Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Psalm 8: The Glory of God in His Creation and Gracious Condescension

1. Exaltation of God for the splendor of his majesty (v.2 BHS, v.1 ESV). O Lord our Lord (Yehovah / Yahweh Adoneynu): the first “Lord” is YHVH which is God’s covenant name and the second is Adonay, a term referring to God as the Sovereign Lord of lords (cf. Isa 6:1, ereeh et Adonay – I see the Lord). So here David highlights Israel’s covenant Lord as the God, the only God of the universe who is not only the Creator but also the King, Ruler and Lord of all. Mah-adir: MM translates adir as glorious, ESV as majestic. MM has a point because God’s general revelation has to do with the display of his glory, but ESV’s is legitimate as well. The emphasis here (You have set your glory on the heavens) is the beauty of God’s creation and the fact God maintains it that way throughout generations. The beauty of the world that God created is not limited to a certain place, but anywhere and everywhere it is visible for all to see that brings conviction in our hearts of the Great Creator who designed and maintains all these (cf. Heb 11:3). Hence general revelation is given through creation and providence. God does not merely create but also sustains and ensures the execution of the course of history according to his divine wisdom down to the level of details that you and I are not even aware of. Heb 1:2-3 speaks of the Son, the Second Person in the Godhead who is in charge of creation and providence. We don’t often think of Jesus Christ in his state of humiliation as the Creator, Sustainer and Director of the universe (pheron ta panta tw hremati ths dunamews, Heb 1:3 – the Son bearing all by the word of power). But He is indeed the one who runs everything in an absolute sense according to the pleasures of divine will expressed in the grand sovereign blueprint with the ultimate purpose of bringing glory to the Godhead (Col 1:16b, Rom 11:36). One may ask why David limits the splendor of God’s majesty in all-the-earth (aretz), not the universe (olam)? The answer is the earth is the point of observation of God’s glory displayed not just on the earth, the place of human habitation but also through the display of his splendor (hod) in the heavens (shamayim). We will see more of this in verses 4-5 BHS (3-4 ESV). For now, note the unusual structure in the second part of the verse: asher tenah (imperative of natan with ah ending – please give) hodekha: please give your glory on the heavens which makes me lean towards translating this phrase to “Let your glory be displayed on the heavens” – for all to see, instead of the usual translation, “You have set your glory above the heavens.”

2. The purpose of the display of his majesty (v.3 BHS, v.2 ESV). This is implied from the last phrase of the previous verse: Let your glory be displayed on the heavens, namely so that all creatures stand in awe and worship you with reverent jubilation. Then David goes on by saying “from the mouth of children and infants (MM is more literal in translating yoneqim as sucklings – the plural masculine participle of yanaq – to suckle) you have ordained strength (oz).” Matthew translates oz as ainos which is most appropriately translated as “praise” in Mat 21:16 when he speaks of Jesus quoting Psalm 8:2 during his triumphal entry. The context of this quotation is the Pharisees’ envy as they saw the Jews including the little children cheering him as He entered Jerusalem. Connecting this context back to Psalm 8:2 we see the link between God ordaining praise to very young souls and “because of his enemies (lemaan tsorireykha)” or in order for his enemies. The purpose of God ordaining praises from kids and babies in this context has to do with his enemies. There are those who resent that God is the one and only rightful recipient of all glory and honor and power (Rev 4:11) for all He does and therefore the only one proper object of worship since He is the one and only Creator (again Rev 4:11, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being). The Pharisees are a representative of such people, who lust for the praise due to God to be directed to them (cf. John 12:43, they loved the praise of man more than the praise of God), who aspire after the same aspiration as that of Lucifer (Isa 14:14b – I will make myself like the Most High). So the reason God ordains praise even from the lips of the youngest group of all humanity is to bring humiliation and shame, and thus to shut the mouths of his enemies, hence to still (MM and ESV) the enemy and the avenger, those who are watching and wishing for God’s demise (implied from tsorireykha), those who have ill-will towards God so that they might steal his glory for themselves. The verb “still” or “silence” is the infinitive Hiphil form of shabat (cf. Sabbath day) which when translated literally means “to cause to stop”. So God ordains praise even from among little children who don’t know much yet they know who God is who is worthy of all praise, in order to cause the enemy and the avenger to stop, to frustrate their schemes to cheat God by divesting the honor that is due to him to themselves, and to defeat them in this battle