Psalm 8 – Give God the glory

St Michael’s, July 31st 2016

Readings – Psalm 8, Matthew 14:22-32

These are the first verses of the five preceding Psalms …

3:1 Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me!

4:1 Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

5:1 Listen to my words, Lord, consider my lament.

6:1 Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.

7:1 Lord my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me …

So what a difference when we reach Psalm 8 …

8:1 O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

If the arrangement of the Psalms is deliberate, and I believe it is, then the contrast is especially heightened … after all the angst and agony of betrayal, doubt, fear and distress, this Psalm is a staggering statement of total trust, faith and joy. Let’s look at it in more detail.

The first thing you notice about this Psalm is the structure. Many of the Psalms are rather confusing, there’s little obvious structure, and it’s often unclear whose voice we hear, who’s talking to whom, God, David, the people, a chorus?

But Psalm 8 has a very clear structure,

v1a Praise
v3 Creation – the heavens
v4-5 Man
v6-8 Creation – the earth and seas
v9 Praise

He, the writer David, begins by praising God, O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! This is magnificent, sweeping praise, and it’s a powerful statement of faith.

Let me show you why … first of all, the Psalmist uses two different names of God … we can see that in our English bibles since one of the ‘Lord’ words is in capital letters; that’s how we know he is using the covenant name of God, YHWH. As Tim told us last week, it was the name God used to reveal himself to Moses at the burning bush. By using this particular name, David is claiming both the protection of the God who chose a people for himself, and all the promises of the covenant.

But then he uses a different name for God – the Lord in lower case letters, or adonai … master, or husband. So in these few words, O LORD, our Lord, David reminds us that we worship a God who chose us, made us one people; that we should serve and love him; and that his power and authority stretches across the width and depth of creation … there is no limit to his power or protection, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Now, I’m going to skip over verse 2 for a moment … but we’ll come back to it.

The second half of v1 together with v3, focusses on God’s work in creating the heavens …

You have set your glory
in the heavens …
When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place (v1b,3)

Whenever David sees the moon and the stars, each in their place by God’s design, he considers the God that made them … he later shares his meditation with us in the words of Psalm 19,

The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour fourth speech, night after night they display knowledge (19:1)

Here, in Psalm 8, having considered the glory of the heavens, David asks a question …

what is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him? (v4 – NIV 84)

At this point, I have to break off to say a word about different translations – if you were reading from the screen, you will have seen a different version,

what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them? (v4 – NIV 2011)

Some of our more modern translations have ‘conformed to the pattern of this world’ by seeking to use politically correct, inclusive language, avoiding any words with gender when they consider a passage to be referring to any believer, of either gender. And in English, we can only do that by using ‘they’ and ‘them’ in place of he/she and him/her. In the context of Psalm 8, it’s actually not that important, it doesn’t affect the meaning to any great extent, but in other places it can make a fundamental difference to the meaning of a passage. I don’t want to say any more now, but I did want to make you aware of why there may be significant differences when you notice them.

Back to v4 …

What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him? (v4)

Having considered creation in all it’s (God’s) glory, David is astonished that the Lord pays so much attention to men, mankind, humankind … not only is he, God, constantly aware of them, but he cares for them … these disruptive, defiant beings that pay little attention to God and fail to recognise their complete dependence on his goodness. Not only that, but v5, David knows that they are – we are – the pinnacle or crowning glory of God’s creation … or at least,we were meant to be …

You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honour. (v5)

It was only after God created man, male and female, that he looked at his creation and, saw all that he had made, and it was very good (Genesis 1:31). And man was the finishing touch to his creation, made in God’s own image, and given the responsibility of being God’s agent in the world …

You made him ruler over the works of your hands,
and put everything under his feet:
all flocks and herds, and the beast of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
all that swim in the paths of the seas. (v6-8)

Having looked at the heavens, David’s contemplation now considers the detail of His earthly creation … and returns again to praise, as the only possible response to all that he has considered, O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

If the first thing we notice about Psalm 8 is it’s structure, the second is it’s problem. What went wrong? If we were intended to be the highest achievement of God’s creation, acting as his representatives in the world, with delegated authority over the entire globe, purposed to care for it and prosper it … what went wrong?

The second half of Psalm 8 looks back to the completion of creation … when God created Adam and Eve, Genesis tells us that,

God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’ (Genesis 1:28)

This was how it was meant to be … mankind was created to bless the world with growth and benevolent authority in God’s name, on God’s behalf. And we know what went wrong … Adam sinned. And ever since, men have chosen to ignore God, to disobey God or to oppose God. That is what sin is, it is any thought or action that ignores God, disobeys God or opposes God. And the result is that we are alienated from God, the intimate relationship of adonai, master/husband is broken.

