The inscription of Psalm 8 states “To the choirmaster: according to the Gittith.” The word Gittith means a winepress but also designates a stringed instrument which was shaped like a winepress. The Greeks took the word and the instrument which it represented and called it a kithara and from that comes the Spanish guitarria and from that the English guitar. We are therefore, in the prophetic succession when we have a guitar accompaniment to these psalms. They were designed to be sung to the music of a guitar.
The theme of Psalm 8 is given to us in the first and last verses,
O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is thy name in all the earth! (Psalms 8:1, 9 RSV)
It is a psalm of David and most scholars feel that it probably comes from the early part of David’s ministry, reflecting his experience as a shepherd boy under the starlit heavens at night alone with his sheep on the hillsides of Judea. There he had ample opportunity to observe the glories of God in nature. It is evident that the Psalmist is greatly impressed with the being of God. This psalm sets forth what he has discovered about God that awes and inspires him and he can only express it in these beautiful words, “how majestic is thy name in all the earth!”
As I read this Psalm, I thought of a young man who came up to me at the close of a service held at a beautiful conference grounds high in the Cascade Mountains of northern Washington. We had been discussing the greatness of God, the glory of his person, the warmth of his compassion, and his redemptive love for mankind. At the close of the service this young man came up, and, in contemporary words, but with utmost reverence he said, “Man, God really swings, doesn’t he?” Surely that is something of what the Psalmist is saying here. What a tremendous God! How majestic! How excellent is his name in all the earth!
Verses 2-8 tell us why he came to this conclusion; what it is about God that is so impressive. The first thing is rather startling. It is God’s simplicity. He puts it this way:
Thou whose glory above the heavens is chanted
by the mouth of babes and infants,
thou hast founded a bulwark because of thy foes,
to still[or silence] the enemy and the avenger. (Psalms 8:1b-2 RSV)
What had impressed this man was the fact that the transcendent glory of God, his greatness which was far above all the heavens, nevertheless could still be grasped and expressed by a child. That had gripped this Psalmist. Evidently he had often struggled to put into words the thoughts and ideas of his heart but he found that all his rationality, his intelligence, was challenged by such an attempt. Yet here is a God who can reveal himself in such marvelous ways that children, babes, infants even, can grasp what he means. In fact they often understand more rapidly and more thoroughly than do the intelligentsia.
That this is exactly what the Psalmist means is confirmed by an incident from the New Testament. In the twenty-first chapter of Matthew the Lord Jesus quotes the words of this psalm on a certain occasion. Matthew tells us,
And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant; and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast brought perfect praise’?” (Matthew 21:14-16 RSV)
These chief priests and scribes thought that Jesus should be offended by the fact that these street urchins, ragged and dirty, were crying out, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” This was not a children’s choir, trained by the temple leaders, it was merely a band of ordinary children who happened to be there at the time Jesus healed the blind and the lame. But when they saw these wonderful things the children began to cry out, “Praise be to the Son of David! Hosanna to the Son of David!” The scribes and chief priests were indignant and thought Jesus ought to silence these ragamuffins. Instead he said, “They are the ones who have caught the truth, they are the ones who see. They understand that here is being manifested the healing power of God. It is all right in line with the prediction of David in the eighth psalm that God’s marvelous simplicity can be conveyed to a child much more easily than it can to an adult.”
Remember that the Apostle Paul says much the same thing in his opening words in First Corinthians. He declares that God has deliberately designed life in this way. God has ordained, has chosen, the weak things and the things that are not to set at naught the things that are — to show them up, to expose them — and to convey messages through weak, foolish and obscure things. Every now and then God seems to delight in taking some poor uneducated person and using him in great power to change a nation or the world. He has the ability to convey himself to the childlike mind. The reason for this, of course, is because children (and those who are childlike) are filled with humility. It is pride that blots out truth. Any time you approach the Scriptures regarding them as insignificant or thinking yourself superior to their wisdom, that you must correct them or sit in judgment over them, you will find that their pages are shut to you. You will never understand them at all. But if you come as a child comes to life, impressed by everything and listening to everything, not thinking that he knows all the answers but simply trying to observe, then you will find the truth begins to speak volumes to you and you will understand it. Jesus prayed on one occasion, recorded in Matthew 11, “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and the prudent and revealed them unto babes,” Matthew 11:25).
Now, says the Psalmist, this is not only the mark of the greatness of God, but it is also that which baffles the enemy. By means of his ability to convey truth to infants, God has founded a bulwark — erected a wall — “because of your foes, in order to silence the enemy and the avenger.” That expresses the idea that when God speaks through children (and childlike persons) he often baffles the rational, the intelligent. Those who pride themselves upon their wisdom are frequently routed by the insight of some rather insignificant person.
