What Is Man?--Psalm 8


There are a few historical events that leave an indelible mark on the minds of people. All of us remember where we were and what we were doing on September 11, 2001 when we heard the horrifying news of the terrorist attacks on New York City. For those of us who are approaching, or are above the half century mark, we remember where we were and what we were doing on Sunday, July 20, 1969 when the lunar module “Eagle” landed on the moon. We recall astronaut Neil Armstrong’s comment as he set foot on the lunar surface and said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

How people perceived the moon landing and the events surrounding it were very interesting. Prior to the launch, Esquire magazine (July 1969) asked 50 people what should be the first words spoken from the moon. The most Biblical response came from, of all people, the longhaired singer with the ukulele, Tiny Tim. He suggested the astronauts say, “Praise the Lord through Christ that we landed well and safely.” (Not bad for somebody who likes to tiptoe through the tulips!). He then went on to suggest they leave a Bible. The reason given, however, was “so we can give our new acquaintances some idea of what life is like down here.” Apparently he was smoking too many tulips and believed in little green men running around the moon!

On the other hand, Dr. Owen Chamberlain, a Nobel Prize winner in physics said the Apollo 11 spaceflight “shows that mankind can be in charge of his own destiny.” However, Edwin Aldren, the second man to set foot on the lunar surface, on the return flight from the moon, put everything in a Biblical perspective. He quoted Psalm 8:3,4, “When I consider Your heavens, the works of Your fingers, the moon and stars, which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visited him?” “Buzz” Aldrin understood Who controlled the universe and what our place was in that universe.

The Title of the Psalm

Psalm 8 begins with the superscription, “To the chief musician. On the instrument of Gath. A psalm of David.” One student of the Bible has suggested that the first two parts of this superscription belongs to the end of Psalm 7 and “A psalm of David” actually begins this psalm. I would agree with his observation. He went on to suggest that the beginning of the superscription of Psalm 9 actually belongs to the ends of Psalm 8. It says, “To the chief musician. To the tune of ‘Death of the Son’.” The Hebrew text actually says, “Al muth ha-ben.” Some translations have supplied the word “tune”, however, it was probably the title of the psalm, “Death of the Son.”

Peter, during his first sermon after the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, was preaching to the Jerusalemites and pilgrims that had come up to Jerusalem for Shavuot (Pentecost) and after quoting part of Psalm 16, called David a prophet (Acts 2:30). Under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, the prophet David understood the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ in this Psalm 16. As we will see later, he understood the same in Psalm 8 and thus the title, “Death of the Son.”

The Historical Setting of the Psalm

Permit me to use my sanctified imagination for a minute. Let’s go back 3,000 years in history to Jerusalem. Perhaps David composed Psalm 8 while he was on the roof of his palace above the old city of Jebus, which was called Jerusalem in his day, or the City of David. It was a Friday night and all was quiet below because of Shabbat. As he looked down toward the City of David, he could see in the moon-lite night, the hohel (tent) that housed the Ark of the Covenant that he had moved up from Kirath Jearim with great fanfare (2 Sam. 6:12-23; 1 Chron. 15:1-16:3). In the cool, crisp, dry air he lifted his eyes toward the heavens and could see myriads of stars twinkling above him. His mind went back to Genesis 1-3 as he contemplated the Creation of the moon and stars and the first human, Adam. Then he meditated on the Fall of our first parents and the implications that had for all humanity. As he became overwhelmed with the significance of these thoughts, he took out his harp and started to pluck some notes. As he did, the Spirit of God impressed upon his heart some words. As he formulated these thoughts, he sang:

O LORD, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth,
Who have set Your glory above the heavens!

Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants
You have ordained strength,
Because of Your enemies,
That You may silence the enemy and the avenger.
When I consider Your heavens,
The works of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars,
Which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.

You have made him to have
Dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
All sheep and oxen –
Even the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea
That pass through the paths of the seas.

O LORD, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name on all the earth!


It is a pity he did not remember this psalm years later when he looked over the same parapet surrounding the roof of his palace to observe Bathsheba bathing herself down below (2 Sam. 11). It might have prevented him from sinning against the Lord by his adultery with her and the murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite (Ps 119:11, cf. Ps. 51).

The Theme Verse

David composed this psalm when he was king of Israel and leading God’s covenant people in corporate worship. He began the psalm, “O LORD, our Lord, how excellent is Your name in all the earth.” Note the word “our”. He is leading the people in worship. This is a position he had, I believe, only when he was king.

David opens and closes the psalm with the theme statement. He sings, “How excellent is Your name in all the earth.” The theme of the psalm is: the Lord’s name is excellent in all the earth. Between these two statements he demonstrates why the Lord’s name is excellent or majestic.

