Paul McCartney sang, “I read the news today—oh boy!” I can relate. If you read the news much, you can too.
I think of the news stories that I read this past week. I read stores of murder—even if one woman who hired a hitman to kill her husband. I read stories of rape and other forms of sexual perversion. I read stories of terrorism and drug addiction and drink drivers and starvation and disease and suicide. I read stories of orphaned children and divorce and homes filled with heartache. I read of heart-sore widows and widowers. I read of political instability and unrest and uncertainty.
We live in a broken world. As we read such stories, something tells us that it is not the way things are supposed to be. The world is not the way it was intended to be. But is this the way that it will always be?
Such realities are perhaps why Christmastime raises people’s spirits—at least for a while. Christmas seems to be a time of hope. And for those who believe the Scriptures, who believe the gospel, it is. The incarnation—God becoming man; Emmanuel—was the space-time interruption of a bad-news, broken world as a reminder that things will not always be as they are. Christmas was the good news that, one day, brokenness will be forever banished and the gore of the world will be replaced with glory. The Christmas story is about the restoration of glory. This is the theme of Psalm 8.
This is an amazing psalm. It is a psalm with which, until recently, I had only a vague familiarity. I understood that it had much to say about the privileged position of man. I also understood that Hebrews 2 references it and that its ultimate fulfilment is in Jesus Christ. But not until I spent time digging into it did I see something of its true glory as it points us to the glory of God as revealed by the original glory of man, and ultimately revealed in the Christmas story—the story of the incarnation.
It is this matter of the incarnation that makes our study of this psalm so relevant—especially at this time of the year. Let me explain.
The Christmas story is the historical record of God sending to the earth the one who alone can fulfil what Psalm 8 portrays: a perfect man, exercising full and perfect dominion in such a way that God’s name will be exalted in all the earth.
Mankind was originally created to do this. Mankind was created glorious—to glorify God (1 Corinthians 11:1–3). Through sin, this glory was lost.
When Jesus Christ was born, the angels proclaimed, “Glory to God in the highest” (Luke 2:14). With Christmas, the glory that God intended for His creation to reflect began to be restored. It continues to be, by the glorious gospel of God. One day it will fully be restored. There is coming a day when the name of God will be exalted by all, in all the earth.
The march towards this goal began immediately after the fall of man. But it was at Christmas that the glory began to be restored in a most significant way. We can say that the Christmas story is fundamentally about the restoration of glory.
As we study Psalm 8, I trust that we will see the glory that was, the glory that was lost, the glory that has been restored, and, most importantly, the glory of the one who has done this. May it help us to have a more glorious Christmas.
David begins, “O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the east, who have set Your glory above the heavens! Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength, because of Your enemies, that You may silence the enemy and the avenger” (vv. 1–2).
The Structure of the Psalm
This psalm is identified as the first of the “praise psalms.” And, like all the psalms, it is about the glory of God. It is a psalm that praises God for the revelation of His majesty in all the earth.
Verses 1 and 9 are an inclusio, which simply means that the psalm is bracketed by the same words. But this gives us an interpretive hint: This psalm is about God’s majesty in all the earth.
However, as we will soon see, the focus is on the creation of man as the primary means to glorify God. In fact, we can say that mankind was created to reveal and to revel in the glory of God—in all the earth.
In this psalm, we have a God-loving person who is so impressed with the majesty of God that he writes a poem about it. Apparently, the writer was David (or, at least, it was in David’s collection of psalms).
This is a believer’s psalm, for the writer addresses, “O LORD, our Lord.” He describes man as God originally created him. It is the poetical work of one who is rightly related to Yahweh, the Creator. It is the work of one who has undergone the new creation; one who has been born again and therefore in whom the work of the restoration of glory has begun (see Ephesians 2–4; Romans 8; cf. John 17).
The psalm is not some abstract, theoretical declaration of correct theology. No, it begins very personally: “O Yahweh, our Adonai.” Yahweh (“LORD”) is a reference to the covenant-keeping, self-existent God, while Adonai speaks of God as sovereign master. Unbelievers cannot appreciate the psalmist’s passion, because they are blind. But when we who believe look up, we can see what others will not see.
Since the heavens declare the glory of God, “all the earth” is exposed to the excellence of God’s name and to the majesty of His character. It is testimony to the depravity of man that this is missed.
When God saves someone, one of the first things that happens is the opening of their eyes to the glory of God all around (John 9:41). The Christian is driven to see God exalted in all the earth. Believers are motivated to make sure that God’s name is exalted in all the earth.
