The question ‘what is man?’ is a question put before us in Psalm 8. It is a question which has occupied the mind of humanity though history. What is the measure of man? What gives humans value, identity and purpose?
Is it our intelligence, our gender, our sexuality, our achievements? The Psalm answers the question, not by beginning with man, but by beginning with God. Our value, identity and purpose comes from recognising who God is and what he has done for us, and by responding appropriately in praise.
Thus the Psalm begins by directing our vision upwards. It begins (and ends) with the same words; ‘O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth’. King David is attributed with the authorship. He knows the Lord personally as do those he includes in this song of praise (O Lord, our Lord). The subject of David’s praise is the majestic ‘name’ of the Lord, Yahweh. The name of God embraces His whole character as God revealed himself through his mighty works of salvation and power. Foremost among his achievements is his creative glory. David continues, ‘You have set your glory above the heavens’(v1), and in verse 3; ‘When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and stars you have set in place..’ Here we may picture David out in the fields at night, peering up into a clear pollution free sky, marvelling at the magnificence of the beauty and starry host. He is reminded there that the Lord, his Lord and ‘our Lord’ is entirely responsible for all this. This alone demands the Lord be praised. Even little infants can recognise and praise God for this wonder. Indeed little children often expose the wonders of God which may be lost to adults, such as the little children who praised Jesus as God’s king, but were scorned by the leaders. (Mtt. 21:14-17)
But David’s praise is also demanded by another extraordinary work of God; his grace and love for man. David continues (verse 4); ‘What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?’
With such awesome power displayed in the creative expanse above him, David marvels at the fact that the same Creator of the universe should condescend to care about we puny human beings. The word for ‘man’ here is literally ‘frail man’. By comparison with God, there is nothing in man to be proud of. There is no innate strength or ability in man to achieve a fraction of what God has done. With all of our greatest achievements in arts and technology, no human masterpiece is a patch on this great tapestry. Recognising this deserves God’s rightful praise.
David further ponders God’s relationship with we ‘frail’ humans. He marvels at the fact that God is not only mindful of us, not only does he care for us, but he has also placed us in a very privileged position. He has made man ‘a little lower than the angels and crowned him with glory and honour’. (v5) This undeserved glory is most clearly expressed in man’s role of ruling over God’s creation; ‘You made him rule over your hands, you put everything under his feet’.(v6) Every perfect creature of God’s hand is placed under man’s control. That is the responsibility given to the first man at creation. Sadly the pride and selfishness of man spoiled the creation and with it the relationship God had given in trust. The New Testament writers observe an apparent inconsistency with verse 6 and observed reality. Clearly not ‘everything’ is under man’s feet. (Heb 2:8) Man has not been able to rule over the forces of nature, sickness and death. How then can this Psalm speak of ‘all things’ being under man’s rule, including death? The answer given is through Jesus. He was the only perfect man who ruled over all earthly domain, even death itself. He took on our frail humanity and demonstrated his reign over the wind and waves, sickness and disease. And ultimately he demonstrated his authority over death itself. ‘He suffered death so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.’ Then he rose again ‘to bring many sons to glory’. (Heb 2:9-10)
Jesus is the ‘man’ this Psalm speaks prophetically about. He is the one whom God sent to redeem frail humanity, and to restore us to our God-given place in his creation to rule with him. God’s grace is what gives us value, identity and purpose. For that he deserves our gratitude and praise. “O Lord our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!”