First, in considering the concept of the Lord’s name, we should ask the question, what is the Lord’s name? In most Bibles, the most common of the Lord’s names is capitalized LORD. This is God’s personal name, Jehovah or Yahweh. The second thing we need to consider is the meaning of His name. You will recall the account in Exodus 3 when God revealed His name for the first time. Moses had spent 40 years in Midian avoiding the Egyptian pharaoh who was trying to kill him. When he heard that Pharaoh had died, he decided to take some of his father-in-law’s sheep and head back toward Egypt. Outside the land of Egypt, he got as close as he dared using the sheep as cover. He waited for a caravan or an individual who had left Egypt in order to find out what was going on with the Hebrew people.

While hanging out at Mt. Horeb, the Angel of the LORD appeared to Moses in a burning bush. The bush was on fire but was not being consumed. Notice the words in the text. Verse 2 says, “The Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush.” In verse 4 it says, “God (Elohim) called to him from the midst of the bush.” The implication of these verses is that the Angel of the LORD is God Himself. I believe that the Angel of the LORD is a pre-incarnate manifestation of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.

God proceeded to have a conversation with Moses in which He told Moses he had heard the pleas of the Hebrew people. He went on to say he would deliver them from Egypt because He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He had made a covenant with these three patriarchs to bring His covenant people into the Land that He had promised them, to make them a great nation and to bless all people with the Seed (the Messiah) who would come from the Tribe of Judah (Gal. 3:6-9).

God instructed Moses to go to Pharaoh and tell him to let the Hebrews go. Moses started making excuses not to go, “Who am I to go to Pharaoh?” God then told Moses to go to the Children of Israel and tell them that God had sent Moses to them. Moses baulked and said that the people would ask him what the Lord’s name was. The Lord replied, “I AM WHO I AM” (3:14).

God’s name is derived from the simple verb “to be”, “Being, I Am who I Am.” There are three aspects to His name. First, God is self-existent. As Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God.” Second, God is immutable or unchanging. The book of Hebrews states: Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and forever. And finally, God is eternal. God had no beginning and will have no end. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is nothing like the gods of the Egyptians or any other god made in the image of sinful humanity.

Interestingly, Jesus picks up this name for Himself on several occasions during His public ministry. At His trial before the Sanhedrin, the high priest asked Him if he was the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? Jesus responded, “I AM. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:61,62; note also John 18:5-9).

It is this God that David sang, “How excellent, or majestic, is your name in all the earth.” Notice two things in this verse. First, His name is excellent or majestic. The word has the idea of impressive power. The power of God was manifested in His creation of the universe. His power was also manifested at the Red Sea soon after He revealed His name to Moses. In the song of Moses, the Israelites sang, “Your right hand, O LORD, has become glorious in power; Your right hand, O LORD, has dashed the enemy in pieces. And in the greatness of Your excellence You have overthrown those who rose against You; You sent forth Your wrath; It consumed them like stubble” (Ex. 15:6,7). The second thing to notice is the extent of His name, to “all the earth.” YHWH was not some local tribal god who only went up to the border of the nation and no further. He was the God of all the earth.

Not only was He God of all the earth, David goes on to say that He set his glory above the heavens. David recalls the very first words in the book of Genesis, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (1:1). The word “heavens” is plural. In the Bible there are three heavens. The first is the atmosphere above us where the birds fly (Gen. 1:8). The second heaven is where the sun, moon and stars are (Gen. 1:3). The third heaven is the abode of God (2 Cor. 12:2). The glory of God was above the second heaven: the sun, moon and stars. It was the third heaven that the Lord Jesus left from in order to humble Himself and become obedient unto the death of the cross (2 Cor. 8:9; Phil. 2:5-8).

God’s name is excellent because He has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are mighty – 8:2

As we go through this psalm, we will see three reasons why God’s name is excellent in all the earth. The first reason is found in verse 2. God’s name is excellent because He has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are mighty (cf. 1 Cor. 1:27).

Let’s go back to the Exodus from Egypt. The Israelites were permitted to take anything from Egypt, except the weapons (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 2: 321, 349; LCL 4: 305, 317, 319). They took gold, silver, clothing, livestock, food, and other such things. After they left Egypt, Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his chariot forces after the former Hebrew slaves. When the Israelites saw the chariots coming, they were greatly afraid. They had no weapons to defend themselves with and fight back. What does Moses do? He said to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will accomplish for you today. … The LORD will fight for you, and you will hold your peace” (Ex. 14:1-14). God showed His strength in their weakness.