Heaven and Earth
Yahweh Adonai is the one who has “set [His] glory above the heavens.” The theme is being subtly laid. The poet speaks of seeing God’s glory on the earth, but this is because he has first seen it in the heavens.
He will make the connection soon between heaven and earth—a quite literal connection. Thank God that He has intimately connected heaven and earth. And as we will see, God has done so, not through angels but rather through the crown of God’s creation: mankind.
But what has led to such praise? What has motivated such profound reflection and revelling?
It seems that this psalm has occurred out of some personal reflection. Perhaps as the individual has walked outside, staring into the sky and being reminded of God’s immensity, the stillness of the night is broken by the cry (or the screeching laughter) of a baby. The poet thinks to himself that it is a sad thing that those whom God has created have chosen to be His enemies.
It is lamentable that there are fools who say in their heart, “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1). But the chatter of that little baby once and for all silences their arguments: “Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength, because of Your enemies, that You may silence the enemy and the avenger.”
How does mankind enter the world? Through birth—as babes and sucking infants. Amazingly, even such little ones have a way of exalting God’s name on the earth—through their sounds.
For those who feel defensive about proving the existence of God, the answer is simple: Have babies! The poet is saying that we do not need deep philosophical argumentation and theodicies to prove God’s existence; all we need is a child who makes sounds. This can only occur by the act of a Creator. Look and listen to a child, and atheism is seen for the nonsense that it is. As Leupold helpfully says, “The thought of these verses is that the Lord’s name is super-abundant in majesty, requiring no stronger defense than the praise of children.”1
The sounds of little ones proclaim the almighty strength of God; their sounds and their laughter serve as a song of praise in a world that does not always see the excellency of the Lord’s name in all the earth. That is why Jesus, when claiming to be God and identifying the Jewish religious leaders as God’s enemies, quoted this verse (Matthew 21:16).
The star-gazing leads to soul searching. And the author’s reflections makeup the major content of this psalm (vv. 3ff)
In vv. 3–8, the psalmist reflects on God’s glory:
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him? For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honour. You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen—even the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas.
The contemplation of God’s glory (vv. 1–2) leads the poet to the consideration of his own story (vv. 3–8). The poet’s story is mankind’s original story. And it, too, is a story of glory.
The point of these verses is that God’s glory is to be reflected in man’s glory. This was the point of God creating man: for man to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever (or, rather, to glorify God by enjoying Him forever). The creation story (history) is the story of God revealing Himself through creation, and ultimately through the pinnacle of creation, the crown of creation—humankind.
This is an amazing thought—an amazing truth. Mankind was created to reveal God to the rest of creation. Man, as originally and sinlessly created, had one assignment: to glorify God by enjoying God and thereby revealing God—in all the earth (Genesis 1:26–28).
The psalmist is marvelling at God’s creation of man, the crown of His creation—not to bring praise to mankind, but to bring perspective to mankind. He does so by revealing the stupendous truth that we humans are just lower than the angels and therefore so much higher than everything else in creation. He does so by revealing the stupendous truth that we are charged with exercising dominion on behalf of God. He does so by revealing the stupendous potential of mankind. He does so by revealing what God’s renewed creation is to do: to exercise dominion in all of the earth to the glory of God.
In vv. 3–4, David reflects on humanity’s mortality. As he “considers” (to gaze, take heed, enjoy, stare, perceive) God’s “heavens,” he is humbled. He realises God’s (and the angels’) immortality and his own mortality. He knows that what is true of him is true of mankind as a whole.
“Man” in these verses is the general word for mankind. The word “denotes man in his frailty, impotence, mortality.”2
Yet God notices us! He is “mindful” of humanity. The word means to mark so as to be recognised, or to remember—and therefore to be mentioned. Keep this in mind when you are tempted to question whether abortion is evil!
It is as though the psalmist perceives the enormity of the universe and its seeming infinity and so he is amazed that this great Creator God takes notice of puny mankind. And, if he understood what we do today about the enormity of the universe, with its billions of galaxies, he would have been amazed that God takes notice of what is one of the smaller planets in ours.
There is helpful and instructive tension here: our insignificance and yet our significance. In the big scheme of things, we are so small, seemingly infinitesimal. And yet in the overall scheme of things, as we will soon see, we play a huge role.
