Psalm 8 is part of the lectionary readings for the first Sunday after Pentecost, which is June 7th. Of the 150 psalms, only 34 do not have titles. For the hymns that have them, these superscriptions indicate such things (in various combinations) as the author, type of psalm, musical notations, liturgical notations, and historical context.
According to the title of Psalm 8, David was the human author. The phrase, “for the director of music,” suggests that this song is from an early collection of hymns used in temple worship. It’s also possible that when the psalm was used in the Hebrew liturgy, the leader of the Levitical choir spoke it before the assembly of worshipers.
The term rendered “gittith” (which is also found in the headings of Psalms 81 and 84) was probably a liturgical word and could have referred to a musical style or type of stringed instrument. One suggestion is that it was a guitar-like harp associated with Gath in Philistia.
Some manuscripts have the word translated as “winepress.” This has led some to suggest that Psalm 8 was associated in some way with the vintage festival at the Feast of Tabernacles.
The beginning and ending of this song suggests that it was a hymn of praise. The interior of the ode, however, focuses on the Lord’s sovereign ordering of the creation. It’s for this reason that some classify this hymn as a nature psalm (or song of creation).
David’s hymn extols both the Lord’s glory and the God-given dignity of human beings. Unlike the anonymously written Psalm 104, David did not draw upon the six days of creation to form the structure for his song. Rather, he wrote out of his own present experience of reality.
Throughout the nine verses of Psalm 8, David praised God, all the while referring to his own sense of wonder over the Lord’s powerful ordering of creation. One discerns that David composed this hymn while standing on his balcony and gazing into the sky at night—the same sky he no doubt had studied and pondered while tending his father’s sheep or while on the run from King Saul. The occasion may have pushed to the back of David’s mind the day-to-day affairs of administering the Israelite kingdom, while bringing to the forefront deeper thoughts such as the majesty of God and the origin of life.
In Old Testament times, there was no pollution or bright lights from nearby cities to dim a person’s view of the night sky. So, while David did not have the benefit of a powerful telescope, he no doubt could grasp something of the vastness of space.
Even today, scientists speak about stars as being trillions of miles away from us and describe the universe in terms that at times can seem incomprehensible. Admittedly, we don’t know the original circumstances leading up to David’s writing of this song, but it’s not hard to imagine.
Many of us can recall times when we gazed up into the sky on a clear night and saw countless stars extending from one end of the horizon to the other. If this was the case for David, we can only infer how puny he must have felt against the immense expanse of the heavens above in which God had set His glory (v. 1).
Two different Hebrew words are rendered “Lord” in this verse. The first term, Yahweh, stresses the everlasting quality of His self-existence (Exod 3:14–15). The second term, Adonai, places emphasis on God’s supreme and unchallenged authority.
It’s no wonder that David declared that the name of the all-glorious one was “majestic . . . in all the earth!” (Ps 8:1). In Scripture, the name of the Lord was considered a reflection of His character, encompassing all His attributes.
“Majestic” renders a Hebrew adjective that can also be translated as “glorious,” “powerful,” or “delightful.” In Old Testament thought, the name of the Lord is often equated with His presence. So, this verse could be loosely rendered, “Yahweh, our Lord, how delightful is your sacred Presence throughout the entire globe!”
This psalm ends with the same words as it begins. These words of praise to the name of God form a literary frame for its central subject—praise from humankind, whom God has made to reflect His majesty.
Here we see that people count for something in God’s eyes. We are important and valuable to Him—not just because He created us, but also because He sent His Son to redeem us and give us eternal life.
When we visibly give thanks to God for His goodness, we declare to the unsaved that He is our Creator and Sustainer. We bear witness to the truth that every person needs God for present life and future hope. Our words of praise and gratitude to the Father might encourage the unsaved to consider the truths of the Son and turn to Him in faith for new life and eternal joy.
David recognized that whenever God reveals Himself, whether above the heavens or upon the earth, He is majestic. His praise is chanted on high and echoed from cradle and nursery. This praise is a sufficient answer to God’s opponents.
What is sweeter than the songs of children? Our hearts are lifted when we hear them singing the Lord’s praises. He is worthy of such adoration, and He sees to it that even helpless “children and nursing babies” (v. 2) draw the world’s attention to Him. The unbelieving world rejects the rule of God, but the forces of darkness cannot silence His praise.
The Savior quoted this verse when the religious authorities complained that some children in the Jerusalem temple courts were singing praise to Jesus as the Son of David. The chief priests and scribes were enraged over what they perceived to be inappropriate conduct and asked the Messiah whether He heard the children’s praises (Matt 21:15–16). The implication is that Jesus was wrong for refusing to stop them.
