Fifth Sunday in Trinity Season: Ps. 8, Heb. 1:1-4, 2:1-10, Mt. 21:1-16
This summer we will be looking at eight Psalms together, asking God to shape us more into a community of people prepared for every good work. We begin with Psalm 8, a song of praise by David that reminds us what God’s glory is like.
Overview of the Text: The psalm opens and closes with an exclamation of God’s authority and might. Yahweh is “our Lord/Master/Governor,” and His name is mighty, noble, supreme in all the earth (8:1). Often this song is taken to be a rather generic meditation on the nature of man in relation to this glorious God: What is man compared to Him? (8:4) The question is becomes a sort of philosophical, abstract question: what is the meaning of life? But how we understand David’s question depends on when this Psalm is. Is this Psalm describing God’s original creation of man? Clearly much of the Psalm is drawn from the first chapters of Genesis. We have the heavens and the earth (8:1-2), the moon and the stars (8:3), even Adam is mentioned (8:4), and his rule over the animals, birds and fish (8:6-8).
But there are also some startling differences here. The first clue that this is not just a poetic retelling of Genesis 1-2 is verse 2 which continues to give Christian gift shops material for sappy posters. But the verse also gives Bible scholars the fits. Out of nowhere (it seems) you have children and nursing infants fighting oppressors, enemies, and men set on vengeance (8:2). But then David is back to gazing at the stars (8:3). It seems out of place. Even the questions about man are not stoic philosophical questions. They seem a bit more desperate. Man is called “frail man” and “son of Adam” (8:4). While verses 5-8 seem to get back to the Garden, the final phrase is rather eerie: “… and whatsoever passes through the paths of the seas…” (8:8). In fact, in Genesis, we were told that God created the tanin, the great sea monsters and dragons and dinosaurs (Gen. 1:21), but those were not listed as being under Adam’s dominion (Gen. 1:28, Job 41:4-5).
Many of these features line up quite nicely with Genesis 3. Working backwards: it was a dragon that seduced Adam and Eve to disobey God, to turn against Him and rebel. And because they chose death, they and all their children after them became weak and frail. They are exiled from the garden lower than the angels that are stationed at the entrance to guard the Garden. Perhaps Adam and Eve would have learned from the angels in the garden to begin with, but certainly after the Fall, they were under the angels in judgment. The law was added, Paul says because of transgression and it was appointed through angels (Gal. 3:19). Verse 5 is not so much about man being created in the image of God as it is a judgment and a prophecy. Man has been lowered beneath the angels in judgment, but he will be crowned with glory and honor.
Perhaps this makes a little better sense of why David thinks of children and youth when he tries to make sense of God’s glory juxtaposed with the wickedness of men in the world. The foundation of strength that God has laid against all evil and oppression was the promise of the Seed of the woman, the promise of children, and specifically, the promise of One particular Child (Gen. 3:15). But the promise is that from these children God will bring Sabbath to His enemies (8:2).
Jesus the Son of Man
Hopefully, you already see how this is also a prophecy of Jesus. David knows that God is Master of this World and that His name is supreme in all the earth, but He doesn’t yet see it established. There are enemies, there are dragons, and Adam’s son is not yet crowned with glory and honor. And though David may enjoy some previews of this glory, Jesus is the Son of Man, the Great Adamson crowned KIng.
Jesus quotes this Psalm explicitly when the Jews object to the children shouting hosannas when He enters the city of Jerusalem riding a donkey, hailed as their conquering King, the son of David (Mt. 21:16). Jesus’ answer appears to silence their enemies at that moment, but the fuller context indicates that the greater fulfillment is still coming. Interestingly, the praises of the children are what provoke the Jews to even greater jealousy and wrath. And this fury will boil over in their plot to destroy Jesus. The children waving palm branches and shouting hosannas is the way God lays His foundation of strength because of His enemies, to lure in the oppressors, to draw in those who want revenge.
The writer of Hebrews fills this out a bit more for us. Jesus is the glory of God, and after He finished His work on the cross, He sat down in the heavens at the right hand of the Majesty of God, having obtained a more excellent name than angels (Heb. 1:1-4). The world is not under their jurisdiction as it was after Adam and Eve sinned. Man was created to share the glory of God, to rule this world with Him. And here he says that’s what Psalm 8 is testifying about. Like the Psalmist, we still don’t see all things put under him, but we see more because we see Jesus (Heb. 2:9). And Hebrews says that Jesus was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death (Heb. 2:9-10, cf. Phil. 2:6-11).
Perhaps one of the most surprising aspects of this psalm that is actually underlined by reading it in light of the gospel is how Jesus calls us into the dark with Him. This psalm reminds us that God’s glory is in the heavens, but God’s glory became a child and has a mouth and hands and fingers and feet, and His name is Jesus. And all things have been put under His feet, but that is because He went there. He walked on the storm-tossed waves. His feet were pierced on a cross of wood. He went down into the deep and fought and killed that dragon of old. And He walked out of the grave that first Easter morning. This makes you want to sing it again: How excellent is Your Name in all the earth!