Psalm 144:3
The occasion of the introduction of these sentiments here is not quite clear. It may be the humility of the warrior who ascribes all success to God instead of to human prowess; or it may be a reflection uttered over the corpses of comrades; or, perhaps, a blending of the two.

I. THE VANITY OF MAN CREATES SURPRISE AT GOD'S CARE. "Lord, what is man, that thou takest knowledge of him?" This is an exclamation of surprise, which is repeated by every devout soul when the frailty of man is brought impressively before him. It is not merely the brevity of life that is in view, nor its uncertainty; it is the smallness of all human doings and aims. Relative to the size of the globe, the highest mountain is but a slight and scarcely perceptible ridge. Relative to the mountain, a single man is scarcely as big as a pin's head. And what can man accomplish? His mightiest achievements are but as the triumphs of the ants whose work he despises; and he is seldom permitted folly to achieve anything, for he is usually cut off before the thing he intended can be completed. Man is a smaller being than some of the animals, and it is hard to conceive of his doing anything that is really worthy of Divine notice. And yet God does care for man as he cares for nothing else that he has made. We can only wonder over the fact, glory in it, and let it bring home to our hearts the mystery - "God is love."

II. THE VANITY OF MAN SHOULD LEAD HIM TO PUT HIMSELF INTO GOD'S CARE. For it is not enough that God should care for us. The joy of that care is not realized until we care that God should thus care. It may be a fact, but it is no helpful, comforting fact until we respond to the fact, accept the care, and voluntarily put ourselves entirely into it. The psalmist here speaks as one who had mastered the depressing influence of his own sense of frailty, by assuring his heart of God's personal care. That brings to man a sense of dignity which more than matches the sense of frailty. Man may be "crushed before the moth;" but it is also true, he is only "a little lower than the angels," for God - yes, the great, eternal God - is mindful of him. - R.T.

Lord, what is man, that Thou takest knowledge of him!
We must take care, in denouncing human depravity, and declaiming on human misery, not to decry human nature; for that would be a procedure of a plainly immoral and irreligious tendency, instead of being praiseworthy; and it would involve untruth. The temple is in ruins, and "the Great Inhabitant is gone." But still we meet, here with a broken shaft, and there with a mutilated wreath; although all only sufficient to awaken melancholy remembrances, and make us say, "Here God once dwelt." And yet "man is like to vanity"; and the moment we have read the text it finds an echo in our bosoms.

I. THE VANITY OF MAN. There are two words in our Bibles with which we are familiar, Death and Vanity. They are both employed to express the desolate estate into which man's fall has plunged him. Death sometimes includes the sin of that estate as well as its penal consequences. So sometimes does vanity. It is sometimes used as but another name for sin (Psalm 12:2; Job 15:35; Romans 1:21; Ephesians 4:17). But it appears to be the more appropriate function of the Bible-word to express the penal consequences of sin (Job 15:31; Psalm 78:33; Romans 8:20). Sin has driven all the originally solid and desirable out of man. It has left him the lifeless, bloodless, unsubstantial ghost of what once he was.

1. The life of man is perishable and ephemeral.

2. It is very far from yielding him satisfaction while it lasts. Man cannot find what he was made to find. He is like a long-lost child, with faint and melancholy recollections lingering in him of a sunny land and a pleasant home. And, closely connected with this, man cannot make of life what he has shrewd suspicions it was given to him that he might make of it. It is soon to end; and yet he knows that he has not been turning it to the right account; and, what is worse, he feels that even yet he cannot do so. Go then it must, and he can make nothing to his satisfaction out of it.


1. It brings redemption by the Son of God.

2. It brings regeneration by the Spirit of God.

3. It gives faith in God.

4. It opens up the glorious spiritual world to view, and intercourse, and hope.

(H. Angus.)

: —


1. What is man in his constitution?(1) What is he corporeally? Medical science, from the beginning, has concerned itself with this question, and, as yet, has reached no satisfactory solution.(2) What is he mentally? Psychology has pondered on this question for ages, and has not, up to the present hour, reached a satisfactory explanation.(3) What is he morally? Ethical science has employed its most earnest efforts in order to find out whether man is a moral being or not, and, if he is, what are his distinguishing faculties, and what his ultimate destiny.

2. What is man in his relations? His relations to the material and the spiritual, the human and the Divine.

3. What is man in his character? Has he fallen from a higher type of character, or is he gradually rising out of a lower? Is his moral character a progressive evolution? Here is the problem, "What is man?" "Truly," says Sir Thomas Browne, "the whole creation is a mystery, and particularly that of man." "Man," says Carlyle, "stands in the centre of nature, his fraction of time encircled by eternity, his hand-breadth of space encircled by infinitude."


1. The exclamation assumes that the Almighty does take special notice of man. The shepherd is interested in his one lost sheep. The housewife in her one lost piece of silver. The father in his one lost son.

2. The exclamation breathes the spirit of amazement at this. It is so contrary to what might antecedently have been expected, so contrary to what a guilty conscience would have foreboded.

(David Thomas, D. D.)

: —


1. As a creature of God, man is —

(1)A piece of modified dust, enlivened with the breath of God (Genesis 2:7; 1 Corinthians 15:47).