The apostle Paul received an abundance of revelations from the Lord. In order to keep him humble, the Lord afflicted him with a “thorn in the flesh.” What is was, we do not know. Paul pleaded with the Lord three times to remove it, but the Lord said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Paul acknowledged this and realized when he was weak, then he was strong (2 Cor. 12:7-10).

During the last week of His public ministry, the Lord Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. He went into the Temple and threw out the moneychangers for a second time. He healed the blind and the lame. The children cried out, “Hosanna to the Son of David.” The priests were indignant and asked Jesus to do something about it. Jesus responded by quoting from Psalm 8:2. Here He quotes from the LXX, “Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants You have perfected praise.”

David was ever mindful of a principle set forth in the Mosaic Law. “Vengeance is Mine, I will repays says the Lord” (Rom. 12:19, cf. Deut. 32:35). The apostle Paul expands on this when he says, “Repay no one evil for evil. … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:17,21).

God’s name is excellent because He has created the heavens for a purpose – 8:3

The second reason God’s name is excellent in all the earth is found in verse 3. God’s name is excellent because He has created the heavens for a purpose. As David looked skyward, he marveled as he pondered the vastness of the heavens. He imagines God as an artist - One who would make the sun, moon and stars with His fingers and throw them out into space without even breaking a sweat.

Yet this artwork had a purpose. David could have recalled the many times watching the moonrise over the Mount of Olives and observing each phase of the moon. When there was a new moon, it was a new month. When he saw certain constellations in the sky, it meant a new season of the year. David’s mind went back to the first chapter of Genesis. He recalled on the fourth day of creation God made the sun, moon and stars for “signs and seasons, and for days and years” (Gen. 1:14, cf. Ps. 104:9; 136:4-9).

David also could have marveled at the enduring nature of the universe. Every night when there were no clouds in the sky, David would observe the phases of the moon. He could look off into the northern sky and see the North Star at a fixed point in the sky. He would observe the constellations in the sky. The Patriarch Job mentioned several of them by name, the Bear, Orion and Pleiades (Job 9:9; 38:31). They still existed in David’s day. Yet David asked himself, “Where was Job?” He had died and returned to dust; yet the universe endures. These thoughts lead David to the third reason God’s name was excellent.

God’s name is excellent because He has shown grace to finite human beings – 8:4-8

The third reason God’s name is excellent in all the earth is found in verses 4-8. God’s name is excellent because He has shown grace to finite human beings.

David asks God a question, “What is man that You are mindful of him, and the son of man that You visit him?” (8:4). In this question, he uses two different words for man. The first is the Hebrew word enosh which carries the idea of frail, weak, mortal human beings. The second term, son of man, is adam. The word is derived from adamah, or from the earth. David recalls that the first human being was made from the dust of the earth.

David has set up an astounding contrast. In verse 3 he has marveled at the creative power and artwork of the Lord. Yet in verse 4, the Creator of this vast universe has shown grace to frail human beings by being mindful of them and visiting them.

The two Hebrew words are very instructive. The first word, “mindful” has its root zkr, to remember. God did not just make the universe and walk away from it. He is directly involved in the affairs of human history. He knows everything that we, frail, weak human beings are going through. The second word, “visit” has as its root pkd. The word is used in a variety of contexts. Sometimes it is used of deliverance and blessing.

Let us return to that conversation God had with Moses at the burning bush. After telling Moses what His name was, He instructed Moses to tell the people of Israel, “I have surely visited you and seen what is done to you in Egypt” (Ex. 3:16). In the book of Ruth, there was a famine in the Land of Judah for ten years. While Naomi was in Moab, she heard that the LORD had “visited His people by giving them bread” (1:6). Sometimes the word is used of God visiting His wayward people in order to chasten them and bring them back to Himself. Sometimes the word refers to Him coming to His people with blessings.

David goes on to point out in verses 5 and 6, four things God did when he made the first human being. First, “You have made him a little lower than the angels.” Second, “You crowned him with glory and honor.” Third, “You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands.” And finally, “You have put all thing under his feet.” All this was true of Adam as soon as he was created. David, however, in his meditation remembered Genesis 3, the disobedience of Adam to the revealed Word of God and his fall into sin. Adam was still a little lower than the angels, but he lost his crown, dominion and not everything was under his feet.

David, being a prophet, realized there would be a Second Adam (Man). The apostle Paul gives the divine commentary on these thought. He contrasts the First Adam with the Second Man, the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:45-49) and sees the consummation of all things when death is finally defeated (1 Cor. 15:26,27).

