Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
To the chief Musician upon Gittith, A Psalm of David.
1 O LORD our Lord,
How excellent is thy name in all the earth!
Who hast set thy glory above the heavens.
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.
3 When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers,
The moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained;
4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him?
And the son of man, that thou visitest him?
5 For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels,
And hast crowned him with glory and honour.
6 Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands;
Thou hast put all things under his feet:
7 All sheep and oxen,
Yea, and the beasts of the field;
8 The fowl of the air, and the fish of the sea,
And whatsoever passeth through the paths of the seas.
9 O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth!
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
TITLE AND CHARACTER.—Even Olsh. finds no occasion to give up the Davidic authorship of this Psalm, which has since been maintained by Hitzig in a new way. This as well as all Psalms placed in relation to Gittith (vid. Introduction), resounds with the praise of Jehovah.
The use made of passages from this Psalm in Matth. 21:16; 1 Cor. 15:27; Heb. 2:6 sq., with various references to Messianic circumstances is entirely different from the Messianic nature of the entire Psalm, which has been maintained by many interpreters of all periods. The author rather on a moonlight and starlight night (Psalm 8:3), under the sense of the majesty of the Creator (Psalm 8:1 c) beaming from the firmament, praises the goodness shown towards frail man by the God of the Covenant, Who is identical with the Creator. This goodness is partly shown in the sovereignty of man as the image of God over all creatures, and partly is declared in the revelation and grace of the true God given to the members of the people of the covenant. It is true that the latter reference is not developed here, but it is not only presupposed in the Psalmist’s position in life, but it governs his entire feelings and thoughts, so much so that the reflection called forth in him by looking upon the starry heavens begins and closes by mentioning it with praise. We have no sure support for a nearer indication of the time of composition. The reference to the youth of David as the shepherd boy (Nachtigal., Tholuck) is very unlikely, or indeed to the time immediately after his victory over Goliath (Sachs with reference to Psalm 8:2). Hitzig supposes a reference to the time of the war against the Amalekites, with reference to 1 Sam. 30:1, 24
Str. I. Psalm 8:1. Our Lord.—The speaker is not the congregation (Delitzsch) which has only appropriated the Psalm, but a believer, who not only declares himself to be a member of the congregation whose Lord is Jehovah, but also acknowledges this Lord of the congregation personally, and as His servant and worshipper, now makes conspicuous with emphatic praise the glory of that name, which God has throughout the world among men as the Creator, over against that book of nature revealing the Divine majesty, shining down from heaven. That this is the fundamental idea and all-prevailing sentiment of the Psalm follows necessarily from the position of the relative clause after the principal clause, and from the introductory address to God.—Thou who hast put Thy majesty upon the heavens.—The language of the present text is very much disputed (vid. the thorough discussion of Hupfeld), because the form תְנָה occurs only as imperative, and as such cannot be connected with the relative (comp., however, Böttcher, Æhrenl. 42, Neue Æhrenl. II. 224); and the proposed explanations are so questionable that many interpreters propose other vowel points, as Paulus and Kurtz תֻנָּה=whose glory is praised, or Ewald תָּנָה= raises itself, Sept.ἐπῂρθη, or stretches itself out (Clauss, et al.), whilst Hitzig, in order to gain the last meaning, and to support it by a closer etymology by derivation from תנן removes theה as an article to the following noun, leaving תַּן. Hupfeld, however, with the ancient translations, would read נָתַתָּה, because the phrase נָתַן הוֹד עַל= to put authority upon, to invest with authority, is frequent, and a finite verb is indispensable. [But, as Riehm shows, this is a very violent correction, and then the application of this phrase to God in the usual sense of His investing the heavens with His Divine majesty has serious objections. It is better, with Riehm, to fall back upon the explanation of Ewald. “Thou whose glory raises itself above the heavens, or ‘rises above’ the heavens.”—C. A. B.] But whatever we may do with the language of the text, the position of the clause does not leave it doubtful, but that the emphasis of the sentence is upon these witnesses to the glory of God whose province is the entire earth, and which therefore are in relative contrast to the witnesses of the Divine glory, whose sphere is on the one side the people of God and on the other the heavens. Since now the account of the creation, Gen. 1:1, resounds in the contents of the Psalm itself, and the reference is neither prophetical to the worship of the God and King of Israel among all nations, nor can this be historically the reference (even without regard to the re-echo of Psalm 8:4, in Job 7:17); moreover, it is not allowable to refer the name of Jehovah here in the narrow sense to the name applied by the Israelites to the God of the Covenant and of Revelation, but we must think of the splendid and majestic name, with which men, throughout the world, even where the true nature of God is still unknown, ignorantly praise the true God as the God whose glory shines down upon them from the firmament; it is therefore easy to see why the explanations of some of the older interpreters, “whose glory above the heavens, etc., is praised by angels,” is untenable. Kurtz speaks besides even of “the song of all the spheres, of all the worlds of the heavens,” which is entirely contrary to Hebrew ideas.
