As a grandpa, I experience the joys of infant and toddler grandchildren with only a fraction of the mess I had as a parent. Considering their mother, father, aunts, and grandma, there is a multi-level firewall between me and a dirty diaper. In addition, I enjoy seeing the wonder and excitement that is so easily stirred within small children. I often feign those same emotions as I interact with my grandsons, and I envy them for not having to pretend.
Psalm 8 is a song of wonder. David directs our gaze to the panorama of God’s majestic glory that is displayed throughout the whole earth. The psalmist takes us from “above the heavens” to “the mouth of babes and infants” (vv. 1-2). He causes us to lose ourselves in the unimaginable vastness of the created universe and then to find ourselves as its princes and princesses (vv. 3-8).
Out of the Mouth of Babes
Many debate what David meant when he said:
Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.
Was David referring to literal infants or metaphorically to believers who are childlike in their demeanor toward God? We know that Jesus quoted this passage to rebuke the unbelieving Jewish leaders who wanted him to silence the children celebrating his triumphal entry (Matt. 21:15-16). I think it is safe to say that God wants us to be caught up with a contagious wonder and amazement at his glory, not to stifle it with prideful self-consciousness or cowardly decorum. The fervent, stammering praise of children will shame and silence the enemies of God.
What Is Man?
The psalmist expresses his own wonder by asking an age-old question — “What is man?” Much of the confusion in our day arises from a failure to answer that question correctly. The predominant notion in our day is that man is just another animal, albeit a highly advanced one. The dog, the ape, and the platypus are all somewhere in his family tree. We humans merely owe our current status to a distant relative who hit it big playing the genetic lottery.
However, David has God’s testimony from Genesis concerning the creation of the first man and woman. He knows that man is not just another animal but a creature uniquely made in the image of God. His question is not what is man by nature but what man is by grace.
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 honor. (vv. 3-5)
David is expressing astonishment. After considering who God is, the glory and magnitude of the heavenly expanse, the nature of man, and how man compares to the angelic hosts, there is no logical reason for man being favored with dominion over this world and everything in it. God does not need our help, nor did he just pick a creature at random. In his grace, God chose to build a world and to create man and woman to rule it. He intentionally designed us to reflect his glory by being his vice regents — reigning over creation under him. What an amazing act of grace on God’s part!
This is the only basis for human dignity, and it is an absolute one. Every human being has special significance because we were created to reflect God in a way that no animal or angel is capable of doing. Sure, sin and the curse have marred the image of God, but they not erased it. That is why all men and women share the same human dignity and equal rights regardless of race, physical or mental capabilities, or beliefs. Take the divine initiative out of the human equation, and you surrender human rights to the whim, lusts, and expedience of sinful man.
Seeing through the Fog
It is hard for us to see ourselves as rulers in this world. Due to God’s curse upon fallen humanity and our world, life is a constant struggle. Things do not work as they were intended. Rather than having everything under our feet, we often feel trampled. The writer of Hebrews, commenting on this verse, offers us hope:
At present we do not yet see everything in subjection to [man]. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. (Hebrews 2:8-9)
And in the next verse he tells us that Jesus’ sufferings were part of the process of “bringing many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10). We shortchange ourselves when we only consider the gospel as what God saved us from. We are to remember what he saved us to. His redemptive plan was to conform us to the image of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29-30) — to the glory of princes and princesses reigning with his Son. That truth caused the apostle John to exclaim in wonder:
See what kind of love the Father has given to us that we should be called children of God; and so we are…. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3:1-2)
On the day when Christ returns for his bride, he will build a new world for his redeemed. On that new earth, we will reflect his glory as we were intended to do. Then, the psalmist’s refrain will be universally echoed: “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth” (vv. 1, 9).
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