Read Psalm 8
There is something very, very surprising about this psalm. Some hymns express a sense of wonder at God’s goodness and almost that it is too good to be true. They say, “I can barely believe it.”
Amazing Grace is one. God’s grace is… amazing, almost too good to believe. “And can it be?” is another. “Is it really possible that I should benefit from Jesus’ death? Did he die for me who caused Him such pain?”
In this psalm, David expresses something very similar. Imagine David sitting out in the fields tending his father’s sheep. As night falls, and it get progressively darker, more and more stars appear until the sky is full of them. David, of course, lived in a time when the air was not polluted and when there wasn’t the light pollution from the electric lights of a city. At night the world was dark and in the dark the stars shone brightly. Over time, he might have noticed the changing patterns in the sky and the paths the stars followed. Add to that the moon’s journey across the sky and its different phases.
Even today, if we have the privilege of a dark, starry night, we are left awed by it. For David it was both beautiful and huge. We have even more reason to stand open-mouthed and just gape. Using telescopes, we have seen so much more of the universe than David ever did. Space exploration has revealed huge clusters of various types of stars that are breath-taking-ly beautiful. See Hubble photos here.
The other thing that is just extraordinary is that we know so much more about the magnitude – the size – of the universe.
There are so many mind-boggling facts about the universe but one of the most basic is that a light year is the distance light travels in a year. Given that light travels 300,000 km/sec, we have to multiply that by 60, then by 60 again, then by 24, then by 365.25. A light year is 9,460,730,472,580.8 km. The closest star to the sun is Proxima Centauri which is part of Alpha Centauri. Proxima Centauri is 4.24 light years away.
Our galaxy is the Milky Way. It is made up of 200 billion stars. If you started at one side and travelled at the speed of light, it would take you 100,000 years to get to the other side. Within the Milky Way, our solar system is a tiny dot. If you reduced the diameter of the Milky Way to 100m, our solar system would be the size of a grain of sand.
But then the Milky way is only tiny within the universe, I think by about the same proportions i.e. if the universe was shrink to 100m across, the Milky Way would be a grain of sand.
Now here’s the point: God’s glory is greater than the glory of the universe. V.1 says, “You have set your glory above the heavens.” In this psalm there is a whole hierarchy – the earth, the heaven, God. V.3 says that the heavens are just the work of God’s fingers. If we think of the majesty and the magnitude of the universe, God is greater than that. If we think of the universe – which itself might be infinitely big – visualise God making that with His fingers. God set the stars in place. Can you imagine God picking up a star between His fingers and placing it in space? How big – how magnificent – is God? No wonder the psalm starts and ends by saying, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”
I was very pleased to read in a commentary that v.2 is difficult to both translate and to understand – because I couldn’t make head or tail of it.
Perhaps there are two images in it that again speak of the majesty of God. One is that this infinitely big, infinitely magnificent God can be understood by children. In fact, children sometimes understand God when adults don’t
Matthew 11:25 At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.
Jesus praised His Father for His ability to reveal great things to little children.
In Matthew 21, after entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the blind and the lame were healed and little children in the temple courts shouted “Hosanna to the Son of David”. The chief priests and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Do you not hear what these children are saying?” and Jesus quoted this psalm.
Matthew 21:16 “Yes, have you never read, “From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise”?
Not only is God able to reveal Himself to little children but this emphasises that God is in control. He hides truth from some and reveals it to others.
The other picture is of God establishing a stronghold that will silence His enemies. Maybe this psalm is saying that God has insurmountable moral power? God establishes the law. God declares what is wright and what is wrong and God’s law will prevail. Everyone will be subject to God’s law and silenced by it.
As I say, it is not clear what that verse means. Suffice to say that David is picturing the majesty and power of God.
Then comes the surprise in this psalm: When I consider the heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars which you have set in place, what are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?
God is compared to the universe and He is even greater. Then we are compared to the universe. In the vast expanses of space, we are infinitesimally small. On the scale of the universe, what are we? We are in a tiny, tiny, tiny corner of a backwater of the universe.
We can understand David’s question. When we consider the heavens, what are we that God should even be mindful of us? Why should God even be aware of us? Even more perplexing, why should God care about us?