Str. II. Psalm 8:2. Out of the mouth.—This specification does not allow us to find merely an expression of the general thought that God accomplishes the greatest things on earth, and reveals His glory by means of the weakest instruments and the least means. The expression is not the periphrase of the subj.= “from the size of a boy,” but has a manifest reference back to the name, Psalm 8:1b. We might therefore think first of all of the religious expressions of children from the lisping of sucklings, and the stammering prayers of little children under the impression of the wondrous magnificence of the evening heavens, even to the confession of the true God in the mouth of the young, especially as sucklings three years old were common in Israel, and the parallel Hebrew word refers to still more matured boys, 1 Sam. 15:3; 22:19, who ask bread, Lam. 4:4, and play in the street, Jer. 6:11; 9:20. In this sense also Jesus makes use of this passage, Matth. 21:16, and this use is still more appropriate if with the Sept. and many interpreters עֹז is regarded as praise. This meaning however is possible only in special connections. Originally and properly this word means, firmness, might, κράτος. Since now there is a reason for this given, it would be more in accordance with the text to think, not indeed of the living breath of the lately born, the first cry of the suckling (Umbr., et al.), or of the mouth as the organ of suckling (Kimchi) which would only refer to the wonder of the existence and support of the human race; but rather to find a reference to the wonder of the capacity of speech (Aben Ezra, Tholuck, et al.), to which Umbreit also is partially inclined when he finally mentions the movement of the mouth in order to form the sounding word. It is by speaking that man is specifically distinguished from the other inhabitants of earth, and which is very particularly calculated as a Divine force (Calv., et al.) to hush those who show themselves to be the adversaries of the honor of God; the enemies of the recognition of His glory on earth; the revengeful oppressors of the people of Jehovah. [Ewald: “What a contrast! There the wild, defiant enemies thirsting to destroy, here the weakest of creatures, and yet his joyful, lisping mouth is sufficient to defend the Creator against all the blasphemies of the enemy.” So likewise Hupfeld: “God has founded for Himself out of the mouth of sucklings and children a strong (invincible) stronghold against His enemies, that is: He has out of their mouths a mighty (incontrovertible) apology (of His goodness and greatness) which is sufficient to bring all His opponents to silence.” This is by far the best interpretation.—C. A. B.]
The Hebrew text does not allude to their destruction (many interpreters following the ancient translations). Hitzig is too narrow in his reference of the entire passage to the special fact that the Amalekites in the surprise of Ziklag did not avenge themselves on account of the massacre, 1 Sam. 27:8, 9, but killed none, 1 Sam. 30:1 sq., which David now refers to the protection of Jehovah, who by the crying of the children excited in the souls of the national enemy a humane pity, which tamed his fury. With the Messianic interpretation, the passage is usually (Calov, Geier, Schmidt, J. H. Mich., Stier) referred to the founding of the Christian Church, and the praise of God in the gospel by νήπιοι, or people of a similar spirit to children.
