11. Psalms of Praise (Psalm 8 & the Messiah)

A wonderful OT Psalm of praise! But is there more? As we turn to the NT we discover there is. When we read the Book of Hebrews we see the words of Psalm 8:4-6 quoted by the author and he applies them to Jesus. He says; “…we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.” (see Hebrews 2:5-9)

“The NT takes the royal vision of humanity and uses it to identify and characterize Jesus, who is the true king [‘crowned with glory and honour’]…and [in Jesus] glory, honour and dominion…is profoundly transformed. Jesus, through his death and resurrection, is [now] to be understood as the one who embodies all of this, who is indeed the one ‘in whom all things hold together.”(Col. 1:17)    (Walter Brueggemann The Message of the Psalms A Theological Commentary Ausberg Publishing House 1984)

The NT application of this Psalm “tells us that it is only when Christ crucified and risen stands at the centre that the pieces of the jigsaw – the picture of creation and man’s position in it – fall into place…Of all that God created, only man is able to ask the question of verse 4 [what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?] … and only the man who is also redeemed by God [through the blood of Jesus] can grasp the answer to it.”   (Michael Wilcock The Message of the Psalms Intervarsity Press 2001)

Who are we? We are children of the Living God, remembered and cared for because of Jesus. And with David, we can proclaim, “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”

So, in our lives, in the good times and the bad, to keep things in perspective, come back to Psalm 8. If it is night time, look up into the vast universe that God has created for his glory and stand in awe before the God of creation who loves you and cares for you. Let us live as good stewards of all the good things God has given us in his marvellous creation. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2)

A fitting doxology:

“Praise the Lord, O my soul…forget not all his benefits…as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us…As a Father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him…from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him…Praise the Lord, O my soul. (Psalm 103).

10. Psalms of praise (Psalm 8:5-8)

“But David is not finished yet! He continues:

“You have made them [human beings] a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.”

In Genesis 1:26 the Creator speaks and says, “Let us make mankind in our image…[to] rule over the fish…and the birds…over the livestock and all the wild animals, …[in fact] over all the creatures.”

Hugh Ross comments on this verse:

“…we humans, like God, have the capacity and responsibility to govern…[and] humanity’s role in governance is utterly unique among all Earth’s creatures, past and present.” (Hugh Ross Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job)

Brueggemann says, “the human person is acknowledged to be God’s regent in the governance of creation. Not only is creation [good and] well ordered, but the human agent occupies a crucial role in the governance of that order…humankind is authorized to have dominion over all other creatures.” (Walter Brueggemann The Message of the Psalms)

The NIV Study Bible notes continue, “Man’s rule is real…it is our [identity], our destiny…but it is not absolute or independent. It is participation, as a subordinate, in God’s rule; it is a gift, not a right.”

Sadly, we as humans have taken things into our own hands far too often, forgetting that we are stewards of all the good things God has made, and the result has too often been disastrous.  As we read this psalm we realize that “at [its centre ] is an affirmation of human power and authority. At its boundaries are affirmations of praise to God. The centre and the boundaries must be read together…Human power is always bounded and surrounded by divine praise…to use human power without the context of praise to God is to profane human regency over creation and so usurp more than has been granted. Human persons are to rule, but they are not to receive the ultimate loyalty of creation. Such loyalty must be directed only to God.”  (Walter Brueggemann The Message of the Psalms)

But wait, there’s even more in this psalm. David says,

“You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour.” (8:5)

A little lower than the angels? Us, humans?  “Crowned with glory and honour?” What was David thinking? Aren’t these words, “glory and honour” only really applicable to God? Yet it is true. David here acknowledges that when God made humans, we were the very pinnacle of his creation and here David celebrates mankind as “royal personhood” in the eyes of God. Hard to take in, but “this psalm reminds us that our supremacy in the natural world did not result from our own efforts or from something inherent in nature, but from God’s deliberate choice.” (Craig C Broyles New International Biblical Commentary – Psalms)

We are not what we are due to an accident of evolution but by God’s design. Made to be like him, “crowned with glory and honour”.