(2)A potter's vessel, that is easily dashed and broken (Psalm 2:9; Romans 9:21).

(3)Grass (Isaiah 40:6-8).

(4)The drop of a bucket, etc. (Isaiah 40:15).

(5)Nothing, and less than nothing (Isaiah 40:17).

2. As a fallen creature, man is —

(1)Diseased, overrun with a loathsome leprosy from the crown of the head to the sole of the foot: the disease of sin has invaded the very vitals, insomuch that the very mind and conscience is defiled and wasted, etc.

(2)Ugly and loathsome (Job 15:16).

(3)Impotent and helpless.



(6)Noxious and hurtful.


(8)Dead (Ephesians 2:1)


1. That he is yet not beyond God's notice and observation.

2. That the regard God shows unto man does not flow from anything in himself.

3. That it is the fruit of His own free grace and sovereign will and pleasure.

4. That God has no need of man.

5. That God's mercy and love unto man, and the son of man, is of a preventing nature: man is not seeking after God when He takes knowledge of him in a way of mercy.

6. That whatever man be, however despicable, low, and inconsiderable, yet God treats him as if he were some great and considerable person. Hence He is said to magnify him (Job 7:17).


1. Take a short view of the regard that God shows in common unto all men.(1) Observe what regard God showed unto man, that petty, poor creature, at his creation.(2) Consider the regard God shows unto man in the course of His common providence, and that notwithstanding his apostasy.(a) Although we be all transgressors from the very womb, yet He continues a succession of men upon the earth.(b) See the wonderful care that God has in and about the formation of man in the womb.(c) Whenever man is brought into the world, although he is the most helpless creature in himself, yet He has provided the best of help to cherish and preserve him.

2. Take a view of the good of His chosen.

(1)Before time.

(2)In time.

(3)After time ends, in eternity (1 Corinthians 2:9).


1. It is surprising, if we consider God's infinite and amazing greatness and glory.

2. It is surprising, if we consider what man is, what a poor, inconsiderable, contemptible creature he is, both as a creature and as a sinner.3. It is surprising and wonderful, because it cannot be conceived or expressed; it runs beyond all thought and all words.


1. See hence the folly of all such as are taken up in admiring any created excellency, either to be found in themselves, or others of the human raze, without running up to the fountain head, an infinite God, from whom all being, beauty, glory, and excellency doth flow.

2. See hence the horrid ingratitude of sinners in waging war against God, who is so good and so kind unto man.

3. See hence the way and method that God takes to "lead sinners to repentance": why, He just pursues them with His kindness, and draws them "with cords of a man, with bands of love; knowest thou not, O man, that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?"

4. Is God so good and so kind to worm man? then see hence, what a reasonable command the first command of the law is, "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me."

5. See hence the criminal nature of the sin of unbelief, which is a saying upon the matter, God is not to be trusted, notwithstanding all His kindness, pity, and love to man.

6. Is God so kind to man? worm, worthless many Is the regard that He shows to us so surprising and wonderful? then let us discover a regard to Him, and to everything that belongs to Him.

(1)In His works of nature.

(2)In His works of providence.

(3)In His Christ.

(4)In His Scriptures.

(5)By attending His courts.

(E. Erskine.)

: —


1. Infinitely blessed in Himself.



2. He has dominion over all.

3. He is well acquainted with all our conduct.

4. He hates sin with an infinite hatred.


1. A most mean object.

2. A most frail being.

3. Singularly poor.

(1)Spiritually destitute.

(2)Spiritually deep in debt.

(3)Unable to escape his creditor.

4. Spiritually loath-some.

5. Full of malignity.

III. THE NATURE OF THE REGARD SHOWN BY GOD TO MAN. God hath shown his love to man —

1. By assuming wonderfully gracious characters. David exclaimed, "Lord, what is man," etc., immediately after he had been surveying some of God's principal titles. "Blessed be the Lord my strength," etc.

2. By conceiving many kind thoughts about his welfare.

3. By uttering many gracious expressions to him and concerning him.

4. By acting a gracious part towards him.

5. By conferring favours upon him.

6. By what He has endured for him.

(E. Brown.)

: — Consider man —

I. IN A STATE OF NATURE. "Of few days, and full of trouble." "As soon as we are born, we go astray, speaking lies." "Lord, what is man?" An immortal creature, and yet his immortality uncared for! A corrupt creature, and yet no holiness sought! A blind creature, and yet no sight implored! A redeemed creature, and yet that redemption slighted and forgotten!

II. IN A STATE OF GRACE. "Old things have passed away." Old habits, old associations, old acquaintances, no longer please. "All things have become new." The man has new motives, new desires, new feelings, and he delights in the society and friendship of new companions.

III. IN A STATE OF TORMENT. "Man dieth; man wasteth away; he giveth up the ghost, and where is he?" The wicked will rise "to shame and everlasting contempt."

IV. IN A STATE OF GLORY. "Whom He justifies, them He also glorifies." He gives grace, and He gives glory, and no good thing will He withhold from you, if you are only His children, washed in His blood, sanctified by His Spirit, and robed in His righteousness.

(C. Clayton, M. A.)

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