I often think of the story of an infidel who was lecturing against God. Again and again in his lecture he would state, “There is no God!” There was a rather simple individual in the back of the room listening who was a believer in God, a Christian. After a bit he raised his hand, and when the lecturer recognized him, the Christian stood up and said, “Sir, the next time you say, ‘There is no God’ would you mind adding, ‘as far as I know.'” With keen insight he had put his finger upon the logical fallacy of that lecturer. The lecturer was trying to defend a negative absolute. It is absolutely impossible to defend such. No one can ever prove that there is no God — it is impossible of proof. Yet this uneducated person saw the error and put his finger right on it. “You are limited by your own knowledge,” he is saying. “You don’t know enough yet. You don’t know that there is no God so don’t speak out of your ignorance.”
I remember reading some time ago a story of a rather liberal Sunday School teacher who had a class of boys. He was teaching the story of the feeding of the five thousand, and said something like this. “You know, this isn’t really a miracle. Jesus did no miracles. What really took place here was that when this crowd was hungry a little boy present there decided to share his lunch with Jesus. He brought his lunch to Jesus and Jesus commended him for this. When the crowd saw that, it suggested to them that if they would share the lunches they had brought, everybody would have enough. So they all began to share and there was plenty for everyone. If there was a miracle at all it was a miracle of sharing.” He leaned back rather satisfied with himself that he had explained away the miracle when one little boy in his class said to him, “Sir, may I ask a question?” The teacher said, “Yes.” And he said, “What did they fill the twelve baskets with afterwards?”
God often uses children to teach truths that adults will not face, in order to demonstrate his greatness. Man is forever thinking that it takes vast education and profound knowledge in order to reach God. But God is forever trying to tell us that although he is certainly in favor of knowledge, for he is a God of truth and knowledge, nevertheless knowledge is not the way man finds God. He finds him by listening with the humility of a child. That is why Jesus said, “Except you become as little children you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven,” Matthew 18:3).
One of the greatest saints of all time, and one of the most profound theologians of the church was St. Augustine. He was a wild and profligate young man in his early days in Rome, studying philosophy. He lived an immoral and lecherous life, carousing and reveling till all hours of the nights. At last he became sick of his guilt, of his immorality, and in his autobiography tells of his conversion. He says,
I flung myself under a fig tree and gave free course to my tears. I sent up these sorrowful cries, ‘How long, how long? Tomorrow, and tomorrow? Why not now? Why is there not this hour an end to my uncleanness?’ I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo, I heard the voice of a boy or a girl, I know not which, coming from a neighboring house, chanting, and oft repeating, ‘Take up and read; take up and read.’ Immediately I ceased weeping, and I began to consider whether it was usual for children in any kind of game to sing such words; for I could not remember ever having heard the like. I got to my feet, since I could not but think that this was a Divine command to open the Bible and to read the first passage I should light upon. I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting; for there I had put down the Apostle’s book [the book of Romans] when I had left. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the passage on which my eyes first fell — ‘Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.’ I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to; for instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty, and all the gloom of doubt vanished away.
What an impressive God, who is able to convey truth in such a simple way, through the lips of a child!
The Psalmist now turns to the second thing that has impressed him about God: his wisdom.
When I look at thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
the moon and the stars which thou hast established,
what is man that thou art mindful of him,
and the son of man that thou dost care for him? (Psalms 8:3-4 RSV)
Imagine the scene. Here is young David out under the stars at night watching his sheep. Of course, the air at that time and place was not darkened with smog or polluted with the irritants that fill the air today. The stars were brilliant, and the moon, in its full phase, was crossing the heavens. He felt, as we have all felt as we have stood under the stars at night, something of mingled mystery and awe as he looked up into the star-spangled heavens. He considered the beauty of nature and its silent witness to the wisdom of God. He sees the ordered procession of the stars and watching them through the night sees how they wheel in silent courses through the heavens. He notices the varying glory of different stars, and the evident vast distances that are visible in the heavens. All the breath-taking beauty of this scene breaks upon his eyes as the sun sets. He is astonished at the greatness of a God who could create such things. The interesting thing is that thirty centuries after David wrote these words we feel the same impression when we consider the starry heavens. This month man is proposing to take another walk on the moon. Thought we are now able to go to the moon which David could only see, yet all the knowledge that has been gained about the universe in which we live only serves to deepen our impression of the tremendous wisdom and power of God. How vast is the universe in which we live! Incredible in their extent and outreach, these vast distances are spanned only by the measurement of the speed of light — and even that is hardly adequate. These billions of galaxies whirl in their silent courses through the deepness of space. How tremendous is the power that sustains it all and keeps it operating as one harmonious unit! That is what impressed this Psalmist.