Dawkins and Hawking and their ilk miss the point of the vastness of the universe and the smallness of the earth. This does not diminish our value but rather magnifies it. By God’s design, mankind matters! As has been well put, “What gives human beings dignity and value is not anything that humans have done for themselves, but rather something that God has done for them. Our worth comes from outside of ourselves (extra nos). That which God confers upon us is the key to our status, not that which comes from inside of us.”3
Not only does God notice us, He also cares for us. “What is … the son of man that You visit him?” The phrase “son of man” personalises the general statement about mankind. “Visit” means to oversee or to care for. God not only notices us, but also cares for us. He provides for us. He is the great quantity surveyor, who provides all we need.
In short, though we are mortal (while God is immortal), yet we matter. Though God is infinite and we are finite, yet God takes notice of us and cares for us. But this is not all, for God also makes much of us.
Now, in vv. 5–8, the psalmist highlights mankind’s responsibility. The consideration of mankind’s mortality leads to an even more amazing realisation: God has put man in charge of the earth! In the words of another, God has given to man a royal responsibility.
The psalmist is amazed: “For You have made him a little lower than the angels, and You have crowned him with glory and honour.”
The word translated “angels” is Elohim, which is generally translated in the Bible as “God” or “gods.” The psalmist might well have been arguing that mankind was created just a little lower than God, second in significance only to the Creator. Though he is not God, he is just under God.
The translators of the Septuagint saw things differently. They translated Elohim as aggelos, the word from which we derive “angels.” The New Testament writer of Hebrews, under inspiration, used that translation when he quoted this psalm (see below).
The Lord “crowned” humanity with “glory” (heaviness, weightiness) and “honour” (magnificence, beauty, excellence). Here is his point (regardless of the translation): Man is not God; mankind has no supernatural attributes; mankind is mortal. And yet, God has made mankind to be the crown of His creation. “God invested man with a dignity that is second only to His own and made him ruler over the world which He had just created.”4
Let’s put all of this together. In a very real sense, humanity is something like God. After all, we are told in Genesis 1 that humans were made in the image of God (v. 26). God has made humanity and has given much to humankind; He makes much of humankind. And He plans on doing much with humankind. Kirkpatrick writes, “It is the marvel of God’s choice of man to be the chief revelation of Himself as His representative on earth.”5
It is little wonder that, when God made Adam and Eve, He concluded creation week with the exclamation, “It was very good” (Genesis 1:31).
You cannot improve on the glory of God. And, at least for a while, humanity perfectly reflected the glory of God. For a short while anyway, humans could say, “O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is your name in all the earth.” And all creation would agree: “Amen!”
The writer’s amazement continues: “You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands; You have put all things under his feet.” God made much of man and planned to do much with Him. Verse 6 tells us of the dominion that man was created to exercise. He was to so manage the world so that God’s name would be glorified in all the earth. We will flesh this out later.
The creation over which man was given dominion is enumerated in vv. 7–8: All birds, beasts and sea creatures were to be stewarded in such a way that God would be pleased and glorified. Humanity was given the stupendous royal privilege and responsibility to care for creation. Just as God takes notice of and takes care of mankind, likewise, mankind was to take notice of and to care for creation.
Putting it Together—King & Kingdom
The story of the Bible is the story of a King and His kingdom (kingdom through covenant). God, of course, is the King, and at creation His kingdom was originally established on earth. Adam and Eve were made God’s vice-regents. They were deputised, as our poet tells us, to exercise dominion over the works of God’s hands. They were to exercise dominion under God’s dominion—not domination, but rather servant dominion. Theirs was to be not top down, but bottom up, leadership.
Among other responsibilities, they were to fill the earth with those who would join them in the exercise of such dominion. In the words of our psalmist, mankind was given the royal responsibility to steward life on earth in such a way that all would come to know how excellent God’s name is in all the earth.
Stewardship is not merely a word to describe raising funds for a new church building; it is what mankind was created to do in all spheres of life: managing God’s creation to the glory of God by revealing the majesty of His name.
The Rest of the Story
Sadly, as we know, this is not the whole story of mankind. As we contemplate this psalm, we are both lifted up and cast down because, to the thinking person, this psalm ultimately reveals how far short we have fallen from what were originally created to be.
As Boice highlights,
But here is the sad thing. Although made in God’s image and ordained to become increasingly like the God to whom they look, men and women have turned their backs on God. And since they will not look upward to God, which is their privilege and duty, they actually look downward to the beasts and so become increasingly like them.6
Mankind—Adam and Eve—sinned against God. They failed to make much of God. In fact, they acted as if they were God! They wanted not only to be crowned; they wanted God’s crown as well. They fell short of the glory of God. When Adam came tumbling down, he quite literally broke his crown. And we all came tumbling after.
