How Excellent Thy Name (Psalm 8)

Psalm-8
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How Excellent Thy Name
Sunday, June 23rd, 2024
Christ Covenant Church – Centralia, WA

Psalm 8:1-9

To the chief Musician upon Gittith, A Psalm of David.

O Lord our Lord,

How excellent is thy name in all the earth!

Who hast set thy glory above the heavens.

Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength

Because of thine enemies,

That thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.

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?

For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels,

And hast crowned him with glory and honour.

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

Thou hast put all things under his feet:

All sheep and oxen,

Yea, and the beasts of the field;

The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea,

And whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.

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

Prayer

Father, we thank you for the prophet David, and how you inspired Him to write this most excellent song of praise. Inscribe these words upon the tablet of our heart, that we might not sin against you, but rather praise you at all times, for you are the God who gives, and takes away, and then rewards us beyond all that we could ask or imagine. We pray all this in Christ’s name, Amen.

Introduction

One of the blessings of summertime in the Northwest, is that there are occasionally fewer clouds in the sky. And when the sky is clear, especially on a warm summer night, you can go outside, and look up, and behold the handiwork of God’s finger.

  • When the sky is clear you can see the moon, you can see more stars than you could ever count. And if you are ever able to get out of the city, away from the light pollution, and into the mountains or a high place, the views of God’s creation, the heavens above, are astonishing. They make us to wonder and to marvel that someone made all of that.
  • What are stars in the night sky but God poking little holes of light into a blanket of darkness. Stars are little windows into the heaven beyond the heavens, beyond the firmament, where the beauty of God’s light dwells. From our perspective, down here on earth, looking up, the stars are shining portals into the place where God dwells. And they make us to marvel even as David did when he wrote this psalm.
  • The Apostle Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:15-16, that Jesus Christ is “the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings, and Lord of lords; Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.”
    • The divinity of Christ is a light unapproachable. As it says in John 1:18, “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” And again in John 1:4-5, “In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.”
    • So because God is up there in a light so bright it would blind us, the Son of God, took to Himself human flesh, and he veiled His infinite and divine glory, His uncreated light, so that one day we might see God as He is.
      • St. Ephrem the Syrian (died 373 AD), has this wonderful poem where he says, “God had seen that we worshipped creatures. [So] He put on a created body to catch us by our habit. Behold by this fashioned one [Christ] our Fashioner healed us, And by this creature [the Lord Jesus] our Creator revived us.”
      • God saw that idolatry was in the heart of man. We see something amazing like the moon or the stars or the galaxies far off, and we are tempted to worship them. But it is that temptation to transcendence, to adore and worship what is awe-inspiring, that God intended as a signpost of His glory and His beauty as the Creator.
      • God intended for us to be stirred to worship Him as we look at His creation, and what sin has done is severed that connection and turned us in on ourselves, to worship ourselves and even lifeless creatures.
      • So salvation is in its fullest sense is not merely the forgiveness of sins, it is not merely the resurrection of our body, the whole purpose of forgiveness and resurrection is so that we can see and enjoy God as He is. And because it was our bad habit to worship creatures, God became a creature in the man Christ Jesus, so that in beholding the perfection of his humanity, his life and death and resurrection, we might be brought to know and behold His divinity.
    • It is this hope of the beatific vision of God in Himself that is our highest and greatest good. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”
    • Likewise, the Apostle John says in 1 John 3:2, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.
  • To see God in his very essence, to enter that unapproachable light, and to be united to the Triune God in knowledge and love, is the highest and greatest good that any creature can attain to. And it is that grace of union with God, that Jesus Christ came to give us.
    • As it says in 1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit.”
  • This is what Psalm 8 is all about. In these nine verses from David’s pen, are contained a summary of the Christian faith, Creation, Fall, Redemption and Consummation. Psalm 8 is like an Old Testament version of the Apostle’s Creed. And this is made possible because God is the ultimate Author of Scripture, and His divine authorship allows us to read the Psalms at multiple levels.
    • There is first what we call the literal or historical signification of the letters on the page. So the Hebrew word יָרֵ֥חַ signifies the mental concept moon, כוֹכָבִ֗ים signifies the mental concept of stars. Or in English, the word sheep, signifies our conception of the animal sheep. Written words signify our mental conceptions, and our mental conceptions are true when they correspond with the external realities of moon, stars, sheep, etc. So that’s the first level of reading, connecting letters on the page with things or historical events in reality.
    • But then there is the spiritual interpretation (sometimes called mystical, or figurative, or typological meaning), where the actual things themselves are signs of other things.
      • So the literal sense is where the words signify things.
      • And the spiritual sense is where those things signify other things.
      • For example, the word sheep means the animal sheep. And then spiritually, a sheep can signify a vulnerable Christian. Jesus says to his disciples in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.”
      • Or to give another example. The word moon signifies the literal moon in the sky. And then that moon in the sky can signify the church, because the church like the moon, has no light of her own, but only that light she receives from Christ who is the sun of righteousness.
        • Thus, Song of Solomon 6:10 speaks of the church saying, “Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, Fair as the moon, clear as the sun, And terrible as an army with banners?”
        • The church mirrors and reflects Christ, just like the moon mirrors and reflects the sun.
    • So the Psalms especially are full of this multi-layered meaning, and this is one of the reasons why God did notinspire the apostles to write a bunch of new songs for Christians after the incarnation. There is no new book of Psalms in the New Testament canon, but rather, the church sings the same 150 Hebrew Psalms but with a renewed understanding of them as they are fulfilled in Christ.
    • So following the example of Christ and the Apostles, in how they interpreted Psalm 8, we also can find here in these nine verses, a complete summary of the Christian faith. So let us consider this Psalm first at the literal level, and then as the New Testament applies it to Christ and the Church.

