The Messianic Psalms
Dr. John Boyd is a Specialist in Medicine. He practises in Belfast, Ireland. In spite of his many duties, he makes time for precise biblical studies. We always appreciate articles from him. His present contribution on the Messianic Psalms is excellent. This is the second in the series.
Messiah — God’s Glorious Man
This beautiful Psalm depicts man as God intended him to be. It is a Psalm of praise to God for His exaltation of man. Here is ideal humanity; here is described the glory originally given to Adam, but from which lofty height he fell by reason of sin. But the citation from the Psalm in Hebrews 2:6-8 establishes its consummation in the future Messiah. In Christ — the last Adam, this glory, manifested at His first advent, will be more fully displayed when He returns again to earth.
The historical occasion of the Psalm is difficult to ascertain. David is the author, and verse 3 might suggest that it was written when he was a shepherd watching his flock by night. The Psalm is set for the Gittith — either a Gittite harp, an instrument used in Gath, or more likely, Gittith may be derived from a word meaning winepress — the harp of the winepress, referring to the time of the ingathering of the harvest of the vines. It would be used at the Feast of Tabernacles. It was a joyful instrument, and as such well-suited for this, the most joyous of the seven annual Feasts of Jehovah, a feast of thanksgiving for the harvest safely gathered (Lev. 23:39). And this is a joyful, thanksgiving Psalm, rejoicing in the goodness of God in His dealings with man. Whilst the Psalm is retrospective of the glory of the Messiah, God’s ideal Man; the Psalm is prophetic of the time when the glory of God’s name will be manifested on earth as in Heaven. It is a time when God will be acknowledged and worshipped in all the earth (Zech. 14:16).
The Arrangement of the Psalm
Psalm 8 begins and ends with a tribute of praise to God for the excellence of His manifested glory and majesty on earth, thus setting forth its theme. In between these expressions of praise we have three stanzas. The first and second stanzas contain four lines each, and the third eight lines (see R. V. setting).
v. 1a - Introduction
The excellent majesty of Jehovah.
vv. 1b-2 - Stanza 1
The excellence of God’s glory —seen in man’s dependence.
vv. 3-4 - Stanza 2
The excellence of God’s grace —seen in man’s exaltation.
vv. 5-8 - Stanza 3
The excellence of God’s gift — seen in man’s dominion.
v. 9 - Epilogue
The excellent majesty of Jehovah.
Let us examine the Psalm in more detail. In the introduction we have two titles given to God, each translated by the word “Lord;” (1) Jehovah, telling of the essential, uncommunicated being, the unchanging and eternal nature of God. This is the personal name by which God was known to men (Ex. 3:15). (2) Adonai, the acknowledged owner and ruler of Israel, on whose behalf the Psalmist praises the majesty of God’s name — the expression of His character, how He has revealed Himself in the earth. Thus in this ascription of praise to Jehovah, Israel recognizes Him as their sovereign ruler, because they belong to Him, by calling and by redemption (Isa. 43:1). This, too, is how Israel regards the coming Messiah. His deity is recognized. He is JEHOVAH ADONAI, God ruling over the earth, and fully displaying the excellence of His majesty.
The Excellence of God’s Glory (vv. lb-2)
This excellence is seen in man’s dependence upon God. The Psalmist first recalls that Jehovah had set His glory upon (R.V.) the heavens. He has stamped the heavens with His glory. And so shall it be on earth, as He uses babes and sucklings, dependent ones, to carry out His mighty works. It is God’s plan to manifest His mighty power through the weakness of men, not through their might. He chooses the weak things of the world to confound the mighty (1 Cor. 1:27). God’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:9). It was so at the triumphal entry into Jerusalem of the Messiah during His first advent. The Lord applied this Scripture to the crying of the children at the temple, as they bade Him welcome with their Hosannas (Matt. 21:16). On that occasion the ‘babes and sucklings’ stilled the avenging enmity of the chief priests and scribes.
But the supreme example of the manifestation of God’s glory in man’s dependent weakness is to be found in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. He who came as the Babe of Bethlehem’s manger into the fraility of our incarnation, the meek and lowly One, the Seed of the woman (the weak vessel), the dependent Man (John 5:19), the submissive Lamb of God, demonstrated the glory of God as, crucified in weakness, He bruised the serpent’s head in the final defeat of Calvary. There He stilled the vindictive enemy of God and man, and destroyed him that had the power of death, that is, the devil.