for supremacy for all to see who the true God is. Notice the transition between tsorireykha – your enemies (or literally those who watch you to do you harm) to “oyev umitnaqem.” Oyev is a more literal word for enemy and mitnaqem is the Hitpael participle of naqam – revenge), hence it is translated as “avenger.” Why the use of “avenger” as if “enemy” were not enough? I think the purpose is to show a deep depraved resentment in the hearts of fallen humanity as a result of their depraved aspiration of lordship. We can’t understand this phenomenon unless we go back to Genesis 3 to see the underlying issue behind the Fall, namely the issue of lordship. The bottom line of what the serpent offers Adam and Eve is that they would be their own lords instead of them having to submit themselves under the lordship of God (Gen 3:5). But then this ties back in with Isa 14:14b above which is no other than Satan’s aspiration itself. The fact that God not only thwarts the coup attempt by his creatures but also punishes them as a result creates a sense of hatred, a lust to avenge for what God does to them not realizing what they do is a cosmic treason and therefore God is just in punishing them. Hence deep inside of every fallen unregenerate creature there is a desire for a payback for what God has done (which explains the use of mitnaqem) instead of repentance and turning to Him by faith for the forgiveness of their sin. The reformed view of the first use of the law is to expose our sinfulness, our utter inability to obey God’s commands in order to lead us to Christ. I would argue that from this verse that the law of general revelation serves the same purpose, albeit subtly, that is, to expose a depraved human aspiration to be their own lord, to be the object of praise, the recipient of glory from all creatures, or in other words, to be God. By linking this verse to the NT quotation in Mat 21:16, Jesus subtly claims himself to be divine, by equating the praise He received from the children to the praise God receives from them in Psalm 8:2. Jesus asserts that He is God in the flesh who took on a human nature to be the head of a new humanity, the second Adam, condescending himself to restore and reconcile poor wretched puny alienated humanity who is under divine curse of the first Adam with the righteous God, the goal of which is so that instead of resenting and trying to exact revenge from him, they would repent and gladly submit, follow, serve and worship Him in joyful reverent praises all their days. Some additional possible questions are in order: (1) Why does God have to use children’s praise to silence his enemies? Why not adults? Don’t adults understand God more? In Luke’s account of the triumphal entry, Jesus responds to the Pharisees’ envious plea to rebuke his disciples who are cheering Him that even if they are silenced, the rocks will cry out in praise to Him (Lk 19:40). This is certainly a hyperbolic statement. Combined with Mat 21:16 that quotes Ps 8:2, I think the point that Jesus makes is that even if some are so hardened in their hatred of God, He will always be able to find those who aren’t, like babies, who despite their being born with Adam’s fallen nature, their minds have not been so defiled by the depth of sin that the world has plunged into to the point that they are still capable of acknowledging the One who sustains them, who care for them, who provides them with milk from their mother’s breast and food from their parents. God is able to open anyone’s eyes to see who He is, to behold his glory, to worship Him which means that the fact some refuse to acknowledge that He even exists, let alone praise Him indicates that God leaves them in their sin, to remain blind, incapable by nature of savoring his goodness displayed in the glory of creation, providence and redemption (cf. Rom 1:18-23, John 9:39-41, 2 Cor 4:4) unless He intervenes to change their hearts. (2) Can the enemies and the avenger spoken of refer to the devil only? Some unbelievers such as the atheists display outward hostility towards God, but some aren’t. There are some peace-loving Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims and others from non-Christian religions. They don’t seem to fit the bill of those who hate God and desire to avenge Him. My response is It is true that the devil is full of raging hatred (Rev 12:12). He would do everything to exact vengeance against God even in his cursed state. However, Rom 8:7 says that unregenerate individuals without exception are hostile to God (lit: echtra, enmity, derived from echtros – enemy). How can God’s enemies genuinely acknowledge and submit to Him while their very disposition is that of hatred? Although the outward gestures may indicate otherwise, Scripture tells us the true attitude of unbelievers towards God. Heb 4:13: “The Word of God is living and active, sharper than double-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” It is true that unbelievers may display reverence in their worship of God but ultimately it is a self-centered, self-serving worship, not because of who God is. The hostility remains, regardless of how subtle and undiscernible it is from the outside because Scripture tells us so.  