Str. III. Psalm 8:3. When I consider,etc.—כּי is here a particle of time, and not of cause (for) as Stier erroneously regards it. The concluding clause, Psalm 8:4, is an exclamation of astonishment, yet of humility, prayer, and trust, in view of the loving and careful condescension of the Creator towards man, who is intentionally named enôsh, as the weak. The reference back to the creation begins with Psalm 8:6. Here the expressions, (as well those which describe man, as those which describe the Divine care over him), refer too clearly to the present testimonies of the goodness of God towards man, born of mortals, that we should with Hupf. regard the imperf. here as preterite, and should think of the free and firm resolution of love, from which the creation, and especially the creation of man, originated.
Str. IV. Psalm 8:5. And so thou lettest him lack a little of divinity.—[“For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels.” A. V.]5 The following words show that the Psalmist has in view the sovereignty which has been given to man, created on earth, “in the image of God,” Gen. 1:26. We are here therefore to think of the Divine image in man, which endows him with the royal prerogative over the creatures of the world. The connection of the causal piel of חסר with the object by מִן does not allow us to regard the Psalmist as saying, there was little lacking and man had been like God. He says: There was not much lacking but that man should have been placed in that class of beings which embraces God and the angels, that is to say the Elohim. Elohim may indeed, it is true, express merely the abstract divinity (Hengst., Hupf.) but with this limitation, including the angels (Hitzig) a very suitable sense would be given. Since now, Pss. 82:1, 6; 97:7, 9, afford a more comprehensive use of the word Elohim, and this with the article means at times only a supernatural creature, 1 Sam. 28:13; Zech. 12:8, we have here sufficient reason for clearness of explanation even to suppose that it is a designation of a class. If now, God caused that man should lack a little of that which the Elohim possess as such, this can hardly be anything else than immateriality (Kimchi, Delitzsch). It is not allowable, however, with the ancient translations and the Rabbins to think merely of angels, [A. V.] or indeed according to the Sept. to regard the “little” as for a short time, whereby with the Messianic interpretation this passage refers to the state of humiliation as the following member of the verse to the exaltation of Jesus Christ, vid., Comm. on Heb. 2:6 sq. The verbs are all imperfects, and refer to the fact that these peculiarities man has retained since the creation in spite of the fall, and indeed as the connection of Psalm 8:5 with Psalm 8:4 shows, in consequence of the provision of Divine love. The perfect is found only in the closing clause of Psalm 8:6b., which recapitulates and expresses the firm assurance and constant arrangement (Hupfeld). This suggests the application to the kingdom of Christ, 1 Cor. 15:27. “Out of the very depths of this consciousness, how little man appears when contrasted with God, arises faith in the love of the heavenly Father who is not forgetful of the weak children of men, whom He has called into existence.” (Umbreit).
Str. V. Psalm 8:7. Sheep.—In Hebrew the word is a poetical form of a word which means the small cattle of the herd, and especially the sheep and goats. The following expressions likewise appear in poetical forms which lead the eye in increasing breadth of vision over the entire realm of human sovereignty.6 Böttcher, on account of Psalm 8:8b, which is certainly very singular and striking, refers to the men who make their way through the agitated paths of the sea. So also previously Aben Ezra and Kimchi. [The proper reference is to the other inhabitants of the sea, from the leviathan down to the smallest creature which moves on the waters, vid.Ps. 104:25, 26.—C. A. B.]
[Str. VI. Psalm 8:9. Delitzsch: “The Psalmist has now proved what he stated Psalm 8:1, that the name of Jehovah, the glory of which radiates from the heavens, is also glorious on earth. Thus the thought with which he began the Psalm is repeated as a conclusion with fulness of meaning, and thus the Psalm is wound together as a wreath.”]7
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. The congregation confesses that the revealed God is its sovereign, and hopes that the name in which God has manifested Himself according to His true nature, will be proclaimed some time, in all lands, and be praised as glorious in the entire earth. But it recognizes, also, that among all nations religious feelings are especially awakened by looking at the starry heavens, and that therefore the most glorious names are everywhere given to the Divine Being whose majesty shines down from the firmament.