Jesus, admitting that He did hear the praises, referred His critics to Psalm 8:2, and in this way defended the children against the religious leaders. The boys and girls had spoken more wisely about our Lord than the elitists, and the youngsters were to be commended for doing this. At times, God demonstrates His glory by using those who are perceived as weaker or less consequential than others, in order to make known His name and conquer His enemies (1 Cor 1:27).
David gazed into the heavens once again and considered his place in the grand scheme of creation. Did he matter to God? Was David important and valuable when compared to the countless and magnificent heavenly bodies?
David recognized that what he could see in the sky was the work of God’s “fingers” (Ps 8:3). Of course, David knew that God did not have literal fingers, but in lavish poetic style the composer used a memorable figure of speech to describe God’s creative power.
Verse 4 indicates that the heavens belonged to God, for He made them. We also learn that He set all the solar bodies in exactly the right place for our benefit.
Ultimately, it takes faith to acknowledge that even the universe with its seemingly infinite distances is the work of God. As Hebrews 11:3 says, “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”
Two specific thoughts especially impressed David as he penned the words of Psalm 8. One was the spectacular glory of God as it was reflected in the clear, starry night.
The other thought was the utter amazement that God, in all His majesty, would even be mindful and considerate of the human aspect of His creation—so much so as to crown people with distinction and eminence and to give them lord-like stewardship over the rest of His creation. David admitted that these two thoughts were practically beyond his comprehension.
To respect God’s splendor, we must compare ourselves to His greatness. That’s what David did when he asked, “What is man that you remember him?” (Ps 8:4). Here “man” refers to all humans regardless of their gender (Gen 1:26–27).
David’s use of the phrase “son of man” (Ps. 8:4) looks upon people as mere mortals who are insignificant and transitory. If the entire universe appears microscopic in the sight of the Creator, how much less must be the significance of humanity?
To feel diminutive like this is a healthy way to get back to reality. Of course, God does not want us to become transfixed on our smallness. Rather, He wants us to humbly turn our gaze to Him.
David seemed to do this in verse 5 when he noted that God made human beings a “little lower than the heavenly beings.” The phrase can be rendered, “a little lower than God.” This would ascribe to us even more dignity than being compared with angels (Heb 2:7).
Also, the phrase translated “a little” (Ps. 8:5) could read “for a little while.” This might mean that believers, when glorified in heaven, are somehow “higher” than the angels.
Regardless of whichever interpretations are preferred, it’s clear that God has crowned humankind with “glory and honor.” This insight could not be obtained by looking at the sky or any other part of nature. The composer wrote under the inspiration and authority of the Holy Spirit.
David knew that, despite our apparent unimportance in the universe, we humans are in fact highly valued by God. Our dignity stems from our being made in His image and designated as His stewards over the entire creation (Gen 1:26–27).
Tragically, humanity has not lived up to God’s original mandate. People do not rule the world. Rather, it appears that the world has people under its control.
While God intended people to live and govern the world under His authority, they have rejected that position, choosing instead to go the way of sin, following the plan of God’s archenemy, the devil (Eph 2:1–3). As a result, people find themselves no longer free, but enslaved to the masters they have chosen: sin and the devil (Heb 2:14, 17). And tragically, those two entities brought humanity into further subjection to death itself (vv. 14–15).
Despite Adam’s sin, all people bear vestiges of God’s image (Gen 5:1). Also, followers of Christ are in the process of having the image of God restored in them (Rom 8:29; 2 Cor 5:17; Col 3:10). Therefore, Psalm 8:5 not only applied to Adam and Eve when they were created, but also applies to us.
Furthermore, Hebrews 2 applies David’s words to the Savior. The writer explained that, when Adam introduced sin into the human race, he impaired our ability to be the rulers God intended.
On the one hand, we recognize that not everything is subject to us. On the other hand, we “see Jesus” (v. 9), who fulfilled the ideal David described. All things are subject to the Messiah, including the world to come.
To fulfill the ideal, Jesus had to become a true human being. Like other people, He was made a “little lower than the angels.” So, though Jesus is fully God, He also became fully human. Of course, as a man, the incarnate Son was without sin, and He obeyed the Father even to the point of dying for the iniquities of humanity (Phil 2:5–8).
For the Son’s obedience, the Father crowned Him “with glory and honor.” The resurrected and exalted Son now sits in the place of power and authority as coregent with the Father (Heb 1:3).
Because humans are the only creatures on earth made in God’s image, He put us in charge of the rest of creation (Gen 1:26–30). As Psalm 8:6–8 reminds us, we have dominion over the animal world.
