Friday, 22 October 2010
Psalm 8 Application: Finding Myself
Did you find yourself singing this Psalm during the week?
I did too. But there’s even more to this Psalm than I realized.
This week I have been blown away by the depths of meaning. And each new meaning has given me new applications. I want all of us to expand our ability to apply this psalm. Because that’s above my pay grade, I’ll trace the argument of Bruce Waltke in his commentary on the Psalms that I referred to earlier.
Praising the Creator
The first level of meaning is the one we’ve already talked about. David set Genesis 1:26-28 to music. He is meditating not just on creation, but on man’s place in it. The stars dwarf us, but they also inform us. They declare the glory of the One who made them. That same One made us and gave us our place in creation. He personally attends to us, thinking of us, caring for us. And he places us near the top of his created order, just below angels but above everything else. We were given that honor by him. It is our glory (small “g”) to live out his command as we exercise dominion on the earth.
Application #1. We can apply this level of meaning in several ways. We can plumb it to praise God whenever we are admiring some part of his creation. We can use it to assert God as Creator whenever his role is questioned. We can also employ it to encourage us in our daily tasks. So many of the mundane tasks of life–taking out the trash, cleaning out the refrigerator, organizing the garage…again, are examples of exercising our God-given dominion. Though it may not seem glorious at the time, it is a small victory over chaos. God gave form to the earth, and we are fulfilling our role by keeping it that way.
What is man?
This question, voiced in verse 4 turns out to be a loaded question. David uses it as a stepping stone to praise. Man is given glory in creation, but praise is due to the Glorious One who gave it. That’s the testimony of Psalm 8:4. But we find the same question is asked three more times, two of them in the Old Testament, Job 7:17-18 and 15:14-15, and one in the New, Hebrews 2:6. (I didn’t include the Job verses in our study questions, though you might have found them if you were looking up cross references.)
In the first reference Job asks the same question as David, “What is man?” but with an ironic twist. He wants to know why God won’t leave him alone. For Job, man’s high position in creation makes him subject to divine scrutiny. He wishes God wouldn’t “take thought of him” and “visit him” so often. It reminds me a little of Tevye’s words from Fiddler on the Roof.
The second reference, Job 15:14-15, comes from one of Job’s “friends.” Eliphaz also asks, “What is man?” He goes on to say man is not pure or righteous. Neither are angels or heaven, according to him, and man is far below that. His point is that Job has brought this suffering on himself. Man has fallen a long way from God’s original design.
The third reference to our question comes from Hebrews 2:6. The author quotes Psalm 8:4-5. “What is man?” turns out to be quite a riddle. He acknowledges that man’s dominion falls short of the vision in Psalm 8. Control eludes him. Control eludes us, too. In a phrase he sums up the frustration of fallen man trying to rule fallen creation. What can be done? “But we do see him…namely Jesus….”
Because of the incarnation, “man” doesn’t just refer to us, it refers to Jesus. Our honor, being a little lower than the angels, was his demotion. But it was just for a little while. Just long enough for him buy back our glory on the cross. Now through his death he is “bringing many sons to glory”, restoring us not just to Genesis 1 glory, but to the very right hand of God, united to him.
The final answer to the riddle “what is man” is this: man, not angels, is who Jesus came to save.
Application #2. We are in the deep end of the pool, both in Scripture interpretation and in the mystery of our salvation. It amazes me that the New Testament author sees the humiliation of Christ in Psalm 8. I can only guess that this interpretation came from the risen Christ himself as he instructed his disciples on understanding Scripture before he ascended. My primary response is astonished praise that He would descend so that I could ascend. That he would set aside his glory to restore my spoiled glory. That he would not be ashamed to be called “man” after all we had done to the name. And that he is not ashamed to call me “sister.”
Out of the mouth of babies and infants
One more phrase from this Psalm was spoken by Jesus of Nazareth–twice. Just a few days before his death he was in the temple healing the blind and lame. Apparently some children had followed him from his triumphal entry and were still repeating the happy “hosannas” of the crowd. When the priests protested, Jesus quoted Psalm 8:2 to silence them. It seems these children were fulfilling Scripture without even knowing it. Their praise songs were appropriate. He received them because he was worthy.
Not just children but the child-like can fulfill this Scripture. The other time Jesus referred to this Psalm wasn’t a direct quote, but a very recognizable reference. Matthew 11:25 says:
At that time Jesus declared, “I think you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”
The children he is talking about is his disciples. It is us. We are not wise or understanding. We have nothing to boast in, because everything we have is a gift. We have become like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven. Our praise is the praise of new birth. It is the language of faith.
Application #3. I am just a child, a toddler, an infant. I have nothing to offer, but praise. The LORD reigns through praise. He triumphs through praise. He is glorified by praise. Waltke ends his reflection of the Psalm like this:
For David, fallen humanity fulfills the cultural mandate through childlike faith. God’s intention for mortals is realized in a fallen world from the petitions and praises of dependent saints…for this reason the psalmist praises I AM, not humanity.