2. Among created beings it is especially man, whom God has made use of upon earth as the instrument of His communications and organ of His revelations. He has given man the capacity of speech, and thereby, even in the mouths of the smallest children, He has prepared for Himself that power which is best adapted to refute the adversaries of the Church of God, and to spread abroad His true and holy name; the power of speech, especially of the word which comes from God and testifies of God. Thus on the one side man is distinguished from all other earthly creatures, and placed in a special relation to God; and on the other side it gives the most suitable means not only of religious communications in general, but of overcoming the deification of nature by faith in Divine revelation.
3. Man, when compared with the magnificent phenomena of the heavens, may appear very trifling and insignificant, but when considered as the object of Divine care his preëminence over all creatures becomes manifest, and he should be thankful in remembrance of this, and maintain true humility with all the greatness bestowed upon him, confessing his frailty and his descent from men of Adam’s race.
4. Man is born in the image of Adam, he was yet created as the image of God, and in consequence of this he has that within him, which gives reason to reckon him almost to the class of supernatural creatures. This is his rational and moral nature. By this he has a nature which makes him capable of attaining his destiny, of being as an image of the glory and majesty of God, sovereign over the world which surrounds him. For the true fulfilment of this destiny we are referred from the Old to the New Covenant.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
He who would rule properly must serve God properly.—The conflict between the Divine purpose and the present condition of man; whence it comes, and how it is to be obviated.—The glorification of the name of God in the congregation, and by the congregation over the entire earth.—Man is like the rest of the world, God’s workmanship, but he is designed to be ruler of the world, as the image of the Divine glory and majesty.—Man belongs to two worlds, the visible and the invisible; hence he has a great and difficult task; let us see what hinders and what promotes its fulfilment.—The high position and dignity which God has given man among the creatures, imposes upon him responsibilities which he can fulfil only as a member of the Church of God.—Man is prevented from fulfilling his destiny less by his natural frailty, than by his Adamic nature.—No man is too insignificant, weak, poor, or little for the service of God; God makes even of the smallest children arms of His grace and instruments of His power.—What God does even to sucklings reveals His glory more than the magnificence of the stars.—It is true we may know something of God and His glory from the works of creation, so that even the heathen praise God after their fashion; but only in the Church can we truly learn who God is, and what we have in Him, and how to serve Him aright.—We need not only the crown of eternal life, but we must also be mindful of the crown of thorns, and the crown of righteousness.
STARKE: The beginning and end of this Psalm are in harmony; can it be impossible for God to make it thus with the beginning and end of the New Testament Church?—The more we recall to mind, with shame and humility, our own unworthiness, the greater and more glorious will be our portion of the gracious benefits of God, in Christ.—The sovereignty over all creatures, lost by Adam, Jesus has regained, and bestows it upon His people; hence they may use all creatures with a good conscience in the Divine order, 1 Cor. 3:21 sq.; 1 Tim. 4:4.—The Gospel has glorified the name of the gracious God in all parts of the world—whilst under the law scarcely anything was known of this name even in the Holy Land.—FRISCH: Despise not the smallest and weakest instrument; God is mighty in weakness.—BAUMGARTEN: We can reverence nothing more than the name of God, that is, what He has revealed and made known of Himself and His perfections.—HERBERGER: Those are the best musicians who allow themselves to be used for the glory of God.—TAUBE: All knowledge and worship of God has its first and last roots in the name of God.—The Almighty uses weakness, in order that the power, and therefore the glory, may be of God, and not of man.—UMBREIT: Humanity without religion is brutality.—DIEDRICH: It is the delight of the pious that God has made for Himself by His government a glorious name in all lands.—Nothing in nature should prevent us, if only we are in right relations with God.