”…God [has] granted to humans, and only to humans among Earth’s life, a unique capacity to think, gain understanding and discern what’s wise…[no other animal] can share the human aptitude for invention, communication, abstraction and assessment…Humans have the capacity to make judgements. We [can] discern what’s true, right and enduring. We can [also] choose to act unwisely…Humans can choose what has value and meaning and what does not. Humans can investigate the past and consider how it relates to the present and the future.” (Hugh Ross Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job)

And all these unique attributes come from God, his gifts to us to enable us to live well on the earth.  How different would the world be if we all acknowledged and returned to the truths of Psalm 8. If we saw the world and each other as God sees it and us. David could never have understood how relevant his simple yet profound psalm of praise would still be in the 21st Century.”

9. Psalms of praise (Psalm 8:4)

 

From the wonder of God’s creative activity, David moves on to the wonder that God remembers and cares for mankind.

He says:  what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

“One commentator says concerning this question asked by David, that the psalmist is surprised by God’s interest in mankind. He says, “in view of God’s glory that has been set on the heavens, why does God preoccupy himself with mere mortals? The question is rhetorical and cannot be answered. This psalm expands our perspective to the heavens to see that God has other alternatives for his attention and delight, namely the vast and well-ordered heavens…and yet it is humankind that he is mindful of and cares for. In the midst of innumerable possibilities – as many as the stars in the heavens – God’s interest [in us] remains undistracted.” (Craig C Broyles New International Biblical Commentary – Psalms Hendrickson Publishers 1999)

Think about it. We are loved by God, the Creator of all things. He cares for you!

The we read in Psalm 113:4-9,

“The Lord is exalted over all the nations, His glory above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high, who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth.” Suggesting again (as I mentioned previously from Solomon’s words in 1 Kings 8:23, 27-28) that our God is even bigger than the universe in all its vastness.

But then, in stark contrast to the awesomeness of God, the psalmist speaks of the ‘poverty’ of man and the incredible truth that God “stoops down to look… [followed by] He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap [such mercy!]; he seats them with princes, with the princes of their people [such grace!]…”

This amazing truth is seen clearly in the life of Jesus. An example being the day that Jesus came down from the mountain having taught the people some incredible truths concerning the kingdom of God and in fact in Matthew 7:28-29 it says, “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority…” But if they were amazed at his teaching, the next incident would have shocked them. A man with leprosy falls down before Jesus and in great desperation cries out to him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

The psalmist asked “what is man that you are mindful of them? Human beings that you care for them?” Well, the question is a good one when we consider that man, due to sin, is just like this leper – full of disease, unclean, untouchable! But what does Jesus do? To the surprise of all, he “reached out and touched” him. The first time anyone would have touched him in years. Then Jesus said to him, “I am willing…be clean!” and immediately he was cured.

Jesus life and love for people revealed the truth of the psalms, including psalm 103, which says,

“As a Father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him…from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him.” (Psalm 103:13)

Wouldn’t it be a good idea to spend time today in thanksgiving for such an incredible truth concerning the Creator of the universe and you?

8. Psalms of praise (Psalm 8:1,3)

As I read Psalm 8 and particularly the words of David when he says, “You have set your glory in the heavens. your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place.” I thought of the fact that “3000 years later (approximately), we know a lot more about those ‘heavens…the moon and the stars’ than David could have even imagined. Through the use of powerful telescopes astronomers have discovered that the stars we can see by the naked eye are only the beginning of what seems to be an endless universe of galaxies beyond our imagination. In fact recently I read these words from a book written by an astronomer who is also a Christian.