3.     The smallness of humanity in light of the vast universe (4-5 BHS, 3-4ESV). “For (when) I see your heavens, the works of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have arranged, who is man that you remember him, the son of man that you visit him?” The vastness of the universe, the smallness of the earth and humanity compared to the seemingly infinite extent of the limit of God’s creation as evidenced from macrocosmic and microcosmic discovery to this very day put a sense of awesome heaviness (the Hebrew word of glory is kabot derived from kabed – to be heavy) and conviction in our hearts of the beauty and dimensions of the works of his “fingers.” During David’s days the extent of the universe was limited to what was visible in the sky, but with modern scientific advance, much more evidence of the divine splendor has been discovered (e.g., with the Hubble telescope) that tells us from divine point of view, the earth and humanity look merely like a speck of dust. Isa 40:15, “Behold, the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales…” In “The Privileged Planet” Guillermo Gonzales concludes that earth is the only planet to date that has a clear transparent atmosphere as if it were intentionally designed for its inhabitants to have visibility on the universe at large. So we can see extra-terrestrial objects unhindered in clear sky facilitated by a special divine design for the earth inhabited by his creatures so that they may behold his glory and bow down and worship him in adoration. Who is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that you care for him? The word used in the first “man” is enosh. There is a general consensus that enosh is a term emphasizing the frailty and mortality of humanity which I think is legitimate (cf. Ps 103:14, Ps 78:39) considering this verse contrasts humanity with the gracious condescension of their great Creator. The contrast has been shown initially by comparison with the splendor of heavenly objects and the size of God-created universe. It then highlights that despite seemingly less-than-nothing, insignificant humanity, God condescends in his grace to remember and care (ESV) / thinks (MM) of them (I like a more literal translation of paqad (to visit): the son of man, that you visit him). The second “man” is a more widely used term for humanity “adam” as a parallel to the previous line but there is an intensification here. God doesn’t merely remember frail humanity but he actually visits them, which I think an implicit refutation of Deism. God is involved in all the affairs of history from beginning to the end. Rom 11:36, from Him, through Him and to Him are all things, to Him be the glory forever. Indeed God not only involves himself in human history, but He designed and direct its course infallibly so that there is no possibility, no room for error or mistake. All is running perfectly according to what he flawlessly thought out with the over-arching goal of the display of his glory and the worship of all creatures to give him all due praise and honor. Paqad may carry a negative connotation in the OT as it may refer to God visiting humanity to punish them (cf. Isa 24:22, Jer 6:6) but here it is either to care for (i.e., to help in a manner that shows concern and help in a difficult circumstance - DBLH) or to examine (i.e., to evaluate and judge a situation or person based on detailed information). There is a sense that both are true since Scripture speaks of the former (e.g., 2 Chron 16:9) and the latter (Ps 11:4-5, 33:13-15). I’m leaning more towards the former since again, David here highlights the gracious condescension of God. The next question one may ask is whether this condescension is expressed in common or special grace or both? It is common grace for sure since one element of general revelation is God’s providence over all creations. He provides rain and sun (Mat 5:45) and food (Ps 145:15) without distinguishing whether one is elect or not. But since the entire Psalm speaks of general revelation, not special revelation, I conclude that God’s gracious condescension spoken of here is limited to common grace. However, the purpose of the revelation of God’s common grace is certainly extended so that men and women may seek to know Him deeper through special revelation by which they are directed to God’s redemptive plan He accomplished in and through Christ Jesus according to the Gospel, namely, that God’s kindness, his providential care may lead them to repentance (Rom 2:4) by embracing the his promise in