Exposition of Psalm 8

We read in the title of the Psalm, “To the chief Musician upon Gittith, A Psalm of David.”

  • What does “upon Gittith” mean? Hard to say…
    • Some take Gittith as referring to a kind of instrument that David made in Gath that makes a joyful sound.
    • Some think Gittith is the specific tune this psalm was set to.
    • Others take Gittith as referring to the winepress, which is how the Greek LXX translates it (ὑπὲρ τῶν ληνῶν). And they say the occasion for singing this Psalm is the Feast of Tabernacles/Ingathering at the end of harvest season, when the wine was being pressed. This idea fits nicely with the theme in this Psalm of man being given dominion over the earth, and his duty to cultivate creation, turning grace into glory, grapes into wine.
    • Whatever the case, it is hard to know for certain.
  • What was the occasion for David writing this Psalm?
    • The occasion of this psalm is a clear and dark night, when David is able to look up and consider the heavens, the moon and the stars. We might think of this psalm as kind of midnight counterpart to Psalm 19.
      • In Psalm 19, David begins by saying, “the heavens declare the glory of God.” And then he meditates upon the motion of the sun which rises “as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, And rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race,His going forth is from the end of the heaven, And his circuit unto the ends of it: And there is nothing hid from the heat thereof” (vs. 5-6).
    • So Psalm 19 is David’s daytime meditation on the heavens, and Psalm 8 is his midnight meditation on those same heavens. As he says in Psalm 19:2, “Day unto day uttereth speech, And night unto night sheweth knowledge.” It is that nighttime knowledge David is wondering at in Psalm 8.
  • Now he begins the Psalm in verse 1 the same way he ends it in verse 9 by saying…

Verse 1a & 9

O Lord our Lord,

How excellent is thy name in all the earth!

  • David bookends this summary of our faith by extolling the name of God. According to the letter, this name was LORD, YHWH, Jehovah. And this of course is who the man Christ Jesus is.
  • Jesus Christ is LORD. He is Alpha and Omega, beginning and end. And as it says in Romans 11:36, “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”
  • Jesus Christ is the Author of life, He is the one in whom our whole life consists, and He is the telos, the end and purpose for our entire existence. As St. Augustine famously said, “You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in You.”
  • Therefore, from beginning to end, from creation to consummation, from womb to tomb, from the river to the ends of the earth, the name of God is to be extolled. “O Lord our Lord, How excellent is thy name in all the earth!”
  • Is that the cry of your heart? Is that the banner that flies over your life? That to live is to magnify the name of Christ, and to die is gain. That was the cry of the psalmist and the apostles, and it is the longing of all true saints.
  • Continuing in verse 1 he says…

Verse 1b

Who hast set thy glory above the heavens.

