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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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PSALM 8

O LORD, OUR LORD, HOW EXCELLENT IS THY NAME!

(FOR THE CHIEF MUSICIAN; SET TO THE GITTITH. A PSALM OF DAVID).


 
Verses 1, 2
O Jehovah, our Lord, How excellent is thy name in all the earth, Who hast set thy glory upon the heavens! Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou established strength, Because of thine adversaries, That thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.
Only three Psalms have this instruction in the superscription, namely, this one, Ps. 81 and Ps. 82.F1 Dummelow gave the meaning as, perhaps an instrument or a tune, of Gath.F2 At best, however, such scholarly opinions are merely educated guesses. There is much uncertainty with regard to all of these superscriptions.

A Psalm of David…
There is nothing whatever in the Psalm itself that is contrary to the ancient opinion that David wrote it, and we find a few things that support such a view. For example, the mention of the night sky with the moon and the stars might indeed be expected from one who often kept watch at night over his father Jesse's flock.

O Lord, our Lord How Excellent is thy Name in all the Earth…
We have chosen a part of this opening line as the title of the Psalm itself. Many other titles have been suggested, as a glance at the various versions will indicate; but I have followed Maclaren's declaration that:

"The exclamation that begins and ends this Psalm, enclosing it as a jewel in a setting, determines its theme as being neither the nightly heaven with its moon and stars, nor the dignity of man, but the Name of the Lord a proclaimed by both."F3

Ps. 8:1-2

O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth,

Who hast set thy glory upon the heavens!

Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou established strength,

Because of thine adversaries,

That thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger."

It will be noted that we went back to the KJV in the first line of Ps. 8:1. As I have grown older, I have found my respect for the word "Jehovah" as used in place of "God" or 'Lord" more and more difficult to maintain. In no sense whatever is it an inspired word. It is a scholarly guess at what the word actually was; and there are more and more variations of it available in the scholarly writings continually demanding our attention. Another "guess" is "Yahweh"; but neither of these is as glorious, meaningful, or acceptable as "Lord."

Furthermore, the American Standard Version of 1901 made no improvement at all in the second line of Ps. 8:1, when they substituted the word "upon" for "above," but retained the latter in the margin. The KJV is the superior rendition, because the glory of the Creator is not merely upon the heavens, it is likewise above them.

Out of the mouth of babes, etc…
Jesus Christ himself quoted from this passage in Matt. 21:16, where we find the account of the Pharisees' objection that the children in the temple were chanting Hosannas to Christ, singing of him as The Son of David. Christ responded, saying, Yea, have ye not read that, Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings hast thou perfected praise.F4 This, of course is a verbatim quotation from the LXX; and, by reason of Jesus' acceptance of that rendition, it may be considered superior to other translations of the passage.

Regarding the "babes and sucklings," the passage may be a metaphor for all mankind, who in their frailty and weakness are as "babes and sucklings" in the eyes of God. Jesus' application of the words to children singing his praises in the temple falls far short of a contradiction of that view.

There is another view also which more strongly commends itself to us, namely, that --

(1) when God decided to rescue Israel from Egyptian slavery, it was a babe, indeed a suckling, that was placed in the little ark of bulrushes and cast upon the boundless waters of the Nile river. That "babe" was Moses, and through him, God destroyed the enemy and the avenger.

(2) Once more, when the third judicial hardening of humanity had taken place, and the whole world lay "in the evil one," as an apostle expressed it, "a babe," "a suckling," indeed THE BABE of Bethlehem entered our earth life in a stable, was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. He did indeed destroy Satan himself, "the great enemy." The Prince of this world was cast out by the Christ; and, it seems to us, that in such examples as those of Moses and of our Lord, we have the true and eternal fulfillment of this second verse.

Dummelow noted that "God's employment of such feeble instruments to display his glory (and to achieve his purposes on earth, J.B.C.) puts his adversaries to silence."F5 Paul made mention of this very principle in 1 Cor. 1:27-29.

When I consider the heavens, the work of thy fingers,

The moon, and the stars, which thou hast ordained;

What is man that thou art mindful of him?

And the son of man, that thou visitest him?"


 
Verses 3, 4
When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, The moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?
The use of fingers here instead of hands, which we might have expected, suggests that it was no great difficulty whatever for God to have created the heavens and the earth and everything within them. God merely spoke the Word; and it was done!

The moon, and the stars…
These words surely originated with one who was familiar with the night sky, as David most certainly was. It is inconceivable that any man in full possession of his mental faculties can look upon the magnificent glory of the night sky without being conscious of the existence of God and of man's constant need of his love and favor.

Our English word "consider" comes from two Latin words, "con," meaning "with" and "sideris" meaning "stars." Surely a careful look at the starry heavens is an awe inspiring and challenging experience.

What is man that thou art mindful of him?
The word here rendered man means frail man, Humanity in all of its weakness and limitations.F6

The infinite contrast between man's smallness, his unspeakable insignificance in a physical sense and the glory that God has lavished upon him is the burden of this incredibly beautiful Psalm. What is man in a physical sense?