The Excellence of God’s Grace (vv. 3-4)
God’s grace is manifested in His bounteous favour to man, exalted above all His other creations. David was possibly contemplating God whilst watching his flock. He looked at the heavens, and saw God’s handiwork. He refers to the moon and the stars, but makes no mention of the sun. This is a night scene, when the immensity of God’s creation is better realized as one gazes at the clear shining moon and the innumerable stars scattered all over the wide expanse of the night sky. These in all their vastness are but the work of God’s fingers. He fashioned and moulded them all, and set each in its appointed course according to His inscrutable wisdom. How infinitely great, then, must be the God who created these!
Just as the heavens are stamped with God’s workmanship so is the earth, for there God has created man. What astounds the Psalmist is that God should show so much interest in man, so insignificant by comparison with the heavenly bodies. The first Hebrew word translated “man” in v. 4 is “enosh,” emphasizing his fraility. The second word for “man” is “adam,” indicating his lowly origin, the dust of the ground (Gen. 2:7). The term “son of man” thus implies descent from such humble stock. God’s intercourse with man is described as being mindful of him — thinking of his interests, and visiting him — taking care of him. How condescending is so great a God towards so frail and unworthy a creature!
The Psalmist wonders why man is thus chosen by God for preferential treatment — man that is of humble origin, and frail and failing in his nature. But God has been working always from a pre-conceived plan. His favour towards man was not misplaced. Hebrews 2 indicates that in the Messiah God had found the perfect Man, One who ever gave Him delight; One who in His very manhood displayed the glory of God; One who fully did God’s will, especially in the great work of reconciling all things to Him (Col. 1:20). The Messiah is the answer to the Psalmist’s problem, for He vindicated the excellence of God’s grace, and will yet in a coming day more gloriously set it forth.
The Excellence of God’s Gift (vv. 5-8)
The excellence of God’s workmanship in connection with man is set forth in His fourfold gift to man at creation.
(1) Man’s nearness to God, a little lower than the angels, or God (R.V.), literally, “elohim,” usually rendered God in the Old Testament. In the Psalmist’s mind God and the angels are closely related. Man is but a little lower, because subject to death, unlike God and angels. (2) Man’s coronation with glory and honour — made in the image and glory of God (1 Cor. 11:7). (3) Man’s dominion over God’s creation. God made him to rule over His works. The word translated ‘works’ here is the same as in verse 3, and possibly includes the control of the wind and the sea (Matt. 8:25). (4)Man’s supremacy over the animals of land, sky and water. Man’s sovereignty extends over all places on earth. The sheep and oxen represent the tamed animals, the beasts of the field the wild animals. These with the birds and fishes constitute man’s domain. Such was God’s original edict at the creation of man. For this purpose God made him. This dominion man has to a great degree forfeited through sin, but it was manifested in the Messiah at His first advent (Mk. 1:13, 4:39, 11:2), and will be seen again in a greater degree during His millennial reign (Isa. 11:6-10).
Hebrews 2:5-10 is the main New Testament commentary on this stanza. It refers more particularly to the dominion and supremacy of man in the world to come; that is, in the coming administration of the inhabited earth, the millennial kingdom of the Messiah, when He will have the saints as His associates in ruling the world.
Originally spoken of Adam, the fulfilment of these verses is not now evident, save in One, Jesus. He in His first coming to earth was made a little lower than the angels that He might suffer man’s death, impossible to angels. We see Him then also crowned with the glory and honour of man’s humanity, that He might taste death for every man.
At the Lord’s second advent this eighth Psalm will have its grand consummation. Then shall we see in all their fulness man’s nearness to God; his coronation with glory and honour; his dominion over God’s works; his supremacy over the animal creation. 1 Corinthians 15:27 also refers this Psalm to the millenial reign of the Messiah.
Well then might the Psalmist reiterate the ascription of praise to Jehovah with which he commenced. How truly did God manifest His excellence in His choice of man! Into this state His Son would come, and show forth God’s greatness, first in the work of redemption for mankind and in reconciliation of all things to Himself. Secondly, as the Messiah He will manifest perfect government and control over the whole world. What a day awaits this sad, unhappy, war-torn world of ours! All will be in complete control under the hand of that Man whom God had foreseen and appointed to great glory. Messiah, both Son of God and Son of Man, will demonstrate in His own person the excellency of God’s name.