  • That is, the divine nature is beyond what your eyes can see. You can see the heavens and you can marvel at their grandeur, but the glory of God is even greater than this. It is above the created heavens.
  • However beautiful the stars and galaxies may be, and indeed they are stunning, the beauty of the One who created them far surpasses.

Verse 2

Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength

Because of thine enemies,

That thou mightest still the enemy and the avenger.

  • We move now from the glory of God above in the highest heavens, down to mankind in his most helpless state. There is a certain beauty and excellence to the celestial bodies, their vastness and splendor, but then there is a different an even more intricate beauty that is the image of God in man.
    • As David says in Psalm 139:13-14, “For thou hast possessed my reins: Thou hast covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: Marvellous are thy works; And that my soul knoweth right well.”
  • So God’s handiwork is seen in the midnight sky, his divine nature is infinitely above the heavens, and yet this infinite and glorious God is the one who said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:26-27).
  • And what is even more glorious than God’s image stamped upon human nature, is when that nature in its infancy praises its Maker, “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength.”
    • God employs the cries of our nursing covenant children, and the songs of our toddlers singing the doxology, as his chosen weapon to silence and still the enemy and the avenger.
    • This is one of the many reasons we keep our children with us in the worship service. Because their praise is often more potent and genuine than ours. Their childlike faith and love for Jesus often puts ours to shame.
    • As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29, “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: 29 That no flesh should glory in his presence.”
  • The forces of darkness are confounded when our helpless and weak children give glory to God. God has ordained that the military might and strength of the church be exemplified “Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings.”
  • So parents, teach your children, from the moment they are born, to love the Lord Jesus, to praise Him, and worship Him, and participate with us in the worship service. And yes that includes baptizing them and preparing them to eat from the Lord’s Table.
  • It says in 1 Corinthians 7:14, that God regards the children of at least one believing parent as holy, “else were your children unclean” (literally unbaptized/unwashed).
    • We baptize our infants because as it says in Acts 2:39, “the promise is unto you, and to your children,” and just as the covenant sign of circumcision was given to all of Abraham’s household (Isaac and Ishmael), so also the covenant sign of baptism is given to all those who are within the household of faith.
  • Do not underestimate what God can do in and through babies and nursing infants. This psalm is clear, God has ordained strength, He has established praise for Himself from their lips, and God uses their cries to silence the enemy and the avenger.

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?

  • Here David expresses that feeling we all have had when we encounter the vastness of the universe. What is man in comparison to the stars and the moon? And what am I, just a guy, amongst billions of other people on this planet?
  • John Piper once said, “Nobody goes to the Grand Canyon in order to build their self-esteem. Nobody goes to the Alps to feel big. But they go.” And the reason they go is because there is a certain joy and freedom in forgetting ourselves and being caught up in something infinitely bigger, namely God.
    • The 18th century pastor David Dickson once said, “To be occupied with our little selves is not God’s way of making us either healthy or happy.” Isn’t that the truth?
  • The paradox that David is expressing in this Psalm is the spiritual vertigo of looking out over the edge of the cosmos, into infinity, and then realizing God thinks about me. What is worse, I am sinner from the womb, and yet God cares for me.
    • To quote Psalm 139 again, David says, “How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand: When I awake, I am still with thee.”
  • Have you ever asked the LORD this question, “What am I that you are mindful of me?” Have you experienced the freedom of being utterly insignificant to the world, and yet so important to God that He would die for you? That is the joy and freedom the gospel brings.
  • In the remaining verses (5 through 8), David goes back to Genesis 1-2 and considers man’s place in the order of creation.

Verses 5-8

For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels,

And hast crowned him with glory and honour.

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

Thou hast put all things under his feet:

All sheep and oxen,

Yea, and the beasts of the field;

The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea,

And whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.

