Ruling the world through weakness – Psalm 8

Psalms of David

Psalms in Book 1 (Psalms 1 to 41) are mostly personal songs, so I will be looking at how they apply to us personally. Social and communal aspects of life and work do not come in until the later books of psalms.

My favourite psalm. Psalm 8 combines my love of God and my fascination for astronomy and astrophysics.

When the Hubble Space Telescope was launched on 24th April 1990 we were able to see further than ever before. If it was pointed into an area of space that seemed black it was revealed to be full of stars and nebulae. Now with the James Webb Space Telescope, we can see even further and in higher definition. (Image below).

Creation is much larger and more varied than David would have even imagined when he wrote Psalm 8. God, the creator of the universe is wonderful.

“Cosmic Cliffs” in the Carina Nebula from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope (NIRCam Image) – Free image from Rawpixel

The books of Psalms are roughly themed like this:

Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.

To the choirmaster: according to The Gittith. A Psalm of David.

O Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
    Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
    to still the enemy and the avenger.
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
    the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
    and the son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
    and crowned him with glory and honour.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
    you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
    and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
    whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
O Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Psalm 8 ESVUK

WHAT IS MAN?

Psalms are songs, songs have structure (well nearly always), and the secret of interpreting a song is easier if we know the structure of the song. There is a big clue to the structure of Psalm 8, that is that the opening line is repeated at the end, which points towards chiasm, a structure that introduces points in one order and then deals with them in the reverse order.

Here is the structure of Psalm 8:

  • 1a – O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
    • 1b – The majesty of YHVH above the heavens.
      • Central axis – What is man? Yet you have crowned him with glory and honour.
    • 2b – The dominion of man on Earth.
  • 2a – O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

But before that, if this were a sermon with a theme, I would take the part where the word foes is used. You see I don’t believe that the collection of the psalms is random, Book 1 is full of personal songs, on the theme of God being alongside David, the only attributed contributor, and by extension, all of us individually. The Psalms so far, after the first two introductory psalms have been laments about David’s enemies and that theme continues after psalm 8. Taking that into account I have started on that theme, as God’s enemies are also mentioned here.

Out of the mouth of babies and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. (v. 2). The words of the vulnerable and weak, babies and infants, are more powerful than the deeds of powerful people. Brokenness and vulnerability are beautiful to God and God created the universe to work this way. David understands. In his mind, he is still the boy who looks after the sheep, even though he was made first a mighty general and then king of Israel. It is by being the vulnerable boy that he has come to rely on God.

David has made mistakes, some quite spectacular. We all do. We have to learn the humility that says, I am weak but God is strong. Having dominion over creation is to be by being weak and vulnerable. That is God’s way. This is not a revolutionary idea, we are not turning the world upside down; God created everything to run like this; we are turning the world the right way up.

The best example of victory through weakness can be seen in Jesus. In Philippians chapter 2 Paul says this of him:

Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:6-8

Ruling the world through weakness is God’s way. That is how we have dominion over creation, by doing it God’d way. Not just the animals we use for food, but the rest of the planet by being gentle. We are supposed to look after the world, to care for the environment not exploit it. Years ago when I mentioned that John Calvin in his writings on creation in Genesis 1 and 2 said that we were supposed to care for the world, an Orthodox Christian in Australia pointed out that this teaching is far older than Calvin, it goes back to the Church Fathers. Well, it is much older than the Church Fathers, it goes back to to David in the psalms.

Look after the world, it is your God given task.


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