“Astronomer’s now have plumbed the universe’s theoretically observable limits. Within those limits they see about two hundred billion medium sized and larger galaxies. These bodies and the dwarf galaxies that accompany them contain a total of about 50 to 60 billion trillion stars…All this stuff, however, constitutes only about 1 percent of the universe’s mass. The actual universe…must be significantly larger than the universe seen through our telescopes. The universe’s geometry tells us the universe…must be more than a hundred times more extensive than the universe we can observe. Thus, the actual universe must be at least a million times more massive than 50 billion trillion stars.” (Hugh Ross, Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job  Baker, 2011 )

What an incredible universe our God has created! And yet, according to Solomon, even this cannot contain God! Solomon in his prayer of dedication of the temple “spread out his hands toward heaven and said: ‘O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below… But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” (1 Kings 8:23, 27-28)

If we are going to live well in this world, we need to intentionally allow ourselves time to be quiet and to reflect on who this God we worship really is. To stand before God in the midst of his incredible creation, as David did, and endeavour to ‘appreciate the greatness and power of the Divine’,  the One who inhabits the earth and the heavens, who in fact is “majestic…in all the earth.” And whose “glory [is] in the heavens.”

The NIV Study Bible suggests that when David wrote this Psalm it was possibly an occasion when, as he looked up at the night sky, “he erased from his [thinking] small everyday affairs [and concerns] and engaged his mind with deeper thoughts [concerning God and his creation].” Something that, in the busyness of our lives, we all need to allow ourselves to do more often than we possibly do.

7. Psalms of Praise (Psalm 8 introduction)

At the college, where I am on staff, we have times of worship and teaching together as a community. At the beginning of 2014 I shared on Psalm 8 as we commenced another year. Below are a few thoughts from that day:

“When we read the Psalms it’s important to remember that they were all written at a particular time in history, by a particular person in a particular circumstance. As we read them thousands of years later, it’s helpful to try and see yourself in the circumstances of the writer, if possible (some are easier than others!). So, today I want you to imagine yourself as David, the shepherd boy. It’s been a busy day taking the sheep to greener pastures, keeping them from wandering off and protecting them from wild animals. But the day is now over and there he is laying on his blanket out in the hills of Israel on a warm summer’s night. The night is silent except for the occasional noise made by one of the sheep in his care. The sky is clear and the stars and moon are brilliant and beautiful. As he lies there, he looks up at the overwhelming number of stars above him and his mind turns away from the troubles of the day to the Creator of all this amazing universe, the God he knows as Yahweh, the one who is his God and whom he will refer to in a later psalm, as “the Lord…my Shepherd” (Psalm 23). And as he lays there he worships and speaks out these words to his God,

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens.  your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place.

Not just nice poetic words, but a prayer to his God. His heart is overwhelmed by the greatness, the majesty, the power, the creative genius, the glory of God and so he composes a song from the words of his prayer, a psalm, which thousands of years later we can also use to worship the God of all creation.

But as he worships God in all his beauty and glory and wonder and splendour he thinks of how small he is compared to God, compared to this huge universe God created. And remember, all he could see, is what we can see with our naked eye – no Hubble telescope in David’s day – so he was unaware of what we know today, and yet that was enough to bring forth awe and worship. He is amazed, that considering how big God is, and how small he is, that God would be in the least bit interested in him. So he says,

what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

He can’t take it in, considering the greatness of God, yet he still remembers humans like him and not only remembers but cares and blesses and loves, like a Father to his children.

But as David considers this truth, he realises there is more:

You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honour. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.

It’s all so amazing, all too much and his song of praise and adoration ends the way it started,

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

And, I think, God is pleased with David’s song as the shepherd boy, soon to be king, drifts off into a peaceful night’s sleep, under the stars, remembered and cared for by Yahweh, his Creator, his Father, his God, my God, and your God.”

Certainly a wonderful Psalm of praise and adoration to the Lord.