the Gospel. Note also that the author of Hebrews connects Ps 8:4  in Heb 2:5b-8 with the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus Christ, the former being his incarnation and the latter his ascension and session at the right hand of the Father. By virtue of believers’ union with Christ, they are also in the state of humiliation as they go through the pilgrimage here below, but a glorious future awaits them where they will reign with Christ (cf. 2 Tim 2:12, Rev 20:6, 1 Cor 6:3). There is a subtle theme of the their union with Christ in Heb 2 in which what He did or does, they do and will do for example verse 11ff, “he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source” and the way Christ addresses Christians as his brothers and identifies himself with “the children God has given me” (12-13) by virtue of his high-priestly penal-substitutionary work on the cross in which He was both the Great High Priest and the sacrifice (v.17).

4.     God-given dominion to man to rule over all creatures (6-9 BHS, 5-8 ESV). You made him slightly lower than angels (MM), heavenly beings (ESV) (Heb: Elohim). Chasar is the same verb used in Ps 23:1b echsar - I shall not want (Qal) except in Ps 8:6 the pattern is in Piel which suggests causation although it is usually not as strong as Hiphil. In other words, God ordained humanity the lack of the same status as that He bestows upon the angels which means that humans are below angels. Angels mark the boundary between creatures and Creator. To be above angels is to be God and to be below angels is to be the rest of God’s creatures. Admittedly it is difficult to find Elohim used in this sense, referring to angels in the rest of the OT, but I still think there is a compelling reason the word should be translated this way. Why can’t Elohim refer to God in verse 5? Perhaps the most compelling argument is that the author of Hebrews translates Elohim as angels in Heb 2:7. But suppose that it does refer to God, the passage would put humanity directly under God and therefore, overlook the fact that there is another class of creature, namely the angels created to serve and worship God in heaven (Isa 6:2-3, Rev 7:11) and to protect his people visibly and invisibly (Heb 1:14) whose status is above the rest of God’s creatures although they themselves are still God’s creatures as well. To minister in the heavenly throne and God’s elect is their role and not the role of humanity. Furthermore, God bestows to angels special supernatural powers that humans don’t have (cf. the two angels set to rescue Lot in Gen 19, Michael and his angels battling the dragon in Rev 12:7). God assigns a different set of tasks for humanity revealed during Creation: procreation (be fruitful and multiply), worship (on Sabbath) and labor. It is with respect to the latter that the second part of verse 7 (6 ESV) is related to, namely that humanity is God’s vicegerent to exercise dominion over all creation (verse 7-8 literally say, “Flocks and oxen, all of them, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea and whatever crosses the paths of the sea). Human beings are to apply God’s creation for useful purposes. In this way, human creativity reflects God’s. This is an element of the image of God that humanity is created in, namely that their mental power to think, to create, to make use of God’s creation reflect, although not equal to God’s. Humanity is the only God’s creature that’s given this authority, to rule over and make use of all creations, and thus, “You crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands. You put all things under his feet.” Note humanity is passive in the crowning of glory and honor upon them. God is the agent who does the work. In other words, the outward displays of human glory and honor are not inherently theirs, but they reflect the glory and honor of their Creator. Humanity doesn’t acquire glory and honor by their own effort ultimately because that ability is given by God inherent to the fact they are created in his image. The verb tamshil (the Hiphil of mashal) is more literally translated as “you made him to govern or control or to be in charge” – over the works of your (God’s) hands, hence, “You have put all things under his feet,” the purpose of which is to expose more and more the glory of God’s creation in order to draw joyful reverent worshipful praise to Him. So the purpose of Science and Engineering is to cause us to bow down before God in wonder and adoration of his greatness and brilliance reflected in not merely