A Meditation of the Davidic King on the Means of the Display of God’s Glory

Psalm 8: A Meditation of David on the Means of the Display of God’s Glory

The thesis of this paper is: the eighth Psalm communicates the gracious and indispensable role of humanity in God’s creational and, by virtue of the Fall, redemptive plan to cover the whole of creation with his majestic glory as redeemed humanity embraces and appropriates God’s commission to extend the borders of His reign.  The basis of this thesis is the King’s reflection upon the divine intention of universal worship, the present reality of the Davidic foe, the created order, and Genesis 1:26-28.  In his meditation the structure of the argument for the stated thesis is discovered: first, God is concerned for the display of his majestic glory (8:1-2a, 9); secondly, both the King and God have enemies on account of the Fall that seek to harm and hinder the eschatological purpose of God through the King (8:2b-c); and thus, thirdly, David’s reflections take a threefold course: first, that humanity as is, is not in practice what it was originally created to be: the crown of God’s good creation (8:3-4).  This moves him, then, secondly, to consider the necessity of the redemption of fallen humanity, a redemption to be accomplished through the Davidic lineage.  Finally, David understands this redemption to be inseparable from the restoration of the divine commission to humanity in Eden that they should participate with God as his royal viceroys in the eschatological advancement of his glory over all the earth and uninhibited presence with the righteous forever (8:5-8).  The New Testament understands this redemption to come by virtue of the Son of God becoming the Son of David, God putting on flesh, and personally appropriating this divine intention as a man, succeeding where Adam failed, and thus, restoring believing humanity to their God-given dominion and purpose both now in part and perfectly in glory (Matt 21:14-16; Heb 2:1-18).

God’s Concern for the Display of His Glory (Ps 8:1-2a, 9)

David begins with a praise that expresses the most fundamental desire of God: the display of his majestic glory.  The declaration of God’s covenantal name in 8:1a is directly related to the majesty of God’s name in 8:1c.  The God of Israel is not an unknown God, but a God who has revealed himself to Israel as the great I AM (Exod 3:14-17).  The Exodus narrative invests this name with a majesty that causes all the other nations to tremble in fear.  It is clear that God reveals his name as bound to himself as One who is unique, transcendent and imminent, concerned for his glory, the Redeemer of Israel, the Destroyer of nations, the God of the covenant, the Holy One of Israel, “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty” (Exod 34:6-7).  David calls this LORD, “our Lord,” the God of Israel, and his name “majestic . . . in all the earth” (8:1a-c, 9).  To David, the name is inseparable from the God whom it describes.  It is instructive that Moses, when asking to behold God’s glory (Exod 33:18), receives from the Lord the description of divine attributes as quoted above from Exodus 34:6-7.  God answers Moses’ request for glory by reciting the divine name.  Name and glory are, thus, intimately related to one another.  As Israel, and particularly the Davidic king, operates under and upholds the banner of God’s name, they advance his majestic glory throughout all the earth.  Thus, the indispensable nature of humanity’s role in the display of God’s glory.

As God’s name is majestic in all the earth, so he has “set his glory above the heavens” (8:1d).  All of creation, from the singular blade of grass to the luminaries in the heavens, declares the majestic name and glory of God.  That the sons of Adam do not recognize it apart from redemption does not negate the fact that it is nevertheless plain – there is a God and he is glorious.  Indeed, that he is the One who has set such majesty and glory in place reveals his utmost concern for the display of his glory in the world.  There is an apparent union of the earth and the heavens in the declaration of this glory, a near fusing of the two together in splendid chorus; and as the earth and the heavens know and declare this God to be majestic in glory, it is no wonder that they should be called as witnesses of YHWH against the Israel who failed to glorify him as God (Deut 4:25-31).

