Psalms 8 Summary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
It is the marvel of God’s choice of man to be the chief revelation of Himself and His representative on earth that is the theme of this Psalm. Although God’s glory is so conspicuously stamped upon the heavens, He makes infants the defenders of His cause (Psa 8:1-2). The infinite vastness of the heavens would seem to make a puny creature like man beneath God’s notice (Psa 8:3-4). Not so, for He has made him in His own image, and appointed him His viceroy over creation (Psa 8:5-6), in all its varied forms of life (Psa 8:7-8).
Man then, not Nature, is the central thought in the poet’s mind. It is indeed the contemplation of the heavens with all their wealth of mystery and magnificence which by the law of contrast has turned his gaze to man. Nature is wonderful as the reflection of God’s glory, but man is more wonderful still. Mere atom as he seems to be compared with those starry depths (and what force modern astronomical discovery adds to the contrast), he is in truth more mysterious and wonderful than they, for he is by nature scarce less than God, and appointed to be His viceroy in the world. Man’s dignity is the true marvel of the universe.
The Psalmist looks away from the Fall with its heritage of woe, from the sin and failure and rebellion of mankind, to man’s nature and position and destiny in the original purpose of God. And was he not justified in doing so? The image of God in man is defaced but not destroyed (1Co 11:7; St Jas 3:9); the grant of dominion is not abrogated (Gen 9:2 ff.), though its conditions are modified. Prophets and Apostles look steadily forward to the restoration of man’s destined relation to God and to creation (Isa 11:1-9; Rom 8:18-22). God’s purposes are not frustrated by man’s sin, and the Psalm is virtually a prophecy. It finds ‘fulfilment’ in the Incarnation.
The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Psa 2:6 ff.) quotes Psa 8:4-6, and contrasts man’s failure with this his lofty destiny. “We see not yet all things subjected to him.” “But,” as he goes on to say, applying the Psalmist’s words to the condescension of the Incarnation, “we behold him who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour.” The Son of Man, the representative of the race, receives as the reward of His obedience unto death the honour designed for man, and in His exaltation we see “the pledge that the Divine counsel of love will not fail of fulfilment” (Bp. Westcott, Christus Consummalor, p. 21).
St Paul too quotes the last half of Psa 8:6 as an assurance of the final triumph of Christ (1Co 15:27; cp. Eph 1:22). If all things were subjected to the first Adam who failed through sin, not less must they be subjected to the second Adam who triumphs through obedience, and fulfils the destiny of the race.
The title attributes the Psalm to David, and it may well be his. The fact that the author of the Book of Job was familiar with the Psalm (cp. Job 7:17 ff. with Psa 8:4) would be a strong confirmation of the accuracy of the title, if that book could be assigned with certainty to the time of Solomon; but the uncertainty as to its date prevents any argument being drawn from the allusion. It has been suggested that David composed the Psalm as a shepherd on the plains of Bethlehem. With all its marvellous depth of meaning, it certainly possesses a striking freshness and simplicity; but would it not be more natural to regard it as the later fruit of seeds of thought sown then and gradually brought to maturity?
The appropriateness of this Psalm as one of the Proper Psalms for Ascension Day is obvious. It is in the Ascension of Christ that we see man, in the person of his perfect representative, “crowned with glory and honour.”
On the title, For the Chief Musician; set to the Gittith (R.V.), see Introd. p. xxv.
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The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges is a biblical commentary set published in parts by Cambridge University Press from 1882 onwards. Anglican bishop John Perowne was the general editor. The first section published was written by theologian Thomas Kelly Cheyne and covered the Book of Micah.
Perowne exercised limited editorial control over the writers of individual commentaries: his aim was "to leave each contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment".