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Psalm 8

“For the music director; on the Gittith. A Psalm of David. Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth, You who have displayed Your splendor above the heavens! From the mouths of infants and nursing babies You have established strength Because of Your enemies, To do away with the enemy and the revengeful. When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars, which You have set in place; What is man that You think of him, And a son of man that You are concerned about him? Yet You have made him a little lower than God, And You crown him with glory and majesty! You have him rule over the works of Your hands; You have put everything under his feet, All sheep and oxen, And also the animals of the field, The birds of the sky, and the fish of the sea, Whatever passes through the paths of the seas. Lord, our Lord, How majestic is Your name in all the earth!” (Psalm 8, NASB 2020)

 

This psalm begins and ends with an admiring recognition of God’s manifested excellence, ver. 2 (1) and 10 (9). In the intermediate verses the manifestation is traced, first in the inanimate creation, ver. 3, 4 (2, 3), and then in animated nature, vers. 5–9 (4–8), with particular reference to man’s superiority. This is indeed the main subject of the psalm, the glory of God in nature being only introduced to heighten his goodness to mankind. We have here, therefore, a description of the dignity of human nature, as it was at first, and as it is to be restored in Christ, to whom the descriptive terms may therefore be applied, without forced or fanciful accommodation on the one hand, and without denying the primary generic import of the composition on the other.

  1. To the Chief Musician, on (or according to) the Gittith. This word, which reappears in the titles of two other psalms (the eighty-first and eighty-fourth), would seem, from its form, to be the feminine of Gitti, which always means a Gittite or inhabitant of Gath. See Josh. 13:3; 2 Sam. 6:10, 15:18. As David once resided there, and had afterwards much intercourse with the inhabitants, the word may naturally here denote an instrument there invented or in use, or an air, or a style of performance, borrowed from that city. Some prefer, however, to derive it from the primary sense of Gath in Hebrew, which is wine-press, and apply it either to an instrument of that shape, or to a melody or style which usage had connected with the joy of vintage or the pressing of the grapes. Either of these explanations is more probable than that which derives Gittith from the same root with Neginoth in the titles of Ps. 4 and 6, and gives it the same sense, viz. stringed instruments, or the music of stringed instruments. Besides the dubious etymology on which this explanation rests, it is improbable that two such technical terms would have been used to signify precisely the same thing. The only further observation to be made upon this title is, that all the psalms to which it is prefixed are of a joyous character, which agrees well with the supposition that it signifies an air or style of musical performance. The ascription of this Psalm to David, as its author, is fully confirmed by its internal character.

  2. (1). Jehovah, our Lord, not of the Psalmist only, but of all men, and especially all Israel, how glorious (is) thy name, thy manifested excellence (see above, Ps. 5:11, 7:17), in all the earth, which gave thy glory, i.e. which glory of thine give or place, above the heavens. The verbal form here used is, in every other place where it occurs, an imperative, and should not therefore, without necessity, be otherwise translated. Thus understood, the clause contains a prayer or wish, that the divine glory may be made still more conspicuous. To give or place glory on an object is an idiomatic phrase repeatedly used elsewhere, to denote the conferring of honor on an inferior. See Num. 27:20; 1 Chron. 29:25; Dan. 11:21. It here is plies that the glory belonging to the frame of nature is not inherent but derivative.

  3. (2.) From the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast founded strength. The instinctive admiration of thy works, even by the youngest children, is a strong defense against those who would question thy being or obscure thy glory. The Septuagint version of the last words in this clause, thou hast prepared (or provided) praise, conveys the same idea with a change of form, since it is really the praise or admiration of the child that is described in the original as strength. This version is adopted by Matthew, in his record of our Lord’s reply to the Pharisees, when they complained of the hosannas uttered by the children in the temple (Mat. 21:16). That allusion does not prove that Christ was the primary subject of this psalm, but only that the truth expressed in the words quoted was exemplified in that case. If the Scriptures had already taught that even the unconscious admiration of the infant is a tribute to God’s glory, how much more might children of maturer age be suffered to join in acclamations to his Son. The sense thus put upon the words of David agrees better with the context than the one preferred by some interpreters, viz., that the defense in question is afforded by the structure and progress of the child itself. If this had been intended, he would hardly have said from the mouth, or have confined his subsequent allusions to the splendor of the firmament.—The effect, or rather the legitimate tendency of this spontaneous testimony is to silence enemy and avenger, i.e. to stop the mouths of all malignant railers against God, whose cavils and sophisms are put to shame by the instinctive recognition of God’s being and his glory by the youngest children.

  4. (3). When I see thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, an expression borrowed from the habits of men, to whom the fingers are natural organs of contrivance and construction, the moon and the stars which thou hast fixed, or settled in their several spheres. As we constantly associate the sky and sun together, the latter, although not expressly mentioned, may be considered as included in the subject of the first clause. Or the mention of the moon and stars without the sun may be understood to mark this as an evening hymn. There is no ground, however, for referring this psalm to the pastoral period of David’s life, or for doubting that it was composed when he was king.

  5. (4). The sentence begun in the preceding verse is here completed. When I see thy heavens, &c., what is man, frail man, as the original word signifies, that thou shouldst remember him, think of him, attend to him, and (any) son of man, or the son of man, as a generic designation of the race, that thou shouldst visit him, i.e. according to the usage of this figure, manifest thyself to him, either in wrath or mercy. See Gen. 18:14, 21:1, Ruth 1:6, &c. Here of course the latter is intended. The scriptural idea of a divine visitation is of something which reveals God’s special presence and activity, whether as a friend or foe. The interrogation in this verse implies a strong negation of man’s worthiness to be thus honored, not in comparison with the material universe, to which he is in truth superior, but with the God whose glory the whole frame of nature was intended to display and does display, even to the least matured and cultivated minds. It was with a view to this comparison, and not for its own sake, or as the main subject of the psalm, that the glory of creation was referred to the foregoing verse.

  6. (5). And remove him little from divinity, i.e. from a divine and heavenly, or at least a superhuman state. The Hebrew noun is the common one for God, but being plural in its form, is sometimes used in a more vague and abstract sense, for all conditions of existence higher than our own. 1 Sam. 28:13, Zech. 9:7. Hence it is sometimes rendered angels in the Septuagint, which version, although inexact, is retained in the New Testament (Heb. 2:7), because it sufficiently expresses the idea which was essential to the writer’s argument. The verb in this clause strictly means to make or let one want, to leave deficient. Eccles. 4:8, 6:2. The form here used (that of the future with vav conversive), connects it in the closest manner with the verb of the preceding verse, a construction which may be imperfectly conveyed by the omission of the auxiliary verbs in English. “What is man, that thou shouldst remember him, and visit him, and make him want but little of divinity, and crown him with honor and glory?” The Hebrew order of the last clause is, and (with) honor and glory crown him. These nouns are elsewhere put together to express royal dignity. Ps. 21:1, 6 (5), 45:4 (3), Jer. 22:18, 1 Chron. 29:25. There is an obvious allusion to man’s being made in the image of God, with dominion over the inferior creation. Gen. 1:26, 28; 9:2. This is predicated not of the individual but of the race, which lost its perfection in Adam and recovers it in Christ. Hence the description is pre-eminently true of him, and the application of the words in Heb. 2:7, is entirely legitimate, although it does not make him the exclusive subject of the psalm itself.

  7. (6). The same construction is continued through the first clause of this verse. Make him rule, i.e. what is man that thou shouldst make him rule, in, among, and by implication over, the works, the other and inferior creatures, of thy hands. The use of the future form in Hebrew up to this point is dependent on the question and contingent particle (what is man that) in ver. 5 (4). The question being now exhausted or exchanged for a direct affirmation, the past tense is resumed. All, everything, hast thou put under his feet, i.e. subjected to his power. The application of these terms to Christ (1 Cor. 15:27, Eph. 1:22), as the ideal representative of human nature in its restored perfection, is precisely similar to that of the expressions used in the preceding verse.

  8. (7). This verse contains a mere specification of the general term all in the verse before it. Sheep, or rather flocks, including sheep and goats, and oxen, as a generic term for larger cattle, and also, not only these domesticated animals, but also, beasts of the field, which always means in Scripture wild beasts (Gen. 2:20, 3:14, 1 Sam. 17:44, Joel 1:20), field being used in such connections to denote, not the cultivated land, but the open, unenclosed, and wilder portions of the country. The whole verse is a general description of all quadrupeds or beasts, whether tame or wild.

  9. (8). To complete the cycle of animated nature, the inhabitants of the air and water are now added to those of the earth. Bird of heaven, a collective phrase, denoting the birds of the sky, i.e. those which fly across the visible heavens. The common version, “fowl of the air,” is descriptive of the same objects, but is not a strict translation. And fishes of the sea, and (every thing) passing in, or through, the paths of the sea. Some read without supplying anything, fishes of the sea passing through the paths of the sea. But this weakens the expression, and is also at variance with the form of the original, where passing is a singular. Others construe it with man, who is then described as passing over the sea and ruling its inhabitants. But neither the syntax nor the sense is, on the whole, so natural as that proposed above, which makes this a residuary comprehensive clause, intended to embrace whatever might not be included in the more specific terms by which it is preceded. The dominion thus ascribed to man, as a part of his original prerogative, is not to be confounded with the coercive rule which he still exercises over the inferior creation (Gen. 9:2, James 3:7), although this is really a relic of his pristine state, and at the same time an earnest of his future restoration.

  10. (9). Jehovah, our Lord, how glorious is thy name in all the earth, not only made so by the splendor of the skies, but by God’s condescending goodness to mankind. With this new evidence and clearer view of the divine perfection, the Psalmist here comes back to the point from which he started, and closes with a solemn repetition of the theme propounded in the opening sentence.

Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 37–40). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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