What follows, however, is most surprising!  There is yet another way in which God establishes his glory.  It is not only the earth and the heavens that praise God’s majestic glory, but “the mouth of babes and infants” (8:2a).  So it is that God will be praised by the humblest of humanity, by children!  That it is “out of the mouth of babes and infants,” implies a verbal declaration of praise.  By this humble praise, God establishes strength against his foes, “to still the enemy and the avenger” (8:2b-c).  Calvin paints a powerful picture writing,

“It means the same thing as if he had said, These are invincible champions of God who, when it comes to the conflict, can easily scatter and dicomfit the whole host of the wicked despisers of God, and those who have abandoned themselves to impiety. . . .David in mockery of them brings into the field of battle against them the mouths of infants, which he says are furnished with armour of sufficient strength, and endued with sufficient fortitude, to lay their intolerable pride in the dust.”

David, as Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, establishes the divine antithesis with the power structures of the world which oppose God and his glory.  God’s means of righteous battle, declaring what is true about God in all the earth, he does through the mouth of babes and infants.  By this route, God gets all of the glory!

Interestingly, Matthew understands the establishment of strength against God’s enemies to be the declaration of praise from the mouths of children (Matt 21:14-16).  The strength that God establishes is the declaration of his glory from humble origins.  Praise, the right response to and declaration of who God is and what God has done redemptively, is the establishment of strength against his foes.  This is ultimately fulfilled in the praise given to Christ as he comes triumphantly into Jerusalem.  Having entered the city, and performed miracles indicative of the coming of the kingdom of God, children cried out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David”  (Matt 21:15)!  At this, the chief priests and scribes became indignant and suggested that Jesus recant such praise.  Instead, he quotes Psalm 8:2!  Ironically, the religious elite of Israel are identified as the foes of God and the Davidic king.  It is not they, but children who respond with worship to the redemptive revelation of God in Christ.  Jesus is set forth as God’s means of defeating his foes, and children as God’s means of shaming them by the declaration of God’s glory as they saw it in Jesus Christ!  Thus, by the earth, the heavens, and the mouth of babes and infants, God reveals his concern for the display of his majestic glory, a concern supremely displayed in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  On account of the Fall, however, there are obstacles to overcome in the realization of this display and humanity’s participation in it.

The Enemies of God and the Davidic King (Ps 8:2b-c)

The importance of highlighting the enemies of God and the Davidic king is related to the failure of humanity to accomplish its divinely ordained purpose, its outright opposition to it, and the necessity of what follows, specifically, the necessity of redemption and the restoration of humanity to its role in God’s glorious plan.  Both the context of Psalm 8 and Psalm 8:2b-c establish the sinfulness of humanity in their opposition to the display of God’s glory through the Davidic king.

The Context of Psalm 8

The eighth Psalm is a song of respite and missionary reflection in the midst of turmoil.  Psalms 1 and 2 set the course for the entire Psalter.  As they go together, they identify the Deuteronomic king.  All who take refuge in Him enter into the blessed state that these two psalms speak of.  But it also reveals the reality of the wicked and the fallen state of man.  Instead of extending the boundaries of the garden of God over the face of the earth, “the nations rage”, “the peoples plot in vain”, “the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us’” (Ps 2:1-3).  Humanity is warned not to continue in their rebellion, and yet they persist.  Moreover, while it becomes apparent as early as Psalm 3 that the historical David is not the conquering Messiah of Psalm 2, he nevertheless experienced the antagonism of rebellious humanity as a type of him who was to come.

With the entrance of Psalm 3 we are greeted with the historical reality of the world’s rebellion against God and the Davidic dynasty.  Absalom, one example of David’s enemies in general, seeks to usurp his father and to some degree succeeds in doing so for a time.  Amidst this event in David’s life he exudes great confidence in the Lord.  Nevertheless, David struggles to understand his circumstance in light of the reality and promise of His covenant Lord (2 Sam 7:9-11).  It is clear that his soul is in great anguish and that there may even be a progression of despair that climaxes in Psalm 6.  In Psalm 7 David takes his stance upon YHWH, that the Lord will deliver him from his enemies by allowing the mischief of the wicked to return upon their own head, their violence upon their own skull (Ps 7:15-16 cf. Gen 3:15).  Psalm 8 is the eye of the storm.  And while the import of his enemies finds its place in the Psalm, it stands as David’s reaffirmation of YHWH’s redemptive purpose: that despite his enemies, God will establish his glory and advance it through the instrumentality of redeemed humanity. As David stands as one redeemed, he desires what God desires, and perhaps then, resigns himself to consider that God, who is rich in mercy, might also redeem other rebels and convert them to his divine cause as it is expressed in support of the Davidic kingship.