What is the answer to that question? In the vastness of the universe, why should God care about us? There is no reason. There is no logical answer to that question. There is no reason why God should be bothered with us. We are utterly insignificant. God could easily concern Himself with other parts of the universe and simply forget a people so minutely tiny, and so disobedient. There is no reason why God should care about us. Logic cannot answer that question. The only answer is an answer the Bible reveals to us.
v.5 says, “you have made people a little lower than the heavenly beings/angels”. But if you look at the footnote in your Bible it will say, “or, a little lower than God” and that is what the Hebrew says – a little lower than God. “You have crowned them with glory and honour.”
God chose to make us in His own image. We are like God. We are not God. We are very definitely not God but we are made in the image of God and made a little lower than God. Isn’t that extraordinary? For whatever reason, God chose to make us just a little lower than Himself
Then David said God crowns us with glory and honour. We have just been reminded of the fantastic glory of God. His name is majestic in all the earth. His glory is above the heavens. Surely all glory belongs to God. And yet, God crowns us with glory and honour! In all of creation, God gives us a place of honour. We are the pinnacle of God’s creation. God shares His glory with you.
Again, we are infinitesimally small and there is no logical reason why God should even notice us and yet God has given us glory and honour. We are incredibly special to Him. You are incredibly special to God.
Contrast this with the view that we are just the result of random chance and evolutionary processes and that we have little inherent value at all. People have worked out the value of the various chemicals in our bodies and concluded that we are worth $1.43 or whatever it is. There are over 7 billion people on this planet. Of what value is an individual? Life is cheap. People are dispensable.
But God says He has created us in His image and He views us as worthy of glory and honour. We are so important to God that He knows the number of hairs on our heads. We ponder that and it seems incredible. Again, there is no logical answer but God says it is so. Not a sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing. How much more valuable are we than many sparrows. God knows our every word, every thought, every action. Why? Who knows, except that He has created us with value.
So, made a little lower than God, crowned with glory and honour. The next thing the psalm says is that we have been made rulers over the works of God’s hands. Everything has been put under our feet. God has made us rulers. This reminds us of the original intention in the Garden of Eden where we are told that Adam and Eve were given dominion over the earth. We were made to rule.
Now that has been mucked up and we tend to desecrate God’s creation rather than be good stewards of it but we were made to be rulers over the creation.
Then the psalm finishes by declaring again how majestic is God’s name. There is a hierarchy: the created order (particularly the animals, birds fish), the earth, the moon and the stars, mankind and God. In all of that, in this psalm, God is given honour. We might expect that. What is surprising is that, according to God, mankind has also been crowned with glory and honour. It is inexplicable but that is God’s design.
At Christmas we see something of the consequences of this. God so loved the world that He gave His Son. Why should God love us like that? Why should God have volunteered to become a human being? Why should God have willingly suffered for us? There is no answer. Why should God have chosen to die? That is a complete contradiction; the immortal dies. Why would God have taken our sin on Himself? That is also a complete contradiction: the holy God who is too pure to have anything to do with sin takes our sin on Himself?
Why do all this? There is no answer except the answer revealed in scripture. God created us in His image. We are somehow related to God. God created us to have glory and honour. We have chosen a different path. We have chosen sin with the result of brokenness and degradation. We have made God’s creation grubby but God had, and still has, a different plan for us. God’s plan for us is that we reign with Him having glory and honour.
When tens of thousands are made homeless by a typhoon and many lose loved ones, those are people made in the image of God; made to be crowned with glory and honour. When a wife and family are treated to decades of abuse by their husband and father in our own country, those are people – the wife and children but also the husband – made in the image of God to be crowned with gory and honour. When three women are kept as slaves for 30 years in London, those are people God created to have honour. In our sinful world there is nothing glorious or honourable about their lives.
But God still sees them and us as special. God still loves us. God plans to restore things to the way they were intended to be. And so God sent the Saviour into the world. We were worthy of the infinite sacrifice.
Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! And somehow, You also see us as having glory. You have launched a rescue mission to restore our glory. How wonderful you are.