Then he faces the inevitable question which comes to man whenever he contemplates God’s greatness. What is man, he asks, in the sight of a God who could make a universe like that? “What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou dost care for him?” You will recognize that this is the question that cries for an answer in our day. What is man? Where did he come from? What is his purpose here? Why does he exist on this small planet in this vast universe? Is there meaning, is there significance, is there reason for his living? Those are the questions that are being asked more and more. You can hardly open a magazine today but what you find writers who are trying to come to grips with that question. What is man? Why are we here?
Now there are basically only two answers that are being given. A mechanistic science looks out into the universe around using instruments of exploration, such as the telescope, and tells us that man is nothing but another creature like the animals; that he is the highest of the animals, having grown from animal stock, and that he is alone in the universe as an intelligent rational being. There is nothing beyond the whirling stars; man is part of a great cosmic machine which grinds on relentlessly and man is but an insignificant cog, hardly able, with the exercise of his utmost powers, to do anything at all about the universe in which he lives. I do not think this has been more eloquently expressed than by Bertrand Russell, whom many today regard as the high priest of humanism. This is the way he puts it.
The life of man is a long march through the night surrounded by invisible foes, tortured by weariness and pain, toward a goal that few can hope to reach and where none may tarry long. One by one as they march our comrades vanish from our sight, seized by the silent orders of omnipotent death.
Brief and powerless is man’s life. On him and all his race the slow sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way. For man, condemned today to lose his dearest, tomorrow himself to pass through the gate of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere yet the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day.
That philosophy is producing widespread despair in our world today. Everywhere young men and women, boys and girls, are succumbing to this philosophy of despair that says there is nothing permanent, life is futile, and we all live out our days in a hopeless tangle of meaninglessness. As Shakespeare put it, “Life is but a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” The result of that is the violent attempt to grasp what life there is for the moment that we see about us on every side; the awful sense of frustration and meaninglessness, the skyrocketing of suicide rates, and the dark despair that spreads like a blanket of gloom across the peoples of earth as they face the growing, inexorable problems of our day.
But contrast that with the biblical view of man, for the Psalmist goes on to answer his own question by the revelation of the program and purpose of God for man.
Yet thou hast made him little less then God,
and dost crown him with glory and honor.
Thou hast given him dominion over the works of thy hands;
thou hast put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the sea. (Psalms 8:5-8 RSV)
The Psalmist says that God’s greatness is revealed by what he intends to do with man. It constitutes a two-fold relationship:
First, man has a unique relationship to God. He was made to be a little less than God. Some perhaps are startled by that translation, for the King James version says, “a little lower than the angels.” But it was the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, that used the phrase “the angels.” The Hebrew actually says “little less than Elohim,” i.e., a little lower than God. What is included in that remarkable expression is the revelation of God’s purpose for man. According to the Bible, God made man to be the expression of God’s life, the human vehicle of the divine life, the means by which the invisible God would be made visible to his creatures. Man was to be the instrument by which God would do his work in the world and the expression of the character and being of God. He is the creature nearest to God. There is none other nearer, for God himself was to live in man. That is the revelation of the Bible. Man is such a unique being, such a remarkable being, that God himself intends to live in him to be the glory of man’s life. Man is the bearer of God.
What a tremendous gulf there is between this and Bertrand Russell’s view of man. What an infinite difference. This is why God loves man — even lost man. It is because he sees in every man and woman his own image, that which was designed for himself, that which he made to be the bearer of his glory. That is why every man is inexpressibly important to God. God longs to reach every man, woman, boy, girl, because each is made and designed for himself.
But further, says the Psalmist, because of that unique relationship, man is designed to be in dominion over all other things. He is to rule the animal creation and all the natural forces in the world in which he lives, and to exercise that dominion in an effective way. We read “thou hast put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,” etc., and we say, “Yes, that’s true because man can assert his will over the animals of the world.” But that is not what this Psalmist means. He is not talking about man’s ability to force the animal creation to obey him. What he is describing is the relationship God intended in which the animals would willingly serve man. We get a little picture of it in man’s ability to tame the animals. You may have pet dogs or cats at home — even birds, turtles, or snakes. You have tamed them, i.e., they willingly, gladly, cheerfully submit to you — most of the time. That is a small reflection of what this Psalmist is describing. It is a demonstration of the willingness of the created world to obey man.