Though we still reflect something of the image of God, nevertheless, we do a poor job of revealing the glory of God. And all the earth suffers because of it.
The royal responsibility for creation was perverted from exercising dominion to exerting domination. God’s rule, and God’s order, was reversed and creation was worshipped rather than the Creator (Romans 1:19ff). So, Psalm 8 does not reflect reality as most know it to be.
God’s name is not celebrated in all the earth. Yahweh is not celebrated by everyone as their sovereign master (Adonai). The majority in the world does not exercise dominion under the dominion of the Lord. In fact, the majority can be identified as the Lord’s enemies of v. 2.
The result is that we do not see all things having been put under the feet of mankind. And all too often, when we do see something akin to this, it is merely domination under bloodstained feet, “nature red in tooth and claw.”
In summary, what we do not see is the glory of God as revealed in the glory of man. We do not see mankind fulfilling its royal responsibility. Rather, what we see in its place is ruinous depravity. And the effects are anything but excellent in all the earth!
How then, if at all, will such glory ever be restored? Is Psalm 8 merely a pipe-dream; some of that unrealistic pie-in-the-sky-until-you-die opiate of the people? If it was left up to us to bring it to pass then, yes, it would be. But thankfully it is not. For mankind’s fall was also not the whole story. And we know this because of the Christmas story.
You see, this psalms is not merely a pipe dream. Though the story of fallen mankind is far from the ideal of Psalm 8, thankfully there was always an overarching story: the story of redemption. It was always there, but it began to be read with more clarity with the opening pages of the Christmas story.
The Christmas Story
The author of Hebrews cites this psalm and draws it together with the Christmas story:
Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?
For He has not put the world to come, of which we speak, in subjection to angels. But one testified in a certain place, saying:
“What is man that You are mindful of him, or the son of man that You take care of him? You have made him a little lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honour, and set him over the works of Your hands. You have put all things in subjection under his feet.”
For in that He put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him.
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.
Psalm 8 was significant to Israel under the old covenant, and it is significant to the Israel of God (the church—Galatians 6:16) under the new covenant. This is because Hebrews 2 connects the redemptive dots by revealing that Jesus Christ is the ultimate fulfilment of Psalm 8.
Simply put, because the Lord Jesus Christ has been crowned Lord of all, Psalm 8 is not merely poetry; it is also prophecy. In fact, it is promise. As Kirkpatrick puts it, “God’s purposes are not frustrated by man’s sin, and the Psalm is virtually a prophecy. It finds its ‘fulfilment’ in the Incarnation.”7
There is coming a day when God’s name will be exalted in all the earth. This is the promise of Christmas. The Incarnation was the promise of man’s restoration. This would happen by reconciliation through the redemption purchased by the Last Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ.
When God became man, the lost glory of man began to be restored. The Christmas story is about the glory of mankind being restored so that all will see the excellence of God’s name in all the earth.
We Need to See Jesus
Hebrews 2:6–8 cites Psalm 8:4–6. In the context, the writer is making the argument that there is only one mediator between God and men and that, among other disqualified candidates, angels cannot and do not serve this function. (Angels are mentioned eleven times in Hebrews 1–2.) As important as they are, angels cannot glorify God as man can; and they certainly cannot make sinful man right with God.
The writer laments that man has not fulfilled his calling, as revealed in Psalm 8. He writes, ‘But now we do not yet see all things put under him (mankind).’ That is, mankind has failed in its purpose. But all is not lost. For the writer continues, ‘But we see Jesus who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone.’
The writer is saying that, when we read Psalm 8, and lament the loss of man’s glory and honour, we need to look beyond and “see Jesus.” He too was made lower than the angels. But He has fulfilled God’s purpose for man; and He has done so as the “second man from heaven,” the “Last Adam” (1 Corinthians 15:45–47). And so Christmas, the celebration of the incarnation, is about the fulfilment of Psalm 8. Christmas is about the restoration of mankind’s original glory for the glory of God. In the words of William Lane, “The transcendent Son of God made the human condition, and especially its liability to death, his own in order to achieve for them the glorious destiny designed by God.”8 In other words, Jesus fulfils the promise of Psalm 8.
Let me make this clear: Christmas is about the Son of Man—the Lord Jesus Christ—who, like Adam, had a body prepared for Him. Like Adam, He was given a Bride, which was taken from His side, as it were, while He “slept.” Like Adam, Jesus was tempted by the devil with the misuse of Scripture. Unlike Adam, this temptation took place in the midst of deprivation and hardship. Unlike Adam, Jesus did not fall short of God’s glory. In fact, His glory shone so bright that the devil left Him.
