emotion too. True, we do not often have David’s opportunities to lie back and wonder at the heavens’ greatness. But we have our scientific knowledge and know, at least mathematically, much more than he. We know that the earth, which is vast enough, is only a small planet in a relatively small solar system toward the outer edge of one of billions of solar systems in the universe. And we know something of the distances. We know that light coming to us from the most distant parts of the universe takes billions of years to get here. In fact, even within our solar system the distances are great. Recently our Voyager II spacecraft reached Neptune, the last of four planets it passed and photographed on its astonishing voyage to outer space. Neptune is not even the outermost of the planets. Pluto is beyond it. But the radio waves sent back to earth from Neptune at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second) nevertheless took four hours to get here. So a single set of communications from earth to the spacecraft and back to us took one third of a day.
How small we are in this vast cosmic setting! How astonishing that the God of this vast universe, the God who made it and orders it, should think of us and care for us!
How does Jesus use Psalm 8 when he went into the temple after the triumphal entry (Matt. 21:16)? What is he claiming about himself?
In using this psalm, what does Jesus imply about the chief priests and the teachers of the law? Why does he conclude this?
Application: Consider the marvels of creation, and in your prayers praise the Lord for specific ways he demonstrates his care for you.
For Further Study: You can own the entire set of James Boice’s sermons on the Psalms. The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is offering them at 40% off with no shipping charge. Order yours today.