"Amidst the vastness around me, I am lost, and can be of no more consequence than a mote in a sunbeam. If I and all my generation were swept away in the twinkling of an eye, we should be no more missed than a grain of dust blown into the crater of a volcano."F7

However that is only part of the story; and the far more important part of it is explained this way:

"In man's insignificance is lodged a Divine spark; and, lowly as is his head as he stands beneath the midnight sky blazing with inaccessible lights, that head is crowned with a halo reflecting the glory of God even more than the luster of those billions of stars!"F8

The son of man…
This is only a variant for man in the preceding line; but the reason for human dignity begins to appear in these lines. (1) God indeed is mindful of him; (2) God has actually visited him. What an incredible honor is this? The Dayspring from on High has visited us! (Luke 1:78), shining upon us who sit in darkness and the shadow of death! But that is far from being all of it. The very next verse stresses other incredibly tremendous reasons why God is mindful of his human creation.

For thou has made him but little lower than God,

And crowned him with glory and honor.

Thou makest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands;

Thou hast put all things under his feet:"


 
Verses 5, 6
For thou hast made him but little lower than God, And crownest him with glory and honor. Thou makest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet:
We mention what we considered errors in the English Revised Version (1885) and American Standard Version renditions of the first verse; but here we must confess the superiority of those later versions over older renditions. Those older translations were unduly influenced by the Septuagint (LXX) which mistranslated Elohim, reading it as angels instead of God. More on this below.

Look at some of the other reasons for man's unique place in the Creation of God: (3) God created him but a little lower than Himself and in his very image! (4) He crowned him with glory and honor, and (5) He put all things under man's feet, giving him dominion over God's works!

But a little lower than God…
The Septuagint (LXX) mistranslated this passage, making it read, But a little lower than the angels; and, as the Septuagint (LXX) was the common Bible known by many in Jesus' ministry, it is thus quoted in Hebrews 2:6-8f. However, The Hebrew word which the Septuagint (LXX) renders as angels is actually [~'Elohiym], meaning God; and there can be no doubt of the correct rendition. This error, however, has not been a damaging one, because angels themselves are very high beings, and it is also true that we for a little while are made lower than the angels also, being at the same time lower than God.

The author of Heb 2:6-8 gives a temporal sense to verse 5a, making 5b a contrast rather than a parallel, expressing man's lordship of the world to come, not as yet realized, it is true, but guaranteed to us by the fact that Jesus is already crowned!F9

It must be realized, of course, that all of the great honors and privileges with which man was endowed by the Creator are not at all fully realized in our present world because of the consequence of the fall of the Adamic race in Eden and the continued rebellion and wickedness of Adam's foolish posterity. All of the promises and glories mentioned here were for man, as God created him, not as he became when he repudiated the benign government of God and chose to become a servant of the devil.

Jesus Christ, however, entered our earth life, overcame all sin and wickedness, brought the prospect of eternal life to as many as would receive him, love him, and obey him. He has now sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on High in full possession of "all authority in heaven and upon earth" (Matthew 28:18-20).

It would seem that the Psalmist here had no intention of writing a Psalm depicting the Coming of God's Messiah to bless humanity; but in Heb. 2:6-8 it is categorically stated that all that was intended in the creation of man was fulfilled only in Jesus Christ our Lord. He was the only human ever born who was in every way and at all times exactly what God created man to be.

Whatever fulfillment of this marvelous Psalm for our human race that may lie in the future, must come though Jesus Christ and through him alone. Even then, mortal men will be saved eternally and share the glory of Christ himself only as they consent to be his followers and obey him.

But for those who do indeed accept the available salvation, they shall actually partake of the glory of Christ himself in the very throne of God.

All sheep and oxen,

Yea, and all beasts of the field,

The birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,

Whatsoever passes through the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!"

These words are merely an elaboration of the promise that God would put all things under the feet of men. This enumeration begins with animals that men have tamed, goes on to include the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fishes of the seas.

The Psalm closes with that magnificent exclamation with which it began and which we believe serves as an accurate title of the Psalm.


Footnotes for Psalms 8
1: Albert Barnes, On the Psalms (Baker Book House, 1950), p. 65.
2: J. R. Dummelow, On the Old Testament. (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 332.
3: Alexander Maclaren. Psalms (New York: Eaton and Mains, 1893), p. 68.
4: Launcelot C. L. Brenton, The Septuagint (LXX) (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1970), p. 702.
5: J. R. Dummelow, Ibid.
6: Ibid.
7: C. Clemance, The Pulpit Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1050), p. 52.
8: A. Maclaren, op. cit., p. 69.
9: Arthur S. Peake, Peake's Commentary on the Bible (Edinburgh: T. C. and E. C. Jack, Ltd., 1924), p. 375.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalm 8". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=ps&chapter=008>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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