Psalm 8:2b-c

David is very plain here: God, majestic in glory, has his foes, enemies, and those who live for vengeance against his universal reign.  As these are set in the immediate context of Psalm 8, their rage is most certainly against the praise of God’s glory and his plan to delineate it across the entire cosmos.  As this plan is to be administered through God’s covenant with David (2 Sam 7:8-29), the threat against God’s plan is a threat against the throne of David, the seed of the woman.  In fact, an attack on the Davidic king will be an attack on God and his plan to magnify his glory as well, as David’s understanding of the covenant reveals (2 Sam 7:18-29).  This will ultimately be realized in the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, where the Son of David is the Son of God.  The point to be highlighted, however, is that man is not behaving in accord with God’s creational plan, but rather fighting and warring against it.  This reality drives the three final reflections of the Psalm: humanity as the crown of God’s creation in spite of their fallenness; the necessity, then, of their redemption through the Davidic Messiah; and the inseparable connection between redemption and the resumption of the divine commission to humanity in Eden that they should participate with God as his royal viceroys in the eschatological advancement of his glory over all the earth and uninhibited presence with the righteous forever.

The Place of Humanity in the Created Order (Ps 8:3-4)

David moves to a meditation upon the luminaries of the heavens, particularly those which light up the night, the moon and the stars.  As 8:5-8 immediately follows, it should not be too amazing that David reflects upon Genesis 1 here also.  “In the beginning, God created the heavens . . . And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good.  And God separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.  And there was evening and morning, the first day” (Gen 1:1, 3-5).  The existence of the heavens and the luminaries in the heavens are indicative of God’s eternal being and creative, effectual Word.  They are demonstrative of God’s creative power and glory.  As this is the first thing that God creates, so the mention of this particular act in Psalm 8:3-4 seems to assume the rest of God’s creative activity along with it – especially when this (Gen 1:1, 3-5) is immediately followed by David’s reflection upon Genesis 1:26-28 in Psalm 8:5-8, as if to sandwich the rest of Genesis 1 in between.

In point of fact, the luminaries would be copied in the design of the tabernacle and the temple in Israel in order to capture the reality of Genesis 1 in microcosm.  They were an essential point of reflection in the holy place, reminding the people of Israel of God’s original sanctuary lost through the Fall, and more positively, of his steadfast intention to inhabit the whole created order.  Thus, the tabernacle and temple were symbolically designed to point to the cosmic eschatological reality that God’s glorious presence would inhabit the whole earth.  This sort of symbolism goes quite well with David’s reflection in Psalm 8.  As he perceives the luminaries, he is overtaken with two seemingly irreconcilable realities: first, God will display his tabernacling glory in all the earth.  The entire cosmos, visible and invisible, was within the tabernacle, and thus pointed to the eschatological reality that John depicts in Revelation 21 of the whole world as the dwelling place of God.  But, secondly, the humanity that was to have the crowning role in this plan, is now largely in rebellion against God and his plan.  Adam and Eve were to serve as priests in this Edenic sanctuary, serving the divine purpose by extending the boundaries of the sanctuary until it encompassed the entirety of the earth.  This commission was to be helped by the command to populate the earth.  As the population increased, so the temple-garden would become a temple-city.  But as Adam and Eve failed in this, the entirety of the human race became antagonistic to it also.  Indeed, in light of these luminaries and what they signify, and the fallen state of man, “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him” (Ps 8:4)?  David answers in the vein of Genesis 1:26-28: the crown of God’s creation responsible for accomplishing this divine task, which is his glory and honor.  The question then remains, “How will man’s dominion be restored in order that he might do what God has created and commissioned him to do?”

