God’s Greatness and Goodness – Psalm 8
By: Alistair Brown
Something that looks like a very small challenge in parenthood is often a very big challenge indeed. What is that? Persuading your child it’s time to let go of a favorite toy, favorite teddy, favorite blanket.
The parent is very logical about the matter. “You’re grown up now,” says Dad or Mom.
“Yes,” says child, “but teddy is my best friend. I love him.”
Parent tries to reason some more. “Listen, teddy has one eye missing, one arm torn off, his seams are split and the stuffing is coming out in three places.”
“It doesn’t matter,” says the little one, “because he’s my teddy and I’m keeping him.”
Many parents have had that conversation and lost, even when the child was grown up enough to be heading off to college.
Here’s the truth behind the story, that love is not dependent on attractiveness and not dependent on everything functioning perfectly. Love loves no matter what.
Psalm 8 – which is a psalm with David’s name as author – describes God’s love for us just like that.
It is one of my most favorite psalms, describing God in his glory, and full of encouragement for how valued and special we are. The commentator Derek Kidner has this to say about Psalm 8:
“This psalm is an unsurpassed example of what a hymn should be, celebrating as it does the glory and grace of God, rehearsing who He is and what He has done, and relating us and our world to Him; all with a masterly economy of words, and in a spirit of mingled joy and awe.”
With those great words in mind, let’s read it.
1 Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
in the heavens.
2 Through the praise of children and infants
you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
3 When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
5 You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
you put everything under their feet:
7 all flocks and herds,
and the animals of the wild,
8 the birds in the sky,
and the fish in the sea,
all that swim the paths of the seas.
9 Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
This psalm is a hymn of celebration.
1. It is a hymn in celebration of God’s greatness.
The opening and closing words of the psalm are the same: “Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (vs. 1, 9) At the beginning and end of the psalm God’s greatness is declared.
That theme runs throughout but here are three examples of God’s greatness which are highlighted in this psalm.
1) God rules everywhere.
David writes “how majestic is your name in all the earth!” (v.1)
In ancient times the glory of an earthly king was seen only by those who attended his court or the crowds who saw his royal parades. That was never more than a small audience. But God’s glory is seen everywhere. His handiwork is clear for every person to recognize “in all the earth.”
The same message is in the New Testament. The apostle Paul writes that “…since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made…” (Rom. 1:20).
So, the God whose majesty is known in all the earth is superior above any earthly ruler. His presence, his power, his glory is everywhere. This great God is supreme above all things he has made. He is the God who rules and reigns over every creature. His greatness is recognized over all the earth.
2) God triumphs over all who oppose him.
The Lord, David writes, has built a stronghold against his enemies, and has silenced his foes. I have explored many old castles and even a fortress built on top of a hill. Most of these are ruins now, but what remains very impressive is the work that went into creating those strongholds. The strongest men in the land must have been used to haul giant stones from quarries and drag those great rocks into place to build walls to withstand every missile the enemy could hurl against them.
God has also built a stronghold, but he has done it very differently. David writes:
Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. (v.2)
The praise of children silences God’s enemies. God is honored by the praise of little ones. God has all power, including any number of mighty warriors, all the heavy forces he could want to end all opposition at any moment. But all he has needed is the praise of children. When even the smallest and weakest of his creation praises God, his enemies are silenced.
3) God made everything we see and touch.
Addressing God, David talks about: “your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place” (v. 3).
His emphasis is constantly and consistently on what God has done, here early in the psalm and later as he describes the creatures God has put on this earth. This is God’s work; this is God’s glorious creation. He has made every star, every mountain, every sea, every tree, every flower, every vegetable, every fish, every bird, every animal, every person. His fingers pushed the planets into their place, his command shaped the hills and valleys and brought animals into being, his hands took dust and made human form and his breath gave them life.
Many who have stood before a President or a Prime Minister or a King or Queen have found themselves lost for words. All the clever or wise things they had planned to say were suddenly gone, and they manage just a few hesitant words. Why? “I was in the presence of a great person,” they say, “and I suppose I was overawed.”