The Spirit of God, in the book of Hebrews, gives us another divine commentary on Psalm 8:4-6. After the passage is quoted, it says, “For in that He (Jesus) put all in subjection under him, He left nothing that is not put under him. But now we do not yet see all things put under him” (Heb. 2:8). What is being said is this: nothing has changed since Adam. However, the passage goes on to tell how Jesus has become the Second Adam and the fulfillment of Psalm 8. “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone” (2:9). Please notice five words that are not in Psalm 8, “for the suffering of death.”

David, being a prophet, understood what the death of Christ would accomplish. One day the Lord Jesus, the Second Adam, would establish His throne in Jerusalem and would be crowned with honor and glory, have dominion over the earth, and all things, including death, would be put under His feet. That is why David could entitle this psalm, “The death of the Son.” The death of the Lord Jesus is the key to understanding this psalm.

There is a day coming when the Lord Jesus will be crowned King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19: 16) and He will sit on David’s throne in Jerusalem (Isa. 2; Zech. 14). At this time He will have dominion as the Son of God and the Son of Man (Dan. 7:13,14) and restore the earth to its Adamic condition (Isa. 11:6-9). The earth will be a Paradise.

One side note before we move on. The place of human beings in God’s creation is “a little lower than the angels.” Here we have a clash of worldviews. According to the evolutionary / humanistic worldview, human beings have evolved just a little higher than the primates. However, there is no firm scientific evidence for such a claim. There are no intermediary or transitional fossils between primates and human beings. Man is unique, created in the image of God.

In verses 7 and 8, David lists the creatures that will be put under the feet of the Lord Jesus. He starts with the domestic animals, sheep and oxen. Then he moves to the wild creatures, beasts of the fields. The next classification is the birds of the air and finally the fish of the sea. Regarding the fish of the sea, he notes, they pass through the paths of the sea. This is a reference to the sea currents in the Mediterranean Sea. It was something King David knew about from talking with the Phoenician sea captains in the navy of his friend Hiram, king of Tyre. Today we know the water of the Mediterranean Sea enters from the Atlantic Ocean at the Straits of Gibraltar. In antiquities it was known as the Pillars of Hercules. It flows in a counter clockwise motion and takes about 100 years before it exits to the Atlantic Ocean again.

It was only within the last two hundred years that this verse was taken seriously as a scientific statement. In 1841 a devote Christian, Commander Matthew Maury (1806-1873) of the US Navy, read this passage in his Bible and thought, there must be “paths” in the sea. He spent the next twenty years of his life investigating and charting the sea currents and winds in the Atlantic Ocean. He was able to document the Gulf Stream and the Labrador currents. He became known as the “Pathfinder of the Sea.” He was one of the pioneers of hydrography and oceanography. His tombstone at the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland bears the phrase, “… whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.”

The Theme Repeated

As David concluded this psalm on his harp, perhaps he went one octave higher. He sang, “O LORD, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth.” He reiterated the theme he began with in the first verse as if to drive home the point. The Lord’s name is excellent in all the earth, and here is the proof. First, He has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are mighty. Second, He has created the heavens for a purpose. Finally, He has shown grace to finite human beings.


So what does this all mean to me? There are at least five questions we need to ask ourselves as we examine our hearts and lives.

First, can we join in corporate worship because we are God’s covenant people? God is dealing with the Church today, made up of all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Have you trusted Him as your Savior, as the One who died for all your sins and rose again from the dead? If you have, you have been born into God’s family (John 1:12).

Second, do we realize that our weaknesses are God’s opportunities for Him to show His strength through us? Someone once said, “God is not looking for great men and women, but rather, men and women who will prove the greatness of God.” We show God’s greatness when we move out of the way in humility and allow Him to work on our behalf.

Third, do we realize the God who created the universe is the same God who dwells inside of us? The same God who created the universe also raised His Son, the Lord Jesus, from the dead. The apostle Paul expressed his passion to the believers at the church in Philippi in these words, “that I might know Him and the power of His resurrection” (Phil. 3:10). Is that our passion and prayer?

Fourth, do we realize the grace of God in our lives? We are frail human beings that God remembers and watches out for. When we realize that we were dead in our trespasses and sin, and that God has saved us by His matchless grace, made us alive in Christ, and raised us up to sit in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that realization should change the way we live today (Eph. 2:1-9). Paul encouraged the believers in Ephesus by saying they were God’s workmanship and they should be doing good works, not to be saved, but because they already are saved (Eph. 2:10).

Finally, do we understand God’s plan and program for our lives and how we fit into the “big picture”? The Lord Jesus was out Forerunner. He was made a little lower than the angels to taste death for us. He is now crowned with glory and honor and will have dominion when all things are put under His feet. Are we living a life that will be rewarded at the Judgment Seat of Christ so that we too can reign with Him?

December 2005