his creatures but also what humanity who bears his image is capable of doing. Science is a handmaid, a servant, not an enemy or independent of theology. Fallen humanity abuse this God-given privilege of having a mind capable of discovering the wonder of his creation through science to deny God and steal his glory by claiming all due credits to their own ingenuity. But not so with those whose hearts have been changed by the power of his Spirit in such a way that they willingly submit to his lordship in all of lives. Their response, like what David does here, is that of worship. So the next time we use the latest and greatest iPhone or  drive the latest model of Tesla or enjoy the wonder of Google search, is our response, “Steve Job is great, Elon Musk is brilliant, Google folks are simply the best?” or “Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! From Him, through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.”? Yes, there is no doubt that these men and women have tremendous intellectual power, but they simply reflect, they give us a little glimpse of the infinite wisdom, knowledge, creativity and power of their Creator to whom all due credits should be given (cf. Deut 8:17-18). “You have put all under his feet” namely God has assigned a task for humanity to make honorable uses of the rest of creation that He has put under their feet. This implicitly rebukes sloth. Six days you shall labor (Ex 20:9). God does not create us to sit around and do nothing all our days although there is a place for rest and refreshment. Labor is a creation ordinance. Those who refuse to be engaged in a lawful and meaningful labor reject the very dignity God has bestowed upon humanity. They waste the potential of the image of God in which they are created that they would explore and uncover the wonder of God’s creation. Hence in 2 Thess 3:10-11 Paul rebukes those who refuse to labor and they become a burden to the church instead. He issues quite a stern warning that such people should not eat. I personally hate wasting time (cf. Eph 5:15-16), particularly sitting around in aimless internet browsing. In fact, I plea often to the Lord that He would not let me be a burden to anyone and that He would keep me employed in a meaningful way to honor Him and be useful to Him and his church all my days.

5.      Inclusio (v.10BHS, v.9 ESV) – Psalm 8 is bracketed by an identical verse at the beginning and its end (often called inclusio) that suggests this Psalm may contain a chiastic structure. I don’t see that. What I see is a progression beginning with an assertion, an acknowledgment of God as glorious especially in the splendor of his majesty displayed in creation, the proper response of which is worshipful praise to him. Then by his divine sovereign power He puts to silence (literally “stops”) depraved ingrates in their futile attempt to wrench glory from him and deflect divine praise to them by preserving the praise of creatures to himself. What follows is a proper balanced assessment of humanity from subjective and objective points of view illuminated by divine perspectives. Humanity appears insignificant in light of the vast extent of God’s creation. Human beings are less than nothing in comparison with their Creator. This view is necessary for the humbling of human souls since we are prone to boastful bragging arrogance. On the other hand, the seemingly minuscule humanity doesn’t mean that they are meaningless. God in his grace condescends to them and makes them his vicegerent to rule over all his creation. They are the only class of creature given the privilege to be created in his image, capable of reflecting divine attributes of creativity and righteousness, capable of knowing him intimately and worshipping him. Indeed this is the purpose why they are created, namely to know, enjoy and worship him. The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever (WSC 1.1). Note John Piper replaces “and” with “by” (see “Desiring God”) to highlight that glorifying and enjoying God are neither unrelated nor opposite to each other, but although they are distinct, they are inseparable. I think Piper’s view is an exposition of WSC 1.1, something that the Westminster divines will not object to. With this attitude in mind, as we embrace a balanced divine view of ourselves and Him as the Great Creator and Provider as well as his gracious condescension, it is fitting that this Psalm concludes with the same jubilant praise that it begins with.

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