If we can be overawed by someone with the limited power and temporary rule of an earthly leader, then how much more awe when encountering the Lord of heaven and earth? He made it all. He made it all magnificently. The first chapter of Genesis ends with these words: “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). It was very good. It was – and is – truly amazing, the work of the Lord our God.
2. It is a hymn in celebration of God’s goodness to people like us.
When David considers God’s glory and all that God has made, he writes: “what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” (v. 4)
And then David goes on with a remarkable list of how God honors men and women like us:
- Made only a little lower than the angels.
- Crowned with glory and honor.
- Made rulers over the world God has made.
- All creatures made subject to the rule and care of these people (vs. 5-8).
David is making two points here:
1) How remarkable it is that a God who is so above all others and who has shaped the heavens should care at all for mere human beings.
In Thailand I watched Buddhist priests walk slowly with heads bent over staring at the ground. Why bent over? Because those priests don’t want to tread on even a single ant. They don’t want to kill a single creature, no matter how small and insignificant. I confess I have probably killed many ants. I have walked streets in Thailand and other places without looking down because I was admiring the beautiful scenery or busy talking to a delightful friend. I gave no thought to the tiny creatures who might fall under my feet. Lest you condemn me, my guess is that most of us are like that. We are busy with so many things – more important things – that we cannot be forever wondering about small things.
God cares about small things. He made the whole universe. He fashioned the heavens and the earth and continues to do work in his world each day. And still – to David’s amazement – he cares for you and for me. We are small, very small, but we are noticed, valued and loved.
Jesus made the same point even more extensively and strongly by pointing to the birds of the air and flowers in the fields, and saying God feeds those birds and clothes that grass magnificently, and so be sure that you, who are far more valuable, will also be cared for and provided for. (Matt. 6:25-34)
The God who made and watches over the whole universe values ordinary people like you and me.
2) Even more remarkably, God puts people like us in a place of great honor and responsibility.
In the psalm David points to our high status of being just a little lower than the angels, and our position to control and influence so much of God’s creation.
One lesson, then, from this psalm has to do with responsibility for God’s creation. Have you ever given someone a book to read and got it back with its spine broken? Have you ever loaned a colleague a pen and it was returned with its clip broken or not returned at all? Has someone borrowed a suit or a dress or a coat and returned it stained or torn? When they were given these things, did they not accept a responsibility to return them in as good a condition as when they were loaned? After all, you owned them; they merely had temporary use of them.
And should we not look after the creation all around us because God made it and still owns it? We are only temporary residents, people allowed to use God’s world for a time.
What God made matters even if only because he made it and we are answerable to him for what we do with his creation. And, of course, it matters as the place he has given us and all his creatures to live. Psalm 8 says we are responsible for it.
But in the psalm that’s not all. David stresses our place of great honor because it shows how God values us. Not only did God make us but God gives us significance, influence, and authority in his world. We are important for his work.
When I was about fourteen or fifteen I was in the Boy Scouts and I was made a Patrol Leader. I also played cricket at my High School, and I was made Captain of the Second XI (the second or reserve team). In both those roles, I took my leadership responsibilities seriously, and I’m sure that was good for me. But what was even better for me was the boost to my self-esteem. I was made Patrol Leader. I was made Captain. People believed in me: they believed in my skills, in my character and my ability to lead others. I was important.
We are important to God. He lifts us above all other creatures and makes us responsible for his world. That is no small thing. It’s a major thing. And it should inspire us to take our role seriously, and also inspire wonder and gratitude that we should be given such a place in the plans of God and in the heart of God.
“Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” David writes in each of the first and last verses of Psalm 8. What that glorious cry of delight sandwiches is a celebration of God’s greatness and a celebration of God’s goodness to people like us. This is a great psalm.
 Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72, in ‘Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries’, Gen. Ed. D.J. Wiseman (London: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973), 65-66.
Jesus used words from this psalm to teach that too. “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they asked him. “Yes,” replied Jesus, “have you never read, “‘From the lips of children and infants you, Lord, have called forth your praise’?” (Matt. 21:16)