Redemption Through David’s Line (Ps 8:5-8)

In Psalm 8, David articulates the eschatological goal of God as it is to be mediated through humanity – but this humanity is in rebellion against God.  They are not what they were created to be.  The Fall resulted in the curse, and in the curse is implied an existence in direct contrast to that put forth in Genesis 1:26-28.  David is assuredly aware of this in Psalm 8:5-8, and it would be safe to assume that he perceives humanity to be in the exact opposite state that they were created in, and therein, incapable of appropriating their commission.  The image of God is marred.  The authority associated with the image of God is belittled by a creation that God has cursed.  Most importantly, the essential ingredient to appropriating the divine intention to display the glory of God in all the earth has been spoiled – dominion has been lost, and worse yet, has been replaced by slavery to a serpent.

The fact that David does not present Genesis 1:26-28 as such in Psalm 8:5-8 reveals his confidence that the ideal of Genesis 1:26-28, the ideal lost through Adam’s sin, will be restored to humanity through another – one from David’s line.  The slavery that causes men to be antagonistic to God, the Davidic king, and the purpose of God through him, must be destroyed.  In order for this to happen, the serpent must be destroyed.  As it is not a matter of if, but when this will happen (cf. Gen 3:15), David holds firmly to the redemption of men from slavery and the restoration of their dominion by which they can appropriate the call to extend the boundaries of God’s majestic glory.  Indeed, it will not be in David’s building of a house for God that God will forever dwell with his people, but in God’s building a house for David that will establish his throne forever (2 Sam 7:4-11).  To be submitted, then, is this: David understands from God’s covenantal promise that the destroyer will be destroyed by David’s greater Son, and dominion, even an eternal throne, will be established and restored.  Whereas David’s building would, if it were possible, isolate God to a room, God’s building – climaxed in the person and work of Christ – has begun to and will inevitably fill the whole earth with his glorious presence as men are freed from bondage to sin and renewed into the image of his Son, becoming truly human once more.  The writer of Hebrews clarifies this in Hebrews 2:1-18.

Restoration of Dominion and Commission in Jesus Christ (Ps 8:4-9)

In Psalm 8:5-8, David reflects point for point in somewhat of a reverse order upon God’s creation and commission of man in his original righteousness.  Dominion is the main thrust of these four verses, for it will be by a dominion carried out in righteousness under God that serves to advance the majestic glory of God over the face of creation.  Upon these verses Delitzsch concurs, “Man is a king, and not a king without territory; the world around, with the works of creative wisdom which fill it, is his kingdom.”  David, however, understands this dominion to be lost through the Fall, though not irretrievable.  The God of promise will redeem and restore man to his place of glory and honor in the divine drama of history.  The question remains, then, “how so?”  The immediate answer must be located within the instrumentality of the Davidic king (2 Samuel 7).  How this will play out in history is still yet quite uncertain.  This, it seems, is the understanding with which the author of Hebrews pens his second chapter, the first eighteen verses.

In an almost unfathomable mystery, dominion will be restored to men through their human representative who happens to be the second Person of the Trinity.  This mystery is bound to the Incarnation.  In the fullness of time, the Son of God became a human being, and succeeded in the divinely ordained purpose with which Adam and his failing posterity were invested in Eden.  Through him, fallen humanity is redeemed and recreated in order to be conformed to his righteous human image.  Through him, humanity is united once again with the presence of God, as worshippers indwelled by the Spirit of God.  Through him, redeemed humanity receives again that divine imperative of God to advance his glorious name over all the earth, and now, through the proclamation of the Gospel.  Ultimately, we shall not only enter the temple garden once more, but the temple city that covers the entire earth.  It remains to be seen, however, how the author of Hebrews aligns Psalm 8:4-6 with the person and work of the God-man, Jesus Christ, in Hebrews 2:1-18.  Six brief points of connection must be observed.

First, the author interprets Psalm 8:4-6 as testifying to God’s sovereign subjection of “the world to come” to humanity, and specifically to him who was, in his sinless and divine image, truly human.  Thus, Jesus is the representative Man through whom humanity will be redeemed and restored to its place of dominion and that inseparable appropriation of the divine imperative.  This, too, was to a slighter degree the meditation of David: the subjection of the world to come by God to humanity through the Son of David (Heb 2:5).