[SPURGEON: We may style this Psalm the song of the Astronomer: let us go abroad, and sing it beneath the starry heavens at eventide, for it is very probable that in such a position it first occurred to the poet’s mind.—He who delights in the songs of angels is pleased to honor Himself in the eyes of His enemies by the praises of little children. What a contrast between the glory above the heavens and the mouth of babes and sucklings! yet by both the name of God is made excellent. SPURGEON’S TREASURY OF DAVID:—CHALMERS: There is much in the scenery of a nocturnal sky to lift the soul to pious contemplation. That moon and those stars, what are they? They are detached from the world, and they lift us above it. We feel withdrawn from the earth, and rise in lofty abstraction from this little theatre of human passions and human anxieties. The mind abandons itself to reverie, and is transferred in the ecstacy of its thought to distant and unexplored regions. It sees nature in the simplicity of her great elements, and sees the God of nature invested with the high attributes of wisdom and majesty.—THOMAS WATSON: Meditation fits for humiliation. When David had been contemplating the works of creation, their splendor, harmony, motion, influence, he lets the plumes of pride fall, and begins to have self-abasing thoughts.—C. A. B.]
[There is in Psalm 8:5 a wonderful rebound of feeling; cast to the earth by his humiliating reflections upon the wonders of the heavens, and the insignificance of man, he rises, lifted up by the consciousness of the honor and dignity bestowed upon him by God in making him greater than all these wonders of nature.—C. A. B.]
[Perowne: “We see him in his lonely watchings, now casting a vigilant glance around him lest any beast of prey threaten ‘those few sheep in the wilderness,’ and now lifting a loving and observant eye to heaven, and as the bright stars come out one after another in the Eastern sky, with a brilliancy and splendor almost unimaginable to us, his heart fills with the thought that it is Jehovah, the God of Israel, who has set His glory there, to be seen of all eyes, to be praised even by the tongues of children. But from heaven his thoughts turn again to earth, from the glory of God to man formed to acknowledge that glory. And his first thought is, as it must be in any case, an humbling one. What is man, man in his frailty, his littleness, his sin? What is man in His sight who made yon heavens, and planted in them those glittering orbs? And then comes the correcting thought, the thought of man’s greatness and dignity as made in the image of God, and appointed by Him to have dominion over all the creatures of the earth.” Delitzsch: “This Psalm is a lyrical echo of the Mosaic account of creation.” “As the gospels contain no words of Jesus before the time of His baptism, and the New Testament Canon has no writings of the Apostles before Pentecost, so the Old Testament has no Psalms of David before he was anointed. From the time when he was anointed by the God of Jacob, he is the sweet Psalmist of Israel, on whose tongue is the word of Jehovah, 2 Sam. 23:1 sq.” It is probable that this Psalm dates from the earlier part of David’s life, some time during his wanderings in the wilderness when pursued by Saul.—C. A. B.]
[Many commentators regard this and the following clauses as still dependent upon כּי, that (Ewald, Perowne, et al.), but it is better, with Hupfeld and Hitzig, to regard these clauses as independent, for otherwise the sentence would be too much involved for Hebrew poetry.—C. A. B.]
[The sovereignty of our first parents in Eden was complete, the sovereignty of man now is merely partial, but the second Adam regained that sovereignty in its fulness for Himself and His redeemed, and it is realized again according to prophecy in the Messianic kingdom, Is. 11:6–9.—C. A. B.]
[Wordsworth: “How fully was the language of the Psalm realized in that night when the stars were shining on those fields of Bethlehem where David had kept his father’s sheep; and the angels chanted in the ears of shepherds the gratulatory hymn, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good-will toward men,’ for the descent of the Son of God to become Son of Man; and when the nature of man was exalted in Christ to a higher elevation than that of the angels themselves; and when the new star in the heaven shone to lead the Gentiles to His light, and kings to the brightness of His rising (Is. 60:3); and again, at that day when the ‘men of Galilee,’ who were despised as mere babes by the wise men of this world, stood on the Mount of Olives, and saw Him exalted in glory above the heavens.”—C. A. B.]
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.