  • On the great scale of created being, there are angels at the top, who are pure spirits, intellectual substances.
  • And then just below them is man, “a little lower than the angels” (or in Hebrew, Elohim, the gods/God). And so man has an intellectual nature like the angels, we call it the soul or spirit, and that soul is joined to a material body, and this body is what weighs us down now that sin and death has broken us.
  • Nevertheless, because man is in the image of God, he has a rational nature, an intellect and free will, God has “made him to have dominion over the works of thy hands.”
    • Notice here that man’s dominion extends to the animals on earth, birds in the air, and fish in the sea, which are called the works of God’s hands. But he was not yet given dominion over the celestial bodies (moon and stars) which are the works of God’s fingers.
  • So in the hierarchy of creation, there are angels, mankind, and then animals, and they are on a descending scale according to how spiritual they are. Angel are pure spirits, man is a body-soul compositive with a rational soul, animals are a body-soul composite with only a sensitive soul.
  • And then the psalmist concludes in verse 9, “O Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!

Summary

So that is Psalm 8 according to the first layer of meaning. And if we didn’t have the New Testament, we would likely stop here and just appreciate that this Psalm has thus far covered the existence of God, His glory and power, the creation of man, and the fall of man for which reason there is an enemy and avenger that must be silenced through praise.

  • But there are at least three key places where this Psalm is quoted in the New Testament, and those quotations reveal a second layer of meaning that completes what we call the “story of salvation,” or “redemptive history.” So let us briefly consider those three quotations.

The first is Matthew 21:15-16, where Jesus is making his triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

15 And when the chief priests and scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying in the temple, and saying, Hosanna to the Son of David; they were sore displeased, 16 And said unto him, Hearest thou what these say? And Jesus saith unto them, Yea; have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?

  • So Jesus quotes Psalm 8 as finding a unique fulfillment in these children singing, “Hosanna to the Son of David” as he enters the temple. And so who is the enemy and the avenger in this context? It’s the chief priests and scribes who are silent in their praise of Jesus, but vocal in their blasphemy against him.
  • The chief priests and scribes want to silence these children, but as Jesus says elsewhere, “I tell you that if these should keep silent, the stones would immediately cry out.”
  • So here we have Jesus identifying himself as the LORD of Psalm 8 who is deserving of praise.
  • What is the most excellent name in all the earth? It is the name of Jesus. And so on our second reading of this Psalm, the new context becomes the week of Passover, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, and Jesus silencing the enemy and avenger with the singing of little children.

The second quotation is in Hebrews 2, where the Apostle Paul is explaining how Jesus is greater than the angels.

Hebrews 2:5-11

For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak. But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. 10 For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. 11 For both he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren…

  • So Paul gives a kind of running commentary on Psalm 8 as it applies to Jesus.
  • In answer to David’s question in verse 4, “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him?”
    • Paul answers that the Son of God took on human flesh and became a son of man, so that the sons of men could become sons of glory.
    • And he did this by becoming a little lower than the angels, not only by taking on human flesh, but by the suffering of death, and it was that death on the cross that crowned him with glory and honor.
  • Here we have the death, the crucifixion, the burial, and resurrection of Jesus, breathing new life into this Psalm.
  • How is man crowned with glory and honor? Well now he is crowned by being united to Christ in his suffering and death. As Paul says in Philippians 3:10-11, “That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.”
  • There is no crown or glory for the Christian except through the grave, exception though perseverance in suffering. That is how Christ received honor and glory, and that is also how we shall attain to the same.

Third and finally, the Apostle Paul quotes Psalm 8 in reference to the salvation of the world and the final judgment. He says in 1 Corinthians 15:25-28,

For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death. 27 For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith, all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him. 28 And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all.

  • So the dominion that Adam was given over birds and beasts and fish in the sea was itself a sign of Christ’s dominion over all the nations on earth.
  • Jesus himself said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” And unlike Adam who was not given dominion over the heavens, the man Christ Jesus now reigns from heaven, together with the saints, and he is in the business of making all things new, of fashioning for us a new heavens and new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
  • So in Jesus Psalm 8 is glorified. And so the next time you sing it, sing it twice. Sing it thrice! Sing it to extol God’s wisdom in creation, His grace in redemption, and His glory in making all things new.O Lord our Lord, How excellent is thy name in all the earth!”
  • In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
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