The implication is that we have the right to use nature to meet our needs, while at the same time fulfilling our responsibility to take care of the world around us. This truth is reinforced by the Hebrew verb translated “ruler” in verse 6. The word conveys the idea of oversight, administration, and government, with the extent of the authority dependent on the context in which the term is used.
The Israelites, as God’s chosen people, were privileged to have experienced many of His wonderful provisions. For instance, God promised the nation’s ancestor, Abraham, that his descendants would be too numerous to count, even though he and his wife, Sarah, were well beyond their childbearing years.
Then Abraham and Sarah experienced one of God’s great miracles, and a son was born, whom the parents named Isaac. Later, Isaac became the father of Jacob. Together, these three men became the patriarchs of Israel, the founding leaders of an entire nation bound up in intimate relationship to God.
In giving humanity dominion over creation, God intended for people to exercise control over the animal realm and other natural forces upon the earth. This involves more than merely taming the wild creatures inhabiting the planet.
God created the animal kingdom (in a manner of speaking) and the resources of the earth to serve the needs of humanity. While the sin of the first humans has marred that dominion, the role of humanity is still one of great dignity, and it far exceeds the other created entities existing on earth.
When we candidly take these truths into account, we sense a great opportunity to honor and please God. After all, the Lord has given us everything to bless us and provide for all our needs.
Of course, we require great wisdom in being responsible stewards over God’s creation. It is His masterpiece and we are not at liberty to pillage it for our selfish ends.
Some people claim that humans are no more valuable than any other form of life. Yet, Psalm 8 plainly contradicts that opinion. God has bestowed on us more significance than any other part of the visible creation.
Because of our sin, none of us has perfectly achieved the dignity God originally wanted us to have. That’s why the Father sent the Son to put things right and to restore His creation to glory and honor.
In fact, as Hebrews 2:6–8 reminds us, Psalm 8:4–6 finds ultimate fulfillment in the Messiah. It is because of Him that redeemed humanity will one day be able to fully realize its appointed destiny over the creation.
As noted earlier, David concluded his psalm with another powerful affirmation of God’s glory. The writer’s prelude put him in the proper frame of mind to consider God’s creation works. And his postlude moved him to exclaim “how majestic” (Ps 8:9) God’s name was “in all the earth.”
Admittedly, the bulk of David’s ode describes humanity and its dominion over the earth. Nonetheless, the first verse as well as the last make it clear that David wrote this hymn as an act of worship and praise to God, the Creator.
Key ideas to contemplate
Contemplating God’s eternal greatness and infinite glory has a humbling effect on a person. For instance, when Isaiah did so, he felt doomed (Isa 6:5). Also, when John had a vision of the risen Messiah on the Isle of Patmos, the apostle felt overwhelmed (Rev 1:17). Isaiah and John recognized their own insignificance when they witnessed God’s majestic splendor.
Yet, even though David did not have a vision of the Lord’s glory, Israel’s king did see it displayed in the created universe. David was amazed that God would be both “mindful” (Ps 8:4) of and caring for the people whom He had created.
1. Stand in awe of God’s majesty. Just as a person can stand in awe before a great painting for hours at a time and admire its beauty—taking in every detail, observing every stroke of the brush, and appreciating every choice of color—so a Christian can follow David’s example and contemplate and admire the greatness of God’s universe. Also, just as an artist deserves praise for his or her creative work, so the Creator of the universe rightly deserves our praise, adoration, and worship in response to His magnificent creation.
2. With childlike faith. Sometimes as we grow older, we lose that sense of childlike awe for what is beautiful, magnificent, awesome, or huge. Perhaps we would do well to reclaim not only our childlike eyes, but also our childlike faith in our Creator.
Most children seem able to put their trust in God and praise Him without holding anything back. This was certainly David’s approach. No one would accuse him of reticence in the penning of Psalm 8.
3. For we are God’s creation. Psalm 100:3 says, “Acknowledge that the Lord is God. He made us, and we are his. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.”
When aligned beside the greatness of God, we pale in comparison. Recognizing this truth ought to cause us to be both humble and worshipful.
We are humbled because we are a tiny part of God’s creation. We are worshipful because we are His creation, and He has granted to us a special status, that is, being made in His image.
4. A little lower than the angels. Not only are we stamped with the image of God, but also we have been created a “little lower than the angels” (Heb 2:7). So, if we ever feel tempted to question our worth as a person, let us remember how valuable the Father considers us to be, especially in baptismal union with His Son.
5. To exercise dominion. God has ultimate rule over the earth, and He exercises His authority with loving care. When God delegated some of His authority to the human race, He expected us to take responsibility for the environment and the other creatures that share our planet.
We should not be careless or wasteful as we fulfill this charge. After all, God was careful how He made this earth. Likewise, we should not be careless in our oversight of the planet.