In Hebrews Chapter 2, the writer quotes this passage and says two very significant things. First, “We do not yet see all creation in subjection to man,” (Hebrews 2:8). That is clearly true. It is so obvious today. Here we are facing the fact that man has been so twisted and perverted by the Fall that instead of running the creation he is ruining it. He is polluting the air and consuming natural resources at a prodigious rate. He is befouling the waters and the soil and making it almost impossible for human life to continue. We must face this. There is no way out of it. It stares us in the face every time we turn around. Each time we take a breath we experience the terrible evidence for the truth of what the writer says in Hebrews “We do not yet see all things in subjection to man.” We find no way out.
But he also says something else. “But we see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death,” (Hebrews 2:9 RSV). Because of the suffering of death God has crowned him with the glory and honor which he had intended for man at the beginning. In seeing Jesus we see that God yet intends to fulfill his original creation. Watch the Lord Jesus in the gospel record. The first thing he does is to change water into wine at a wedding feast. He short-circuited the process that is taking place in every vineyard in California right at this moment and thus changed water into wine. But he did not do that as God; he did it as man; man as God intended man to be. When he quieted the winds and the waves with the word, “Peace, be still,” (Mark 4:39), and the wind whimpered and stopped its blowing and the waves quieted down, the disciples looked at one another and said, “What manner of man is this?” (Mark 4:41 KJV).They did not realize that what he had done was not done out of his inherent deity, but as a man indwelt by God. As Jesus himself said, “It is not I who do the works; it is the Father who dwells in me, he does the works,” (John 14:10). When he broke the loaves and fishes and fed the five thousand he did not do that as God; he did that as man — man ruling over creation, man fulfilling the intention of God for man. All the other natural miracles which he performed he did not as God but as man. Thus the writer of Hebrewssays, “We see Jesus” (Hebrews 2:9) … the beginning of a new humanity God is building.
The ultimate question we are facing here is: What is the purpose of life? What are you here for? Why do you go on making money to buy food and other things year after year? What is the reason for it all? The answer is, if you have discovered Jesus Christ, you are a part of God’s new humanity. God is fulfilling his original intention for man right now. He is beginning a new humanity right now, and he is teaching us lessons we could never learn in any other way, through the struggles and difficulties of life. He does this in order to fit us for the day when he will pull aside the curtain and the whole world will suddenly see what he has been working on all the time — a new humanity. Paul says in Chapter 8 of Romans that the whole creation is eagerly looking forward to the day of the manifestation of the sons of God. God is not going to be defeated by the wickedness and foolishness of man. Even though man is destroying the world in which he lives, making it a mess in which he can no longer exist, yet God will not be defeated. Amidst the increasing ravaging of nature, God is doing something. The exciting news of today is not what is recorded in our newspaper headlines. The events that are reported in the headlines will all be entombed in some dusty old history book or buried in a trash can in another ten years, and it will be of very little significance to any living being at that time. But the exciting thing today is what is happening in the new humanity that God is creating through the trials and difficulties we are going through. That will be the truly exciting thing. These troubles are transforming you and me who know Jesus Christ into sons of God, who are awaiting the day when the curtain is drawn back, and all the world shall see what God has been doing behind the scenes. In Romans 8 the apostle says, “I know that the sufferings of this present time are not worth being compared with the glory that is to be revealed,” (Romans 8:18 RSV). In Second Corinthians he says, “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,” (2 Corinthians 4:17). There is purpose to life — if you know Jesus Christ! There is no purpose outside of Christ. There is no reason to live if you do not know Jesus Christ. But if you know him you are part of a new creation that God is fashioning behind the scenes within the framework of history and one of these days it will be revealed. When the curtain is drawn back all the world — and all the universe — will sing together the words of the last verse of this psalm.
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is thy name in all the earth! (Psalms 8:9 RSV)
What a magnificent God who can work through babes and infants and who is deeply concerned about man! The One who created the heavens is concerned and compassionate toward man and ultimately will fulfill all the dreams of humanity. “O Lord, our Lord, how wonderful is thy name in all the earth!”
We bow before thee, our Father, and almost tremble because we are privileged to call you Father — such a great God, such a revelation of wisdom, greatness, power and strength and yet, our Father, our Lord, our God.
That thou shouldst so delight in me and be the God thou art;
Is darkness to my intellect but sunshine to my heart.
Thank you for it. If any here have not yet found the way to your heart through Jesus Christ we pray that this very moment they will open their heart to the One who has been seeking them for many years, that he may come into them and change them and make them part of a new creation. We ask in his name, Amen.
By Ray Steadman