Secondly, the dominion to be had by Christ is a complete dominion.  Nothing is to be left outside of his control.  As such, under God and Christ, redeemed humanity shall inherit the earth and rule over it as royal stewards (Heb 2:8).  The four points that follow explicate further this reality of redemption and restoration in Christ.

Thus, thirdly, the author elaborates on the means of this person and his work, first, in the Incarnation (Heb 2:9).  This is a direct illusion to Psalm 8:5.  That Jesus was made “lower than the angels” “for a little while” implies that it was not always so, nor that it is now so.  But that it was necessary for the Son of God to be born of a virgin, becoming incarnate, in order that he might through death redistribute life, destroying the devil and his dominion over humanity.  Fourthly, having observed the Incarnation, the author elaborates on its primary purpose – the ability to suffer and die (Heb 2:9-11, 14-18).  He calls this “suffering of death” Jesus’ crown of glory and honor.  Undoubtedly, “crowned with glory and honor” in Psalm 8:5 refers to the creation of man in the image of God and the honor of his dominion over creation and consequent commission.  As in Genesis this was bestowed upon man by virtue of life, it is bestowed upon Christ by virtue of his death, for by his death he was exalted and true life poured out for many once more.  As this death was his taste of death for everyone, so through him many sons are brought out of wrath and shame and into glory and honor again.

Fifthly, redeemed humanity receives the amazing privilege of being of the same origin as he, namely, God.  That is to say, believers are part of the family of God even as Christ.  He calls the redeemed his “brothers,” (Heb 2:11) and so it is to be observed that he has accomplished that redemption and restoration of men to their original dominion in part now and, in glory, perfectly.  He has made a new humanity centered upon himself.

Finally, the restoration of believing humanity to dominion – the fulfillment of David’s meditation – is most fantastically noted in this: Christ, in destroying the devil through his death and resurrection, has – as the need has been postulated here – delivered “all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Heb 2:14-15).  As Jesus has freed us from the devil’s dominion, he has restored to us our God-given dominion (Gen 1:26-28 cf. Ps 8:4-8), and with this, the inseparable commission and joyful privilege of extending the boundaries of God’s majestic glory through the proclamation of this very message of Christ and him crucified.  The new humanity are a race of free men, bound to Christ, advancing God’s glory by the Gospel.  Thus, as this redemption has freed men and restored to them their original dominion in an increasing manner, this freedom is inseparable from the commission to extend the borders wherein God’s glorious presence may reside.  So we freely sing, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth” (Ps 8:1, 9) through Christ Jesus!  And by this, God graciously honors his majestic name through the conversion of the ungodly.

Conclusion

This paper has argued that the eighth Psalm communicates the gracious and indispensable role of humanity in God’s creational and, by virtue of the Fall, redemptive plan to cover the whole of creation with his majestic glory as redeemed humanity embraces and appropriates God’s commission to extend the borders of His reign.  The basis of this thesis is a fourfold meditation on the part of King David: first, God is concerned for the display of his glory; secondly, the present reality of the one who would seek to hinder this display, i.e., the Davidic foe; thirdly, the glorious plan of God implicit in the heavenly array and man’s place therein; and fourthly, dominion granted, dominion lost, and the hope of dominion restored through his line and the faithfulness of God.  The sum of these meditations is this: that God had graciously given man an indispensable role in accomplishing the display of his glory.  But as man came into slavery through the Fall, they rather opposed this grand display.  Nevertheless, David hoped in God for the realization of the Edenic ideal.  Accordingly, the New Testament records the redemptive work of God through the Son of David, Jesus Christ, as the one in whom this blessed role and dominion to man is finally restored as we progress in conformity to his image.  Alas, through Christ, the new humanity realizes its indispensable role in the majestic display of God’s all-consuming glory, a role that is inseparable from their own worship of this glorious God.  Let us, then, “not suffer ourselves to become slothful and remiss in celebrating his praises.”


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