The Jewish Study Bible comments about this psalm that it “is pure praise, without any requests, and like other hymns from the bible…expresses the…moment when the individual stands before [God] and appreciates the greatness and power of the Divine.”  (The Jewish Study Bible Tanakh Translation Oxford University Press 2004 )

If the sky is clear tonight, why not go outside, look up and pray (or sing) David’s psalm to the Creator of all that you see above.

6. Introduction to the Psalms # 3

When I began to read books on the Psalms I realised that scholar’s differ on the names for the different types (or ‘genres) of the Psalms. For example Longman suggests that there are “roughly seven basic types”. He does say that “we need to be flexible as we speak of a Psalm’s genre” but suggests the following types: “the hymn, the lament, the thanksgiving psalm, the psalm of remembrance, the psalm of confidence, the wisdom psalm and the kingship psalm.” There are other ways to look at the different kinds of psalms as well, but we can consider those at a later time.

So, obviously “the hymn” describes the psalms of praise. They are “easily recognised by their exuberant praise of the Lord. The psalmist pulls out all the stops in his rejoicing in God’s goodness.” (Tremper Longman 111 How to Read the Psalms) We all know these psalms. They are the ones often read out in our worship times in church, or used in our own personal times with God.

Ones like Psalm 103, which begins with:

“I will praise the Lord.     Deep down inside me, I will praise him.     I will praise him, because his name is holy. I will praise the Lord.     I won’t forget anything he does for me.”

And finishes with:

20 Praise the Lord, you angels of his.     Praise him, you mighty ones     who carry out his orders and obey his word. 21 Praise the Lord, all you angels in heaven.     Praise him, all you who serve him and do what he wants. 22 Let everything the Lord has made praise him     everywhere in his kingdom.   I will praise the Lord.”

As you read this and other “hymns”, there is no doubt Who deserves our worship and praise and adoration (see the reasons for the psalmist’s praise in verses 3-19). And what a great resource for God’s people for so long, considering that (according to Longman) the oldest psalm was “probably written about 3500 years ago”!

I am continually amazed by our God who is the same “yesterday, today and forever” (Heb. 13:8) and the truth expressed by his worshippers over thousands of years remains the same unchanging truth even today, no matter where you live or what language you speak. “Praise the Lord”!

5. Introduction to the Psalms # 2

At the age of 18 I began to read the Bible for the first time in my life. My young friend at the time noticed a change happening in my life and she remarked, “Reading that book is affecting you!” She was absolutely right and reading “that book” turned my life upside down – in a very positive way!

Over 45 years the Word of God has continued to have this affect in my life and I get the feeling that my in-depth study of the Psalms is doing the same thing. But considering what the author of Hebrews said, that “the Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12), then no wonder!

Thomas Watson, a seventeenth century English Puritan pastor, understood the need for reading the Bible with both our heads and our hearts. He said, ‘keep reading your Bibles until your hearts are warmed…read the Word not only as history, but allow it to affect you deeply. Let the Word of God not only inform you but also inflame you.’

Let me share just a few things that people have said about the Psalms:

It has been said that, “the whole gamut of human experience is expressed in the Psalter…the Psalms speak to all seasons of our souls…our intellect is informed, our emotions are refined and our wills are directed.” (Tremper Longman 111 How to Read the Psalms  Intervarsity Press 1988)

Of course, the Psalms are most recognised for their use in worship and praise of God, both personally and corporately. Brueggeman states that “Praise is the duty and delight, the ultimate vocation of the human community; indeed, of all creation. Yes, all of life is aimed toward God and finally exists for the sake of God…We have a resilient hunger to move beyond self, to return our energy and worth to the One from whom it has been granted. In our return to that One, we find our deepest joy.” There is no doubt the Psalmists understood this truth.

He continues, “When we become specific about praise of God in the biblical tradition, we arrive quickly at the Book of Psalms, which is the central resource for praise in the Bible.” (Walter Brueggemann Israel’s Praise. Doxology against Idolatry and Ideology Fortress Press 1988)

But there is much more to the Psalms than praise and we will look at some of these things later.