But God’s purpose stood … his creation was good … and he had a plan. In 1 Corinthians 15:22, Paul wrote, For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. And he quotes Psalm 8:6, For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet (1 Corinthians 15:25) … in other words, just as Adam represented all mankind (us) in the beginning, at creation, so now after his death and resurrection, Jesus represents us before God …

Let me give you one more NT quote, and then we’ll make sure we’ve understood it … in Ephesians 1, Paul is writing about Jesus having risen from the dead, being given all authority over creation by God, and, quoting again from Psalm 8, he writes,

And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (Ephesians 1:22-23)

When David contemplated the stars and the seas, he knew that mankind had failed to live up to God’s purpose for creating us … yet from his own experience, David knew that God had never stopped considering his people, never stopped caring for them, and that somehow, God’s intention was secure. Looking back, we can see how Adam failed to live up to God’s ideal, but from our viewpoint, we can clearly see that Jesus, sometimes called ‘the second Adam’ fulfilled it … on our behalf, we are the church, his body – that’s the point Paul is making in Ephesians … if we trust Jesus, find forgiveness in his self-sacrifice on the cross … then Psalm 8 is our anthem …

What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him? (v4)

God knows and loves you as his son, his daughter. We are not simply another part of his creation like the animals and birds, we are his family, his children … and the one other place in the NT that quotes Psalm 8 is Hebrews 2, I won’t go through it in detail – we don’t have the time – but in Hebrews 2, the unknown author makes it clear that this Psalm was always meant to be fulfilled in Christ, but also that we too, through Christ, are exalted to the position and status that God always intended for us; that we who believe in Christ share not only his status as God’s son with God’s authority over creation, but also his glory … and his sufferings. But that’s a whole sermon for another day (actually, I preached it last year – and you can find it on the church website!).

So we’ve looked at the structure of Psalm 8, and at an obvious problem … finally, I want to look in more detail at the context of the Psalm.

In reading a passage of scripture, context is everything. When I began this morning, we noted that Psalms 3 – 7 each start from a place of need, doubt or distress, although each also expresses David’s determination to place his hope and confidence in God, through prayer and even praise, despite his immediate circumstances. It’s clearly hard work.

Following Psalm 8, Psalm 9 begins with praise and proclamation before David refers briefly to his troubles before then going on to confidently claim justice from his God … and many, though not all, many of the following Psalms written by David start with praise before anything else.

Psalm 8 is a turning point, the central statement of faith of this first book of Psalms … and as we have seen, the centre of Psalm 8 is v4 …

What is man that you are mindful of him,
the son of man that you care for him? (v4)

When David understood this, his whole attitude to prayer, and to God, changed … from focussing on his problems and struggling to praise God despite them, to beginning with praise focussed on what he knew of God and only then turning to prayer. This change of perspective makes all the difference when we pray. In the NT we are repeatedly encouraged to …

give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:8)

And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)

Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:19,20)

 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! (Philippians 4:4)

In fact, God specifically calls us to praise him …

… you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9)

That’s the work of prayer. But those of you who are paying attention, will have noticed that I haven’t yet looked at v2!

So finally, let’s look again briefly at the structure of the Psalm …

v1a Praise
v3 Creation – the heavens
v4-5 Man
v6-8 Creation – the earth and seas
v9 Praise

Without v2, this Psalm is perfectly balanced. In fact, v2 is completely out of place in this style of writing; the technical term is a chiasm. In a chiasm, the structure is intended to reveal something extra, beyond the words – and the key point is always at the centre, v4, and the beginning and the end create or reveal the context, in Psalm 8, God’s power and majesty.

So where does v2 come in? Let’s read it again …

 Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger. (v2 – NIV 2011)

or from the older version we might be more familiar with,

From the lips of children and infants,
you have ordained praise because of your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger. (v2 – NIV 84)

The differences aren’t really important, but they sound quite different and you may be more familiar with one than the other.

Why does the Psalmist David, who has clearly been very intentional about writing this Psalm, include v2 at all? If the centre of a chiasm is it’s key point … any disruption to it’s rhythm has to be very important … it’s designed to make you notice it, to make you think twice.

We have seen how man was central to God’s purpose in creation, and that it was God’s intention to give mankind authority, to rule the world on his behalf … but authority implies having the power to make a difference. David has realised that praise is power … to the extent that even the praise of children is greater than the power of all his enemies. That’s the ultimate teaching of this Psalm … it starts with praise, it ends with praise, praise is the key, and praise makes all the difference to the work of prayer. When we pray we need the perspective of praise to focus our thoughts, to understand the context of our lives, to make a difference.

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!

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