The Son of Man had so much undiminished glory that He could merit glory for sinners. The cross and resurrection were proof of this. He now shares this glory with those who confess that they have fallen short of this glory.
Think of it this way: When God sent His Son into the world, God, the Son of Man, literally visited the sons of men. But He did more than merely spend time here. Rather, He noticed our plight and cared for it by dying for us in order to, once again, make much of us. Hallelujah, what a Saviour!
The Christmas Story and our Glory to Share in the Story
When Jesus rose from the dead, He proclaimed that He had been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18). He was given dominion over all (Ephesians 1:22). The Last Adam is crowned with all glory and honour (Philippians 2:9–11).
An amazing corollary to this is that all who identify with Christ, by believing the gospel, are then set on the trajectory to one day be glorified; yes, to be conformed to the image of God’s Son (Romans 8:29–30; see John 17:20ff).
We presently reign with Him, and one day all will be set right, all will be glorious. As Ross comments, “Those who trust in the Lord will share in that dominion, for they will reign with him. (Rev. 5:11). Then the human race will fulfil its destiny, in and through the new Adam.”9
Let’s Tell the Story
Upon this reflection, the psalm then ends with the same words as it began: “O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth!” (v. 9). But now this praise is no doubt even more passionate. He is amazed at God’s condescending love to mankind. Having realised mankind’s exalted position and privilege, the poet concludes: “Lord, by the faithful stewardship of godly mankind (as opposed to the ungodly of v.2), your name is glorified throughout the whole earth.”
But I would add that this psalm ends with a praise that has become a petition. For certainly not all the earth sees the majesty of God. What this man sees, he wants all to see. What this man realises—the royal responsibility of mankind—he wants all mankind to see and to practice, to the glory of God.
The ultimate goal, as revealed in Psalm 8, motivates us in the immediate. We are called to disciple the nations (Matthew 28:19–20). This involves preaching the gospel to the ends of the earth. And why do we do this? So that fallen mankind will be reconciled to God and restored to our calling to live lives of glory and honour exercising dominion over the earth so that the LORD, our Lord, will be exalted in all the earth.
To the degree that we see Jesus, we will conform to the royal privilege of Psalm 8.
We are to make known God’s glory in all the earth by obedience to the original cultural mandate, which is inseparable from the gospel mandate (Matthew 28:18–20). To exalt the Lord in all the earth means that God’s glory is comprehensive. This means that His glory is to be revealed in all areas of life in all places on the earth. The nature of the Great Commission, the cultural mandate, is such that glorified man (see John 17:20–23) is to reveal God’s glory in every sphere of life. We see this in the words, “teaching them to observe things that I have commanded you.” And this is to take place in “all nations.”
Ultimately we do this by proclaiming the gospel of the Son of Man—and we do so in all the earth.
The only way you will find any meaning in Psalm 8 is if you can identify personally with the opening and closing inclusio. You must be able to say with the psalmist, “O LORD, our Lord.” That is, you must be able to identify with those who know the Lord as their Lord. The Christmas story must intersect with your story if you will share in the glory.
Do you see that you have fallen short of the glory of God? Do you realise your guilt before holy God? Then the good news is that you can be forgiven. Because of the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ in the place of fallen sinners, you can be reconciled to God. Your sins can be forgiven and a work of restoration begun in your life. It will not be an easy work. But slowly, but surely—and one day fully—we will be conformed to the image of God’s only Son. We will be crowned with glory and honour indeed. Now that is what the Christmas story is all about. And it can be your story as well. Repent and turn from your sins as you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Christian, as we think of the incarnation in a more focused way, let us remember that the Christmas story is all about the glory of God, a glory that is to be made known in all the earth by those whose original glory, once lost, has now been restored. Let us learn to “see Jesus” always, and may this time of year be especially motivating toward this end.
Merry Christmas, indeed.
- H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1969), 102. ↩
- A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms (Cambridge: Scripture Truth, n.d.), 39. ↩
- Nancy L. deClaissé-Walford, Rolf A. Jacobson and Beth LaNeel Tanner, The Book of Psalms: The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), Kindle edition. ↩
- Leupold, Exposition of Psalms, 103. ↩
- Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms, 35. ↩
- James Montgomery Boice, Psalms: An Expositional Commentary, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 71. ↩
- Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms, 36. ↩
- William L. Lane, Hebrews: Word Biblical Commentary, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 49. ↩
- Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on Psalms, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2011), 1:297. ↩